The Rizin Fighting Federation ends the year with a pair of events ranging from the morning to the evening. Rizin 14 is the featured event of the pair. It takes place on Monday, Dec. 31, from the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. The biggest event in the promotion’s history features 14 fights in the final Rizin show of the year.
In the night’s headliner, legendary boxing great Floyd Mayweather Jr. competes in the country of Japan for the first time in his career in a three-round boxing exhibition with Japanese child prodigy Tenshin Nasukawa, who is undefeated as a professional combat-sports athlete. The promotion has smashed previous ticket sales, even expanding the seating in the famed Saitama Super Arena to adhere to the demand to see an undefeated five-division world boxing champion take on one of Japan’s biggest combat-sports stars.
The co-headliner features two of the best bantamweights in the world. Bellator bantamweight champion Darrion Caldwell travels overseas to challenge 2017 Rizin World Grand Prix champ Kyoji Horiguchi for the inaugural Rizin bantamweight title. Should Horiguchi win, he will challenge Caldwell for his title under the Bellator banner in what looks to be the beginning of even more talent-sharing between the promotions.
In another featured bout, former Invicta FC atomweight champion and top-ranked atomweight in the world Ayaka Hamasaki meets 2017 Rizin women’s super atomweight grand prix champion Kanna Asakura.
The historic event also features a number of high-level fights that include top prospects, UFC veterans and exciting fighters. In main-card action, top light heavyweight prospect Jiří Procházka looks to take out former Bellator middleweight champ Brandon Halsey, Deep flyweight titleholder Yuki Motoya clashes with former ranked UFC flyweight Justin Scoggins, top Japanese lightweight Yusuke Yachi battles UFC castoff Johnny Case, and surging lightweight contender Daron Cruickshank looks to stop tough and rugged UFC veteran Damien Brown. Finally, four-time Shoot Boxing S-Cup champion Rena Kubota makes her return to MMA against France’s Samantha Jean-Francois.
Prior to the New Year’s Eve event, Rizin will hold a seven-fight event in the morning, dubbed “Rizin Heisei’s Last Yarennoka!” and featuring a clash of former champions in the main event. Former Sengoku, Deep and King of Pancrase champion Satoru Kitaoka meets former Shooto welterweight world champ Tatsuya Kawajiri in a battle of two of the best lightweights in Japanese MMA history.
Rizin 14 airs live at 1 a.m. ET on Combat Press via Fite TV. The main event will not air during the North American broadcast, but will be featured on the international broadcast. Combat Press writers Justyn Likes and Zach Aittama break down the action for both Rizin cards in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
While Rizin has plenty of great MMA match-ups in its two-event lineup, most of the attention from casual fans will be focused on the boxing match between legendary boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. and kickboxing sensation Tenshin Nasukawa. What can fans expect from this contest?
Likes: This fight will draw a substantial amount of viewers who have never previously witnessed a Nasukawa fight. It’s all because of Mayweather. This means you can expect many fans who have never seen Nasukawa fight to go from “Who the hell is this dude?” to “Damn, this kid can fight!”
As for what happens inside the ring, Nasukawa can be expected to utilize every minute of the sparse nine minutes at his disposal. He won’t feel out Mayweather, let alone use much of a jab. Instead, Nasukawa is going to go in there and try to prove something, letting off multiple punch combinations.
And Mayweather? Honestly, I don’t know. Heading into his fight with MMA superstar Conor McGregor, Mayweather said he was going to put on a show and go on the offensive to make up for the stinker in his Manny Pacquiao fight. He did just that. Here, though, Mayweather has to be more careful. Nasukawa is 10 times the boxer McGregor will ever be. Of course, one glaring advantage Mayweather has is that he will be much bigger than his opponent — Mayweather’s last fight was contested at 154 pounds. He also is arguably the best boxer of the past 20 years and remains a cerebral assassin in the ring. Mayweather can quickly make adjustments and nullify the strengths of his opponent.
Who really knows what will happen? This fight could always be canceled at the last minute, or some other sort of shenanigans may be at play. There could be plenty of backstage discussions and deals going on to alter the way the fight will go down.
