JMMA Monday: Reflecting on ‘TRIGGER’ with J. Christian Gary

Kleber Koike raises a trophy in the RIZIN cage.
Kleber Koike was the biggest headline from last weeks’ RIZIN “TRIGGER” event (RIZIN FF)

RIZIN kicked off its 2022 schedule last week with their second-ever “TRIGGER” card. It’s the second time that RIZIN has run what is meant to be the second tier of their programming. I have likened it before to UFC’s “Fight Night” cards, in relation to the numbered events that they do as well.

In the main event of RIZIN “TRIGGER 2nd,” Kleber Koike scored a second-round submission win against Ulka Sasaki. This victory kept his undefeated RIZIN run alive and potentially set him up for a title shot against current champ Juntaro Ushiku.

We’re going to spend this week’s episode of the “JMMA Monday” reflecting on this event and breaking it down. I’m glad to welcome J. Christian Gary as a guest on this week’s episode to help us do just that. He is one-half of the “We Are RIZIN” podcast and is the owner of Focus Fights.

Here’s our discussion on the event.

NOTE: This discussion has been edited down for brevity.

Jack Wannan: Well, I want to ask what you thought about this main event. We saw Kleber Koike continue his dominant RIZIN run, but it wasn’t without some trouble. He sort of had a really rough first round against Sasaki. Coming out of this fight, what did you think about it?

J. Christian Gary: Well, when it came down to what I thought about the fight on paper, I thought Kleber Koike was just going sweep the floor with Ulka [Sasaki]. And, Ironically enough, he did with that second-round submission choke. But considering the fact that he had a rough first round, I would basically say Kleber [Koike] was looking at this fight like a pushover fight, thinking that he was just gonna get an easy opportunity to potentially fight for a RIZIN title.

JW: I personally think that it’s unavoidable to not give Koike a title fight after this. I mean, even before this fight, he had a pretty good case, in my opinion. Do you want to see that fight?

JCG: Yeah! I mean, I think that if the RIZIN featherweight division is seeing guys like Juntaro Ushiku and Yutaka Saito get opportunities to hold the rise and featherweight belt [then Koike should]. And when it comes to Mikuru [Asakura], he’s not going to be in the title picture for the time being. Might as well give Kleber Koike that opportunity to fight for the title and then when the time comes, [do] Koike vs. Mikuru [Asakura].

Mountain Ryugo throws a head kick to Katsutoshi Sasadi in a corner of the RIZIN cage.
Mountain Ryugo put away Katsutoshi Sasada within a round (RIZIN FF)

JW: Now looking at the rest of this card, what fights stuck out to you just when you look at the lineup?

JCG: To be honest, I got two that were the most memorable from this show. The heavyweight kickboxing bout between Mountain Ryugo and Katsutoshi Sasada […] where Sasada straight up got molly-wopped. He got knocked down three times in that one round. Ryugo just showed his dominance in that fight. The second fight that really stuck out to me well [was] Sora Yamamoto knocking out Suguru Nii. I said on the RIZIN English language Twitter account underneath the highlight that Sora [Yamamoto] wrecked Suguru [Nii’s] night like it was last call at the bar something.

JW: Now, obviously when we think about this card in total, it’s, it wasn’t the strongest [RIZIN] card ever. I mean, you look at it, there’s a lot of guys that we don’t really know about. Also a lot of guys who have rough records. Going forward, is there any changes you would like to see for these “TRIGGER” cards? Or are you okay with the sort of level star power you see on this lineup?

JCG: Oh, to be honest, I don’t know. Because in my opinion, these “TRIGGER” shows are like DEEP cards disguised as RIZIN bouts […] I think the best thing for me, for what I want to see for the next RIZIN “TRIGGER” show, is considering the fact that Japan’s international restrictions are now [beginning to be] lifted, I wouldn’t mind seeing a few foreign prospects.

NOTE: For context, Japan started accepting applications for people to enter the country earlier this month. Universities are both able to apply. Magdalena Osumi has more details in her report for The Japan Times.

Ren Hiramoto walks while in the RIZIN ring.
Ren Hiramoto will make his return at RIZIN “LANDMARK Vol. 2” against Chihiro Suzuki (RIZIN FF)

JW: What do you think about Ren Hiramoto’s return fight against Chihiro Suzuki? Are you interested in that bout?

JCG: Of course I’m interested. Because, Ren Hiramoto, former K-1 kickboxer, took some time out of not just his schedule, but his life to travel about four or five-thousand miles away over to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA to train under the Roufus brothers […] I really want to see how Roufusport, how living in Milwaukee like it’s a Happy Days rerun, changed Ren Hiramoto.

Other Notes From The Week

  • My complete report on RIZIN “TRIGGER 2nd” can be read here. 
  • Two more matchups were added to RIZIN’s “LANDMARK Vol. 2” card earlier in the week.
    • Muay Thai star Yoshinari Nadaka is back. While he was left off New Year’s Eve programming, the young talent will return in March against Yusei Shirahata.
    • An MMA fight between CORO and Takuma Masuda is also set for the show. “LANDMARK” is now scheduled to be five bouts in total.
    • And about “LANDMARK,” I’ll have a preview of the show and report on it out later this week. Stay tuned.
  • Veterans Shinya Aoki and Hiroki Akiyama are scheduled to fight at ONE Championship’s stacked 10th-anniversary card on March 26th.
  • Veteran Yoshiro Maeda will retire from pro competition on April 10th, fighting in an exhibition bout against Daichi Kitakata. Maeda’s final pro fight was against Mitsuhisa Sunabe at RIZIN 32 in the fall.
  • There are some changes to DEEP Impact’s April 10th show.
    • Park Si-woo’s fight against Aira Koga has been moved to this card. It was originally booked for a March 12th DEEP Jewels show. It will be Park’s first appearance since defeating RENA on New Year’s Eve.
    • Returning for the first time since a 2019 loss to Makoto Shinryu, Yuya Shibata will face Kazuki Shibuya.
  • Two fights have joined Shooto Japan’s April 3rd card.
    • Kaisei Takehara will make his pro debut against Yamato Hamamatsu, who will be fighting to break a three-fight losing streak
    • Coming off his first pro win, Tatsuma Okada will face Asuka Tsubaki.
  • Two more bouts for Pancrase 327:

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