Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, MMA promotions around the world have grappled with the protocols of governments and athletic commissions. The unpredictable nature of the pandemic has caused many events to not go as planned, some losing specific fights or having the entire card postponed in total.
For Japanese MMA promotion RIZIN, one of their biggest events this year has been an unfortunate victim to the fluidity of a pandemic. Back in December, it was announced that RIZIN would hold their first-ever event at the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan. The venue holds great significance, as it has played host to notable Pride FC and K-1 Kickboxing events in the late 1990s and early 2000s. However, for the past decade, it has not seen combat sports.
The plan was to hold the event in March, but government-imposed restrictions on attendance made the promotion opt for a show in late May. It was then booted ahead once more to the current date, June 13th. After many road bumps due to the pandemic, the card has officially arrived.
On Sunday, RIZIN will present 10-fight card “RIZIN 28.” The show includes many big bouts, including an inaugural lightweight title fight and the beginning of a 16-man tournament.
Here’s a full preview of the card.
Main Card (2:30AM EDT / 3:30PM JST) (Live-Now / RIZIN Live)
Bout 1: Satoshi Yamasu (11-6) vs. BeyNoah (0-0) (161 lbs) (MMA Bout)
Accomplished kickboxer BeyNoah will make his MMA debut in the opening bout of the card, facing Satoshi Yamasu.
BeyNoah has mostly competed in notable kickboxing promotion RISE in recent years. He has become a big name in the promotion and has competed in championship bouts on some cards.
He has a surprisingly experienced opponent in his first MMA bout in Yamasu. The 31-year-old is a former DEEP Impact Featherweight Champion and is looking to bounce back from a two-fight skid in the bout. He lost his RIZIN debut late last year, getting stopped within a round by Mikuru Asakura.
Bout 2: Shoma Shibisai (6-2) vs. Tsuyoshi Sudario (3-0) (265 lbs) (MMA Bout)
Former sumo wrestler turned MMA fighter Tsuyoshi Sudario will get the biggest challenge of his career on Sunday when he faces Shoma Shibisai.
Sudario has been built up by RIZIN since last year and now has three pro wins under his belt. The victories, which are all first-round wins, have come against pro wrestlers Dylan James and Kazushi Miyamoto and veteran MMA fighter Minowaman.
Shibisai is a big challenge for Sudario due to his experience and youth. At 30-years-old, Shibisai has a strong record of six wins and two losses. That includes two victories in RIZIN, one of which was a submission against Sergey Shemetov in late 2019.
Bout 3: Yutaka Saito (19-4-2) vs. Vugar Karamov (15-3) (146 lbs) (MMA Bout)
Current RIZIN Featherweight Champion Yutaka Saito will make his return for the first time since earning the belt to face Vugar Karamov on Sunday.
Karamov has been out of action since early 2020, where he defeated Pancrase veteran Kyle Aguon in his RIZIN debut. The win added to a long win streak that includes a 2019 fight in Bellator. Along with fellow Azerbaijani fighter Tofiq Musayev, Karamov has not been able to compete in recent months due to the limited travel allowed into Japan amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Saito earned his belt in November, defeating Mikuru Asakura in a close unanimous decision. The fight came three months after he won his RIZIN debut, stopping Kazumasa Majima in the second round of a bout with strikes.
While Saito is a current champ, his fight at the event Sunday will not be for his belt.
Bout 4: Yuki Motoya (27-9) vs. Ryo Okada (17-4-3) (RIZIN Bantamweight Grand Prix Opening Round)
Four fights at RIZIN 28 will be part of a 16-man bantamweight grand prix that is being launched this year. The bracket is a strong one that includes many bantamweight RIZIN vets and notable names in the regional scene in Japan.
The matchups in the opening round were decided by a draw conducted at a press conference in March. Four fights will air on Sunday, with the other four in the opening round set to happen in two weeks at RIZIN 29.
The first of four fights in the bracket on Sunday sees Yuki Motoya face Ryo Okada.
Motoya has won four of his last five bouts, with three having taken place in regional promotion DEEP Impact. Most recently he stopped Shoji Maruyama within a round with a rear naked choke at DEEP Impact’s 20th Anniversary card.
His last loss was on New Year’s Eve, where fellow tournament participant Naoki Inoue subbed him with a rear naked choke. Should they both advance past this round, the fighters could be due for a rematch later in the tournament.
Okada, a veteran of Shooto Japan, will be making his RIZIN debut in the fight. He has competed as a pro since 2009 and has gone without a loss since 2017. He is Shooto Japan’s current bantamweight champ and last defended his belt in March against Takafumi Otsuka.
Bout 5: Hiromasa Ougikubo (21-5-2) vs. Takeshi Kasugai (25-7-1) (RIZIN Bantamweight Grand Prix Opening Round)
Experienced fighters Hiromasa Ougikubo and Takeshi Kasugai will meet as part of the tournament on Sunday.
Ougikubo has been a big name in RIZIN since joining the roster in 2018. He has picked up large wins in the promotion, like decision victories in 2019 over Shintaro Ishiwatari and Yuki Motoya.