Aittama: There is plenty of information to unpack about this highly anticipated exhibition. First off, let’s start by saying Rizin took a major risk to kick-start its business. Rizin boss Nobuyuki Sakakibara stated earlier this year that the promotion is in uncertain territory beyond 2018. The television numbers haven’t lined up with expectations despite the rise and participation of stars like Nasukawa, Kyoji Horiguchi, Kanna Asakura and Rena Kubota. Heading into one of the biggest television nights in Japan, the promotion has invested an incredible amount of money to bring in Mayweather. It’s probable that the decision to invest in the Mayweather brand could be a last-ditch effort by Sakakibara to build the name of the kickboxing phenom Nasukawa on New Year’s Eve.
As for the fight, it’s pretty clear that each fighter is approaching this bout differently. A three-minute, three-round boxing exhibition will be a walk in the park for Mayweather. “Money” has been a boxer since the time he could walk. Coming from a family of boxers in Grand Rapids, Mich., he has spent over three decades fine-tuning his craft. There is no doubt that Mayweather’s name carries the furthest with the casual fan base. Whenever the boxing great fights, the fans pay attention. After years of high-level competition, he has been responsible for some of the biggest fights in pay-per-view history, including his last professional bout against the former two-division UFC champion McGregor, which brought his record to 50 wins. Mayweather has evolved his character over the years, but controversy and name value have fueled his career to become one of the highest-paid athletes in the world.
Mayweather holds victories over great champions Pacquiao, Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto, Shane Mosley, Canelo Alvarez, Juan Manuel Marquez and many others. In the past 15 years, he continued to move up in weight to face more challenges and bigger names. At 5-foot-8, he has fought and won titles as high as 154 pounds, but spent the large majority of his career at 140 or under. Heading into this boxing exhibition, Mayweather will be taller, longer and stronger than his much younger foe. The 41-year-old may be past his athletic prime, but, with over 30 years of drilling timing, anticipation and reaction time, Mayweather’s knowledge of the sport will carry far more weight than his size, especially against a fighter who has never competed under a strictly boxing-only ruleset.
Let’s be honest with ourselves going into this bout. This isn’t the fight the fans want to see. There’s another kickboxer in Japan that carries a huge name: three-division K-1 world champion Takeru. Unfortunately, it was easier to get Mayweather for a boxing bout than it would be to solve years of politics that have kept Takeru and Nasukawa from meeting in the kickboxing ring. Furthermore, this exhibition would have been much more interesting if Nasukawa was able to use his full range of skills, but Mayweather was never going to sign up to compete in another man’s combat sport. However, Nasukawa started training boxing under Teiken Boxing Gym coach Yūichi Kasai four years ago with the eventual hopes of becoming a world boxing champion after his kickboxing career. Japan’s Kasai has trained five world boxing champions since he began coaching in 1999.
Despite being tutored by an excellent coach in a strong boxing gym, even his coach is doubtful Nasukawa has much of a chance to “win” the bout against the far more experienced fighter. There will be no judges in the nine-minute exhibition, so in theory either man can win the fight by knockout. Even if Nasukawa can press forward for the entirety of the three rounds, it will be very difficult to trap Mayweather or force him to exchange. Mayweather was so successful in his career because he was incredibly skilled, well trained, defensively cognizant, and has the ability to counter without taking much damage. If Nasukawa is pressing forward, it’s not out of the possibility that he walks into a punch. The fight has many intriguing dynamics at play, including size disparity, experience difference, open-stance battle, and style contrast, which could be the most interesting aspect of the bout.
No, Nasukawa won’t be able to use his MMA angles to disrupt Mayweather (that’s a joke), but he could offer a different look at closing distance. One of Nasukawa’s best offensive tools is his step knee from the southpaw stance. Obviously, he won’t be able to use this attack, but maybe feinting the knee strike can indeed freeze Mayweather enough to capitalize on a left straight to the body. Prior to the bout, Nasukawa traveled to Las Vegas to train with three-division world champ Jorge Linares. At the very least, the high-level sparring with Linares will help Nasukawa get some sense of the level of fighter he is going to be dealing with in Mayweather.
