RIZIN makes its triumphant return this weekend. This Sunday morning at 1am EST live from the Marine Messe in Fukuoka, Japan, RIZIN brings us the opening round of two different Grand Prix and a slew of bizarre combat sports.
The night is headlined by a Women’s Super Atomweight Grand Prix opening round bout between Rena Kubota and Andy Nguyen. In many ways, this main event shows how much MMA has changed since the end of Pride. RIZIN’s search for a new Japanese star has led Sakakibara into the world of women’s MMA. It started with the the promotional push for an inevitable fight between King Reina and Gabi Garcia. And now RIZIN is doubling down with a push for Rena. In fact, this entire Super Atomweight Grand Prix is really just a massive showcase for Rena.
The three other tournament fights feature American Alyssa Garcia vs. Brazilian Maria Oliveira, Japan’s Kanna Asakura vs. Poland’s Sylwia Juskiewicz, and Kid’s elder sister Miyuu Yamamoto going up against Spain’s Irene Cabello.
The second Grand Prix of the card concludes the Bantamweight men’s tournament that started back in July. If the Super Atomweight tourney is a showcase for Rena, then this tourney is definitely here to showcase Kyoji Horiguchi. The original sixteen fighter format seemed to be a bit too ambitious for RIZIN, though. With only three fights scheduled for this card, it seems like two fighters might be getting a bye for next round. Or they could just add people on the fly. It’s RIZIN, so the rules are in constant flux.
This tournament features the international flair we’ve coem to expect from RIZIN with Spain’s Manel Kape vs. Japanese prospect Erson Yamaoto, Road FC title contender Je Hoon Moon vs. Frenchman Kevin Petshi, and the most dangerous person in the tournament besides Horiguchi, Ishiwatari Shintaro, who has been crushing people in Pancrase vs. undefeated Russian prospect Akhmed Musakaev.
Besides the two tournaments. RIZIN has a few delights in store for fans of the old school.
First, it’s the return of fighting legend Jerome Le Banner against Guam’s Roque Martinez. The legendary “Geronimo” Le Banner and former mainstay of K-1 hasn’t fought since 2014. So his return to the promoter that made him famous has been met with tepid enthusiasm. As is the case with most of these legends returning, the comeback seems awesome until someone gets hurt. And because this combat sports, someone always gets hurt. His opponent Martinez is a Heavyweight prospect most known for defeating Jaideep Singh at DEEP earlier this year. As a straight mark for the old school, let’s pray for the return of “The Golden Left” and see Le Banner get one more glorious KO.
Tatsuya Kawajiri is building the momentum off his main event victory over Anthony Birchak back in April. Now, he is looking to collect another win over undefeated Brazil Gabriel Oliveira.
The legendary King REINA is fighting the debuting Crystal Stokes, whose credentials include training with Cris Cyborg and that’s about it. But the real star of this show is King REINA. The emergence of her indifferent attitude, royal teddy bear, and penchant for lollipops, she quickly won the hearts of the MMA hardcore immediately. This slow build path in her match making has actually made me more optimistic for REINA’s success in the inevitable matchup with Gabi Garcia. As Her Majesty progresses, you see her ability to defeat larger opponents and growing experience and confidence could possibly give her a chance at defeating Garcia. It also helps that Gabi Garcia has looked exceedingly vulnerable with each outing.
Dutch kickboxing powerhouse Andy Souwer is fighting for RIZIN again, despite how badly that has gone for him. He faces off against orange-haired Japanese kickboxer Akiyo Nishiura. I expect this to be a fire fight.
In a fantastic display of nostalgia, RIZIN has brought back Kazushi Sakuraba once again to give the rub to a RIZIN card. Originally planned as a grappling match against Dan Henderson (which when initially announced everyone in the world thought was a real fight [we rejoiced and then felt really guilty about it]), the promotion was force to adjust after Dan Henderson threw out his back. So now Saku has to try to choke out Frank Shamrock. But I’m still pumped just to see that walk out. And don’t get stupid and count Sakuraba out. Pro wrestling is strong.
In the co-main event, they are letting Tenshin Nasukawa, babyface knockout machine and potential future star, knock out another debuting random guy. At least this time, they are having him fight an actual MMA fight, which is ideal for someone you want to become an MMA star. For the love of God, RIZIN, keep making Tenshin fight in MMA. Because he’s kind of awesome at it.
And finally Rena Kubota has the chance to become the next promotional star when she takes on Andy Nguyen. Nguyen is a former King of the Cage champion, but truly isn’t on the same level as Rena. This is a showcase for Rena and I expect RIZIN’s undefeated star to remain unbeaten. Let’s see Rena roll into the RIZIN’s New Year’s Eve show poised to become the promotions first homegrown star.