Lightweight Tournament Round 1, Unified Rules, 5M x 5R
Roberto Satoshi De Souza. vs Patricky Pitbull
With A.J McKee Jr. out due to injury, Rizin’s Lightweight champion Roberto Satoshi De Souza steps up to challenge the formidable striker Patricky “Pitbull” Friere. The main event will still decide the 4th semi-finalist in Bellator’s Lightweight Grand Prix, with the winner squaring off against Alexandr Shabily.
With just days to prepare, Roberto Satoshi De Souza enters the Rizin cage once again, having fought in the inaugural Bellator vs Rizin against Patricky’s original opponent, A.J McKee Jr. The Rizin Lightweight Champion is undefeated in 6 straight in Rizin, most recently besting but not submitting the notoriously tough Spike Carlyle. While under the Rizin banner Souza reigns unchallenged, against A.J McKee in Bellator he fell short in a close and highly competitive match. Representing Japan and Rizin, “Satoshi” puts his pride on the line once again, this time he will not want to leave it in the hands of the judges. Expect a blistering start from Souza as he drives into the clinch, securing a bodylock takedown or even pulling guard in order to get down to business on the mat.
No stranger to Rizin or Japan, the older Pitbull brother, Patricky Freire, has fought three times already under the Rizin umbrella, but that was back in 2018 and 2019. Since his loss to Tofiq Musayev in the finals of Rizin’s Lightweight GP, Patricky has struggled with activity and consistency, most recently dropping a one sided decision to Umar Nurmagomedov in a bid for Bellator’s Lightweight title. Despite always seemingly failing at the final hurdle, “Pitbull” is still a threat to anyone on the feet and while his ground game is more defensively minded he is nigh impossible to submit. Having that classic Pitbull brothers fight style with heavy hooks and kicks Patricky sports a 67% finishing rate by KO/TKO. Fighting back in Japan, Patricky has a style that goes down well with fans as he pulls out all the stops when in search of the knockout.
While there may be some similarities between A.J McKee and Souza, new opponent will undoubtedly affect “Pitbull”, who will have formulated a specific plan for the match. That said, “Satoshi” steps in on a day’s notice, with no training camp and no preparation. How will this affect both fighters, physically, psychologically? Patricky has been consistent with his approach to fighting, to close the distance and land the heavy artillery. The main alteration to his game-plan may well be to avoid kicking, something that could be favourable against the long limbs of McKee Jr. would hand Souza a takedown. While Patricky is no slouch on the ground, it would be in his best interests to avoid tangling with the Submission guru on the canvas. Souza by comparison needs to take the fight to the canvas and the sooner the better. Backed into a corner “Satoshi” has shown that he can strike, the BJJ Black Belt has training in Karate and carries not insignificant power. Tagging “Pitbull” to open doors to level change and go to the ground would be advisable, trading blow for blow in a firefight would not. With both fighters skill-sets skewed heavily in one direction, and both prolific finishers, this main event is unmissable!
BELLATOR Flyweight Title Match, Unified Rules, 5M x 5R
Kyoji Horiguchi vs Makoto Shinryu
Horiguchi has been a shining star for Japanese MMA for about a decade now. From his start in Japan, to his run in the UFC to coming back to Japan to claim a host of Rizin belts to then claim the Bellator Bantamweight strap. Bellator’s head honcho Scott Coker, has made it clear that he wants his fighter, Horiguchi, to stay at Flyweight despite being able to contend at Bantamweight. Horiguchi dominated Champion Anthony Pettis for over 23 minutes before getting caught by a “hail mary” spinning back fist that knocked him out cold. At least for the moment, Horiguchi will not have a chance to get revenge on the Champion. Horiguchi is only 32 but it feels like he has been around forever. Horiguchi’s karate background is evident as soon as you see him fight, a wide stance darting in and out his speed and timing has proven a nightmare for many an opponent. To back up the excellent striking, Horiguchi has over the years at American Top Team developed his wrestling and grappling to equally be top-notch. This makes him an extremely difficult opponent for anyone, especially in the Flyweight division.
