RIZIN 26 Preview

Japanese MMA promotion RIZIN Fighting Federation will continue their annual tradition of a New Year’s Eve event on Thursday, holding RIZIN 26 at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.

In what is their biggest card of the year, the headlining bout will see former RIZIN Bantamweight Champion Kyoji Horiguchi return to rematch current champ Kai Asakura. Here’s a preview of the end-of-year festivities, which are set to begin at midnight in North America.

Click here to skip to the top five fights of the card.

Main Card (12:00AM EST / 2:00PM JST) (LIVENow / RIZIN PPV)

Opening Match: Sakura (3-1) vs. Eru Takebayashi (0-0) (112 lbs) (MMA Bout)

Two strawweight fighters will be given a big opportunity early in their MMA careers to kick off the card. DEEP Jewels talent Sakura and Eru Takebayashi will fight in the “opening match” of the show.

Sakura has fought four times as a pro, putting together three wins and one loss in regional promotion DEEP Jewels. Her last win was in October, where she stopped KAI within a round with a rear naked choke.

Takebayashi will be making her pro debut on New Year’s Eve. She has two wins as an amateur in DEEP, stopping both of her opponents earlier in the year.

Bout 1: Minowaman (65-43-8) vs. Sudario Tsuyoshi (1-0) (265 lbs) (MMA Bout)

After winning his MMA debut months ago, former sumo wrestler Sudario Tsuyoshi will fight JMMA legend Minowaman.

Tsuyoshi made his MMA debut at RIZIN 24, where he defeated pro wrestler Dylan James following a round of ground and pound. Tsuyoshi’s MMA career started following his sumo career where he went by the name Takanofuji Sanzo. Tsuyoshi’s sumo run ended with controversy, as his retirement came following pressure from the Japan Sumo Association, who suggested his departure after he was found to have assaulted an attendee of a training session.

The fight will be Minowaman’s first in RIZIN. While the over 100-fight veteran has competed in dozens of promotions, he is best known for his work in Pancrase, Pride FC and Dream. Being a natural middleweight, he will move up to heavyweight for a physical mismatch on Thursday. This is nothing new to him, as some of his more memorable wins in the past have seen dramatic size differentials.

Bout 2: Shibatar vs. X

The third bout of the evening should be an interesting one. MMA fighter and pro wrestler turned Youtuber, Shibatar, will face an opponent that has yet to be announced under a ruleset that has not been unveiled.

Like the Asakura brothers, who he has both fought and lost to in exhibition fights, Shibatar has cultivated a large following online. Currently running a channel with over 1,100,000 subscribers, Shibatar has been consistently producing videos since 2013.

Bout 3: Taiyo Nakahara (15-8) vs. Kazuma Kuramoto (7-1) (139 lbs) (MMA Bout)

Bantamweights Taiyo Nakahara and Kazuma Kuramoto will make their respective RIZIN debuts on Thursday. Kuramoto enters the fight after his first loss as a pro, being stopped by Ryo Okada in May at a Shooto Japan card. He had previously put together seven wins on the regional scene which included five stoppage victories.

The fight will be Nakahara’s first since 2017. His last fight was a win over RIZIN alum Je Hoon Moon on a Road FC card.

Bout 4: Kanna Asakura (17-4) vs. AI (5-0) (108 lbs) (MMA Bout)

Two of RIZIN’s more notable super atomweights will face off early on Thursday’s card when Kanna Asakura fights AI. Asakura will easily be AI’s biggest challenge yet through six fights as a pro.

Asakura, a winner of RIZIN’s 2017 Super Atomweight Grand Prix, has strung together a trio of wins from 2019 and 2020. Her last fight was in August, where she stopped Mizuki Furuse in the second minute of action with ground and pound.

AI last fought a year ago, where she won a split decision over Andy Nguyen on a collaborative card from RIZIN and Bellator. The win was her third in RIZIN since she debuted as a pro in late 2018.

Bout 5: Ulka Sasaki (22-8-2) vs. Kenta Takizawa (11-6) (134 lbs) (MMA Bout)

Making his return to action after over a year of absence, former UFC fighter Ulka Sasaki will battle Kenta Takizawa. Sasaki faced a broken jaw injury in October of 2019 from a stoppage loss to Kai Asakura. The loss and subsequent injury concluded his first year for RIZIN which also included a win over now-UFC fighter Manel Kape and a loss to Shintaro Ishiwatari. His RIZIN career started after a nine-fight run in the UFC.

