Welcome to another week of “JMMA Monday.” Today, we’re reacting to the recent RIZIN “LANDMARK” card and previewing the upcoming DEEP Jewels flyweight tournament. Let’s begin.
Previewing DEEP Jewels 36 With Charlie Jewett
On Saturday night, DEEP Jewels will kick off an eight-woman flyweight tournament. The bracket includes a wide variety of names. There are veterans like Rin Nakai and Shizuka Sugiyama. There’s also rising prospects like Hanako Sawa and Mikiko Nirvana. In the end, the bracket winner will be able to call themselves the first-ever DEEP Jewels Flyweight Champion.
To help preview this bracket, I spoke to Charlie Jewett. He’s owner of Sogo-Kaku.com, a site which has kept a close eye on women’s MMA in Japan. Not only is Jewett an incredibly insightful JMMA name to chat with, he’s also attending the event this weekend!
We had a lengthy conversation about the women’s MMA scene – part of which will be published in next week’s “JMMA Monday” issue. Here’s our discussion on the upcoming flyweight tourney.
Jack Wannan: So to start, what did you think about this lineup when it was announced? Obviously, out of all the eight names involved, two really pop out.
Charlie Jewett: Going into the tournament, I kind of thought there was a chance that Rin Nakai might participate because the tone on her Twitter kind of changed. She started retweeting and liking DEEP stuff, which seemed to say that maybe she was negotiating with them or something. She was obviously the biggest surprise, and [it’s] probably the biggest deal that she is in the tournament. I was also surprised that Yukari Nabe was not in the tournament, but it turns out that she is ill. And I was also kind of surprised that Kate Lotus wasn’t in the tournament, considering she’s quite popular – but then I discovered that she’s actually dropping down to strawweight. So it makes sense that she’s not in the tournament.
And I mean, Sugiyama was clearly going to be in the tournament. They they floated the idea of the tournament around for a couple months now, and Sugiyama is such a DEEP poster-child that it [was] very clear that she was going to be in it. I expected Nirvana to take part, I did not expect Te-a. It’s kind of an interesting tournament, because I think there’s two sets of girls that train on the same team. And then there’s actually three sets of girls that train together. So there’s all this interconnectedness going on within the tournament at the same time.
JW: What do you what do you think about the promotions move to do a tournament now at flyweight? There’s enough people to do a tournament, but as you mentioned there is that sort of interconnectedness too.
CJ: They have several things going for them. There are some already made stars in the division. Rin Nakai is going to bring a lot of attention and she has her own devoted fan base. Sugiyama is already quite popular. She has a very popular social media following. And I think they’re also gambling [that] Hanako Sawa can become a big star. Women’s wrestling is very popular in Japan. If you check the Olympics, they absolutely dominate women’s wrestling in the Olympics […] There are women [wrestlers] who are like celebrities, it’s like they’re famous. They do commercials, they’re on TV because they’re wrestlers, so I think they’re kind of hoping that [Sawa] can be that […] She’s only fought one time and recently transitioned MMA, so it’ll be interesting to see if this is too soon for her, or if she meets the challenge. But I think they’re also gambling that she can become a big star.
Then you have other fighters like Nirvana, who kind of is generating our own little fan base a little bit because she does quirky stuff. She works at a bodybuilder bar, which is kind of funny. So she has that fan base.
And I would reference their microweight division, which kind of died and then they reinvigorated it during the pandemic. And that division is growing. So I think DEEP realizes if they have enough fighters to make the division, they can make something happen.
JW: What name would you tell people to watch for in this tournament? Like a dark horse of the bracket?
CJ: Definitely Hanako Sawa because it’s her only her second fight, but she’s such a high level wrestler […] So she has a ton of potential. But it’s be interesting because she trains with [Aoi] Kuriyama, who she’s fighting. So they [already] know each other. It will be interesting to see what happens there. I think she has the most potential, but it’s completely unknown at this point. Outside of that [fight], for just fun, I think Sugiyama’s first opponent, Nirvana is very aggressive.
JW: If you could put down a pick to win this entire tournament, who would it be?