If Horiguchi is part of the “old guard” Makoto Shinryu is definitely part of the new crop. Coming up through DEEP and then later fighting in Bellator and Rizin he brings the heat both standing and, especially, on the ground. Owning a wicked guillotine, which when combined with a flying knee, creates the self-dubbed “Shining Dragon Choke” opponents need to be careful getting their head on the outside going for a takedown. In fact Shinryu holds wins by Ninja Choke and in his last outing scalped a huge win, stopping Daiichi Kitakata by arm-triangle. Combining the submission grappling with excellent scrambles Shinryu is a threat to anyone on the ground.
While Shinryu has fought tough opponents before, Horiguchi will be his biggest fight yet and is a step-up in competition. Horiguchi will probably not be wanting to play around in Shinryu’s guard, will manage distance, and dart in and out with heavy punches. Shinryu on the other hand needs to take a page out of Kai Asakura book and try to time Horiguchi’s movements and catch him coming in. A consistent grappler with fantastic scrambling and top control, Shinryu will try to smother and ground the former Bantamweight champion. If he is feeling adventurous or if Shinryu hurts him on the feet, Horiguchi may flip the script and shoot for the takedown to control and wear a bit on the younger man. In either case in the end a new flyweight champion will be crowned. Expect a frenetic pace from the get-go!
Flyweight Match, Unified Rules, 5M x 3R
Kana Watanabe vs Veta Arteaga
Kana Watanabe most recently fought and lost a split decision to Macfarlane in a top contenders bout, a fight that many thought Kana won. The ranked flyweight now gets to fight in Japan for the first time since 2019. Brining excellent physicality and conditioning, Watanabe has an superb ground game rooted in her Judo background. From the clinch Watanabe is capable of beautiful inside and outside reaps and head and arm throws. Unlike a lot of Judo practitioners she has the grappling expertise and awareness to control and recover position on the ground after high risk throws. On the ground the Judoka is a threat on top and off her back, especially with triangle chokes and armbars. Clinching, throwing and getting on top has been key in her MMA career so far and is a strategy she will put into action once again.
Arteaga is also coming off a loss, having gone the distance with unbeaten prospect Sumiko Inaba in a memorable affair. Having shown off real grit and determination in her previous fights, Arteaga looks to pressure and use her size to wear on her opponents. She may be labelled as a striker but possesses a nasty guillotine that has already won her two fights in Bellator. Arteaga is adept at dragging the fight into deep waters and breaking her opponent down piece by piece until they make a mistake and present their neck. In a similar vein to her opponent Arteaga needs to rebound with a win to keep her title aspirations alive.
In a fight that some would say is a step down for Watanabe after the controversial loss to McFarlane, Arteaga is no slouch and has plenty of solid wins on her record already. When it comes to polished striking and grappling Watanabe should have the edge, but Arteaga has power and a gas-tank to go hard for three rounds. Still, if Watanabe can get the early takedown and work her game from top, she could well catch Arteaga in a scramble or simply grind it out for three rounds. Arteaga is tough though and it is unlikely Watanabe will get her out of there via TKO, plus the American has never been submitted. Watanabe has her best chances on the ground, on the other hand, Arteaga would be best served to make it a brawl on the feet and clinch when she gets the chance, she does not want to get into any scrambles. Taking it to the ground in the early rounds may not be in her best interest, but if she can use her weight to wear on Kana and the opportunity presents itself late in the second or the third she may elect to also get some control time and ground and pound going. An evenly matched bout in which the clinch could play a pivotal role.
