Rizin Fighting Federation returns for the first time in 2019 from the Yokohama Arena in Yokohama, Japan, for Rizin 15. The promotion returns to Yokohama for the first time in two years with many of the biggest stars in the promotion.
The inaugural Rizin light heavyweight title will be on the line when 2015 Rizin heavyweight grand prix champion Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal meets the man he defeated to win the grand prix, Jiří Procházka. Since losing that bout, Procházka has defeated seven straight opponents, including former Bellator middleweight champion Brandon Halsey, light heavyweight contender Vadim Nemkov, and Sweden’s Karl Albrektsson.
In the night’s co-headliner, Rizin bantamweight champion Kyoji Horiguchi takes on UFC flyweight castoff Ben Nguyen. Since leaving the UFC with a 7-1 record, Horiguchi has won eight straight fights, including stoppages over Bellator champ Darrion Caldwell, former consensus No. 1 flyweight Ian McCall, and former King of Pancrase Shintaro Ishiwatari. Nguyen looks to return to the win column after back-to-back defeats against current top contender Jussier “Formiga” da Silva and former title challenger Wilson Reis prior to his UFC departure.
The promotion’s biggest star, undefeated Japanese kickboxing phenom Tenshin Nasukawa, returns against exciting Filipino striker Fritz Biagtan, who recently won the WBC Muay Thai national title in his home country. Nasukawa returns to the promotion for the first time since his loss to boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. at Rizin 14. Following the exhibition loss to his much bigger, more experienced foe, the 20-year-old made a thrilling return by stopping Argentina’s Frederico Roma with a cartwheel kick in the third round of their RISE World Series 2019 opening round bout in March.
Undefeated Brazilian Luiz Gustavo looks to keep his hype-train rolling down the tracks against exciting Japanese striker Mikuru Asakura, who has won four straight fights. Former UFC lightweight Damien Brown meets undefeated Deep lightweight champion Koji Takeda, former Pancrase, Deep and Sengoku champ Satoru Kitaoka will engage in a grappling contest with undefeated Brazilian grappling wizard Roberto “Satoshi” de Souza, and former ZST flyweight champion Seiichiro Ito meets Angola’s Manel Kape. Four-time Shoot Boxing women’s S-Cup champ Rena Kubota returns to MMA against French striker Samantha Jean-Francois in another of the night’s featured bouts.
Rizin 15 airs live at 1 a.m. ET Sunday morning on Combat Press via Fite TV.
Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal has won just two of his last six fights, but he now enters the Rizin ring to fight for the promotion’s light heavyweight crown. Mo takes on Jiří Procházka in the championship bout. Will Procházka avenge his 2015 loss to Lawal, or will history repeat itself?
Procházka has the tools to earn redemption when he meets Lawal in a rematch of their 2015 Rizin heavyweight grand prix tournament final. In the first bout, Procházka fared well early on against his more experienced foe. “Denisa” looked sharp on the outside with his front kicks and strong outside low kicks against Lawal’s lead leg. Procházka was the more active fighter on the feet, with attacks to the legs, body and head with his left kick and right hand. Lawal was able to score a takedown after pressing forward against his much larger foe. Mo opened up a cut on Procházka after two minutes of work from the top with punches, but Procházka was eventually able to get back to his feet. Unfortunately, that would be his undoing. Procházka’s overzealous pressure opened him up for a massive right hook that sent him crashing face-first to the mat.
Procházka has been the more successful fighter of the two since their first meeting. He has stopped six of his subsequent seven opponents, and six of those wins came inside the Rizin ring. Procházka has a wild, aggressive style that usually gets him into trouble. However, that same style has led him to victory courtesy of his vicious punching combinations and relentless pressure. In his past four fights, he has been taken down in all but one fight. Brandon Halsey was able to get him to the floor in the first 15 seconds of their bout. The former Bellator champion locked up a tight mounted guillotine and a fleeting rear-naked choke, but the Czech fighter battled through on his way to a strange stoppage victory in the middle of the first frame.
Following his grand prix victory, Lawal hasn’t tasted the same success. His victories since that event more than three and a half years ago came against former UFC champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and 2008 Olympic gold medalist Satoshi Ishii. His list of losses came against well-respected fighters like Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Ryan Bader and Phil Davis. His loss to Liam McGeary may tell us more about his rematch with Procházka, though. In the bout, Mo started off strong, with solid boxing and a sharp right low kick. However, he couldn’t find his range against the much taller Englishman. As McGeary was able to land more and more with his strikes, Lawal started to wrestle. Lawal was in on the takedown when McGeary stunned him with elbows to the side of his head. Mo looked to be out of it, but somehow fought out of the round on instinct. McGeary hit Lawal with a 1-2 combination while Mo was dipping right that stiffened him up momentarily and led to the eventual third-round stoppage at Bellator 213.
