Kanna Asakura had some hesitancy about competing in a title fight. Taking a rematch against current champ Ayaka Hamasaki would pose one of the biggest challenges of her career thus far. And sure, while this would be coming after her fourth consecutive victory, a win back in December against AI, the close and challenging battle which saw her struggle at points is not one she looks back on fondly.
It took some convincing to get Asakura onboard with the bout. She remained doubtful about the fight even after accepting the bout. However, help from her peers means she is now fully onboard with the idea.
Asakura says she is now confident in her chances in the fight. She credits the higher-ups at Paraestra Matsudo gym in Chiba, Japan for getting her to this point.
“As I discussed with coach [Hiroshi] Tsuruya and teammate [Hiromasa] Ougikubo, they have come up with a solid gameplan … right now I’ve got nothing but confidence and I see a lot of ways for me to win this fight,” said Asakura through a translator in an interview with Knockdown News.
Asakura has the chance to rewrite history on Sunday, when she faces Hamasaki, the current RIZIN Super Atomweight Champion, in a rematch at RIZIN 27.
Much has changed since Asakura and Hamasaki first met back in 2018. At that time, Asakura was heading into the bout with great momentum. She had just powered through the promotion’s 2017 eight-woman grand prix, defeating Shoot Boxing star RENA in the grand finals.
After scoring a second win over RENA in a rematch, Asakura was on a five-fight win streak in RIZIN. It was at this point that the promotion decided to set up a fight for their inaugural 108-pound belt for New Year’s Eve 2018.
Asakura was matched against Hamasaki, a former Invicta FC Atomweight Champion who picked up two victories since joining RIZIN.
Their meeting at RIZIN 14 went the way of Hamasaki, who submitted Asakura late in the second round with an armbar.
The win kicked off a year-long reign as champion for Hamasaki. However, the run was stopped in late 2019 with a close fight to Seo Hee Ham. After Ham vacated her belt and signed a contract with ONE Championship last year, Hamasaki has been able to reclaim the belt.
A win on Sunday would be her first title defence.
Asakura has built up several victories since taking the loss to Hamasaki in 2018. While she dropped a 2019 bout to Miyuu Yamamoto, Asakura has since strung together four consecutive victories.
Despite the win streak, Asakura’s opponent still doubts her ability to perform.
“I think that since our last fight I have gotten better in all areas … I know that Hamasaki said that she feels like I haven’t evolved at all since our last fight. For me, it’s better if she thinks that way,” said Asakura.
Despite the admittedly newfound confidence Asakura has in her matchup with Hamasaki, her last fight gave her somewhat of a bitter taste. Fighting to a decision win against AI in December, Asakura saw herself tested by the once undefeated MMA fighter with a wrestling background.
“That fight is something that I’m not really proud of. There are so many things to go over. On a positive note, I’ve got nothing but to learn from that fight,” said Asakura.
Asakura and Hamasaki are in a special position on Sunday: they will be main eventing RIZIN 27. While the super atomweight division is well supported by RIZIN and is featured on most cards, it is rare for the fighters from that division to be the main event.
Asakura will be headlining a RIZIN card for the second time in her career. The fight will be Hamasaki’s first main event bout under the promotion. It’s also only the third time super atomweights have sat atop a card.
Asakura feels that being the main event is an honour, but also something that comes with a responsibility.
“I do feel honoured to be given that opportunity. Moreso, I feel obligated to be able to fulfill my responsibility as a main eventer,” said Asakura. “I feel like I need to put on a performance that people will say was worth the main event.”
Like how it was for most fighters in 2020, Asakura had a slow year. She competed twice in the year, a significant drop from years before where she had fought from three to six times in a 12-month timespan.
In her downtime, Asakura has had the chance to entertain online. Among the dozens of Japanese combat sports athletes participating in content creation, Asakura has been one of the more successful. Asakura’s Youtube channel recently reached 100,000 subscribers and currently has over 14,000,000 total views as of March.
She has also used the growing mobile app TikTok to host content. The app has also been a sponsor for her in her last two bouts.
“I think expressing myself on those platforms is important for me not only as a fighter but as a person,” said Asakura.
Asakura’s best-known way of expressing herself, prizefighting, will be on display once again on Sunday.