Many Japanese MMA names will get the biggest opportunity of their career thus in a month’s time. As part of a big tournament that is kicking off in June, many prospects will get the chance to compete and possibly earn a spot in the UFC.
For this week’s “JMMA Monday,” we’ll go over what this “Road To UFC” tournament is, and briefly discuss the many notable JMMA names that will be involved.
The “Road To UFC” tournament is scheduled to begin on June 9th and 10th in Singapore, as part of the promotion’s pay-per-view week there. On those two days, four brackets will begin: flyweight, bantamweight, featherweight and lightweight fighters will all begin their journeys in eight-man tournaments. Later rounds in the bracket are set to happen later this year.
The fighter that makes it through all three rounds and emerges on top will be given a UFC contract.
Fighters from all across Asia have been signed to fight in this bracket. Among the many prospects in the tournament are a few names that have picked up notoriety on the JMMA scene. Here’s a breakdown by weight class of the names to look out for:
There are two fighters with a history in JMMA that are worth watching in the flyweight division.
Yuma Horiuchi is a 24-year-old that started on the Japanese MMA scene, but has put together some wins in the U.S. more recently. His career started in 2013, when he began competing in regional Japanese promotion DEEP Impact. He started his career with a strong five wins and one loss. He has spent more recent years in the U.S., scoring four wins through seven appearances against tough flyweight names in the scene. He notably challenged for the interim LFA Flyweight Championship last year, losing a fight to now-UFC fighter Charles Johnson in a five-round unanimous decision result.
Topnoi Kiwram, formerly known as Topnoi Tiger Muay Thai, is a name that RIZIN viewers may remember. The Thai fighter made an impact with RIZIN in 2018, scoring a 66-second finish victory against Onibozu. He appeared two more times for the promotion later on, losing on scorecards against Kai Asakura and Yusaku Nakamura.
Topnoi’s last appearance was a victory over Isaac Pimentel on a UAE Warriors card from 2020.
There are three names at bantamweight that stuck out to me.
Rinya Nakamura is going from one special MMA contest to the other. He recently appeared on reality TV show “Dreamers,” which is run by music company LDH Entertainment. The premise of the show, which he won, was that the company would sponsor the winners of the program by the end of the season. He has proven to be a strong prospect at featherweight, and is still undefeated through four fights.
Nakamura had a background in freestyle wrestling before beginning in MMA. He has now earned four wins since making his pro debut in May 2021. His last fight came against experienced fighter Aleandro Caetano, who he beat via unanimous decision.
Toshiomi Kazama is entering this bracket following a loss, although it is one that put an end to an impressive winning streak. Kazama went on an unreal eight-fight run of victories from 2020 to 2022, with all of the fights coming via finish. This included a one-night tournament in January, which he won.
Kazama’s last fight was an upset loss against Shoji Sato at “POUND STORM.”
The third JMMA name at bantamweight is Shohei Nose. He has spent most of his career fighting in Shooto Japan, scoring five wins through nine fights. He had an especially busy 2021, fighting four times in MMA and once in kickboxing. He was mostly successful in these showings, scoring three wins and two losses. He fought in kickboxing once this year, defeating Hiroki Zaitsu on a RISE Kickboxing card.
Featherweight has a pair of incredibly accomplished Japanese names entering the bracket.
The name that stuck out the most in this tournament’s lineup as Keisuke Sasu. Also known by alias “SASUKE,” Sasu is the current Shooto Japan Featherweight Champion. He earned this title last year after attaining an impressive six wins in the promotion, with four of those fights coming via finish.
Sasu earned the vacant belt against now-PFL fighter Ryoji Kudo, picking up a majority decision after five rounds of action.
The other JMMA featherweight is Koyomi Matsushima, a name that is no newcomer to Singapore. He is entering the tournament after a five-fight run in ONE Championship, facing some of their top names at 145-pounds. He notably lost a title fight in 2019 against Martin Nguyen, and last fought in 2020 against grappling ace Garry Tonon.