In the rematch, King Mo will look to box with Procházka to open up his ability to land the takedown. If Procházka comes in recklessly again, he very well could taste the same right hand counter as in the first fight. If Procházka can stay calm, keep the pressure on with his diversity of attack, and catch Mo coming forward, then he will have a chance at a stoppage victory of his own. Lawal has been stopped in three of his last four fights, which gives more credence to the fact that Lawal needs to draw Procházka into a wrestling match, not a tit-for-tat striking battle.
Former UFC flyweight title challenger Kyoji Horiguchi has found a surprising amount of success at his new home in the bantamweight division. Now, he welcomes Ben Nguyen, another UFC castoff, to Rizin. Will Horiguchi keep his streak alive against Nguyen?
Horiguchi has quickly become one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world outside of the sport’s largest monopoly, the UFC. Horiguchi left the promotion in 2017 following a 7-1 record that featured only one loss, which came against one of the greatest fighters of all-time, Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson. The 28-year-old Horiguchi has won 26 of his 28 fights, knocked down his opponents more than 20 times, and scored 16 stoppage victories in his accomplished career. He earned a shot at the Bellator bantamweight title this summer following his third-round submission victory over Darrion Caldwell to win the inaugural Rizin bantamweight title.
Since joining Rizin two years ago, Horiguchi has rattled off eight straight victories to push his current streak to 11 straight. He has looked unstoppable during his run, except when he crossed over for his first-ever kickboxing bout against fellow Japanese star Tenshin Nasukawa at Rizin 13. Horiguchi couldn’t become the first person to defeat Nasukawa, but he gave the young prospect everything he could handle with his unorthodox karate-based striking offense.
Nguyen is moving back to bantamweight for the first time since defeating ONE Championship veteran Reece McLaren for the Nitro MMA bantamweight belt in 2014. The 30-year-old has won 11 of his last 14 fights, including stoppages over Tim Elliott, Ryan Benoit and Alp Ozkilic inside of the Octagon. Nguyen has lost three of his last five fights, including stoppage losses against Louis Smolka and Jussier “Formiga” da Silva. In his last UFC bout prior to his release, Nguyen dropped a unanimous decision against Wilson Reis.
Nguyen has fought experienced opponents before, but Horiguchi will be the most dangerous striker he has ever encountered. Horiguchi’s victory over Caldwell, a former NCAA national champion, showcased his continued progression in the wrestling, grappling and submission game, both offensively and defensively. Caldwell likely outweighed Horiguchi by 10 or more pounds on fight night, but the reigning champion overcame the size disparity and picked up one of the biggest wins of his career. His development at American Top Team has made him one of the most dangerous stylistic match-ups in the flyweight and bantamweight divisions.
Nguyen is a well-rounded fighter in his own right. He has the striking prowess to hang with most mid-tier bantamweights on the feet. However, he prefers to switch up his approach between his striking and grappling. On the feet, he tends to throw single strikes, which could present strong counter opportunities for Horiguchi, especially when Nguyen switches to the southpaw stance.
Horiguchi is one of the better athletes in the division, which could produce a lightning-quick striking battle with the occasional scramble. Nguyen is a game fighter who will look to be the first man to finish Horiguchi since Mighty Mouse’s last-second armbar in the UFC flyweight championship bout from 2015. Unfortunately, Nguyen is facing one of the best fighters in the bantamweight division. Horiguchi will get opportunities to finish this fight inside the distance.
Rizin’s kickboxing star, Tenshin Nasukawa, makes his return to action against Fritz Aldin Biagtan. How big of a favorite is Nasukawa in this contest?
The 20-year-old Japanese superstar will be a heavy favorite against the Rizin newcomer. The initial reaction from the combat-sports community upon hearing of this match-up wasn’t great. Most fans asked who this person is that’s scheduled to be across the ring from the undefeated striking wizard.
Nasukawa remains one of the hottest commodities in combat sports in Japan today. He carries a combined kickboxing, Muay Thai, MMA and special-rules record of 34 wins and zero losses into his bout with his far less experienced opponent, 23-year-old Filipino Fritz Biagtan.
Biagtan began training in martial arts about a decade ago. “Kid Tornado” refines his striking at Biagtan Martial Arts under a family lineage of Muay Thai strikers. The former URCC strawweight champion hasn’t competed in MMA since losing his title to Anthony Do in August in a bout that largely transpired on the ground. Since the loss, Biagtan has gone on to earn his first professional boxing win with a knockout of Shekhnazar Yusubov. The Filipino prospect knocked out Al Qowi in a Muay Thai affair in Malaysia in November. In his last bout, he won the WBC Muay Thai Philippines featherweight title.
