The Rizin Fighting Federation will hold its first event of the year on Sunday, May 6, in the promotion’s second trip to the Marine Messe Fukuoka in Fukuoka, Japan, for Rizin 10.
Japan’s best MMA fighter today, Kyoji Horiguchi, continues to set out to prove his worth on the world stage when he takes on the former consensus No.1 flyweight in the world, Ian McCall. The UFC veterans were expected to meet in the semifinals of the 2017 bantamweight grand prix, but McCall’s string of bad luck continued outside of the Octagon when he was seemingly cut open from the ring ropes in his quarterfinal match-up with Portuguese prospect Manel Kape. Horiguchi went on to defeat Kape and knock out King of Pancrase champion Shintaro Ishiwatari to win the tournament.
In the co-headliner of the evening, teenage kickboxing phenom Tenshin Nasukawa returns to the ring against World Series of Fighting Global flyweight champion Yusaku Nakamura. The 19-year-old super prospect Nasukawa has defeated all 29 opponents in his pro career across MMA, kickboxing and Muay Thai rules, including 23 victories by way of stoppage. The hard-hitting Kempo stylist Nakamura had his 10-fight winning streak stopped in his last bout, which took place in October.
In the night’s other main-card action, 2017 women’s atomweight grand prix winner Kanna Asakura takes on former King of the Cage women’s atomweight champ Melissa Sophia Karagianis, former Invicta FC and Jewels titleholder Ayaka Hamasaki makes her Rizin debut against Josh Barnett disciple Alyssa Garcia, and top Japanese lightweight Yusuke Yachi battles UFC and Bellator veteran Diego “The Gun” Nunes.
The pay-per-view event, which costs $19.99 for purchase, airs live at 1:30 a.m. ET on Sunday on Combat Press via Fite TV.
Can Ian McCall stop his seemingly endless streak of misfortune against Kyoji Horiguchi, or is the Japanese fighter on the verge of being considered one of the greatest fighters from the Land of the Rising Sun?
It’s unfortunate how McCall’s roller-coaster ride of a UFC career unfolded.
Once considered the top flyweight fighter in the world before the addition of the division to the UFC in 2012, McCall was one of four fighters pegged to fight for the inaugural flyweight belt. In his tournament semifinal bout, McCall drew the eventual all-time leader in UFC title defenses, Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson. McCall nearly put an end to that accolade before it began with a dominant third round against the future champ. The late dominance McCall showcased wasn’t enough to steal the decision, but did earn him a majority draw.
Unfortunately, this is where McCall’s luck began to run out. “Uncle Creepy” and Mighty Mouse should have gone to a fourth and definitive round to decide who moved into the finals of the tournament, but the commission’s mishaps led to the bout ending after the third frame. The bout didn’t reach its expected finality, and a rematch was scheduled three months later. For the rematch, Johnson took his career to the next level and started training full-time with Matt Hume at AMC Pankration. The changes were apparent when Johnson ended McCall’s five-fight unbeaten run to move into the finals of the tournament.
McCall’s countless setbacks would start from that point. He was hit with injury after injury, but he still managed to win two of his next three bouts despite four cancellations during that stretch. Following a devastating defeat against John Lineker, who couldn’t hit the flyweight weight limit, McCall had six straight fights canceled due to injury, illness or fighters missing weight.
McCall’s UFC career didn’t end until late 2017, but McCall hadn’t fought since January 2015. Heading into what seemed like a renewed motivation outside of the world’s top promotion, McCall was eager to get a victory against his less-experienced foe, Manel Kape, in the quarterfinals of the Rizin bantamweight grand prix. McCall’s hope to turn around his rocky career was thwarted by an inadvertent cut to his forehead.
Now, McCall finally gets his chance for redemption after all of his misfortune, but he has to do it against one of Japan’s most dominant fighters in the over 30 years of mixed-rules fighting in the Asian country.
Horiguchi has won 23 of his 25 professional fights. He has 14 wins by way of stoppage. Horiguchi has produced an incredible 24 knockdowns in his career to provide just a glimpse into what defines him as a great fighter.
Horiguchi’s background came early on in life when he began training in karate. His natural talent, speed and ability to judge distance translated well into MMA when he began training at the Krazy Bee gym as a teenager. Horiguchi’s talent grew under the watchful eye of his mentor, Japanese MMA great Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto. Unlike Yamamoto, Horiguchi started his career with a striking background. From the outset, his ability to move and close distance became the main building blocks upon which his career blossomed. Horiguchi won the Shooto amateur title with five wins in one night. He continued his dominance over the Japanese scene by claiming the Shooto Rookie MVP in 2010 and winning the Shooto bantamweight world title in 2013.
One of the biggest moves in Horiguchi’s career was his shift to the United States for his training camps. He trained at American Kickboxing Academy and eventually found a home at American Top Team. Horiguchi became a well-rounded fighter as his game evolved under head coach Mike Brown. His clinch work, wrestling game and offensive grappling improved at an exceptional rate. Horiguchi turned in seven victories in his UFC career. His only loss came against the most dominant champion in UFC history, the aforementioned Mighty Mouse.
