On Sunday, Sept. 30, Rizin Fighting Federation will hold its biggest event to date from the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, for Rizin.13.
Following the tragic loss of Japanese combat sports superstar Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto this month, two generational talents from their respective combat sports will compete in a monumental clash featuring two of Japan’s best. Yamamoto’s protege Kyoji Horiguchi will strap on the big gloves when he crosses over into kickboxing to take on undefeated 20-year-old phenom Tenshin Nasukawa, just like his former coach did against the greatest Japanese kickboxer to ever live, Masato, at K-1 Dynamite in 2004. In many ways, the storylines are parallel. Yamamoto was virtually unstoppable under MMA rules. In three short years, he destroyed much of his competition with a combination of high-level wrestling and unmatched athleticism. Despite very little experience in the striking martial arts, Yamamoto took on the best fighter in Japan under his own rules. His willingness to challenge himself against the 2003 K-1 MAX world champion elevated not only himself, but martial arts in Japan. The hope is that this battle of budding stars can re-invigorate kakutougi in Japan, just like “Kid” and Masato did before them.
In addition to the headliner, Mirko Cro Cop returns against streaking heavyweight Roque Martinez, former Invicta FC atomweight champ Ayaka Hamasaki meets DEEP titleholder Mina Kurobe, and former UFC fighters Diego Brandão and Daron Cruickshank will clash at lightweight.
On the kickboxing portion of the card, former K-1 world champion Taiga makes his RIZIN debut against RISE 125 tournament winner Kento Haraguchi, who is just 20 years old.
What does the fight between Kyoji Horiguchi and Tenshin Nasuakawa mean for combat sports in Japan? Nasukawa will have a large advantage with the fight being held under kickboxing rules. How can Horiguchi win, and will he?
Kyoji Horiguchi spent the large majority of his life training in combat sports under the watchful eye of his late karate master, Hirou Nihei, who passed away earlier this year from cancer. However, Horiguchi was an unknown commodity when he walked into Kid Yamamoto’s Tokyo-based Krazy Bee gym as an 18-year-old. Influnced by the days of Pride FC and K-1, Horiguchi quickly became one of Yamamoto’s top students. In his first experience in MMA, Horiguchi won five amateur bouts during the East Japan Amateur Shooto Open Tournament in 2009. Shortly after, Horiguchi won the Shooto Rookie Tournament and 2010 MVP award in his first year as a pro. His elevation to the pinnacle of the sport was only slowed momentarily, when he lost to former Shooto champ and Japanese MMA legend Masakatsu Ueda, who had to survive a knockdown in the third round to pull out the decision victory in Horiguchi’s seventh pro bout.
Since that loss, Horiguchi has won 19 of 20 fights with his only loss coming in the final seconds of his UFC flyweight title loss to one of the greatest MMA fighters to ever live, Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson. Horiguchi decided to leave the UFC in 2016 for a few reasons. Besides the fact that he wasn’t offered comparable offers from his flyweight counterparts, Horiguchi wanted to bring a rise to Japanese martial arts and fight in front of his master, mentor and family. The decision couldn’t have turned out to be a better career change for Horiguchi. The 27-year-old debuted by taking out the No.1-ranked flyweight in Japan, Yuki Motoya, then moved up in weight to win four fights in the span of five months to capture the Rizin bantamweight grand prix, dispatched of former consensus flyweight king Ian McCall in just nine seconds, and bested the next best Japanese flyweight Hiromasa Ogikubo in his lastest outing.
Now, Horiguchi has stepped up to face his biggest challenge yet, under a completely different rule set, against one of the best young prospects in kickboxing, regardless of weight class.
Tenshin Nasukawa began training in karate at a young age. Nasukawa’s extensive upbringing in amateur kickboxing as a child and young teen built a skill-base and experience level that is largely unmatched in most combat sports. Nasukawa racked up 99 wins in just over 100 fights before turning pro as a 15-year-old prodigy. Nasukawa won his first pro title against current K-1 featherweight titleholder Yuta Murakoshi at the age of 16, won an eight-man, one-night tournament just a few months later with victories over Shoot Boxing champion Taiki Naito and Yasunori Ogasawara, and captured the ISKA 55-kilogram world title with a victory over Fred Cordeiro in 2016. Nasukawa made his arrival on the world stage for most fans when he knocked out then Lumpinee stadium champion Wanchalong PK. Saenchai at the debut event from KNOCK OUT in December of 2016. He followed that massive victory up by stopping former world boxing champion Amnat Ruenroeng, dominating Ryan Sheehan, stopping Ignacio Capllonch, besting Suakim Sit.Sor.Thor.Taew, and his most recent victory over elite Muay Thai fighter Rodtang Jitmuangnon in June.
