Rizin Fighting Federation will host its next event, Rizin 11, on Sunday, July 29, from the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.
The main event of the evening is a much-anticipated rematch between Rizin women’s super atomweight grand-prix winner Kanna Asakura and highly decorated Shoot Boxing champion Rena “RENA” Kubota. In their first meeting, Asakura submitted Kubota with a rear-naked choke in the first round to become the first person to beat the popular striker under MMA rules.
In addition to the headliner, The Ultimate Fighter 24 finalist and current Shooto world champion Hiromasa Ogikubo gets his chance for redemption against Japanese superstar Kyoji Horiguchi, who submitted Ogikubo to win the Shooto featherweight title in 2013.
The night’s main card also features former Pride lightweight champion Takanori Gomi against UFC veteran Melvin Guillard, former Deep and King of Pancrase lightweight champ Satoru Kitaoka opposite exciting Brazilian Diego Brandão, surging women’s flyweight contender Rin Nakai meeting Japan’s Shizuka Sugiyama, and 2015 Rizin world grand-prix finalist Jiří Procházka welcoming Brazil’s Bruno Henrique Cappelozza back to the promotion.
Rena Kubota gets her second crack at Kanna Asakura. Can she change her fortunes, or does Asakura leave no doubt by winning for a second time against the talented striker?
Asakura, 20, won the 2017 Rizin women’s super atomweight grand prix with three victories in less than three months, including two submission wins in one night on New Year’s Eve. She defeated a trio of top prospects, including Poland’s Sylwia Juśkiewicz, Brazil’s Maria Oliveira and the aforementioned Kubota. Asakura compiled seven straight victories since dropping a decision to Josh Barnett disciple Alyssa Garcia in her Rizin debut in 2016. Most recently, she put on a dominant performance against former King of the Cage titleholder Melissa Karagianis at Rizin 10 in May.
Kubota has made a successful return to the ring since tasting defeat for the first time in MMA in her previous encounter with Asakura. The four-time Shoot Boxing S-Cup champion returned to the promotion where she built her fame and took on Elaine “Pantera” Leal. Kubota earned the clear decision victory after avoiding the submission ability of her Brazilian challenger and even landed a few devastating soccer kicks. The win signifies Kubota’s return to the win column following her first loss in MMA and first loss in combat sports since 2011. The 27-year-old has a stellar Shoot Boxing and kickboxing record that includes wins over top-flight competition Erika Kamimura, Seo Hee Ham (twice), Hisae Watanabe, Mei Yamaguchi (twice), Zaza Sor. Aree, Simone van Dommelen and Jleana Valentino.
In the pair’s first meeting, Kubota could never really get going on her feet. Asakura did a great job of using her southpaw stance, the threat of the takedown and ring control to minimize Kubota’s output and increase the odds of scoring the fight-ending takedown. Asakura was waiting for her opponent to throw first, which would open up her own counter attacks and make it easier to level change under the strikes of her high-level foe. Asakura eventually successfully took the fight to the floor with a slick reversal following a failed double-leg attempt against the ropes. Asakura changed her angle of approach and shifted her weight to force Kubota to put herself out of position. The genius chain grappling led to Asakura getting on top and, not much later, onto Kubota’s back. The Shoot Boxing star had been in submission danger before, but Asakura’s game was too much for the still-improving grappler. Asakura quickly wrapped up the rear-naked choke and put the promotional darling to sleep in the first round.
Despite the loss, Kubota was able to find a home for her left hook and right hand on a few occasions. Her lack of kicks, especially the front and teep kick to the body, took away a major part of her game and made it far easier for Asakura to read what was coming her way. Kubota did well to fend off some of the takedown attempts. However, every time she came into range to throw her strikes, Asakura was either escaping off the ropes or shooting for the double-leg takedown. The constant threat of attack from Asakura forced Kubota into a one-dimensional game that led to her downfall. She usually fights from an orthodox stance, but she was forced to fight from a southpaw stance to find her target. Her lack of variety of attack and awareness of Asakura’s shot led to Kubota’s ineffectiveness inside boxing range and in the clinch, an area where she does her most devastating work to the body.
The game plan for each fighter is rather clear. Asakura wants to bait Kubota into an ill-advised attack to open up her takedowns and tremendous grappling game. If Asakura gets on top, then Kubota’s natural instinct is to turtle up and escape to her feet. Asakura will make her pay every single time she leaves her back open for the taking. Should that happen, Kubota will likely find herself waking up under the big lights again.