Horiguchi was in a position to bargain for more, but the UFC was unwilling to pay Horiguchi according to his skill level. Now, the 27-year-old has made the move back to Japan to usher in a new era of the sport following the rise and fall of Pride, K-1 and, in general, kakutogi in Japan. Following five straight wins and four stoppages since the move, Horiguchi continues to build his legacy.
McCall offers a unique challenge for Horiguchi. What McCall will look like continues to be a question mark heading into the bout. However, he will have to be at his very best if he is expected to compete with Horiguchi, who with a win further cements his argument as one of the greatest Japanese fighters to ever step foot inside a ring or cage.
Tenshin Nasukawa returns to the ring under kickboxing rules, but once again takes on what seems like an overmatched MMA opponent in Yusaku Nakamura. Can Nakamura shock the world, or does the promotion need to find adequate competition for the budding superstar?
Nakamura has dispatched of half of his regional opposition in his 14-fight career. He is a striker by trade and often flashes his one-shot knockout power. He likes to fight with his hands by his sides, right hand cocked, looking to make an explosive forward movement to attack or move back to avoid a shot. Nakamura relies heavily on his speed, timing and movement to avoid his opponent’s counters and offensive attacks. He comes from a karate background, which is evident in his fighting style. From the orthodox stance, Nakamura will dart in and out to land his big right hand. In keeping his hands by his side, he is able to attack from unusual angles. This approach has its benefits — like when Nakamura steps in with a beautiful step knee or overhand right — but it also has incredible drawbacks, such as when he couldn’t dictate the distance in his devastating knockout loss against Tatsumitsu Wada earlier in his career.
Nakamura does a great job of moving his head off the centerline while fighting off of his back foot, but he relies heavily on leaving the exchanges in straight lines. This could ultimately be his downfall against a caliber of striker like Nasukawa. Of Nakamura’s past 20 opponents, the best striker he has fought is probably either the aforementioned Wada or possibly Daiki Hata. Nakamura lost to both Wada and Hata by knockout in under two rounds. This bout takes place under kickboxing rules, though and consists of three rounds that are three minutes in duration. This might actually benefit Nakamura. It increases his chances of making it the distance.
It’s doubtful, however, that Nakamura signed up for the consolation prize of being one of only seven men to make it the distance with the 19-year-old phenom. Unfortunately, he’s facing possibly one of the greatest kickboxers Japan has ever produced.
Nasukawa began his journey at a very young age. He compiled nearly 100 wins in his amateur career before turning professional at the age of 14. Since winning his pro debut in under a minute, Nasukawa has dispatched of every fighter put in front of him, including former IBF flyweight titleholder Amnat Ruenroeng and former Lumpinee stadium champions Suakim Sit.Sor.Thor.Taew, Wisanlek Meibukai and Wanchalong PK Saenchai, who was featured on the wrong end of the Combat Press 2016 Kickboxing “Knockout of the Year.”
It would be disingenuous to say this will be a close fight. Nasukawa’s natural ability to move in and out of range comes from his background in karate. He’s improved upon that ability to understand range and movement while building a layered Muay Thai and kickboxing game on top of his karate background. His growth into an extremely well-rounded striker makes him so tough to compete against. Let’s not forget that he possesses the ability to stop his opponents in every way possible, whether it’s a sharp left cross counter or a stunning jumping switch knee. Nasukawa has the depth of skill and talent to fight and beat the elite competition in the world before his 20th birthday. The big question is whether Nakamura can make it a fight, which is certainly possible if he is throwing back. Should Nakamura continue to look to escape the exchanges, then Nasukawa is likely to finish him with a left hook or step knee to the body.
Rizin’s kickboxing roster needs work. Between Nasukawa’s obligations in Rise and Knock Out, it’s not likely that he fights more than twice a year under the Rizin banner unless the company establishes another tournament for him to run through. Following the break-up of the Try Hard gym after a contract dispute between Hiroya and K-1, it’s likely that fighters will start to compete in promotions outside the K-1 group. The biggest name the promotion could get from the gym is Hiroya’s younger brother, Taiga, who is scheduled to compete in the Kunlun Fight 61.5-kilogram championship tournament later in May. If Rizin is willing to continue to lend Tenshin MMA fighters and debuting kickboxers, then Rizin will likely lose favor with the fans to the likes of Knock Out and Rise, which are bringing in top-flight Thai fighters to challenge the young prospect. Maybe Rizin can take the kickboxing aspect of the promotion to the next level in the future, but for now we still get to watch one of the best fighters in Japan showcase his talent, even if it is in a one-sided affair.
Of the three women’s MMA bouts on the card, which fighter will post the best performance?
One of the top female fighters in the world, Ayaka Hamasaki, drops back down to atomweight following a failed bid to make it into the UFC as a strawweight. As a 115-pounder, Hamasaki suffered a disappointing loss to Livia Renata Souza at Invicta FC 22. The first-round knockout was the first time Hamasaki had been stopped since her only other career defeat in a grueling bout with top-five UFC strawweight Claudia Gadelha in 2013. Despite the Japanese fighter’s two losses at strawweight, she is still largely considered the best atomweight in the world. She boasts victories over Seo Hee Ham (twice), Mizuki Inoue, Mei Yamaguchi, Jinh Yu Frey, Herica Tiburcio and many others. Hamasaki has finished eight of her 14 victories, including both of her Invicta title defenses.
