With A.J McKee and Kai Asakura out due to injury Rizin have scrambled to find suitable replacements. Hiromasa Ogikubo stepped up as a fitting challenger for Juan Archuleta and Roberto Satoshi De Souza volunteered to take on Patricky “Pitbull” Freire. As a extra bonus for fans, Rizin have also bolstered their card with the announcement of Patricio “Pitbull” Freire vs Chihiro Suzuki!
70kg Catchweight match, Rizin MMA Rules
Patricio “Pitbull” Freire vs Chihiro Suzuki
Bellator Featherweight champion Patricio Freire, better known as the younger “Pitbull” brother, has not only reigned over Bellators featherweight division, but seized the Lightweight title with a dramatic knockout of Michael Chandler. After avenging his Featherweight loss to A.J McKee Jr. Patricio disposed of challengers to his throne before challenging for the Bantamweight title in his last fight. It was not meant to be for the 36 year old, who perhaps was impacted by the large weight cut. Fortunately “Pitbull” will fight in Rizin at a healthy catchweight of 70kg, just under Rizin’s Lightweight div. Like his brother Patricio is regarded as one of the heaviest hitters in his weight class, throwing clubbing hooks the Brazilian cares little about going the distance and seeks a finish every outing. It would be a mistake to label “Pitbull” as simply a striker however, with an almost perfect balance between T/KOs, submissions and decisions he is a surprisingly adaptable fighter. With dynamite in his hands, a complete ground game and excellent wrestling, “Pitbull” returns to Japan once again to remind fans of why he is considered one of the most exciting fighters in the sport.
With the unenviable task of facing the dominant Bellator champion, Chihiro Suzuki makes another appearance in Rizin. A Cinderella run of 5 straight wins came to an abrupt end for Suzuki when he vied for Rizin’s Featherweight title, succumbing to an armbar from Rizin’s seemingly untouchable submission wizard, Kleber Koike Erbst. Erbst failed to make weight, leaving the Featherweight title in limbo and officially going down as a “No contest”. Not that it will make any difference to Suzuki, who was devastated by the “loss”, a painful memory that he will seek to erase with a comeback at Super Rizin 2. A kickboxer by trade, Suzuki started his career as low as Flyweight before taking matches at Bantam and Featherweight. While he may not have a huge amount of MMA experience, Suzuki has a fearsome reputation as a striker, competing in Kickboxing, Shootboxing and Muay Thai, knocking opponents to the canvas time and time again. Given his penchant for knocking people out, most opponents in MMA have elected to take Suzuki to the ground, where his game is still evolving. A striker that prioritises takedown defense and getting up from the ground rather than engaging in the grappling world, Suzuki has been remarkably effective, partly due to the pressure he brings on the feet. Standing and trading will be Suzuki’s plan, staying at a distance where he can land. No doubt the Japanese striker has a mountain to climb but the bigger the challenge the bigger the reward and Suzuki will be ready to go out on his shield while going all out for the KO!
“Pitbull” has a long history in MMA, fighting mostly for Bellator where he holds many records and achievements. Facing such a legend can be a daunting task, especially for a young fighter like Suzuki. Assuming “Pitbull” is aware of his opponents Kickboxing exploits the Brazilian always has a “plan B” to fall back on, being a Black Belt in JuJitsu with a strong takedown game. Suzuki’s frame has filled out for sure but he is not a huge Featherweight, at Lightweight “Pitbull” will almost certainly be the heavier fighter with the greater firepower. To compensate for Patricio’s heavy artillery and strong clinch, Suzuki must manage distance effectively, it is imperative that he strike at angles from the outside. “Pitbull” will wade forward with dynamite in his hands hoping for a brutal one punch KO, but settling for a clinch. Don’t blink for this one as it could end at any moment!
66kg, Vacant Featherweight Championship match, Rizin MMA Rules
Asakura Mikura vs Vugar Karamov
Karamov has been on a tear in Rizin. Since losing a close split decision to Saito Yutaka back in 2021 he has won 3 straight with 2 submission finishes and now finds himself in the biggest fight of his career. Karamov has power in his right hand and usually wings it wide, but will also at times blitz forward behind straight punches. While his stand-up at times could be more refined, Karamov’s grappling is where he really shines. The Pankration fighter works diligently for takedowns in the clinch and has a knack for getting to his opponents back. Once he manages to get the fight to the ground he has a strong top-game, actively looking to land big punches and wear his opponents down until he finds the submission finish.