Obviously, the undefeated boxer is going to have nearly every single advantage heading into this bout, but it’s hard to deny the aura that surrounds Nasukawa. The child prodigy has been competing for nearly two decades himself. He won his first professional kickboxing title at the age of 16. Less than four months later, he won his first one-night, eight-man tournament. He won his first world title, the ISKA bantamweight belt, at the age of 17. By the time he was 18, Nasukawa had already defeated Lumpinee stadium titleholder Wanchalong and former world boxing champion Amnat Ruenroeng. Also, Nasukawa is familiar with crossing over to different combat sports — he holds an undefeated MMA record to accompany his kickboxing and Muay Thai resume. As a professional, Nasukawa has won all 33 of his fights, including 24 wins by way of knockout.
Nasuakawa encountered his toughest opponent to date in June. He had to dig deep to win a controversial extra-round decision against the “Muay Tank” Rodtang Jitmuangnon, whose constant pressure and relentless offense was enough to frustrate Nasukawa. Rodtang even stunned Nasukawa briefly in an incredible fight that could be considered a “Fight of the Year” contender. Nasukawa returned to Rizin when MMA star Kyoji Horiguchi crossed over to kickboxing in the main event of Rizin 13. Horiguchi’s style gave Nasukawa some trouble in the early going, but the young kickboxer hurt the seemingly invincible fighter late in the third round. In Nasukawa’s most recent bout, he absolutely ran through former RISE champ Taiki Naito in less than two minutes by using only punches and his step knee.
Does Nasukawa stand a chance to claim victory? Every fighter can win on any given day. The circumstances surrounding this bout are slightly different, however. Exhibitions bouts are different in Japan, in many ways. They can draw interest for the fans, much like when former K-1 MAX world champion Masato fought both the late great Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto and Takanori Gomi in New Year’s Eves past. This contest has the potential to become a fight, but it all depends on if Mayweather is willing to engage and if Nasukawa can make it worth the risk for Rizin. What we know for sure is that Mayweather is primed to travel to Japan, compete against one of the best young kickboxers in the world and then fly back home relatively unscathed and likely much richer.
One of the biggest fights out of the MMA offering is the bantamweight championship scrap between Kyoji Horiguchi and Darrion Caldwell. Will Horiguchi, formerly a member of the flyweight elite, continue his successful bantamweight run, or can Caldwell add yet another signature win to a resume that already includes a decision over Eduardo Dantas, a submission of Leandro Higo and a knockout of Noad Lahat?
Aittama: Horiguchi is very quickly approaching the status of being known as the greatest fighter in Japanese MMA history. There are many discussions, arguments and statements that can be made to who really is the greatest. Names like Kazushi Sakuraba, Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto and others have long been synonymous with being known as greats of their generation. Horiguchi is the best Japanese fighter this decade, and maybe ever. He has won 25 of his 27 fights, knocked down his opponents more than 20 times, and scored 15 stoppage victories in his accomplished career. Horiguchi’s recent run of 19 wins in 20 fights includes victories over Ian McCall, Shintaro Ishiwatari, Hiromasa Ogikubo, Yuki Motoya, Ali Bagautinov and many others.
It’s true that Horiguchi will also be the best fighter that Caldwell has ever faced. The 31-year-old has racked up 12 wins in 13 fights, including avenging his only loss, a submission defeat against Joe Taimanglo. Caldwell is stepping up in competition against Horiguchi, but he does have a solid resume in six years of work. The former NCAA wrestling champ has defeated Bellator champions Dantas and Joe Warren, current interim King of Pancrase bantamweight champ Rafael Silva and former Resurrection Fighting Alliance titleholder Higo. The Alliance MMA athlete has developed his striking and submission game over the years, but the bread and butter of his arsenal is his wrestling.
Horiguchi is a dangerous match-up for any fighter in the flyweight or bantamweight division. His striking has been molded around his karate background, which began when he was just five years old. His unorthodox style, combined with his speed and reflexes, allows for him to hit his opponents without taking damage. Horiguchi likes to close the distance in bursts, counters effectively during exchanges, and is usually quicker than his competition. He uses his kicks effectively, which could be an important factor against a taller opponent like Caldwell.