Kubota needs to make her striking a threat by throwing more variety, using long-range attacks, working the body with kicks and punches, and always making sure to move her feet. If Kubota remains stagnant, then she’ll find herself trapped against the ropes. She needs to move, circle out and make Asakura feel her striking without getting caught up defending the takedown after every exchange.
Shooto champion Hiromasa Ogikubo makes his Rizin debut against a familiar foe, Kyoji Horiguchi. Can Ogikubo derail the hype train of the top Japanese fighter on the planet?
Ogikubo has one of the best resumes of any flyweight in Japan. The 31-year-old has won 17 of his 22 fights, with his professional losses coming against former champions Horiguchi, Eduardo Dantas and Koetsu Okazaki. The current Shooto flyweight titleholder has won 15 of his past 17 fights, including his three victories on the 24th season of The Ultimate Fighter, where he defeated top-10 UFC flyweight Alexandre Pantoja, EFC Africa flyweight champ Nkazimulo Zulu and Bellator fighter Adam Antolin. Ogikubo has won two straight since dropping the tournament final against eventual UFC title challenger Tim Elliott, who pushed the world’s best flyweight Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson all five rounds.
Ogikubo wasn’t a highly touted fighter entering the TUF house, but his team’s head coach and fellow flyweight Joseph Benavidez was quickly impressed by the fighter’s willingness to learn and ability to soak up new techniques. Ogikubo showcased his skills in a grueling, back-and-forth battle against Elliott in the final. The fighters traded strikes, takedowns, scrambles and submission attempts in an all-out attempt to stop the bout and earn their UFC title shot. Despite falling short, Ogikubo showcased what makes his game successful. He is a skilled top-game grappler with a relentless pace and ever-improving striking game. He’s an underrated striker who loves to throw his left kick and counter right hook. Ogikubo expertly changes levels off of exchanges and uses his superior wrestling to control where the fight takes place. Once on top, he works his punches and elbows to grind down his opponents, controls their posture to drain their energy, and looks for potential submission openings from any position. Ogikubo will need to use all of his advantages in this fight when he takes on Japan’s best flyweight — and bantamweight — fighter, Horiguchi.
Horiguchi, 27, might be one of the greatest fighters the country of Japan has ever produced. Since losing to former Shooto world champ Masakatsu Ueda in only his seventh professional bout, Horiguchi has gone on to win 18 of his next 19 fights. His lone loss came against one of the sport’s pound-for-pound greats, the aforementioned Mighty Mouse. Since his failed UFC title bid, Horiguchi has won nine straight fights, including a dominant run through the 16-man Rizin bantamweight grand prix, where he scored victories over Hideo Tokoro, Gabriel Oliveira, Manel Kape and Shintaro Ishiwatari. Horiguchi flashed his knockout power in his most recent outing against former consensus top flyweight Ian McCall. He needed just nine seconds to land a picture-perfect counter left hook that put away McCall in the first round.
Horiguchi has been a blue-chip prospect since he rang off five straight wins in one day at the East Japan Shooto Amateur Championships in 2009. He went on to win the Shooto Rookie MVP and featherweight tournament in his first year as a pro. Horiguchi became a champion when he submitted Ogikubo in 2013. The victory earned him a spot in the UFC, where he won seven of his eight fights and proved to be one of the best flyweights in the world. Unfortunately, the UFC wasn’t willing to pay Horiguchi what he deserves, so the Japanese fighter signed with Rizin in an attempt to bring high-level MMA back to Japan. Since his addition to the Rizin roster, the promotion has spotlighted his talents and marketed him as one of its star fighters alongside the aforementioned Kubota and popular kickboxing wunderkind Tenshin Nasukawa.
Horiguchi is a dangerous match-up for any fighter in the flyweight or bantamweight divisions. His explosive movements, striking skill and destructive power have earned him more than 20 knockdowns/knockouts in his 26-fight career. His striking has been molded around his karate background, which began when he was just five years old. His unorthodox style, combined with his lightning-quick speed and reflexes, allows for him to hit his opponents without taking damage. Horiguchi likes to close the distance in bursts, counters effectively during the exchanges, and is usually quicker than his competition. Those factors lend to Horiguchi being able to land even more concussive force on his strikes by catching his opposition while coming forward or while they’re off balance. Horiguchi uses his kicks effectively, but his major, fight-finishing strike is his left hook, which he has used to drop fighter after fighter.
Ogikubo will have his hands full when he faces Horiguchi. The Shooto champ has a chance for redemption, but a victory for Ogikubo would be seen as a massive upset.
