Welcome to the very first “JMMA Monday” episode on the website. This will be a weekly corner on the site to talk about any relevant topics around MMA in Japan. Sometimes it will be a conversation with someone else, other times it will just be a short little opinion column.
We’re coming off the biggest week of the year for JMMA. Of course, I’m talking about New Year’s Eve. This year, a busy 16-fight card titled RIZIN 33 was the main focus of the night. It saw Hiromasa Ougikubo rise as an unlikely star, overcoming Naoki Inoue and Kai Asakura in one night to win a Grand Prix.
To help digest this event, I called upon pundit Fight Pizza, who attended RIZIN 33 and documented his experience. His in-depth article on the event can be read here – it’s written in an “as it happened” style that makes it feel like you’re there with him at the show.
Here’s our conversation (NOTE: Parts of the conversation were cut for the sake of brevity).
Jack Wannan: To start, I want to talk about the Bantamweight Grand Prix bracket. You initially picked Naoki Inoue to beat Hiromasa Ougikubo in the semi-finals. It seemed like a lot of people, most people didn’t pick Ougikubo to win the entire thing. Were you surprised the way that the bracket played out?
Fight Pizza: Definitely surprised. I think that was probably the coolest thing about the event. It was really great for Ougikubo. I would say he was the big winner on the night, of course. At this time in his career, and this time of his life, and his past couple of fights, I think it’s really awesome [for him]. I think people were really excited about that. I think the crowd was really into it. In the fight with Kai Asakura, the crowd was definitely behind him. And everyone could see that he was going to win, and people were really excited.
JW: And when we talk about the performances he had, both of his fights seemed to be quite well-planned out fights. It was a really thorough performance from him. What did you think?
FP: I thought they were great. In the first fight against Inoue, I thought he was getting beat pretty handily in the first round. I thought Inoue was going to walk away with it. Like, it seemed like it. And then, you know, he just turned something in the second round and totally took over. And Inoue, you gotta say, he kind of faded big time. Not sure what that’s about, if he was hurt or what. And then in the fight with Kai, yeah, it was just a really smart fight. He knew what he had to do to win in both fights and he did it, and it was just a really sharp veteran performance.
JW: To me, it feels like this is really him getting his moment that he was due for. Because for long he has been a solid fighter. He even was on “The Ultimate Fighter,” he is a real household name for people who watch RIZIN. He never really had this moment, but he got it on New Year’s Eve.
FP: That’s exactly what my opinion is as well. I think this event was really for him in a way, after the fact.
JW: I want to talk about the title fight. Roberto Satoshi Souza: another strong performance from him when he beat Yusuke Yachi.
JW: You mentioned that you’re big on him doing a potential Bellator fight with Patricky Pitbull. Do you see that as a real big challenge for him? To me, it seems like he has run out of things to do in RIZIN for now.
FP: I totally agree. I love Yusuke Yachi, he was one of my favorite RIZIN fighters, and I was super bummed when he was on his long losing streak. I’ve always liked him. But I knew he was not going to win this fight. He didn’t have a chance, really. Souza just took care of him pretty easily. It just took a little longer than last time, which was expected because Yusuke has improved a little bit. I think [Souza has] done everything he can do in RIZIN, and I think the Bellator fight is the right fight for him. And I think he could do well in the UFC, honestly. If he wanted to do that.
JW: And I wanted to hear your thoughts about the upsets on this card. Most notably was Ayaka Hamasaki’s loss to Seika Izawa. What do you make of these results? Personally, in my opinion, the upsets are a huge deal and certainly mean something. However, they are still circumstantial in that they were put together on short notice.
FP: I would agree with that. I saw a lot of people say the big upset theme of the night. But that wasn’t really my vibe … Except for the Ougikubo fights, that was definitely upsets for me … The Hamasaki one less-so. Of course, it’s a big upset because it’s a young girl and she’s doing her debut and all this stuff, but Hamasaki didn’t seem all too into it honestly. She didn’t seem into her last fight [either]. She seems kind of bored. When “Hamderlei” [Ham Seo-hee] left RIZIN, I think she was like ‘okay, I lost my competition here.’ Honestly, what it reminded me of was when Kai Asakura beat Kyoji Horiguchi. It was a kind of similar thing – a non-title fight that they threw together. And then Kyoji came back and kicked Kai’s a**. And I would expect the same thing to happen here. I would expect Hamasaki to train and get motivated and beat Izawa in a rematch.
JW: To conclude, what is something you want from RIZIN or something you predict for this year?
FP: I think I’m probably more concerned about RIZIN’s future than most people are. I don’t think they’re doing very well … I think RIZIN’s on some shaky footing, to be honest with you. They need to manage 2022 very carefully. The Tenshin Nasukawa vs. Takeru thing has got to be a big deal. They have to make that happen and they have to do it really well. There can’t be any mistakes. If that fight falls apart, that’s a big problem. In terms of their other cards, they have to get something going with Bellator, they have to get more foreign fighters. They have to do a lot more. Another year like 2021 … it’s like RIZIN is DEEP. And RIZIN is not supposed to be DEEP, it’s supposed to be like Bellator.
Other Notes From This Week
- Thanks to Fight Pizza for speaking with me about RIZIN 33! You can subscribe to their MMA Substack newsletter here, or follow them on Twitter at this link.
- Fuji TV viewership for RIZIN 33 peaked at 7.4 percent of TV viewers in Japan at 10:00PM, with a low of 5.5 percent. The 7.4 percent peak falls 0.1 percent of the promotion’s all-time best peak for a NYE program, which was 7.5 percent in 2018, per Majan Saitou.
- It’s hard to give a diagnosis of these numbers. Here’s what I think: This is a somewhat reassuring figure for the promotion, as it nearly lines up with what they did last year even though this year’s lineup was significantly weaker. It will be interesting to see how the promotion builds itself over the next year, as they prepare for Tenshin Nasukawa’s last fight and then see his departure from kickboxing. Who will be the face of the company come next year? It’s hard to tell.
- DEEP Jewels announced DEEP Jewels 36 for March 12th recently. Out of the five fights set so far, the top bout sees Saori Oshima return to the promotion against HIME. Oshima notably defeated Kanna Asakura at RIZIN 31 in October. Fighters like Mizuki Furuse, Hikaru Aono and NISSE were also announced for the card.
- Shooto Japan revealed two more bouts for their January 16th show. Undefeated Rinya Nakamura will look for his second win in the promotion when facing Yasuyuki Nojiri, who is coming back after taking his first loss. And Sho Patrick Usami will attempt to score his fourth win as a rookie when meeting Kazumasa Sugawara.
- Kickboxer Hikaru Machida announced his retirement this week through social media. The Shoot Boxing and KNOCK OUT veteran appeared once in RIZIN, losing to TAIGA in 2019.
- Kickboxer YA-MAN wants to do MMA. What do you say? NO-MAN? YA-MAN?