Horiguchi is an excellent athlete with great timing, movement, and distance control. However, Caldwell is one of the best athletes in the division. Not only will he likely be much stronger than Horiguchi, but Caldwell will have a six-inch height and eight-inch reach advantage over the former flyweight. Caldwell’s last bout took place at featherweight against the former UFC fighter Lahat. As soon as the fight hit the mat, Caldwell was able to showcase his dominant top control and ever-improving grappling. Despite his efforts, Lahat couldn’t get the superior wrestler off of him. Should Caldwell get Horiguchi down and keep him there, he can wear on his smaller foe in hopes to drain his cardio, tire his arms and legs, and eventually work to lock up a fight-finishing submission or even use a new tool at his disposal, knees to a ground opponent.
Even with all of the factors in Caldwell’s favor, Horiguchi has the striking advantage and experience to thwart one of his toughest challenges to date.
Likes: I was excited when Bellator and Rizin collaborated on this fight, because Caldwell wasn’t getting much high-level competition in Bellator. In this fight, he finally gets a game opponent.
As for the what happens between the ropes, size and Caldwell’s wrestling pedigree is going to make all the difference. Caldwell is massive as a bantamweight. We’ve seen him get up to 150 pounds on fight night after rehydrating. Meanwhile, Horiguchi is probably going to walk out around 135ish, because the natural flyweight doesn’t cut a lot to make 135.
Horiguchi will give Caldwell some problems on the feet because of his movement and how fast he gets into the pocket, exchanges and gets back out. However, Caldwell is going to eventually land what will be most likely an ankle pick or a double-leg takedown. From there, Horiguchi is going to have a hard time getting up because of the strength of Caldwell.
Ayaka Hamasaki has long been among the very best of the atomweight division. In fact, she’s never lost a fight within the weight class. Will she add Kanna Asakura to her list of victims?
Likes: Hamasaki is the best atomweight in the world, but Asakura might be the second best atomweight. Yet, I have questions about Asakura that I don’t have about Hamasaki. Who has Asakura beat in her career that was a top-20 atomweight, or even top-30? Does she have a win against someone who has a decent grappling game to negate a bit of the superior grappling Asakura offers?
Asakura has defeated Rena Kubota, who has zero grappling game. She topped Maria Oliveira, who came into the fight with a 9-2 record where only two of her wins came against a fighter with a winning record. Of Asakura’s nine other victories, only three came against a fighter with a winning record. One of those fighters was 48 years old. I’m not saying Asakura isn’t a good fighter — she definitely is — but she’s only 21 years old and it’s understandable that her strength of competition is not the best. In this fight, it’s going to be a huge detriment for her.
Hamasaki is 36 years old and has taken on the best of the best throughout her career. She’s met Emi Fujino, Seo Hee Ham, Mizuki Inoue, Mei Yamaguchi and current Invicta atomweight champ Jinh Yu Frey. She has wins over all of these women. The only two losses Hamasaki suffered came when she was fighting out of her weight class, and those setbacks came against Livia Renata Souza and Claudia Gadelha. Hamasaki also is arguably the best grappler at atomweight and will be far better a grappler than Asakura has ever seen. She will be able to stuff the takedown attempts of Asakura, and if the fight stays on the feet, she has the advantage there, too. By no means will this be a walk in the park for Hamasaki, but Asakura isn’t ready for this level of competition yet.
Aittama: My colleague did a great job of laying out the narrative in this top-level women’s atomweight bout. It’s pretty clear that Hamasaki is the best women’s atomweight in the world. She’s beaten the best the world has to offer. After getting her dream of fighting in the UFC crushed following a devastating loss to the aforementioned former Invicta women’s strawweight Souza, Hamasaki has reeled off back-to-back wins over Deep titleholder Mina Kurobe and Alyssa Garcia, who holds a win over Asakura.