CJ: If her extremely long layoff and period of inactivity has not caused her to deteriorate, Rin Nakai has to be the clear favorite to win the tournament. But that’s a giant caveat, because I think she’s only competed two or three times since she fought in RIZIN in 2016. She has been incredibly inactive. But if she is still at the level she was, I mean, you’re talking about a fighter that’s never been finished, that [has] never really been in danger of being finished, who has an incredibly high finish rate, which I always think is a good thing for tournaments, because it if you can finish it and not tire yourself out, not take as much damage, that always plays a factor in tournaments. And especially when you have someone who wins by ground and pound and by submissions, I think she’s got the whole package. The only thing that Rin Nakai struggles with is her height. But don’t think there is really a fighter in this tournament that can take advantage of that.
JW: You never know how it’s gonna go how the tournament plays out, because they might [do a random] draw for the second round or something like that.
CJ: They are drawing for the second round.
JW: That definitely adds a sort of a random factor to it. But keeping that in mind, would you at some point be interested in seeing her versus Sugiyama since they’re the two more veteran names? Either in the semi-finals or the grand finals?
CJ: That has to be the fight that everybody wants. People have wanted it for a long time. I think Sugiyama has wanted it for a long time. And this might be her only chance to ever fight Rin Nakai. Because Rin Nakai can be difficult. Promotions have had problems booking her in the past. […] Sugiyama fought in RIZIN. She lost both of those fights. One of them was kind of a controversial stoppage. But, if she ever wants to get back there again, which I think she clearly does, defeating Rin Nakai would really open up that road again. I can’t overstate how big of a deal Rin Nakai is. […] If she beats her it’ll without a doubt be the biggest win of Sugiyama’s career. And it will launch her back into RIZIN contention.
Quick Takeaways From ‘LANDMARK’
Some quick thoughts on Sunday’s card…
Ren Hiramoto clearly didn’t have the performance you would hope to see from him in his return. While the kickboxer-turned-MMA fighter didn’t get finished like his 2020 debut, he lost a decision to Chihiro Suzuki. What felt most alarming to me in this fight was how Hiramoto struggled on the feet with Suzuki at times. It was expected that his grappling and wrestling would have some issues, but his striking too? That’s not a good sign.
So, what’s next for Hiramoto? It’s hard to tell. We know this at least: he’s determined to succeed in MMA. About 12 hours removed from his loss, Hiramoto tweeted that he’s not giving up on MMA. Matter of fact, he hopes to return later this year. I’m personally interested to see who it could be against and where it would be.
Yoshinari Nadaka and Hiroaki Suzuki are brutal strikers, as demonstrated in their respective wins. I’m interested to see what’s next for both of them.
Other Notes From The Week
- A huge thanks to Charlie for chatting with me this week! You can check his work at Sogo-Kaku.com or follow his Twitter here. As I mentioned before, a second part to our discussion will be included in next week’s article, so keep your eyes out for that.
- If you want more details regarding Sunday’s show, my full report is here.
- RIZIN 34 is an extensive 17-fight card now. Yeesh! That’s a lot of fights. Six more were added to the lineup this week, including a battle between Juri Ohara and Akira. More on that in the article I wrote earlier this week.
- Details are starting to come out regarding “POUND STORM,” an event that is mixing both live music and MMA. The two fights announced for April 24th thus far see LDH-sponsored prospects compete:
- Sho Patrick Usami will get RIZIN alum Nobumitsu Tyson for his fight.
- Rinya Nakamura is scheduled to face Aleandro Caetano.
- If you like idol groups like GENERATIONS from EXILE TRIBE or THE RAMPAGE from EXILE TRIBE, they’ll be there too. But let me clarify: they’re going to perform, not fight.
- Well, this might have gone under the radar… Pancrase lightweight Kazuma Maruyama appeared at a regional MMA show in Ontario, Canada this weekend, where he lost a unanimous decision to Adam Assenza.
- The Asakura brothers are a content factory. This week: three videos from Mikuru that were all near 40 minutes each. Four videos from Kai. I can’t judge whether they’re quality content or not (I’ll be honest, I didn’t watch). But if they’re your thing then you’re in luck.
- Kuya Ito won his fight against Uoi Fullswing quite easily at “LANDMARK.” He also won best walkout of the night, marching to the ring to the soundtrack of Perfume’s “Dream Fighter.”