The elder of the Asakura brothers needs little introduction as he has over the years become one of the mainstay stars of Rizin. A deadly striker, Mikuru Asakura has finished almost 50% of his wins by KO/TKO. Heavy handed with a left high kick that has floored quite a few opponents Asakura also possesses an immaculately timed step-in knee that will be sure to trouble any orthodox fighter. Mixing “controlled” brawling with excellent timing and technique the cerebral fighter is a master at studying opponents and drawing up battle plans. Mikura comes into the fight having won three straight decisions in MMA since his loss to Kleber Koike, interestingly on the same card that opponent Karamov lost to Saito. While more than capable of finishing fights Asakura has a high fight IQ and understands the risk vs return equation well, hence his recent run of decisions. Sitting behind his solid boxing and setting traps, the fan favourite prefers to let opponents initiate and is prepared to go the distance if required.
What would appear on paper a classic striker vs grappler match-up may end up unfolding in an unexpected manner. Karamov is at his most dangerous early, with his finishes coming in the 1st and, less often, 2nd round. A power puncher, the Azerbaijan fighter will swing for the fences and take a knockout if it presents itself. Generally however he is aiming to drive opponents back with strikes in order to enter the clinch. It is unlikely that Asakura presents Karimov with any guillotine opportunities or scrambles where he can lock up a tight submission. Karimov more than likely will wear on Asakura, dragging him to the ground, raining down his ground and pound while hoping Asakura tires and gives him an opening for an arm triangle or rear naked choke. Asakura will look to avoid the clinch and pepper his explosive opponent with heavy left hands and kicks. With Keramov content to initiate, Asakura can play matador, countering with his own strikes while using lateral movement to avoid the straight line bullrushes. Early Keramov’s crazy power will be at its maximum and the initial exchanges will be telling. Asakura will have the advantage the longer the fight goes, as his carefully planned tactics take over. In the beginning it could be chaotic!
61kg, Bantamweight Championship match, Rizin MMA Rules
Juan Archuleta vs Hiromasa Ogikubo
With Kai Asakura out of the title fight, Hiromasa Ogikubo bravely steps in on short notice, moving back up in weight to take on Juan Archuleta.
Juan Archuleta over the last 9 months has had all of his fights with Rizin. First a tight split decision over Soo Chul Kim and then in his last outing grinding down Inoue Naoki. Clearly enjoying his time in the land of the rising sun, Archuleta is back, and this time he gets to fight for a title! A well rounded fighter Archuleta is known for setting and keeping an incredible pace for the whole fight. Forward pressure on the feet and tenacious grappling in the clinch and on the ground are the hallmarks of Archuleta’s style. Strong and physically imposing it was exactly that style that wore down Inoue in his last match. Sporting a stellar 28-4 record the American has let titles slip through his fingers in the past, something he will look to rectify by bringing back gold to the US.
Hiromasa Ogikubo has fought a who’s who of Bantamweights and Flyweights and more often than not, he has emerged victorious. But with tough losses to Soo Chul Kim and Horiguchi Kyoji in his last two outings, Hiromasa will be eager to bounce back, and where better to do it than in a championship fight? A persistent and unrelenting grappler, Ogikubo’s path to getting his hand raised is generally by seizing control of the real estate, whether it be standing up or on the ground. Utilising a wide stance from his Karate background, Ogikubo is able to counter with lead leg kicks and hooks, or cover distance for a single leg. Steadfast in the clinch the Paraestra Matsudo fighter is adept at dropping down for single and double legs, putting his adversaries on their backs. On the ground Ogikubo has few holes in his game as he smoothly transitions between positions. With counter striking on the feet drawing opponents in Ogikubo then plants them on the canvas where he rides dominant positions, threatening with chokes. He will need to capitalise on every slim opportunity for a chance to become Rizin champion.