The sole JMMA representative up at lightweight is Sho Patrick Usami. Like the previously mentioned Rinya Nakamura, Usami came up through the LDH “Dreamers” show that recently aired on Abema TV. His skills were apparent during early fights in his career, scoring quick stoppage wins on the regional scene. He took his first pro loss recently, suffering a defeat against tough step-up opponent and RIZIN veteran Nobumitsu Tyson. He’ll be looking to rebound with a UFC spot on the line next month.
Overall, the “Road To UFC” tournament is a unique way to give many fighters from Asia a chance to join the UFC roster. Fighters from Asia don’t often get called on for “Dana White’s Contender Series” fights or spots on “The Ultimate Fighter,” so to see the scene get a spotlight with this tournament is a possible sign of change. It will be interesting to see what names from “JMMA” find success in the bracket, and if any can go far enough to become a UFC fighter.
Other Notes From The Week
- In no particular order, here are some things I found and saw online over the past week.
- Didn’t catch this in time for last week’s article: Fighting NEXUS held a card on May 8th. RIZIN alum Sora Yamamoto defended his 145-pound belt in the main event, submitting Jukiya in the second round with a rear naked choke.
- Results are on Tapology here. GONG also wrote two reports on the event.
- DEEP Flyweight Champion Makoto Shinryu wants a UFC opportunity. When asked about if he wants in on the “Road To UFC” tournament, he said he is only interested in a direct chance to fight on the UFC roster. More details.
- The “We Are RIZIN” podcast invited on Charles Jewett of Sogo-Kaku.com earlier this week to discuss the recent RIZIN “LANDMARK” card. You can listen to the podcast here.
- Shooto Japan is holding the biggest JMMA event for this week. They’ll be presenting a card from Korakuen Hall on Sunday.
- In the main event, Pacific Rim Bantamweight Champion Kota Onojima will look to defend his belt for the first time when he faces Hayato Ishii.
- Veteran Hisae Watanabe will also compete on the card, facing experienced wrestler Chihiro Sawada!
- I’ll make sure to discuss the results of this event next week. GONG has the lineup posted on their site.
- Pancrase will continue their annual “Neo Blood Tournament” this weekend with an event on May 22nd. If you’re one to watch prospects, this card is one for you. 21 bouts in total. More information here.
- It’s time for The International Report™
- Lots of positive headlines this week!
- Former Shooto Japan Lightweight Champion Tatsuro Taira won his UFC debut on Saturday night, sweeping scorecards against Carlos Candelario for a unanimous decision win. A real dominant performance from Taira. His record is now a strong 11 wins, and he’s still just 22 years old. If you want to learn more about Taira, Christopher Aguiar has an interesting read here.
- Kana Watanabe bounced back from her sole pro loss at Friday’s Bellator card, scoring a second-round triangle choke submission against former title challenger Denise Kielholtz. The DEEP Jewels standout remains among the top names in Bellator’s flyweight division.
- Regarding this week coming up… It’s somewhat quiet, honestly. Just a few events are scheduled, and of them not many JMMA names are expected to appear.
- The best I could find is this: Veteran Shinya Aoki will compete in a grappling match against Kade Ruotolo at ONE Championship’s card on Friday night (or morning if you’re on the west).
- Lots of positive headlines this week!
- Veteran fighters Miyuu Yamamoto and Shizuka Sugiyama appeared on prime-time TV on Sunday night, starring as guests on variety Fuji TV program “ジャンクSPORTS.” The theme of the show was highlighting celebrities who are married to athletes. The show wasn’t fighter exclusive: former Morning Musume idol turned TV presenter Asami Konno, and actress Suzuko Mimori were among other cast members.
- For readers who enjoy my interview articles, I have good news. This column will have a series of interviews coming throughout the summer. One is already scheduled for next week’s article. Thank you for your support, and I hope you look forward to reading more profiles!