Hamasaki has turned her attention from the UFC to Rizin, where 2017 women’s 48-kilogram tournament champion Asakura reigns supreme. The 21-year-old has won eight straight fights since dropping her debut bout against the aforementioned Garcia in 2016. Granted, her resume couldn’t possibly contend with Hamasaki’s career. However, two victories over the aforementioned four-time Shoot Boxing champ Kubota shows her level of talent. Asakura used her superior wrestling and grappling game to set up her takedowns by countering Kubota’s aggressive striking style. The threat of Asakura’s submissions and top game where enough to force Kubota into a more cautious approach. In the rematch, Kubota did a better job of fending off the submission attempts. Still, Asakura was able to dominant the grappling exchanges.
This won’t be the case when Asakura fights Hamasaki, who has proven to be one of the most complete fighters in any division. Hamasaki flashed her striking chops in her third-round stoppage victory over Frey, where she stunned Frey with punches and took the victory after opening a huge cut. In her most recent bout, Hamasaki took out another high-level opponent with strong wrestling and grappling. Hamasaki was able to trap an arm and lock up the first-round submission against the aforementioned Kurobe, who currently sits as the world’s fourth-ranked atomweight. Regardless of whether Hamasaki keeps the fight standing or finds an opening on the floor, she’s going to be in control of where the fight takes place, which often leads to victory.
Are we in for another difficult-to-watch fight in which Gabrielle Garcia utterly destroys her opponent?
Aittama: Through six bouts as a professional, championship grappler-turned-MMA-fighter Garcia has compiled an undefeated record. Since making her debut in 2015, Garcia has stopped her opponent in all five of her victories, including four inside of one round. The Brazilian’s competition thus far has been less than stellar, with only one of her six opponents having more than one fight prior to their meeting.
Her next opponent, former WGP Kickboxing super middleweight champion Barbara Nepomuceno, will be another foe who is making her MMA debut. The 28-year-old has gone back-and-forth with Garcia throughout the years, stating that she will be the first fighter to hand Garcia a loss in MMA, despite not having competed in the sport. Nepomuceno holds three victories in her pro kickboxing career over Camila Guimarães, Talina Moreno and Aylin Sobrino. Following her first professional loss due to a knee injury against current titleholder Val Stanski, Nepomuceno was once again injured against Stanski in her most recent loss in November. However, the debuting combatant believes she has the striking chops to take out Garcia.
Just like in her fights with Stanski, Nepomuceno will be the smaller fighter. Garcia stepped on the scales at a whopping 235 pounds for her last contest, a first-round stoppage over Russia’s Veronika Futina at Road FC 47 in May. Garcia will have a massive advantage on the mat should the fight hit the floor. The multiple-time IBJJF and ADCC world champion is the far superior grappler with a wealth of experience in combat sports. However, Garcia believes she can test her striking against the former kickboxing champion, which could lead to a closer-than-expected contest. Should Garcia pursue the ground game, she will score another early stoppage victory.
Likes: I’ll be honest. I had never heard of Nepomuceno prior to her venture into the MMA world. In fact, most of Garcia’s opponents didn’t ring a ball. Futina? Nope, no idea. Oksana Gagloeva? Sounds like a computer-generated name. Lei’d Tapa? Also, no idea. To be fair, though, there aren’t a bunch of heavyweight women walking around.
Another trend is, like Nepomuceno, many of Garcia’s opponents have done a bit of trash-talking only to look like a fish out of water when the fight starts. Expect the same in this fight. Garcia is the superior grappler with the credentials to prove it. She may get tagged a bit looking for the takedown, but she will land one and then the fight will be over in short order. She will get the submission and Rizin will have to go look for another poor soul to feed to Garcia.
Jiří Procházka has quietly put together a strong record as a light heavyweight. Will he add a win over Brandon Halsey?
Likes: Procházka’s path to success is simple in theory, though it won’t be the easiest to execute. He has to keep the fight standing. Halsey is a good wrestler who should be looking for takedowns early. It’s where he’s found the most success in his career. When he is able to take an opponent down consistently, he walks away with a victory. Meanwhile, Procházka has been susceptible to takedowns throughout his career. However, Procházka has also shown an ability to get the fight back to the feet, where he’s been able to finish his opponent. It happened in his fight against Karl Albrektsson, as well as against Vadim Nemkov.