Taking the fight on short notice, Bantamweight GP winner Ogikubo will be stepping up in weight. Archuleta will be the (decisively) larger man come fight night, something he can use to wear down his smaller opponent. Ogikubo is normally known for having good stamina, however, he is normally in control of the fight and competing with adequate preparation. As a result the Japanese fighter may elect to use his counter punching game early and let the fight flow, saving some energy to push hard in the later rounds. Lateral movement and speed will serve Ogikubo well, whose karate base should give him the striking advantage. Archuleta needs to shut his foe down, throwing wild punches to get into a clinch in the corner where he can execute his high altitude throws and tight ground game. It will be a match where the fighter that controls the fight sets the pace they can maintain. This kind of war of attrition favours the heavier Arculeta. For Ogikubo, the more well-versed MMA fighter, capitalising on every opportunity is a must. This one could come down to the wire in a tense battle of strategy and heart.
49kg, Super Atomweight Championship match, Rizin MMA Rules
Seika Izawa vs Claire Lopez
Unblemished in her pro career at a perfect 10-0 Seika Izawa is a quintessential submission grappler that prioritises submissions first and foremost. A “must watch” fighter, the Newaza guru transitions between an array of positions and submissions effortlessly. The Takamoto Dojo representative is coming off an impressive triangle choke finish of Thai grappling sensation Suwanan “Amp the Rocket” Boonsorn. Striking as a means to achieve the clinch Izawa closes distance and, at times quite literally, drags opponents to the ground. Guillotine is often the first weapon of choice, from which Izawa has a host of options to manoeuvre to positions or submissions. Inevitably opponents cannot keep up with the technical chess match on the ground and end up tapping out. The Atomweight champion steps up to defend her belt once again, against an opponent that may pose problems for the specialist skill-set of Izawa. Regardless of the outcome, an Izawa fight promises entertainment and drama!
French gymnast turned fighter, Claire Lopez impressed last outing at Rizin with an upset of Rizin superstar Rena Kubota. What made the win even more notable was the fact that Lopez seemed to be on her way to a stoppage loss. Digging deep and displaying her mental strength, Lopez threw everything into one last takedown, getting on top of Rena in ½ guard. Using body weight and leverage Lopez inched her hips down to Rena’s knee, using her own legs to exert pressure on the joint while securing the waist with her arms. It is a technique that rarely works outside of the gym, but Rena tapped, perhaps because of pain, concern over her joints or lack of flexibility. A fighter who has finished all but one of her fights, Lopez has the size, strength and well rounded game to score an upset.
Records never tell the whole story, simply, as a match up between 2 fighters skill sets, this one could be very closely contested. First, Izawa has had the ability to take the fight to her realm in all her contests, by jumping guard, transitioning from a guillotine or by conventional body lock takedowns. The one fight she struggled was against the counter fighting strategy of Si Woo Park, who prioritised takedown defence and safety, staying away from Izawa, picking shots and using her physicality to avoid the ground. Lopez has the capacity to do much the same, the French fighter is very strong, especially for the Atomweight division, a weight she has never made before. With a gymnasts core Lopez should be able to dictate the grappling exchanges, shutting down takedowns or, less likely, scoring her own. On the feet Lopez is deadly too, with Thai Boxing backbone she has almost half her finishes on the feet. Izawa will need to be at her very best to wear down and overcome the early onslaught on the feet from Lopez, and, even on the ground a submission for the Japanese ace is not guaranteed. More excellent match making from Rizin in a fight that could swing either way.
71kg, Lightweight match, Rizin MMA Rules
Tofiq Musayev vs Akira Okada
Reigning Pancrase champion Akira may sit atop the mountain in the organisation but it has never been easy for the rugged veteran. Once on a 4 fight skid, Akira was bouncing between weight classes, from 145lbs to 170lbs before settling on Lightweight and getting his career back on track. The sturdy powerhouse is notoriously difficult to put away and, while on his “A-game” is able to make great fighters look average. Akira’s primary issue was not doing enough to take the rounds, something that, given his seemingly endless gas tank, was puzzling. Much of it came down to the physical specimen’s desire to fight his fight at all costs. When opponents had his number instead of resorting to “plan B” Akira would try upping the intensity to try to force his way through. Decision losses in vital matches helped Akira regroup and reassess which yielded results. Winning the Pancrase belt with his 2nd 3rd round TKO over Koshi Matsumoto, Akira successfully defended against yet another Rizin fighter in Takasuke Kume.
