Patricky "Pitbull" Freire (Jeff Vulgamore/Combat Press)

Rizin 19: Lightweight Grand Prix First Round Preview and Predictions

The stakes are high in Osaka, Japan, on Saturday. One young prospect is on a mission to keep his momentum going following a shocking victory over a top-10 fighter in his last appearance. One champion is faced with the risks that come in accepting a non-title fight. Eight men are on the hunt for a lightweight tournament championship. One of the best atomweight ladies in the world is tasked with an opponent who has recently played spoiler to another ranked fighter. Even the kickboxing world will feel the effects of this show when top-10 bantamweight Taiju Shiratori collides with Taiga. It’s all part of Rizin 19.

Kai Asakura, who recently shocked the world a 68-second starching of Kyoji Horiguchi, headlines the show. Asakura’s victory over the Bellator champ extends his winning streak to five fights. He’ll meet Ulka Sasaki, a UFC veteran who has not managed back-to-back victories since 2014. Sasaki’s recent trend has been to alternate wins and losses, meaning he’s due for a victory on Saturday.

Jiří Procházka captured Rizin’s light heavyweight crown with an April victory over Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, but gold will not be on the line when the Czech fighter meets Fabio Maldonado. Instead, the two will clash in a 220-pound catchweight affair.


Rizin also kicks off its lightweight grand prix with four quarterfinal match-ups. Bellator mainstay Patricky “Pibtull” Freire heads a field that also includes the surging Tofiq Musaev and UFC veterans Johnny Case, Damien Brown and Tatsuya Kawajiri. The undefeated Roberto de Souza and veterans Luiz Gustavo and Hiroto Uesako round out the bracket.

Elite atomweight Seo Hee Ham will also see action on the 13-fight card that mixes kickboxing and MMA into the lineup. The South Korean standout has to deal with Miyuu Yamamoto, who recently derailed Kanna Asakura’s hype train.

Rizin 19 takes place at Edion Arena in Osaka and gets underway at 1 a.m. ET on Saturday, Oct. 12. The entire event will air live via Fite TV pay-per-view stream and can be seen right here on Combat Press.

Kai Asakura, who’s set to fight Ulka Sasaki this weekend, recently scored a huge upset over Kyoji Horiguchi. Is this kid for real?

It would appear so. The 25-year-old was no slouch coming into his fight with Horiguchi, but he didn’t exactly have the most notable names on his resume. He’d taken a loss to Je Hoon Moon that he later avenged, and his biggest victory was a split verdict over Manel Kape. The quick finish of Horiguchi, though, counts as a win over a former UFC title challenger and reigning Bellator champ.

The knock on Asakura did have a lot to do with his level of competition. The aforementioned Moon was a .500 fighter when he beat Asakura and remained one going into the rematch a year and a half later. He barely squeaked by Kape, and many of his early career outings came against low-level competition. He really put that to rest against Horiguchi and now has a chance to further bolster his record against Sasaki.

Sasaki should be a familiar name to fight fans. He was a mainstay for Shooto before a lengthy UFC run. His time in the Octagon came mostly as a flyweight, but Sasaki, now 30 years old, only managed a 4-5 mark with the company. As a bantamweight, he topped Roland Delorme and lost to both Leandro Issa and Taylor Lapilus. Once at flyweight, he defeated Willie Gates, Justin Scoggins and Jenel Lausa, but floundered against Wilson Reis, Jussier “Formiga” da Silva and Alexandre Pantoja. His Rizin run has come with equally mixed results: the win over Kape and a loss to Shintaro Ishiwatari.

Sasaki is another tough opponent for Asakura, but one with a level of inconsistency that could pave the way to another big win for the young prospect. Sasaki hasn’t been stopped often via strikes, but Asakura has some choke submissions in his repertoire as well. He’ll attack with his fists before sinking in a choke for the finish.

Jiří Procházka draws UFC veteran Fabio Maldonado in a 220-pound catchweight affair. How will the Czech fighter fare against his tough Brazilian counterpart?

Procházka, Rizin’s light heavyweight champion, is still something of a well-kept secret in the division. The 26-year-old Czech fighter holds an impressive 24-3-1 mark, but he’s done most of his damage in Japan, Russia and his homeland. His list of victims now includes Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, Brandon Halsey, Vadim Nemkov, Satoshi Ishii and Darko Stošić. King Mo is the only man to defeat Procházka in the last six years.

