RIZIN announced the matchups for the opening round of their 16-man bantamweight tournament on Friday. The bracket will kick off with events on May 23rd and May 30th.
The first of two events for the “Japan Grand Prix 2021” will see the promotion make their debut at the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan. A week later, the promotion will appear at the Maruzen Intech Arena Osaka in Osaka, Japan.
RIZIN originally planned to have their Tokyo Dome debut with their RIZIN 27 event in March, although plans later changed after Greater Tokyo was placed into a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The plan is to have the tournament carry throughout 2021 and ultimately culminate at the promotion’s New Year’s Eve event.
Fighters Pick Matchups For Opening Round
RIZIN utilized a card drawing system that allowed fighters to have some say in their matchups. After their order of picking was randomly decided, fighters would choose which slot on a card they would compete on, allowing some to pick who they specifically want to face.
The first matchup made in the tournament was a big one, as Kai Asakura chose to match himself against Shooto Watanabe.
Asakura is the only former champion in the bracket. He gained the bout last year, defeating Hiromasa Ougikubo to claim belt after former champ Manel Kape vacated it for a spot in the UFC. Asakura lost the belt in December, being finished within a round by Kyoji Horiguchi, who is now a two-time champ in the division.
Hiromasa Ougikubo was paired with Takeshi Kasugai for the first round of the tournament.
Former title challenger Ougikubo will be one of the favourites in the tournament. He lost his title shot in August to Kai Asakura, ending what was then a three-fight win streak. He has since bounced back with a win against Kenta Takizawa in November.
Kasugai is one of the lesser-known fighters in the lineup, having not competed in RIZIN before. He has over 30 fights on the regional scene in Japan and last competed for Pancrase.
One of RIZIN’s biggest prospects right now, Naoki Inoue, will kick off his tournament run with a hard challenge in Shintaro Ishiwatari.
Ishiwatari will make his return to action in the grand prix. Ishiwatari’s last appearance was at RIZIN’s 2019 New Year’s Eve card, where he lost to Hiromasa Ougikubo via split decision.
Ishiwatari has always competed at a high level in RIZIN, previously fighting names like Ulka Sasaki and Kyoji Horiguchi.
Inoue has been one of RIZIN’s youngest growing talents as of late. The 23-year-old has now picked up three wins since joining the roster in February of 2020, including a win against Yuki Motoya in December.
Riding the momentum of a win that evened his pro record, Shian will fight MMA veteran Takafumi Otsuka in the first round.
Shian made a splash in his RIZIN debut earlier this month, stopping Kazuma Sone in only 27 seconds with strikes. Prior to then, Shian had only won one of his last five fights.
Otsuka has over a decade of pro MMA experience in Japan, competing frequently in regional promotion DEEP Impact. He recently challenged for Shooto Japan’s bantamweight belt, losing a fight to Ryo Okada last week.
Okada will also appear in the tournament, fighting RIZIN veteran Yuki Motoya in the first round.
Motoya will be making his return to RIZIN after taking a loss to Naoki Inoue on New Year’s Eve. Motoya’s last appearance was on the regional scene, as he submitted Shoji Maruyama at a DEEP Impact card last month.
Coming off his RIZIN debut last year, Kazuma Kuramoto will attempt to spoil the promotional debut of Alan Yamaniha.
Shooto Japan talent Kuramoto enters the bracket after winning his RIZIN debut in December against Taiyo Nakahara, stopping him within a round with a soccer kick.
Yamaniha is getting a shot in RIZIN after stringing together three consecutive wins in Pancrase. He trains out of the Bonsai Jiu-Jitsu gym, which currently hosts RIZIN fighters Kleber Koike and Roberto Satoshi Souza.
Experienced Pancrase fighter Kenta Takizawa will attempt to snap a two-fight skid when fighting Masakazu Imanari.
MMA veteran Imanari will make his RIZIN debut in the tournament. The 45-year-old last fought in September, where he lost to Yuta Nezu on a “Road to ONE” card. Imanari is best known for being credited for the “Imanari Roll.”
Takizawa has lost his last two RIZIN bouts to notable names in Hiromasa Ougikubo and Ulka Sasaki.
Returning to RIZIN for the third time, Kintaro will face Kuya Ito.
Kintaro, a former title challenger in Pancrase, earned a win and a loss in 2020 under the RIZIN banner. Ito is entering the tournament after numerous fights on the regional scene.
Here are all of the fights that were announced at the press conference on Friday.
Bout 1: Shian (8-8) vs. Takafumi Otsuka (28-18-1)
Bout 2: Kuya Ito (10-8-1) vs. Kintaro (13-9-2)
Bout 3: Yuki Motoya (27-9) vs. Ryo Okada (17-4-3)
Bout 4: Shooto Watanabe (22-5-6) vs. Kai Asakura (16-3)
Bout 5: Kenta Takizawa (11-7) vs. Masakazu Imanari (38-19-2)
Bout 6: Kazuma Kuramoto (8-1) vs. Alan Yamaniha (17-8-4)
Bout 7: Shintaro Ishiwatari (26-8-4) vs. Naoki Inoue (15-2)
Bout 8: Takeshi Kasugai (26-7-1) vs. Hiromasa Ougikubo (21-5-2)