Tofiq Musayev made his name in Rizin’s Lightweight GP where he disposed of Damien Brown and Johnny Case inside of a round to challengePatricky Pitbull in the finals. Musayev nearly added Pitbull to his list of K.O victims, causing a scare early for the Brazilian. While “Pitbull” survived he was tested at his own game in what would be Musayev’s 5th Rizin win and 15th consecutive win. Everything came crashing down around Musayev when a title match with submission machine Roberto Satoshi de Souza ended in a 1st round submission loss. It appeared that the Azerbaijan kryptonite was submissions. After a lightning fast KO of Sidney Outlaw Musayev fought a curious Bellator match with Russian standout Alexander Shabliy. Musayev was hit by a low blow and was unable to continue. Officials decided that while he was hit in the cup the foot also hit the front of the chest and, inexplicably, decided that the chest blow caused the stoppage. It was a sad sight for Musayev given the area of body he was hit does not normally do fight ending damage and that he did nothing to indicate he was hurt to the body. With all that has happened it is easy to forget Musayev put together a stellar run of impressive victories over quality opposition, and that he did it in style. Expect the same fan friendly Rizin fighter back with a vengeance looking for another fast knockout!
While Akira has made changes he is still quite a limited fighter who is highly adept at making what he has work. Musayev has similar physicality to Akira but with a wider arsenal of techniques. Akira typically wings wide, loaded hooks that opponents have to address and, as they cover up, he changes levels for power double leg takedowns. Musayev has lethal striking options at all ranges but can he stop Akira from fighting his fight? Both fighters are noted for their mental and physical toughness. While Akira has shown consistent stamina, even through 5 rounds, Musayev has proven the bigger threat, the deadly KO specialist has a staggering 90% finishing rate! Expect a brutish war as 2 bulls lock horns, neither wanting to take a backwards step in a fight of powerhouses!
61kg Bantamweight match, Rizin MMA Rules
Kenta Takizawa vs Shinobu Ota
A highly experienced striker, the rangy Kenta Takizawa draws on his Karate roots while lining up “Ichigeki” 1 strike finishes. Utilising hands, feet, elbows and knees the striker has a full toolbox of techniques at his disposal, and he applies them well. With almost 70% of his wins coming by way of T/KO it is important to note that, not only has Takizawa never finished by submission, he has never really looked for them. The Reversal Gym Tokyo fighter is currently on a 2 fight skid, albeit to world class competition. In particular his last outing, falling to an Naoki Inoue armbar must have been a bitter pill to swallow, given his prior competitive match with former Champion Kai Asakura. With an unquestionable fighting spirit Takizawa will be back, regrouped, to cross swords with another top tier opponent, fired up to pick up a win, put on a show and set his career back on track.
Olympian Shinobu Ota was thrown in at the deep end for his MMA debut, taking on renowned submission expert, the acrobatic and flamboyant Hideki Tokoro. Ota was out of options in the match, given his strong wrestling played right into the hands of the submission savvy Tokoro. Fast forward and Ota has improved in leaps and bounds. In a tag team grappling bout the Olympian crossed paths with Tokoro again and the story was very different. Ota largely had his way with the submission grappling wizard, showing the incredible advances he made in a short time. For a wrestler of his pedigree he also is gifted with some heavy hands, 2 of his 3 wins coming by way of strikes. In his last outing he reached a career high, silencing doubters by knocking out his nemesis, Greco Roman wrestling champion Kazuma Kuramoto. Kuramoto had a wealth of MMA experience and was feared for his wild and powerful strikes that left many of the divisions best out on the canvas. Ota pulled off a shocker, with a check hook that landed flush just 27 seconds into the opening round! Can Ota pull a rabbit out of the hat and outstrike the striker?
What at first seems a quintessential grappler Vs striker match up may turn out to be more balanced that expected. Olympic Wrestling medalist Ota can certainly take just about anyone down but could he have fallen in love with striking? Improving in leaps and bounds the limit is difficult to assess for someone as gifted as Ota. For sure though Takizawa will be a stern test. The reach of the Karateka and ability to not overextend may pose issues for Ota, who does all his work, takedowns or striking, while at close range.