Maldonado is not likely to score the win over such a talented fighter. The Brazilian has a ton of heart, but even his best days in the UFC topped out with wins over Gian Villante, Joey Beltran and Hans Stringer. Meanwhile, he was toast when paired with Igor Pokrajac, Glover Teixeira, Stipe Miocic, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Corey Anderson. Outside of the UFC, he also stumbled against Fedor Emelianenko, Mikhail Mokhnatkin, Nikita Krylov and Ivan Shtyrkov. This is a game fighter who reached his ceiling a long time ago.

Procházka will prove to be too much for Maldonado, who will put up a valiant effort in taking the loss. The Brazilian’s chin has been less reliable lately, so don’t be surprised to see a knockout finish to this non-title fight.

Can Miyuu Yamamoto, who recently upset Kanna Asakura, continue to play the spoiler to ranked atomweights when she meets Seo Hee Ham?

Let’s just say Asakura is no Ham. The South Korean atomweight powerhouse has been dominant in the weight class for years now. In fact, Ayaka Hamasaki, who defeated Ham way back in 2011, is the only road block between Ham and the No. 1 ranking in our atomweight poll here on Combat Press. Asakura, on the other hand, already had three prior losses before falling to Yamamoto.

Yamamoto is a dangerous spoiler, all the same. She temporarily derailed Asakura, and she’s also tallied wins over Japanese staples like Mika Nagano and Saori Ishioka. Yamamoto can grind her way to decisions, but she’s also prone to submission losses. Rena Kubota, Andy Nguyen and Irene Cabello all managed to tap the Krazy Bee disciple.

Ham is also a decision machine, but one who has really flourished at atomweight. Many of her setbacks, including those in her UFC run, came while she was fighting as a strawweight. The South Korean is just mediocre at 115 pounds, but she’s an elite 105er (or 108er, in this case). Ham should outwork Yamamoto for a decision nod.

The Rizin lightweight grand prix gets underway at this event. Is there a clear tourney favorite?

It has to be Bellator’s Patricky “Pitbull” Freire.

Pitbull hasn’t always won, but he’s fought world-class opponents on a regular basis. He’s shared the cage with Michael Chandler, Eddie Alvarez, Josh Thomson and Benson Henderson among others. He’s even won some of those fights. Patricky, like his brother Patricio, is a well-rounded fighter with a dangerous striking arsenal and a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He’s registered 13 knockout victories and should add to that total in Japan.

Pitbull has to get by UFC veteran Tatsuya Kawajiri in the quarterfinals, but Kawajiri is no longer a top lightweight fighter. The “Crusher” has gone just 2-3 over his last five fights and has not seen an extended winning streak since 2014. Kawajiri isn’t likely to suffer a knockout loss, but he can be easily outpointed en route to a decision win for Freire.

The Brazilian standout will have his hands full as the tournament moves on. Azerbaijan’s Tofiq Musaev has been picking up steam with recent wins over Marif Piraev, Nobumitsu Osawa and Daron Cruickshank, and he has a winnable first fight against Damien Brown. Johnny Case and Roberto de Souza, who clash in the quarterfinals, are both on strong runs too. Even Luiz Gustavo and Hiroto Uesako cannot be counted out.

This won’t be an easy tournament gauntlet for Freire, but he has the ability to beat everyone in this field and take some bragging rights back to Bellator when he’s done.

Fight Picks

Fight Pick
Main Card
BW: Kai Asakura vs. Ulka Sasaki Asakura
Catchweight (220 pounds): Jiří Procházka vs. Fabio Maldonado Procházka
Women’s AtomW (108 pounds): Seo Hee Ham vs. Miyuu Yamamoto Ham
Women’s Catchweight (112 pounds): Rena Kubota vs. Shawna Ram Kubota
LW Tournament Quarterfinal: Tofiq Musaev vs. Damien Brown Musaev
LW Tournament Quarterfinal: Johnny Case vs. Roberto de Souza Case
LW Tournament Quarterfinal: Patricky “Pitbull” Freire vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri Freire
LW Tournament Quarterfinal: Luiz Gustavo vs. Hiroto Uesako Uesako
WW: Keita Nakamura vs. Marcos Yoshio de Souza Nakamura
Kickboxing (BW): Taiju Shiratori vs. Taiga Shiratori
Kickboxing (WW): Shintaro Matsukura vs. Takuma Konishi Matsukura
Openweight: Shoma Shibisai vs. Chang Hee Kim Shibisai
Kickboxing (FlyW): Seiki Ueyama vs. Taisei Umei Ueyama