Is Seika Izawa heading into the biggest fight of her career? It could be argued that she is. This weekend she’ll be facing RIZIN Super Atomweight Champion Ayaka Hamasaki, fighting for a chance to earn a major title in just her sixth pro appearance.
But maybe Izawa’s biggest fight actually already happened. The 24-year-old made a statement on New Year’s Eve last year, scoring a second-round finish win against Hamasaki. However, the fact that it wasn’t a title fight late last year means that Izawa has to beat Hamasaki a second time to earn champion status.
If you were to ask Izawa which fight is bigger, she might not have an answer. That’s because the DEEP Jewels stand out doesn’t think about these types of things. Hyper-focused on her fight against Hamasaki, Izawa isn’t letting any discussion about the scale of her fights distract her.
“I’ve always been focused on the fight that’s given to me,” said Izawa in an interview with Knockdown News. “I don’t really look at the bigger picture.”
It is Izawa’s lifelong focus on fighting that may have thrown her up the atomweight ranks so quickly. With a background in judo, wrestling and sumo, Izawa first pursued MMA just two years ago. She made her pro debut in October 2020 with a win over Mika Arai.
In just her second pro fight, Izawa beat DEEP Jewels Strawweight Champion Miki Motono. But much like the position she is in now in RIZIN, she had to face Motono a second time to earn the belt.
It would be excusable if Izawa had some level of frustration about having to face Hamasaki a second time to earn a belt. As the saying goes, “to be the champ, you gotta beat the champ,” something she has already done. But when asked about this situation, she mentioned that she has been through it before and it doesn’t bother her.
“This is actually my second time being in this situation … For me this is just another fight,” she said. “I’m focused on [facing] a tough fighter named Ayaka Hamasaki.”
Izawa’s focus does not mean she doesn’t reflect on the past at all. Thinking back on her RIZIN debut last year, Izawa recalls being in a different atmosphere than the smaller DEEP Jewels cards that she started her career with. She went from being in a “tight atmosphere” to one where there are thousands in attendance and even more watching on television.
“[In DEEP Jewels,] it seems like all the fighters and the spectators were all together. We all put on a show together. But at a bigger venue with a lot of other spectators, it felt like [Hamasaki and I] were the [only] ones being watched. We had to put on a show for them.”
Izawa also remembers the fight not going the way she expected. While she was able to finish the fight in the second round with ground control from the top position, she expected more of the fight to see her in that predicament.
“I [envisioned] me taking top control and being more aggressive and initiating the pace … But the fight was more of me being on the bottom and me being aggressive from the bottom.”
As for the next fight, Izawa doesn’t have a specific goal for how it should end. Aiming to close out her rivalry with the current champ, she hopes to utilize the entire 15 minutes of action to get ahead on scorecards. However, of course, she also plans to take a finish if it arises.
Izawa might not think it or admit it, but the facts are simple: her upcoming fight against Hamasaki could mark a major shift in RIZIN’s super atomweight division. Izawa is already one of four names to ever beat Hamasaki. If she wins on Sunday, it means she will capture a major belt just 533 days after she first stepped into an MMA cage to compete.
It’s hard not to focus on those facts, even if they aren’t at the forefront of Izawa’s mind.
Other Notes From The Week
- So as you likely know, RIZIN has a doubleheader this weekend.
- I’ll have previews out for both shows later this week. While I won’t catch the “TRIGGER” card live, I’ll write a report afterward. I will be doing live coverage on this site for RIZIN 35.
- It’s not MMA, but it must be mentioned: We learned more about the upcoming kickboxing bout between Tenshin Nasukawa and Takeru.
- Folks online have referred to this booking in the past as “The Fight.” It looks like we’re going to start calling it “The Match,” as that’s what promotional material is using.
- The match is set to be three rounds of three minutes. The weight limit will be 58 kg (roughly 127 pounds) and a same-day weigh-in of 62 kg (roughly 136 pounds) will be done as well.
- As mentioned in a previous article, the fight is on June 19th at the Tokyo Dome.
- Want to see it live? You’ll have to shell out $120 for the cheapest ticket in the building.
- It’s all broken down in a clean graphic that Beyond Kickboxing published earlier this week.
- Pancrase veteran Yoshiro Maeda had his retirement show this weekend.
- To end his career, he had three short exhibition bouts in one night. First, he had a kickboxing bout against fellow Pancrase rival Mitsuhisa Sunabe. Then, he had a grappling battle against Daichi Kitakata. To finish it off, he fought under classic Pancrase rules against Katsuomi Inagaki.
- That marks the end of an extensive MMA career that started nearly two full decades ago. Maeda is known for his fights in Pancrase, DEEP Impact, Dream and WEC. He’s retiring at 40 years old with 39 pro wins.
- There were also pro bouts on the undercard of Maeda’s retirement show. GONG has the details here.
- DEEP Impact held a show in Osaka this weekend…
- In the main event, Yuya Shibata won in his return, defeating Kazuki Shibuya. The fight, which resulted in a third-round triangle choke submission for Shibata, was his first appearance since 2019. More info on that result can be read here.
- Also worth noting: Park Si-woo, who is riding the momentum of a win over RENA from New Year’s Eve, won a fight against Aira Koga. Park prevailed via unanimous decision, per a report from GONG.
- 2019 RIZIN Lightweight Grand Prix winner Tofiq Musayev is reportedly set to make his Bellator debut against Zach Zane at Bellator 278 on April 22nd.
- ONE Championship’s full lineup for April 22nd was revealed recently.
- As usual for a ONE card, JMMA is well represented here. Jarred Brooks, Namiki Kawahara, Yosuke Saruta and Ayaka Miura are all booked for the card. My full report can be found here.
- Pancrase is quickly stacking their April 29th card. It’s up to 17 fights in total already! Some quick takeaways:
- Yuki Kondo is returning for a bout against Kazuhito Suzuki. The career of Kondo continues, amazing us all along the way.
- The promotion’s four-man featherweight tournament will conclude with a fight between Tatsuhiko Iwamoto and Tokitaka Nakanishi. They both won their way into the final with a victory last month.
- UFC alum Issei Tamura is also back in a rematch against KIsa Miyake.
- You can see the entire lineup here.
- One more note, I’m expected to appear on the “We Are RIZIN” podcast this week to discuss the upcoming “TRIGGER” card. The plan is to chat on Wednesday, I’ll provide an update on my Twitter as we draw closer to that date.