Bantamweight Match, Unified Rules, 5M x 3R
Danny Sabatello vs Magomed Magomedov
Sabatello rebounded from his split decision Bantamweight Grand Prix semifinal loss to Rafeon Stots with a win over Marcus Breno via RNC back in April. With a stellar 14-2 record Sabatello looks to keep building himself up for Bantamweight title contention. “The Italian Gangster” is probably known as much for his post-fight interviews and overall antics as he is for his actual fighting, but so far more often than not Sabatello both talks the talk and walks the walk. A well rounded fighter, Sabatello tends to lean on his wrestling and grappling. Big and strong for the weight class he has overpowered and at times rag-dolled smaller bantamweights with big flashy throws. He also has the explosiveness to shoot a wicked double leg from far across the cage, something we don’t see a lot in modern MMA. On the feet he tends to keep it light and flowing, not throwing with a ton of power but more using his jabs and feints to get to the clinch or go for the takedown.
Standing across from him when the cage door closes will be another man who lost in the Bellator Bantamweight Grand Prix semifinal, Magomed Magomedov. He too sports an impressive 19-3 record with the losses coming to the cream of the crop, Petr Yan (whom he also holds a win over), Raufeon Stos and, most recently, Patchy Mix in the GP semifinals. Very well rounded “Tiger”, coming from a Whushu Sanda background, has flashy striking with lots of spinning kicks, but has also in his fights shown very strong grappling, suplexing opponents and grinding them down over the course of the fight.
Both men will have a lot on the line and while the winner will probably be primed for a title shot, the loser moves to the back of the line. These men were both in the Bantamweight Grand Prix semi-finals and have already shown that they possess what it takes to compete with the best, but you cannot just compete, you also have to win. Sabatello will most likely want to test the grappling of Magomedov early, but scoring a takedown and keeping top control will be difficult. Sabatello will similarly most likely have a size advantage, but it will be smaller than he is used to and strength wise Magomedov may even match him. In the end it might come down to two wrestlers both being forced to stand and trade, if this happens chances are it favours the more polished striker Magomedov. In either case these men are rarely in a boring fight and this could be one of those affairs where even the clinch game becomes an exciting chess match to see who has the strength and stamina to outlast the other. Great match-making on paper, let’s hope the fight lives up to the hype!
Welterweight Match, Unified Rules, 5M x 3R
Andrey Koreshkov vs. Lorenz Larkin
Looking to get one back on Larkin, Koreshkov lost the first fight by split decision, but has not lost since, in four fights over four years. The former Welterweight champion has over the years shown a strong grappling and top game but has struggled to switch gears when his preferred game plan has not worked. This is most clearly seen in the two losses to Diego Lima where, unlike the first fight, he struggled to take Lima down and tired himself out as he kept grappling with the much improved Lima. Still, in most of his fights Andrey’s ability to come in with a solid game-plan and then take the fight where he has the biggest advantage has served him well. Despite coming up short in his last two fights with Douglas Lima and then the split decision loss to Larkin, Koreshkov has been either at the top of the division or in the no 1. contender spot for more than a decade now, since winning the welterweight tournament in 2012. He will look to use that experience and game-planning to come out on top and get his vengeance in this re-match!
Lorenz Larkin has been on a tear in Bellator for quite a few years now. Moving over from the UFC after besting Jorge Masvidal and Neil Magny, Larkin had a tough start to his Bellator career, losing both to the aforementioned Lima and then getting KO’d by the famous left hook of Paul Daley. Since that last loss to Daley in 2017 “The Monsoon” has won 7 straight (1 NC) incl. the split decision over Koreshkov. An excellent striker Larkin has over the years rounded out his game, but keeping it on the feet in space throwing strong kicks, fast hands and sharp elbows is still his trademark style and that’s what he will want to do against Koreshkov.
The first fight was a back and forth war with both fighters getting dropped. In the end Larkin got the nod in a split decision, but really that fight could have gone either way. Usually when we see rematches after a few years fighters can tend to be a bit hesitant, perhaps due to having a bit more respect for their opponents ability and power. So it is not unlikely that both men will have reviewed the last fight extensively to figure out how they can capitalise on weaknesses discovered in the first fight. While Larkin did go for a takedown in the first round of that fight, Koreshkov was the more successful grappler in the final round and might want to consider that avenue of attack earlier in the fight. Hopefully we do get two fighters who don’t want to go to the judges score-card, knowing just how close it was last time around.
(Co-written by Stefan Nilsson)