Halsey has a legitimate chance to win if he sticks to his game plan of wrestling. However, Procházka will find his moments when they’re standing and score the knockout of Halsey instead. Halsey can always land a big blow of his own, but his striking is nowhere near the level of Procházka.
Aittama: Yes, Halsey’s biggest area of opportunity is in his wrestling game. Despite not making it to the $1 million playoffs in the Professional Fighters League this year, Halsey picked up victories over talented competitors Smealinho Rama and Ronny Markes. After losing his Bellator middleweight title to Rafael Carvalho due to a nasty body kick, Halsey went on a three-fight skid, all of which ended inside of two rounds. Since then, Halsey has won three of his four fights, with his lone defeat coming against PFL finalist Vinny Magalhães.
The 32-year-old takes on another top competitor when he meets Procházka. Hailing from the Czech Republic, the talented striker has won six straight fights and 16 of his past 18 bouts. Procházka, 26, has only lost once in the past five years, and that was against former Strikeforce and 2015 Rizin world grand prix champion Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal in the finals of the tournament. Even though Lawal is a wrestler like Halsey, it was a right hand from King Mo that put Procházka down. However, Lawal’s wrestling was able to frustrate his opponent, which led to Procházka aggressively pursuing and eventually walking into a punch.
Halsey will need to recreate a similar situation if he stands to make any noise on the feet against the superior striker Procházka. If Halsey can hit a takedown in the center of the ring in each round, he may just be able to ride out the victory in a 15-minute fight, but the 10-minute first round changes some of the dynamic of this contest. Procházka will be the favorite heading into the bout, but this sport is crazy and Halsey could pull off the upset.
Rizin’s “Heisei’s Last Yarennoka!” event takes place on the morning of Dec. 31 in Japan, with Rizin 14 taking place that evening. Should fans care about this earlier event? Does it hold anywhere near the importance of the evening show?
Aittama: The event features a solid mix of veterans, prospects and kickboxing bouts, but to answer the question, it certainly doesn’t carry the same weight as Rizin 14.
In the event’s headliner, Tatsuya Kawajiri and Satoru Kitaoka will finally cross paths. The decorated Japanese lightweights have combined for an incredible 108 professional contests over their 18-year careers, which both began in 2000. These fighters are in the twilight of their careers, but a victory could lead to yet another high-profile bout for the victor.
Kawajiri, 40, has spent nearly a decade at the top of the division, but losses in four of his past five fights have the former Pride, Strikeforce and UFC veteran questioning how long he can continue his career. Kawajiri returns to the lightweight division for the first time in seven years, citing his inability to make a healthy cut to featherweight. Following a victory over former UFC fighter Anthony Birchak, Kawajiri was brutally knocked out by Brazilian underdog Gabriel Oliveira. Now, Kawajiri makes his return to the ring after nearly 14 months away from the sport.
Like Kawajiri, Kitaoka has long been considered one of the best lightweights in Japan. The former King of Pancrase, Deep and Sengoku champ holds victories over top fighters Carlos Condit, Takanori Gomi, Paul Daley, Katsunori Kikuno, Kuniyoshi Hironaka and Daron Cruickshank. Kitaoka lost his Deep lightweight title in his latest bout following a decision defeat at the hands of undefeated prospect Koji Takeda at Deep 86 Impact.
The stakes are higher for both, as a win over a fellow Japanese MMA mainstay is for more than just bragging rights. For Kawajiri, it could potentially spell one last run in the sport, which might include a long-awaited rematch of his Pride Bushido 9 bout with the legendary Gomi. Should Kitaoka obtain victory, he slowly moves back into the mix at lightweight in Rizin, where he already holds a win over Cruickshank.