The lightweight division is featured heavily on this fight card. How do the fights play out, and how does the divisional landscape change?
The promotion signed exciting Brazilian fighters Diego Brandão and Tom Santos to compete against Satoru Kitaoka and UFC veteran Daron Cruickshank, respectively.
Brandão, 31, brings a thrilling submission arsenal and threatening striking game to Rizin. He has won two of his past three fights since being cut by the UFC following a submission defeat at the hands of featherweight contender Brian Ortega. Brandão scored highlight-reel stoppages against skilled Russians Murad Machaev and Vener Galiev under the Fight Night Global banner. Despite coming off a loss to FNG lightweight titleholder Akhmet Aliev, the former The Ultimate Fighter winner is immediately considered a contender under the Rizin banner due to his wild style of fighting.
Kitaoka has tasted defeat in back-to-back fights against Kiichi Kunimoto and Yusuke Yachi. However, he has won nine of his past 12 fights, including a comeback submission victory over the aforementioned Cruickshank. Kitaoka is at a disadvantage on the feet, but he has the submission arsenal to potentially catch Brandão if the Brazilian leaves his neck open to the “Catch Wrestling Koala.” Kitaoka would move back into contention with an impressive win over Brandão. If Kitaoka losses, he will likely have to venture outside of the promotion to pick up a win while Brandão catapults into a bigger match-up.
The other debuting fighter, Santos, has impressed since returning to competition in 2017. The 33-year-old has won six of his past seven fights, with knockout victories in all but one of those winning affairs. The Brazilian holds stoppage victories over Kenichiro Togashi, Yusaku Inoue, Yui Chul Nam (twice) and Yasuaki Kishimoto. Santos brings another exciting finisher to the promotion and could potentially be a future mainstay should he stretch his winning streak to three.
Cruickshank has impressed during his Rizin stint with stoppage victories over K-1 legend Andy Souwer, Shinji Sasaki and, most recently, Koshi Matsumoto. The “Detroit Superstar” has carved out a niche as the moustache-touting, American flag-wearing, karate fighter with flashy kicks and knockout power. He holds true to his fighting style, with 14 of his 20 wins by way of finish, including 12 knockouts. Another decisive victory in the Rizin ring could lead to a potential rematch with the consensus top lightweight in the promotion, Yusuke Yachi. However, don’t be shocked if the Brazilian spoils the Michigander’s shine in his promotional debut.
In other action, Takanori Gomi steps up in weight to take on Melvin Guillard in a catchweight bout. Although the bout is not at lightweight, Gomi figures into the future of the division in Rizin. The only reason this fight takes place at 73 kilograms is because the former UFC lightweight Guillard most likely cannot make the 154-pound limit anymore. Guillard makes his promotional debut on the heels of seven straight losses, including defeats at the hands of Justin Gaethje, Israel Adesanya, Chidi Njokuani and Muslim Salikhov.
The former Pride lightweight champion Gomi is in a similar position to Guillard after losing six straight fights, all of which ended in the first round. Gomi couldn’t turn his losing skid around in his own promotional debut against the aforementioned Yachi. However, he had his moments in the back-and-forth affair, giving some fans hope that his legendary career is not over just yet.
Gomi was originally scheduled to meet two-time K-1 MAX champion Andy Souwer, but the top kickboxer turned his attention to ONE Championship. Now, Guillard has a huge opportunity in hand to beat a former great. Both fighters desperately need a win, and Gomi would stand to benefit from a victory in front of the Japanese crowd.
Women’s AtomW (108 pounds): Kanna Asakura vs. Rena Kubota
Asakura by submission
BW (132 pounds): Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Hiromasa Ogikubo
Horiguchi by knockout
LHW: Jiří Procházka vs. Bruno Henrique Cappelozza
Procházka by knockout
Catchweight (160 pounds): Takanori Gomi vs. Melvin Guillard
Gomi by knockout
LW: Satoru Kitaoka vs. Diego Brandão
Brandão by knockout
Openweight: Unurjargal Boldpurev vs. Shoma Shibisai
Boldpurev by knockout
Women’s FlyW: Rin Nakai vs. Shizuka Sugiyama
Nakai by decision
Women’s AtomW (108 pounds): Saori Ishioka vs. Miyuu Yamamoto
Ishioka by submission
Catchweight (130 pounds): Tadaaki Yamamoto vs. Thanongsaklek Tiger Muay Thai
Yamamoto by submission
LW: Daron Cruickshank vs. Tom Santos
Santos by knockout
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