Takizawa, a Pancrase veteran, has spent most of his 2020 fighting under the RIZIN banner. He won his promotional debut in September, taking a split decision victory against Yuto Hokamura. He lost last month on scorecards to Hiromasa Ougikubo.

Bout 6: Yoshinari Nadaka vs. Phetmalai Phetjaroenvit (110 lbs) (Kickboxing Bout)

Returning for his second appearance in RIZIN, Yoshinari Nadaka will battle Phetmalai Phetjoaroenvit in a kickboxing match. Since both fighters come from Muay Thai backgrounds, the kickboxing bout will have elbows allowed as well.

Nadaka had a strong RIZIN debut in August, defeating Yuushin in the second round of action. He has since picked up another win on the regional scene, defeating Hidetora Abe on a BOM card.

Phetjaroenvit enters RIZIN for the first time following an extensive career in Muay Thai. Among his accomplishments is previously earning a Channel 7 Stadium championship.

Bout 7: Hideo Tokoro (34-30-2) vs. Shinobu Ota (0-0) (134 lbs) (MMA Bout)

After a successful career in Greco-Roman wrestling, Shinobu Ota will make his MMA debut on Thursday against Hideo Tokoro. Highlights in Ota’s wrestling career included a silver medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and a gold medal at the 2019 Greco-Roman world championships. Ota was qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics prior to it’s postponement due to COVID-19.

His MMA debut comes against Tokoro, who will be returning to RIZIN in the fight. Tokoro competed in the early days of RIZIN, notably having fights against Kyoji Horiguchi and Kron Gracie a few years back. Undoubtedly a veteran of the scene after two decades of action, Tokoro is most known for his fights in K-1 and DREAM.

Bout 8: Kyohei Hagiwara (2-3) vs. Ren Hiramoto (0-0) (150 lbs) (MMA Bout)

Former K-1 Japan kickboxer Ren Hiramoto will make his MMA debut against Kyohei Hagiwara. Hiramoto put together a strong kickboxing career in K-1 Japan from 2015 to 2018 before leaving the promotion. He joined RIZIN in 2019, fighting once in kickboxing before announcing his intention of a move to MMA.

Hagiwara has had a busy year in RIZIN, fighting three times in the promotion. His last win was an explosive one, stopping Yojiro Uchimura in just seconds with strikes. While his record in MMA is small, Hagiwara has had notable performances every time he has stepped in the ring.

Bout 9: Kyle Aguon (13-9) vs. Kleber Koike (25-5-1) (148 lbs)

Former KSW Featherweight Champion Kleber Koike will fight in RIZIN for the first time on Thursday, fighting Kyle Aguon. Koike had a strong KSW run which included five wins. His last fight was in September of 2019, where he won over Akiyo Nishiura on a ONE Championship “Japan Series” card.

Aguon enters the fight with the goal of winning his first RIZIN fight. He lost his promotional debut in February, dropping a decision to Vugar Kyaramov. Prior to the loss, Aguon had six-straight fights in Pancrase. He lost a Pancrase title fight to Isao Kobayashi in October of 2019 via split decision.

Bout 10: Yuki Motoya (26-8) vs. Naoki Inoue (14-2) (134 lbs) (MMA Bout)

Before RIZIN holds their bantamweight title fight on Thursday, Yuki Motoya and Naoki Inoue will compete in a high-level fight within the division. Both fighters enter the matchup on a three-fight win streak.

Inoue, a former UFC fighter, made his RIZIN debut in February, defeating Trent Girdham via decision. He picked up another win in August, stopping Shooto Watanabe in the second minute of action with a rear naked choke.

Motoya has also had a successful 2020, putting together wins to turn around a three-fight losing streak that he had in 2019. Motoya had two wins in regional promotion DEEP Impact in 2020 along with a RIZIN win over Uoi Fullswing.

Bout 11: Ayaka Hamasaki (20-3) vs. Miyuu Yamamoto (6-4) (Vacant RIZIN Super Atomweight Championship)

With the departure of former RIZIN Super Atomweight Champion Seo Hee Ham from the promotion in 2020, RIZIN will look for their new 108-pound champion on Thursday. In an attempt to find the new champ, RIZIN has booked former title holder Ayaka Hamasaki against Miyuu Yamamoto.

Hamasaki became the inaugural 108-pound champ in 2018, stopping Kanna Asakura with a second-round armbar to claim the belt. She defended the belt against Jinh Yu Frey later in the year before losing it to Ham in 2019. Hamasaki bounced back from her loss in August, submitting Tomo Maesawa in the second round with an armlock.