At the age of 20, Nasukawa has captured the hearts and minds of the Japanese fans. That is why this match-up against one of, if not the best Japanese MMA fighters to ever live, could potentially spark an interest in both sports. This fight card features a number of big name stars across combat sports. Kickboxers Taiga and Haraguchi, multiple-sport athletes Cro Cop and Tenshin, the MMA elite Horiguchi, Sunabe and Hamasaki, and sumo player Osunaarashi are the names that have drawn enough interest to force Rizin to expand the Saitama Super Arena’s seating for the first time in the promotion’s history. Rizin head Nobuyuki Sakakibara recently revealed this year will be pivotal to the future of the promotion. Rizin has struggled to secure a consistent prime national television block and ratings have under-performed over the past few events. The outcome of the fights, how the bouts play out, and what happens in the main event could directly affect the future of Rizin.
Nasukawa is rightfully the heavy favorite heading into the bout under his own rule set. Horiguchi comes from a karate and striking background, but has never competed as a professional in kickboxing. Nasukawa has won all 26 of his pro bouts with 20 victories by way of knockout. He’s faced high-level Muay Thai fighters, experienced kickboxers and a handful of over-matched opponents. Under the Rizin banner, Nasukawa ran through MMA fighter Yusaku Nakamura at Rizin 10, knocked out K-1 veteran Kizaemon Saiga in a mixed-rules bout and destroyed journeyman Yuta “Cat” Hamamoto and amateur boxer turned MMA fighter Yamato Fujita at Rizin 9 to win the Rizin four-man kickboxing tournament. Horiguchi, while not a kickboxer by trade, is by far the biggest name Tenshin has fought with the promotion.
Nasukawa is a dangerous southpaw, who can fight in many different ranges and phases of the fight game. Nasukawa has a great left kick, excellent straight left hand and the knockout power to drop opponents with hooks, knees and kicks to the body. Nasukawa likes to counter his opponent’s strikes. However, he engages his forward movement when he senses a wounded or comprised opponent, is able to stay defensively aware while setting his opponent up for the counter, and most importantly presses for the stoppage. His pace, pressure and output will be superior to Horiguchi, who will need to acclimate to the pace of a nine-minute kickboxing fight, which is usually much faster than the typical 15-minute MMA bout.
Horiguchi’s striking style has been adapted from his karate background to include a darting, in-and-out style, which has brought him much success in MMA due to his ability to close the distance with a powerful punch faster than his opponent can react. Horiguchi isn’t necessarily a one-shot power puncher, however. His style lends itself to catching opponents out of position, coming forward, off balance, or with full forward momentum from a leaping attack. That style has led him to score more than 24 knockdowns and 13 knockouts in his 27-fight career. The problem for Horiguchi, is that Nasukawa is a tough, durable, crafty opponent who has the style to eventually damage and wear down the body, legs and eventually the head of the MMA star. Horiguchi has an excellent chin and has only been stopped once in his career by submission against Mighty Mouse. Horiguchi was stunned in his fight with Shintaro Ishiwatari all the way back in 2013 and most recently in a misfortune head clash that put him down on the canvas against Manel Kape.
Horiguchi will carry a heavy heart and be extremely motivated to come out of the contest successful following the loss of his former mentor, Yamamoto. He has the overall skill set, physical capabilities and warrior spirit to give Nasukawa a difficult fight. However, Nasukawa is legitimately one of the best kickboxers in Japan with a seemingly untapped potential at the age of 20. Horiguchi is one of the best MMA fighters in the world, but he will likely be in for the toughest fight of his career against the kickboxing phenom. Nasukawa will struggle to stop Horiguchi in this fight, but the the victory is his for the taking.
The fight card is stacked with talent from top to bottom. What are the fights and fighters the fans need to know about?
Legendary Pride FC and UFC heavyweight Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipović returns to Rizin against DEEP openweight champion Roque Martinez. Cro Cop has quietly remained successful even in the twilight of his career. The 44-year-old Croatian has one of the best resumes in the heavyweight division in the sport’s history. Cro Cop has stopped 28 of his 36 professional wins, including former UFC champions Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman and Josh Barnett, Pride legend Wanderlei Silva, dangerous heavyweight Igor Vovchanchyn, and former Strikeforce titleholder and Rizin openweight grand prix winner Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal. Cro Cop enters the contest on an eight-fight winning streak dating back more than four years. Martinez, 32, is also riding the momentum of eight straight wins, including the likes of K-1 legend Jerome LeBanner, former DEEP champion Jaideep Singh and ACB veteran Doo Hwan Kim. This fight has the potential to create highlight-reel footage for years to come. The pair compiled a combined finishing rate of 85.4 percent in their combined 48 fights.