The exciting Filipino striker’s best weapon is his speed. Biagtan flashed his exceptional quickness in both his MMA and Muay Thai bouts. He likes to get the fight started quickly with a flashy, pressure-forward style from the orthodox stance. Biagtan puts his hands and feet together in combination, especially with his lead-leg high kick. His speed has come in handy as he presses forward, because he tends to drop his hands when throwing multiple strikes. Biagtan is hittable when he presses forward, and he can be countered when throwing his low kicks. He likes to slip and use head movement to stay in his comfort zone, the kicking range.
Biagtan can offer the audience in Yokohama an entertaining, albeit less dangerous, challenge to Nasukawa prior to the Japanese star’s RISE World Series semifinal round bout on July 21. The promotion recently entered an agreement with eight-division boxing world champion Manny Pacquiao to bring in more talent from the Philippines. The move provides a great opportunity for “Kid Tornado” to take on one of the best kickboxers in Japan. However, the world would be left in rubble following the inevitable apocalypse that would come with one of the biggest upsets of the last decade.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
The fight card features a few intriguing contests, including the striking battle between Japan’s Mikuru Asakura and undefeated Brazilian Luiz Gustavo and the return of women’s MMA star Rena Kubota against French striker Samantha Jean-Francois. However, the clear sleeper fight on this card is the opening bout of the evening between former K-1 champion Taiga and exciting Brazilian Muay Thai fighter Thalisson Gomes Ferreira.
Taiga, 22, is a former top-10 bantamweight in the Combat Press kickboxing rankings, but he has been on a rough road lately. The talented Try Hard Gym representative is winless in his last five fights. After contract negotiations between K-1 and his gym went south, Taiga relinquished his title and left the promotion. In his final K-1 appearance, Taiga was knocked out by Greece’s Stauros Exakoustidis in a non-title affair. Following his departure, Taiga fell short against Lin Qiangbang in the opening round of the Kunlun Fight 61.5-kilogram tournament, fought to a split draw against Kento Haraguchi in his Rizin debut, and dropped his fight against Zhu Xu at Emei Legend 36. Most recently, he lost a closely contested fight against ranked bantamweight Seksan Or. Kwanmuang at RISE World Series 2019: First Round.
The Brazilian Ferreira has adapted his wild approach to fighting from the Chute Boxe Academy, which is known for its aggressive, pressure-first style of striking. He made a surprising effort in his opening-round match in the RISE World Series against former Lumpinee stadium champion Suakim. Ferreira dropped the heavy favorite with an overhand right in the second round. He was slugging for the finish while Suakim was absolutely out of it against the ropes. Prior to the end of the frame, the Brazilian caught a kick and again dropped Suakim with a huge right hand. Once the third stanza started, Ferreira didn’t have anything left in the tank. Suakim turned the fight around with a beautiful teep to the body against his heavy-breathing foe. Despite losing the “Fight of the Year” contender, Ferreira made himself a name to remember.
Taiga will be in desperation mode as he looks for his first win in six fights against the dangerous Brazilian slugger. Taiga is a non-stop striking machine in his own right, but his technical striking game is far superior to Ferreira’s wild, winging hooks. The stakes at hand and the potential future of Rizin’s kickboxing roster could be in the hands (and feet) of these gentlemen. Expect this battle to kick the night off with a bang.
Main Card (Combat Press via FITE TV, 1 a.m. ET)
LHW Championship: Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal vs. Jiří Procházka
Lawal by knockout
Kickboxing (130 pounds): Tenshin Nasukawa vs. Fritz Aldin Biagtan
Nasukawa by knockout
Catchweight (132 pounds): Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Ben Nguyen
Horiguchi by knockout
Catchweight (157 pounds): Roberto de Souza vs. Satoru Kitaoka
Souza by submission
LHW: Karl Albrektsson vs. Christiano Frohlich
Albrektsson by knockout
Women’s Catchweight (112 pounds): Rena Kubota vs. Samantha Jean-Francois
Kubota by knockout
Catchweight (150 pounds): Mikuru Asakura vs. Luiz Gustavo
Asakura by decision
Women’s FlyW: Kana Watanabe vs. Justyna Zofia Haba
Watanabe by submission
Catchweight (157 pounds): Koji Takeda vs. Damien Brown
Brown by decision
Catchweight (128 pounds): Seiichiro Ito vs. Manel Kape
Kape by decision
Women’s FlyW: Kanako Murata vs. Saray Orozco
Murata by submission
Kickboxing (BW): Taiga Kawabe vs. Thalisson Gomes Ferreira
Taiga by decision
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