The Asakura brothers make their return on the event, too. Elder brother Mikuru looks for his fourth consecutive win against former Shooto world champion Takeshi “Lion” Inoue. He looks to improve on his impressive head-kick knockout against former top-10 featherweight Hatsu Hioki and a decision victory over rising prospect Karshyga Dautbek. Meanwhile, bantamweight prospect Kai Asakura draws Road FC title challenger Je Hoon Moon, who holds a third-round knockout over Asakura at Road FC 39 in 2017.
In the women’s MMA bouts, undefeated grappler Kana Watanabe takes on Shizuka Sugiyama in a rematch of their 2017 Rizin bout. Watanabe was able to edge out the Deep Jewels veteran in the first fight. Despite dropping the bout, Sugiyama has won five of her past six fights and has lost just twice in her past 13 outings. Social-media star, YouTuber and MMA prospect Nanaka Kawamura makes her promotional debut against Ai Shimizu. Kawamura, 23, is following a path similar to former Queen of Pancrase champ Rin Nakai, which includes strange videos that draw loads of attention (there is a joke there).
Likes: If Kawamura follows in Nakai’s footsteps, then count me in as a fan. I enjoy nothing more than seeing obscure videos to remind me of how culturally different Japan is. Plus, I get a laugh out of it.
I’m glad my colleague provided some insight on the other bouts. Why aren’t we getting a stream of this show?!?
Which fight is the sleeper match-up out of this two-event lineup?
Likes: Damien Brown and Daron Cruickshank.
Cruickshank has found a home in Rizin since being released by the UFC in 2016. Win or lose, this fight will most likely end dramatically, as have all eight of Cruickshank’s previous bouts with Rizin. He had the flying-knee knockout of Diego Brandão, plus a knockout loss against Yusuke Yachi in which he face-planted after eating a right hook. Both of those finishes ended up as “Knockout of the Year” contenders.
Cruickshank has an opponent in Brown who was also recently released by the UFC and will find a good home in Rizin because of his style. It takes a lot to effort to find a Brown fight that wasn’t a banger. His run in the UFC didn’t end the way he wanted it to, but he gained fans in the process as a result of his ability to stand and trade.
Brown will push the pace and get in Cruickshank’s face, which will result in violent exchanges and a finish. The fight won’t go the distance and may force people to change their “Knockout of the Year” and “Fight of the Year” selections.
Aittama: That’s an excellent choice, but there are a few bouts that could easily qualify as flying under the radar between these two events. With 21 fights to choose from, the intrigue of former UFC athletes competing in Japan always brings an exciting dynamic to the events. Which is why the sleeper fight is the 130-pound catchweight contest between UFC castoff Yuta “Ulka” Sasaki and 2017 Rizin bantamweight grand prix semifinalist Manel Kape.
For the first time in four years, Sasaki will fight outside of the Octagon. His run in the UFC didn’t go as expected for the 29-year-old. However, Sasaki picked up four victories during his time there, including wins over fellow UFC-turned-Rizin athlete Justin Scoggins, Jenel Lausa, Roland Delorme and Willie Gates. Sasaki is looking to return to the win column after trading wins and losses in his last seven bouts. The lanky flyweight decided to move to New York to improve his skills with Longo and Weidman Mixed Martial Arts.
Kape, 25, made an explosive Rizin debut with a destructive left head-kick knockout of Erson Yamamoto in the opening round of the 2017 Rizin bantamweight grand prix. He topped former UFC fighter Ian McCall in the quarterfinals after specifically choosing him during the tournament selection draw. Kape’s combination of speed, talent, personality and love of Japanese women led to the creation of an intriguing competitor who looks to have qualities that could push him to become a mainstay with the promotion for years to come. Following back-to-back losses to Kyoji Horiguchi and Kai Asakura, Kape locked up the third-round submission victory over Yusaku Nakamura at Rizin 13.
This fight is destined to be an exciting, all-or-nothing affair that is likely to end in a thrilling finish, no matter who is able to impose their game plan. Kape will carry a speed and quickness advantage in the fight, but Sasaki will have size and experience on his side. Expect nothing less than a barnburner in this 59-kilogram bout.