Two of Japan’s best female atomweights, former Invicta FC champion Ayaka Hamasaki and current DEEP titleholder Mina Kurobe, will compete in the wide open Rizin women’s 108-pound division. Hamasaki is still considered one of the best atomweights in the world. Hamasaki was dominant in her rise to the top of the atomweight division, earning 15 wins in 17 fights with her only losses coming against bigger competition, UFC fighters Claudia Gadelha and Livia Renata Rouza. Even at the age of 41, Kurobe has maintained a solid resume of wins with seven victories in her last eight bouts. For a detailed breakdown of the match-up, read this week’s Out of Obscurity.
The only other women’s bout on the card is a rematch between Miyuu Yamamoto and Andy Nguyen. Yamamoto, 44, is the older sister of Norifumi. She grew up in the world of wrestling under her father, Ikuei, who competed in the 1972 Munich Olympics. Yamamoto will likely have a heavy heart heading into the bout, following the loss of her younger brother just two weeks ago. Her opponent, Nguyen, is a former KOTC women’s atomweight champion with victories in six of her 12 pro bouts. Nguyen was able to submit Yamamoto in their first meeting with an armbar in the first round in 2016. However, Yamamoto has won two of three bouts since the loss. That will likely give the Japanese fans hope that a Yamamoto-trained fighter will be victorious this weekend.
The Ultimate Fighter 14 winner Diego Brandão returns to the promotion following a dominant debut against decorated Japanese champion Satoru Kitaoka in July. Brandão will look to push himself up the lightweight rankings when he meets fellow UFC castoff Daron Cruickshank, who has been impressive during his latest three-fight winning streak. Both fighters had to deal with ups and downs during their UFC tenure and outside of it. However, they have seemingly started to put it together in recent years – in pockets anyway. Brandão has won five of his past seven fights, all of which he has stopped inside of two rounds. Cruickshank also holds five victories in his past seven, including stoppage wins over Andy Souwer, Tom Santos, Koshi Mastsumoto and Shinji Sasaki. The fight has meaning in the Rizin lightweight division, but what will actually bring in the fans is the potential violence that could unfold.
If violence is what fuels you, you’re in luck, as this card was created for the sick and sadistic. The horror show kicks off in the first bout of the evening, which is destined to provide a potential bone-breaking submission or spine-bending knockout. Portuguese wildman Manel Kape will bring out the best in former DEEP champion Yusaku Nakamura, who has won nine of his past 10 bouts. Kape made a spectacular debut with a destructive left head kick that sent Erson Yamamoto to another planet. Nakamura is a powerful striker with more than a few destructive knockouts. Show up early because the show will start with a bang, or more specifically, a toe-curling, gut-wrenching knockout.
The potential for violence doesn’t stop there, as the Asakura brothers make their return against dangerous opponents. Fresh off of a first-round stoppage of former top-10 featherweight Hatsu Hioki, Mikuru Asakura welcomes Kazakhstan’s Karshyga Dautbek to Rizin. His younger brother, Kai, looks for his third straight win against experienced Muay Thai fighter Thanongsaklek “Topnoi” Tiger Muay Thai, who burst on the scene in Japan with an absolutely crazy 66-second brawl against Tadaaki Yamamoto at Rizin 11.
Although the bout is potentially flying under the radar for most, the world’s best strawweight Mitsuhisa Sunabe returns to Rizin, this time under MMA rules against DEEP and Shooto veteran Haruo Ochi, who has won five straight fights. Sunabe earned the distinction of being the best strawweight in the world following one of the longest current winning streaks in MMA, a streak which sits at 16 straight and spans three different weight divisions.
Finally, former top Sumo player Kintaro Osunaarashi will make his MMA debut against Pride FC and K-1 veteran Bob “The Beast” Sapp, who has only won two fights in nearly 10 years of competition.
Kickboxing: Tenshin Nasukawa vs. Kyoji Horiguchi
Nasukawa by decision
Women’s Super AW: Andy Nguyen vs. Miyuu Yamamoto
Yamamoto by decision
Heavyweight: Mirko Cro Cop vs. Roque Martinez
Cro Cop by decision
Light Heavyweight: Jiří Procházka vs. Jake Heun
Procházka by knockout
Featherweight: Mikuru Asakura vs. Karshyga Dautbek
Asakura by knockout
Lightweight: Daron Cruickshank vs. Diego Brandão
Brandão by submission
Openweight: Bob Sapp vs. Kintaro Osunaarashi
Osunaarashi by knockout
Strawweight: Mitsuhisa Sunabe vs. Haruo Ochi
Sunabe by knockout
59-kilograms: Kai Asakura vs. Topnoi Tiger Muay Thai
Asakura by submission
Women’s Super AW: Ayaka Hamasaki vs. Mina Kurobe
Hamasaki by decision
Kickboxing: Taiga vs. Kento Haraguchi
Taiga by decision
Flyweight: Yusaku Nakamura vs. Manel Kape
Kape by decision
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