Just under a year ago, RIZIN unveiled their featherweight belt. At RIZIN 25 on November 21st 2020, it was Yutaka Saito who fought through a close three-round battle against Mikuru Asakura to become the first man to obtain the title.
Fast-forward to this weekend, Saito will put that belt on the line for the first time when facing regional champion Juntaro Ushiku. The fight will headline RIZIN 31, which is set to take place from the Pia Arena MM in Yokohama, Japan.
Here’s a preview of the entire show.
Main Card (1:00AM EDT / 2:00PM JST) (Live-Now / RIZIN Live)
Bout 1: Ryuya Okuwaki vs. Ryuto Oinuma (112 lbs) (Kickboxing Bout)
The evening will start with a kickboxing bout between Ryuya Okuwaki and Ryuto Oinuma. Both fighters will be appearing in the RIZIN ring for the first time.
Both of the kickboxing bouts on Sunday will follow RIZIN’s kickboxing rules, although they will also lean into more of a Muay Thai ruleset by allowing elbows as well. In what is certainly no coincidence, many of the four kickboxers on Sunday’s card come from Muay Thai backgrounds.
Along with experience fighting in Thailand from 2016 to 2019, Okuwaki has recently spent time in the Japanese promotion Battle of Muay Thai.
Like a Yoshinari Nadaka, another BOM fighter who fights later on this card, Okuwaki fought just a few weeks back in a Muay Thai fight. He won in that fight, defeating TOMO.
Oinuma is a veteran of Japanese Muay Thai promotion REBELS. He has fought for them for a few years, picking up nearly a dozen wins.
Bout 2: Seiichrio Ito (13-4-2) vs. Kunta Hashimoto (7-1) (126 lbs) (MMA Bout)
Flyweights Seiichiro Ito and Kunta Hashimoto will meet in the first MMA contest on the card.
Ito has appeared in RIZIN three times in the past, although he has yet to win since his debut promotional showing in 2017. He snapped a three-fight skid in his last fight, defeating Yuta Hamamoto on a regional ZST card in November 2020.
Hashimoto will be making his RIZIN debut. He enters their ring with a strong pro record of seven wins and one loss since turning pro two years back. His last fight was in July, getting the scorecard nod over Takehiro Ishii on a Fighting NEXUS card.
Bout 3: Yusaku Nakamura (16-8-1) vs. Yuki Ito (8-2) (126 lbs) (MMA Bout)
Returning to RIZIN in hopes of scoring another win under their lights, Yuki Ito will face promotional vet Yusaku Nakamura.
Ito had a strong RIZIN debut in March, needing just 33 seconds to defeat Kohei Sugiyama with strikes. That momentum continued on the regional scene, as he went on to pick up a submission win in DEEP Jewels three months later.
Ito is coming off a loss this weekend, as he was defeated by DEEP Impact Flyweight Champion Yamato Fujita via split decision last month.
Nakamura has a rough record in RIZIN, with one win and four losses between MMA and kickboxing, although those bouts have come against some of the tougher names like Manel Kape and Tenshin Nasukawa. His last appearance was in August 2020, where Tatsuki Saomoto stopped him with a left hook in the first round.
Nakamura was scheduled to compete at RIZIN 29 four months back, but that plan was scrapped after opponent Daichi Kitakata had to withdraw from the fight the day of.
Bout 4: Yoshinari Nadaka vs. Naoki Ishikawa (117 lbs) (Kickboxing Bout)
Muay Thai ace Yoshinari Nadaka will return to the RIZIN ring yet again when facing Naoki Ishikawa. As mentioned earlier in the article, both of Sunday’s kickboxing bouts will allow elbows.
Nadaka has been balancing his time between fighting in RIZIN and competing in Battle of Muay Thai since last year. His showings in RIZIN have always been dominant, stopping all three opponents that the promotion has given him thus far. His last RIZIN fight was in June, where a doctor stoppage took Chikai out in the first round.
Nadaka competed just last month, defeating Hitoshi Sato on a BOM card.
Ishikawa has fought around Japan’s kickboxing scene for years. He has notably fought in promotion KNOCK OUT many times in recent years.
Bout 5: Rikuto Shirakawa (10-8-1) vs. Takuya Yamamoto (7-1-1) (146 lbs) (MMA Bout)
In the first of four featherweight bouts set to happen on Sunday, Rikuto Shirakawa will meet Takuya Yamamoto.
Yamamoto will be fighting outside of regional promotion GRACHAN for the first time in his career. He took the promotion’s featherweight belt in his last appearance, defeating Yusuke Kagiyama in late 2020.