Pair this card with…
Aittama: Tradition. For over a decade, there has been a consistent stream of high-level combat sports that takes place on New Year’s Eve in Japan. From the beginning, the famed Dynamite! 2002 show kicked off everything from the Tokyo Dome in what still stands as the most attended MMA event in the sport’s history. Following years of Dynamite shows from Pride, K-1 and Dream, top promotions World Victory Road and Dream combined in 2011 for the Fight For Japan: Genki Desu Ka following the devastating tsunami and nuclear power plant incident in Japan. In 2012, kickboxing promotion GLORY combined with Dream to hold the MMA promotion’s final show on New Year’s Eve.
After back-to-back years without a major show in 2013 and 2014, Rizin entered the picture in 2015. In the promotion’s fourth year of operation, Rizin has put together its biggest card to date on the heels of what Rizin boss Nobuyuki Sakakibara claimed to be a pivotal event in the promotion’s future. This card was created to garner interest amongst the Japanese fans, but potentially could be the end of Rizin should the television numbers not meet expectations. Here’s to continuing tradition, building stars, and the return of Kakutogi in Japan.
Likes: Cup of Noodles. Everybody’s favorite mascot will surely be making an appearance. And, yes, popcorn. Darrion Caldwell will put on a show and finish Kyoji Horiguchi, and nothing goes down better than popcorn for entertainment purposes.
Rizin 14 Fight Picks
|Fight||Likes’s Pick||Aittama’s Pick|
|Boxing: Tenshin Nasukawa vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr.||Draw||Draw|
|BW Championship: Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Darrion Caldwell||Caldwell by submission||Horiguchi by decision|
|Women’s AtomW Championship: Kanna Asakura vs. Ayaka Hamasaki||Hamasaki by submission||Hamasaki by submission|
|LHW: Jiří Procházka vs. Brandon Halsey||Procházka by knockout||Procházka by knockout|
|Women’s HW: Gabrielle Garcia vs. Barbara Nepomuceno||Garcia by submission||Garcia by submission|
|LW: Daron Cruickshank vs. Damien Brown||Brown by knockout||Cruickshank by decision|
|Women’s Catchweight (112 pounds): Mika Nagano vs. Miyuu Yamamoto||Nagano by decision||Yamamoto by decision|
|Catchweight (143 pounds): Kazuyuki Miyata vs. Erson Yamamoto||Miyata by decision||Yamamoto by decision|
|LW: Yusuke Yachi vs. Johnny Case||Yachi by decision||Yachi by decision|
|Catchweight (132 pounds): Yuki Motoya vs. Justin Scoggins||Motoya by decision||Motoya by submission|
|Catchweight (130 pounds): Ulka Sasaki vs. Manel Kape||Sasaki by submission||Kape by knockout|
|Women’s FlyW: Shinju Nozawa-Auclair vs. Justyna Zofia Haba||Nozawa-Auclair by submission||Nozawa-Auclair by submission|
|LW: Nobumitsu Osawa vs. Tofik Musaev||Musaev by knockout||Osawa by knockout|
|Women’s AtomW: Rena Kubota vs. Samantha Jean-Francois||Kubota by knockout||Kubota by knockout|
Rizin Heisei’s Last Yarennoka! Fight Picks
|Fight||Likes’s Pick||Aittama’s Pick|
|LW: Tatsuya Kawajiri vs. Satoru Kitaoka||Kawajiri by decision||Kawajiri by decision|
|Catchweight (150 pounds): Takeshi Inoue vs. Mikuru Asakura||Asakura by knockout||Asakura by decision|
|Women’s FlyW: Kana Watanabe vs. Shizuka Sugiyama||Watanabe by decision||Watanabe by decision|
|BW: Je Hoon Moon vs. Kai Asakura||Asakura by knockout||Asakura by knockout|
|Kickboxing: Taiju Shiratori vs. Yoshiya Uzatsuyo||Uzatsuyo by knockout||Uzatsuyo by knockout|
|Kickboxing: Yuta Uchida vs. Takuma Konishi||Konishi by decision||Konishi by knockout|
|Women’s Catchweight (109 pounds): Nanaka Kawamura vs. Ai Shimizu||Kawamura by decision||Kawamura by submission|