84kg, Middleweight match, Rizin MMA Rules
Daichi Abe vs Igor “Fat Ninja” Tanabe
For anyone following the sport of submission grappling the they will certainly know the name Igor Tanabe. Arguably Japan’s strongest black belt Tanabe remains unbeaten in Gi and No Gi competition, something virtually unheard of. Not that his competition has been weak either, Tanabe submitted ADCC stand out, Haisam Rida, then beat him in Gi comptfor good measure. Tanabe has shared the mat with …. One of the hottest prospects in MMA Tanabe is off to an perfect start at 2-0. His last match was against veteran striker, the Intimidating Melvin Manhoef. Tanabe was unwavering in his resolve, sacrificing position to go for a leg; the submission ace had no fear of being under a striker of Manhoef’s caliber. A lightning fast adjustment ensured a tap out in just under the 2 minute mark. Will Tanabe continue his success, ascend the rankings and become the next grappling superstar to hold a Rizin title?
Daichi Abe has experience fighting domestically and internationally for large promotions and will feel at-home walking into the Rizin ring for the 5th time. Known for working behind a stiff, pin point jab, Abe typically gets the ball rolling with his lead hand before putting fighters to sleep with his straight down the pipe. A strong clinch game from his Judo days assists Abe in shutting down grappling attacks before opponents can make any headway. While forcing them to stand the technical striker methodically picks them apart in the striking exchanges. If opponents can pass to an advantageous position on the ground Abe has the potential to be caught. In his last bout he fell victim to a guillotine choke courtesy of Singo Suzuki. Fighting at light, welter and now middleweight will the power deficit come back to haunt Abe in the clinch?
With the stellar Rizin vs Bellator matchups garnering considerable attention, and rightly so, some other gems on the card can be overlooked. Flying under the radar would be this unmissable clash between 2 elite fighters with very different skill-sets. In the small area of the ring Tanabe can probably get by with rudimentary striking skills, throwing down just enough to close the distance. Daichi Abe should be the far superior striker but will the threat of takedowns “freeze” him? Not to mention Abe is moving up in weight and Tanabe down. Tanabe has a large chiselled chin and thick torso and may be extremely hard to knock him out, especially given the size advantage. While Tanabe has the hype and weight of expectations on his shoulders, Abe has the MMA experience to even things up. Plus Abe, with a Judo backbone will be aware of what Tanabe brings to the fight, the big question to be answered Sunday is “can he stop Tanabe fighting his fight?”
58kg, Flyweight match, Rizin MMA Rules
Yuki Ito vs Hiroya Kondo
Coming out of the esteemed Triforce Jujitsu gym, Hiroya is very comfortable on the mat with world class grapplers. Transitioning to MMA has been a bumpy ride for the primarily ground specialist. Back to back submissions suggested Hiroya had hit his stride, however, a setback last outing to the similarly well travelled Tomohiro Adeniya brought the momentum to a crashing halt. More than competent on the feet, Hiroya sets his takedowns up well with strikes, however, his biggest issue has been letting the rounds slip away. In 10 defeats Hiroya has been stopped only once, by submission around 5 years ago, a fact that speaks volumes to his durability. Hiroya will want to make the most out of being in the spotlight on a big stage, expect him to take chances and roll the dice. On the canvas is surely where he prefers to be, however Hiroya will more than likely engage wherever the action takes place!
While undoubtedly a well rounded fighter Yuki Ito is still a striker at heart. Excellent takedown defense and slick scrambles help him stay on his feet where he possesses heavy hands for the division. Entering the fight with back to back losses for the first time in his career Ito last faced off against wrestling royalty Erson Yamamoto. While he was out hustled in the match he was always in the fight, looking to solve the puzzle and find a knockout of submission. A prolific finisher, his “go for broke” style has cost him on the scorecards at times, more often than not though Ito has found a finish, making him perfect for the Rizin ring! Fighting out of Nex Ichi Muay, the striker will be firing on all cylinders fight night, looking for another stoppage with his fists!
On paper Ito would appear to be the clear favourite. However MMA is a fickle sport and, when fighters are going all out for the finish they leave openings and can be caught. Hiroya needs just a small avenue of chance to lock in a submission and Ito may be too hungry for a finish of his own to think about self preservation.