They can’t all be big shows. The lineup for this weekend’s Rizin 21 affair is not as stacked with marquee names as the 2019 year-end card from Japan’s Rizin Fighting Federation, but this doesn’t mean it should be overlooked. Quite the opposite, in fact. Saturday’s show could serve as a launchpad to contender status for featherweight headliner Mikuru Asakura and bantamweight staple Victor Henry, while also delivering what we’ve come to expect from a Japanese event, right down to a five-against-one grappling exhibition.
Asakura takes center stage in a featherweight clash with Daniel Salas, a name that should ring some bells with viewers of The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America 2. Salas competed on the UFC reality series, but he failed to advance beyond his first fight. Now, Salas seeks to shock the Japanese crowd when he takes on Asakura, who has won 13 of his 14 pro bouts.
Henry is the other notable name in this lineup. The American bantamweight rose to prominence under the Pancrase banner, but a few losses took the shine off his prospect status. Henry made a successful Rizin debut in August. Now, the 32-year-old seeks to extend his current six-fight winning streak while welcoming Masanori Kanehara to the promotion.
In addition to these two featured bouts, the Rizin 21 lineup includes another five MMA fights and five kickboxing bouts. There’s also the aforementioned grappling exhibition, which pits Roberto “Satoshi” de Souza, a highly decorated Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, against a five-person team led by Yuki Nakai.
How much of a challenge will The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America 2 alum Daniel Salas provide for top Japanese featherweight Mikuru Asakura?
The 31-year-old Salas has elevated name value due to his TUF appearance, but that’s about it. “El Cazador” didn’t do much on the reality series — his lone fight ended in a split-decision loss for Salas to Horacio Gutiérrez. Salas came up winless in his first two post-TUF fights, too. He also sports a four-fight losing streak just a few fights before his TUF campaign.
Clearly, Salas isn’t even among the best fighters in Latin America, let alone the world. Now, he’s set to tangle with one of Japan’s best up-and-coming talents. Asakura has rolled through everyone he’s encountered, with the exception of Kil Woo Lee. Oddly, Lee was just 4-6 at the time that they met and somehow got the better of Asakura for the decision nod. Given Asakura’s subsequent performances, let’s write that off as one bad night.
Since that embarrassing defeat, Asakura has been fighting far better competition while finding plenty of success. He knocked out Hatsu Hioki in the first round. Two fights later, he scored a second-round knockout finish of Takeshi Inoue. Since then, he’s added wins over Luiz Gustavo, Yusuke Yachi and John “Macapá” Teixeira. The 27-year-old brings plenty of power into a fight against an opponent who has been knocked out twice and defeated a total of six times in his career.
Salas is simply outgunned here. Asakura appears set to add another win to his record when he takes to the ring at Rizin 21.
Will Victor Henry avenge his grappling loss to Masanori Kanehara with a win in the MMA realm?
The American catch wrestler has been on the prospect radar for years now. Henry has only stumbled against solid competition, including such notables as Shintaro Ishiwatari, Rafael Silva and Masakatsu Ueda. Meanwhile, he’s gotten the better of Hideo Tokoro, Takafumi Otsuka and Yuki Motoya. His most recent win came in impressive fashion when he submitted Trent Girdham via triangle choke. The Josh Barnett disciple is now on a six-fight winning streak.
In June 2018, Henry met Kanehara on the grappling mats of a Quintet Fight Night show. After just over seven minutes, the 37-year-old Kanehara found a foot lock for the win. Of course, MMA has a different rule set than grappling.
Kanehara’s seen plenty of MMA action, but he’s opted to venture into grappling and Muay Thai more often in recent years. The Japanese veteran has only had one MMA outing over the last three years, but he emerged with a submission win in less than two minutes. Kanehara is a dangerous fighter with a ton of experience. He’s seen the inside of the UFC Octagon, and he’s fought quite a few notable opponents on the Japanese circuit as well.
Henry can’t take Kanehara lightly. The veteran has already demonstrated superior grappling skills. Henry has never been tapped or knocked out, but that could change if this contest goes to the ground. As promising as the American has looked at times, he’s been known to falter in key moments. Kanehara may just have his number.
The Rizin 21 lineup features five kickboxing bouts. Are any of these significant contests in the world of kickboxing?
From a rankings standpoint, no. Not a single one of the kickboxing affairs features a top-10 striker in his respective division.
The heavyweight contest features the 42-year-old Kosuke Jitsukata against Ryo Sakai, whose MMA record sits at 8-10. The 22-year-old Kenichi Takeuchi is winless through his last two outings, and he’s set to square off with the 24-year-old Naoya, who’s prone to the knockout blow. Henry Cejas and SEIDO have found some level of success, but neither has been competing at the sport’s top levels. The same could be said for lightweights Yuya Shibata and Kouki, as well as 130-pounders Masaji Tozuka and Masahiro Ozawa.
Some of these fights could deliver fireworks, but we’re not looking at GLORY or ONE Championship levels of importance here.
What about the exhibition grappling contest? Should fans care?
This is an interesting one. Not only is Roberto “Satoshi” de Souza, a highly decorated Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, competing in an exhibition contest, but he’s doing so against a slate of five opponents.
Satoshi is set to meet a team of grapplers led by Yuki Nakai, a fellow black belt and MMA fighter. The other members of the team set to challenge Satoshi at the event are black belt Edison Kagohara, purple belt and para jiu-jitsu competitor Koji Shigemizu, orange-belt female grappler Yuna Kimura, and comedian Hiroshi Shinagawa.
The composition of this team is a clear sign of how this is more spectacle than anything. Satoshi will get pushed by Nakai and Kagohara, but Shigemizu, Kimura and Shinagawa, a white belt, are going to be out of their league.
This is more about entertaining the crowd and giving some exposure to the lesser-known members of Team Nakai. It could be a fun little break between the rest of the night’s scraps, though.
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