Yamamoto, who is currently a Guam-based fighter who has spent her entire career fighting within RIZIN, will be competing for the first time in a year. Her last win was on RIZIN’s 2019 New Year’s Eve card, where she defeated Thai prospect AMP The Rocket. Her previous fight was a loss to Ham.

FURTHER READING: Yamamoto and Aguon To Face Biggest Challenges Together At RIZIN 26

Bout 12: Takanori Gomi vs. Kouzi (RIZIN Special Standing Bout)

JMMA legend Takanori Gomi will return on Thursday, fighting kickboxer Kouzi in a unique scenario. They will compete in a “Special Standing Bout,” which per a press release means “both fighters will only be allowed to punch with the
exception of back fist blows.”

The bout will be Gomi’s first after a couple years out of the spotlight. Gomi’s popularity comes from the mid-2000s, where he had a strong run of wins in Pride FC. His last fight was in 2018, where he defeated Melvin Guillard with punches in the first round. The win was his first since 2014 and his fifth in the decade through 15 fights.

Kouzi, a former K-1 Japan fighter, made his RIZIN debut earlier in the year with a loss to Tenshin Nasukawa.

Bout 13: Mikuru Asakura (13-2) vs. Satoshi Yamasu (11-5) (150 lbs) (MMA Bout)

Just a month after losing a title fight, Mikuru Asakura will fight Satoshi Yamasu. Asakura’s fight last month was a loss to Yutaka Saito, who was crowned the inaugural RIZIN Featherweight Champion with the win. Prior to the loss, Asakura had eight-straight MMA wins including six in RIZIN.

Yamasu lost in his last fight as well, dropping his DEEP Featherweight Championship to Juntaro Ushiku in September. He had claimed the regional JMMA belt in 2018, defending it once in 2019.

Bout 14: Tenshin Nasukawa vs. Kumandoi Phetjaroenvit (125 lbs) (Kickboxing Bout)

RIZIN’s biggest kickboxing star Tenshin Nasukawa will compete in the co-main event, fighting Kumandoi Phetjaroenvit. Nasukawa will look for his fourth win in the year in the bout. One of his previous wins in the year came in RIZIN, with the other two taking place in RISE. A win on Thursday for the 22-year-old Japanese kickboxer would be a milestone, as it would mark his 40th victory in his undefeated run.

Phetjaroenvit has an extensive Muay Thai record which includes dozens of wins at prestigious Rajadamnern Stadium in Thailand. His last fight was a month ago, where he lost to Saoek Sitchefboontham.

Bout 15: Kai Asakura (16-2) vs. Kyoji Horiguchi (28-3) (RIZIN Bantamweight Championship)

In a rematch over a year in the making, Kyoji Horiguchi will fight RIZIN Bantamweight Champion Kai Asakura in the main event of RIZIN 26. The fight is a chance for Horiguchi to avenge a loss, show his skill after a year of healing and injury and to reclaim a belt that was once his.

Horiguchi became the first RIZIN Bantamweight Champion in 2018, defeating Darrion Caldwell at RIZIN 14. He became a Bellator champion months later, winning over Caldwell in June of 2019. The championship wins only continued the hot streak that Horiguchi had which included three previous UFC wins and seven in RIZIN.

Trouble started for Horiguchi in August of 2019 when Asakura pulled off an upset, stopping him in the second round of a main event at RIZIN 18. While the match was not for Horiguchi’s belt, it only made sense that Asakura would challenge for the belt in a rematch.

This plan of a rematch was scrapped after Horiguchi had a torn ACL and damaged meniscus that forced him out of action and made him vacate his bantamweight belts.

With Horiguchi temporarily out of the picture, Asakura fought Manel Kape at RIZIN’s 2019 New Year’s Eve event. Asakura lost the bout, being stopped in the second round by Kape. The belt was vacated once again when Kape signed with the UFC, allowing Asakura another chance at a high level. Asakura finally reached the top of the division once again by stopping Hiromasa Ougikubo in August to claim the belt.

Now at the top of the RIZIN bantamweight division, Asakura looks to defend his belt for the first time. A win for Asakura on New Year’s Eve would further cement him as RIZIN’s top bantamweight, and a win for Horiguchi would put him back in a spot he used to hold but has recently been absent from.

FURTHER READING: Kyoji Horiguchi Had It All Taken Away. A Year Later, He Can Win It Back

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