Ougikubo lost the chance to become the promotion’s bantamweight champ last year, as he was stopped within a round by Kai Asakura for the vacant belt. He scored a win in his last showing, defeating Kenta Takizawa in November.
Kasugai is making his first RIZIN appearance after over a decade on the regional scene in Japan. His last showing was in October, where he defeated Toshinori Tsunemura on a Pancrase show.
Bout 6: Shintaro Ishiwatari (26-8-4) vs. Naoki Inoue (15-2) (RIZIN Bantamweight Grand Prix Opening Round)
Big bantamweights Shintaro Ishiwatari and Naoki Inoue will meet in the first round of the bracket.
Sunday will start what will be Ishiwatari’s second RIZIN tournament run. He notably made it to the finals of a 16-man bracket in 2017, where he lost in the end to Kyoji Horiguchi. He has been out of the ring for over a year now, with his last bout being a split decision loss to Hiromasa Ougikubo in late 2019.
Inoue, 23, has had a hot run since joining RIZIN in 2020. The former UFC fighter has three wins in the promotion, including first-round subs over Shooto Watanabe and Yuki Motoya. The victories have made him one of the favourites in the tournament, despite having a smaller resume than others.
FURTHER READING: Naoki Inoue Is Being Given The Hard Fights – But He Keeps Winning
Bout 7: Kai Asakura (16-3) vs. Shooto Watanabe (22-5-6) (RIZIN Bantamweight Grand Prix Opening Round)
In the final bout of the tournament on Sunday, former champ Kai Asakura will face Shooto Watanabe.
Asakura is one of the most well-known fighters in RIZIN, as he has had an explosive career in the ring and, along with his brother, has developed a massive following on social media. He is entering the tournament after losing his bantamweight belt on New Year’s Eve to Kyoji Horiguchi, who finished him in the third minute of a bout with strikes.
Watanabe comes into the bracket just after scoring his first RIZIN win three months back, where he submitted Takumi Tamaru in the second round with a rear naked choke. The 32-year-old has been a regular of the regional scene in Japan, mostly competing in Fighting NEXUS and DEEP Impact.
Bout 8: Tofiq Musayev (18-3) vs. Roberto Satoshi Souza (11-1) (Vacant RIZIN Lightweight Championship)
RIZIN will crown their first lightweight champion on Sunday when Tofiq Musayev returns to compete against Roberto Satoshi Souza.
Both fighters have had short yet dominating runs in RIZIN. Musayev is most known for his campaign through the RIZIN Lightweight Grand Prix in 2019, where he defeated Johnny Case and Patricky Pitbull in the same night to win the tournament.
Musayev has put together an undefeated record of five wins since joining RIZIN in late 2018. He has been out of action since 2019, as the pandemic has made it difficult for fighters to enter the country and compete.
Souza has scored four wins since he entered RIZIN in 2019. His last two victories came in dominant fashion: in a main event bout last summer he stopped Yusuke Yachi, and on a card three months back he submitted Kazuki Tokudome within a round with a triangle choke.
The RIZIN Lightweight Championship fight will be the last on the card before the promotion takes an intermission. The two final bouts on the bracket are set to air on Japanese TV network Fuji TV.
Bout 9: Tenshin Nasukawa vs. Koki Osaki, HIROYA, X (Special Rules Bout)
In an odd and somewhat hard to explain exhibition, star kickboxer Tenshin Nasukawa will take on three competitors in one night.
The rules of the bout state that each fighter will face Nasukawa for one round each. The fight will have punches allowed, although kicks will not be permitted. Each fighter will get a three knockdown rule for their round. If Nasukawa is stopped by a fighter, the exhibition will come to an end altogether.
He will face kickboxers Koki Osaki and HIROYA, with the third fighter remaining a secret for the time being.
Bout 10: Mikuru Asakura (14-2) vs. Kleber Koike (27-5-1) (146 lbs) (MMA Bout)
In the main event of RIZIN 28, well-known MMA fighter Mikuru Asakura will face Kleber Koike in a featherweight bout.
Asakura is one of RIZIN’s biggest stars at the moment, more so for his success outside the cage than inside. He most notably has a Youtube channel that he frequently uploads on, with views per video varying from 300,000 to 3,000,000 on a usual upload. His channel currently has 1.8 million subscribers, and his most viewed video currently sits at 22 million views.
In the ring, Asakura is returning after a first-round stoppage win that he took against Satoshi Yamasu on New Year’s Eve. The fight was a bounce-back victory for him after losing a title fight to Yutaka Saito the month before.
Koike, a former KSW Champion, will be looking to continue a RIZIN run that has been nothing short of explosive thus far. He made his promotional debut at RIZIN 26 last year, putting Kyle Aguon to sleep within a round with a darce choke. Three months later, he returned to submit Kazumasa Majima in the second round with a triangle choke.
Koike’s extensive grappling skills make him a challenging opponent and not exactly an easy one for Asakura to face.