JMMA Monday: Three Questions Heading Into 2022

Ayaka Hamasaki regained the RIZIN Super Atomweight Championship on Thursday (© RIZIN FF)
Ayaka Hamasaki and her future as a champion is likely to be tested in 2022 (© RIZIN FF)

Welcome to another issue of JMMA Monday. This is a weekly blog series that discusses the big and small stories around Japanese MMA.

Listen, I get that you’re probably sick of reflection pieces by now. We’re in 2022. We’re here. No more looking back on 2021. Alright, I hear you. This week we’re going to ask three questions that we will likely get the answer to over the next 12 months.

1. What’s up with the RIZIN bantamweight picture?

The RIZIN bantamweight division is in somewhat of a confusing position right now. Last year, RIZIN Bantamweight Champion Kyoji Horiguchi announced his signing with Bellator. However, it was also said that he would remain the RIZIN champ despite this move.

Horiguchi has already fought in Bellator once since then and upcoming plans from the promotion indicate he has some other fights to fulfill there as well. So that begs a pretty obvious question: what’s up with the title?

This was a question I personally neglected in 2021, as we had the RIZIN Bantamweight Grand Prix to focus on. But with that behind us, you have to wonder what the plan is now. If Horiguchi is going to hold onto the belt, does that mean the division will go months without their champion appearing? Will they possibly relinquish from him and set up a new fight?

It’s honestly hard to tell what’s next. However, it’s probably safe to assume something will be figured out. RIZIN’s biggest division is easily bantamweight, so it’s hard to believe they would keep it in an odd spot like this all year. Plus, they have a new star in Hiromasa Ougikubo at bantamweight. Strike the iron while it’s hot and put him in another big opportunity!

2. Will Ayaka Hamasaki lose her RIZIN Super Atomweight Championship?

One of the biggest stories coming out of New Year’s Eve was DEEP Jewels talent Seika Izawa defeating current champ Ayaka Hamasaki, stopping her with ground and pound in a non-title fight.

It’s inevitable that this bout will get re-booked. It would actually be quite unfair to Izawa if that won’t happen. So if or when that fight happens, will it play out differently?

As much as Izawa’s win over Hamasaki was big, it would be even bigger if she get the belt and make herself the new face of the division. Their rematch will be a big deal, and it could mark the passing of the torch for the division as a whole.

3. Will 2022 be a loss of ground or a gain of ground for accessibility?

It’s the never-ending issue: how much will international JMMA viewers actually get to be viewers this year? It feels like this issue has ebbs and flows. I wrote about it over a year ago (wow, time flies!) and it’s still a thought that comes up frequently for me.

Right now, RIZIN has a pretty good system for international fans. Viewers are getting English broadcasts for their numbered events, and it seems like the “TRIGGER” series will be accommodated as well. However, due to broadcasting rights,  the “LANDMARK” series is one people will likely continue to miss out on.

In smaller Japanese promotions we’ll have to wait and find out if anything changes this year. As much as it sucks that these promotions often shut the door on international fans, it’s not like international fans have much leverage either. In reality, the market for these events outside of Japan is quite small, so it’s not like these promotions are missing out on a ton of money by not broadcasting internationally. However, I’m not trying to sound like a pessimist. We’ll see what happens.

Other Notes From This Week

  • ONE Championship’s “Heavy Hitters” card is set to take place on Friday. Pancrase alum Ayaka Miura will get a title fight in the main event, facing long-time champ Xiong Jing Nan. Other former Pancrase fighters Shuya Kamikubo and Senzo Ikeda are also expected to appear. Oh, and somewhat of a legend in Yushin Okami is going to fight on the prelims.
  • A series of DEEP Jewels fighters did New Year’s greetings for combat sports publication GONG. As part of this, Miki Motono and Hikaru Aono have both said they want to fight in RIZIN this year. They’re both pretty solid fighters from the promotion – what do you think about that?
  • Seven fights in total are set for DEEP Impact’s February 26th card. It was announced this week that Fuga Izawa, a relative to Seika Izawa, will return on the card against Hiroya Kondo.
  • For the kickboxing crowd: GLORY Kickboxing recently announced its plans to collaborate with two other notable promotions. This includes Enfusion from Europe, and RISE Kickboxing from Japan. This news, along with the plan for K-1 Japan, RIZIN and RISE Kickboxing to work together for the Tenshin Nasukawa/Takeru super fight, gives me hope that maybe we’ll all just get along this year.
  • Takeru, the soon-to-be opponent of Tenshin Nasukawa, is getting a prime-time TV appearance on Saturday. He’s set to be a guest on “ごはんジャパン,” which will air at 6:30PM JST on TV Asahi.

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