Alyssa Garcia tries to become the first woman to defeat Hamasaki at 105 pounds. The aggressive top-game grappler, who trains under the watchful eye of former UFC champion Josh Barnett, has fallen on hard times with back-to-back losses. Garcia couldn’t hang with Brazilian prospect Maria Oliveira in the opening round of the 2017 Rizin women’s atomweight grand prix, where she lost a unanimous decision. In her prior defeat, she fell short against Bellator veteran Sheila Padilla by armbar in the first frame. Garcia does hold a victory over top up-and-comer Kanna Asakura, though. Unfortunately for Garcia, she faces Hamasaki next, which means she could be left searching for answers following a third straight loss.
High-level wrestler Kanako Murata was expected to face top Chinese MMA prospect Weili Zhang, but an unfortunate shoulder injury led to a last-minute change in opponent. Murata goes from one striker to another when she takes on The Ultimate Fighter 23 alum Lanchana Green. Green, a Muay Thai fighter, has only won one fight in her professional career, but she made it to the TUF semifinals with victories over Ashley Cummins and Helen Harper in exhibition outings before her bid to fight in the UFC was foiled by Amanda Bobby Cooper. Despite her relative inexperience in MMA, Green jumped on the opportunity to fight one of the best prospects in Japan.
Murata has adopted her wrestling game to work perfectly in the MMA realm. When Murata gets on top of her opponent, she absolutely mauls them with relentless pressure, immense control and a devastating attack of knees and punches. Following a setback against the much larger Rin Nakai in 2016, Murata has picked up back-to-back wins over Claire Fryer and Yukari Nabe. At age 24, Murata is considered to be one of the bright prospects competing in Japan, but she lacks adequate competition and needs to continue to develop her striking. Murata will be extremely dominant should this fight go to the mat. Green is the superior striker, but with a last-minute call against a grinder, her outlook seems less than great.
The aforementioned Asakura, 20, strung together three wins in just over two months to take the 2017 Rizin women’s atomweight grand prix. The talented prospect choked out Rizin’s top MMA star Rena Kubota in the finals to capture the first women’s MMA tourney held by the promotion. Asakura is an excellent grappler who has stopped five of her 11 career victories by submission.
Asakura’s opponent, 30-year-old Canadian Melissa Sophia Karagianis, is an aggressive striker with a record of 3-3. The former KOTC women’s atomweight champ defeated Andy Nguyen by decision to win the title. It was her second win over the Rizin veteran in two title fights. Karagianis actually has some tools that could work against Asakura should the fight stay on the feet. She likes to throw a lead left hook, a long right straight and a right low kick, which she could use to attack Asakura’s lead leg in an open-stance battle.
Despite Asakura potentially stepping into a left hook, the southpaw-orthodox battle also opens up the takedown for Asakura on Karagianis’s lead leg. Asakura’s experience in the ring will be a huge advantage. Karagianis has never fought in a ring and often uses the cage to her benefit in the clinch and to recover from grappling exchanges. If Asakura gets Karagianis to the mat, then the Canadian, while capable on top, will likely be dominated on her back. Asakura is excellent at finding the submission when her opponent makes big, risky maneuvers. Expect Asakura to test her own growth in the striking department, but she will ultimately find the submission victory midway through the fight.
Hamasaki, Murata and Asakura seem to be the favorites in their respective bouts. Hamasaki has the well-rounded skill set to dominant Garcia in every aspect of the game. Murata should be able to dump Green on her back and score significant offense time and time again. Meanwhile, Asakura is primed to wrap up another fight-finishing submission and look dominant while doing so.
Main Card (Fite TV on Combat Press, 1:30 a.m. ET)
BW: Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Ian McCall
Horiguchi by decision
Kickboxing: Tenshin Nasukawa vs. Yusaku Nakamura
Nasukawa by knockout
Women’s AtomW: Kanna Asakura vs. Melissa Sophia Karagianis
Asakura by submission
LW: Yusuke Yachi vs. Diego Nunes
Yachi by decision
LW: Daron Cruickshank vs. Koshi Matsumoto
Cruickshank by knockout
Kickboxing: Issei Ishii vs. Daishin Sakai
Ishii by decision
BW: Kai Asakura vs. Manel Kape
Kape by knockout
Women’s AtomW: Ayaka Hamasaki vs. Alyssa Garcia
Hamasaki by decision
HW: Ante Delija vs. Ricardo Prasel
Delija by knockout
HW: Jairzinho Rozenstruik vs. Andrey Kovalev
Kovalev by knockout
Women’s FlyW: Kanako Murata vs. Lanchana Green
Murata by decision
Kickboxing: Tomohiro Kitai vs. Hironori Kurogi
Kurogi by decision
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