Bout 6: Daisuke Nakamura (30-20-1) vs. Suguru Nii (12-10) (146 lbs) (MMA Bout)
MMA veteran Daisuke Nakamura has fought over 50 times, but he has yet to do so even once under the RIZIN banner. That will change on Sunday, as he will meet Suguru Nii in a featherweight contest.
Nakamura has fought since 2002, appearing in promotions like Pride FC, Dream, K-1 and more. He has primarily fought in DEEP Impact since 2012. He challenged promotional champ Juntaro Ushiku in July, losing via split decision. He was given the title shot after stopping Ushiku in a non-title fight earlier this year.
Nii, a veteran of DEEP and Pancrase, will also be making his RIZIN debut. He has been out of the cage recently, as his last fight was a loss to Hiroshige Tanaka in November 2019.
Bout 7: Daichi Abe (9-4) vs. Akira (15-8-4) (157 lbs) (MMA Bout)
In the final bout before a scheduled intermission, Daichi Abe will face Akira (also known as Akira Okada).
Abe, a former UFC fighter, has gone undefeated since departing ONE Championship in 2019. He has won three straight since last year. He became the interim DEEP Impact Welterweight Champion in February, as an injury to Let’s Gota in their title fight took him out of action in the first round.
Akira has spent his most recent years as a pro in Pancrase. Bouncing back from a four-fight losing streak, he has won two consecutive bouts via stoppage over the past year.
Bout 8: Masanori Kanehara (27-14-5) vs. Takahiro Ashida (24-10-2) (146 lbs) (MMA Bout)
Experienced fighter Masanori Kanehara will return to RIZIN when fighting Takahiro Ashida on Sunday.
Kanehara has an extensive MMA record that includes three UFC appearances and two dozen wins on the JMMA scene. His last fight was in early 2020, where he lost his RIZIN debut to Victor Henry.
Ashida earned his first RIZIN MMA last year, submitting Kyohei Hagiwara in the first round.
Bout 9: Tsuyoshi Sudario (3-1) vs. SAINT (2-0) (265 lbs) (MMA Bout)
Attempting to bounce back from his sole pro loss, sumo wrestler turned MMA fighter Tsuyoshi Sudario will meet SAINT on Sunday.
Sudario turned pro last year and quickly attained a trio of wins in RIZIN. Two of his victories came against pro wrestlers who had not fought in MMA before, with his other victory being against veteran Minowaman.
Sudario received a large step-up in competition earlier this year, facing eight-fight heavyweight vet Shoma Shibisai. That’s where he took his first loss, as Shibisai secured a third-round rear naked choke for the win.
Sudario will now meet SAINT, who has yet to lose in his short pro career. He has fought twice since June, competing in regional promotion DEEP Impact. He defeated two of the promotion’s more notable heavyweights, being victorious over Ryo Sakai and Seigo Mizuguchi.
Bout 10: Kanna Asakura (18-5) vs. Saori Oshima (6-2) (108 lbs) (MMA Bout)
2017 RIZIN Super Atomweight Grand Prix winner Kanna Asakura will welcome a rising prospect in the co-main event, as she will face Saori Oshima this weekend.
While Oshima has already fought eight times as a pro, her record only dates back to last year. She has been quite active since her pro debut, fighting in regional promotions Shooto Japan and DEEP Jewels. She got the RIZIN call-up after a notable win in June, defeating Hikaru Aono to become the new DEEP Jewels Atomweight Champion.
Asakura headlined a RIZIN card earlier this year, challenging RIZIN Super Atomweight Champion Ayaka Hamasaki for the second time. Her challenge was unsuccessful, as Hamasaki walked away as the winner via split decision.
Asakura had put together a strong winning streak in RIZIN before then, defeating four consecutive fighters between 2019 and 2020.
Bout 11: Yutaka Saito (20-4-2) vs. Juntaro Ushiku (19-8-1) (RIZIN Featherweight Championship) (MMA Bout)
RIZIN Featherweight Champion Yutaka Saito will get the chance to defend his belt for the first time when facing Juntaro Ushiku in the main event of RIZIN 31.
Saito earned the belt in November of last year, fighting three rounds against RIZIN star Mikuru Asakura to take a close decision victory. He has appeared once since then, sneaking by Vugar Karamov with a split decision result in a non-title fight.
Ushiku will be making his first appearance in RIZIN, although he brings the credentials to challenge for the featherweight belt. He is currently the DEEP Impact Featherweight Champion. He first earned the belt last year with a win over Satoshi Yamasu. While he lost in a non-title bout to Daisuke Nakamura early this year, he recently avenged that loss in a title fight, winning via split decision in July.
Ushiku has fought as a pro since 2012. Early bouts in his career happened in Pancrase before he moved to DEEP Impact in 2019. While he is an underdog in Sunday’s bout, Ushiku could make his next residency in RIZIN with a successful performance against the current champ.