JMMA Monday: Rating RIZIN’s Return

Fighters pose inside the Okinawa Arena.
RIZIN will return to Okinawa on Saturday (RIZIN FF)

“THE MATCH” is in the rear view mirror, and RIZIN has put its focus back on the numbered events that they are known for.

Japan’s top MMA promotion is scheduled to hold two events in the month of July, getting back into the swing of things after somewhat of a break. The promotion has undoubtedly been out of the spotlight as of late, as their last event was nearly two months ago.

What’s more, RIZIN’s last numbered event dates back to mid-April. Calling this month a “return” for the promotion is quite apt.

How good is that return? Well, that’s a different story. There are certainly pros and cons to the pair of upcoming RIZIN cards. I’ll break down a few of my takeaways in this week’s column.

Mixed Feelings About RIZIN 36

RIZIN will kick off their month in Okinawa on Saturday afternoon. The RIZIN 36 card is… Alright. There are some interesting storylines throughout and a few big names, but strong matchups are hard to find on this card.

Take for example the main event, which is a pairing between Korean prospect Yang Ji-yong and promotional star Kai Asakura. Yang is only four fights into his MMA career, which makes him a massive underdog against the experienced and explosive Asakura. On paper, this looks to be an easy matchup for Asakura. Of course, we cannot look into the future and say these things for sure. But at the very least it could be argued that it’s hard to sell a matchup where the experience disparity is so large, like in this instance.

The most intriguing matchup on this card, to me, is Miyuu Yamamoto and Saori Oshima facing off. Oshima made a big statement in her RIZIN debut last year, beating Kanna Asakura in a split decision. She has since gone on to win and lose a bout respectively in DEEP Jewels this year.

Back on the RIZIN stage, Oshima has another respectable opponent. It’s hard to tell how this matchup could go.

Ren Hiramoto is also on the card. Winless through two MMA bouts, the kickboxer is returning to face Hiroaki Suzuki.

Look, I’m not against Hiramoto doing MMA, but he last fought in March. Is there any reason the 24-year-old couldn’t have waited, trained, and improved a little more before coming back? I’d love to be proved wrong, but this just feels too early for Hiramoto.

Much like the promotion’s debut in Okinawa last year, there’s a ton of local flavor involved. Veteran Mitsuhisa Sunabe is set to appear, and Tanner Lourenco will return after a shocking finish win in his pro debut last year.

This isn’t an awful card, but it will be a hard sell for many international viewers that won’t be interested or even in the know about many of the names involved.

RIZIN Needs That ‘Super’ Feel For Their Return To Saitama

RIZIN fighters pose during a press conference on RIZIN 37.
RIZIN announced their latest Saitama Super Arena card last week (RIZIN FF)

Last week, it was announced that RIZIN 37 will take place on July 31st at the Saitama Super Arena. Since that venue plays host to many of the bigger RIZIN events every year, it immediately set expectations high.

Did those expectations get met? No, not yet. I say “not yet” because the card isn’t final already. We were given eight matchups this week by the promotion. Some are neat – like Naoki Inoue vs. Kenta Takizawa or Ulka Sasaki against Yoshiki Nakahara. But overall the card is lacking that extra zing that you want from a Saitama card.

No big matchup or major star is in the mix yet. If you asked me right now which fight would headline, I wouldn’t know. The show desperately needs something to be the main focus. Will it get that? We have to wait and find out regarding that point.

The Biggest News Has Yet To Come (Possibly)

As mentioned before, RIZIN 37 is free from some scrutiny for now since the lineup isn’t finalized.

An incoming announcement could potentially up the grade for this show. As pointed out by Sogo-Kaku’s CJ earlier this week, RIZIN noted that the beginning of their super atomweight grand prix will be announced next week. We don’t know if that will be on RIZIN 37, but there’s most certainly a chance.

Now is the perfect time for a tournament at super atomweight (Kanna Asakura thinks so too, as noted in a recent interview). There are a lot of names that can showcase themselves in a bracket – some promotional vets, others still trying to make a name for themself. This is a solid weight class to do a bracket in at the moment.

RIZIN has a busy month ahead of them. In the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see how the buildup to these events plays out, how the events themselves go, and what level of attention they can garner domestically and internationally.

Other Notes From The Week

  • My full report on the RIZIN 37 announcements can be read here. More details about some bouts are in there.
  • More fights have been added to Shooto Japan’s July 17th show.
    • Former Shooto Japan Atomweight Champion Mina Kurobe will appear on the card against Korean talent Park Seo-young.
    • Also on the card, Taiga Iwasaki will meet Lim Dong-joo. Iwasaki notably has a flawless record of seven wins (albeit not against good competition.)
    • More details on that card can be read here. Also, Tapology has the updated lineup for that show here.
  • Aoi Kuriyama is heading to Pancrase. After a six-fight career with DEEP Jewels, the SMOKER GYM talent is scheduled to compete against NORI at the Pancrase’s July 18th show.
    • Worth noting: Kuriayama’s DEEP Jewels run ended after she missed weight for a flyweight grand prix bout earlier this year, disqualifying her from the tournament.
  • Shooto Japan is running an event this week. Over in Osaka, they’ll be presenting a card at the Mielparque Hall. Names like Daiki Lightyear and Shutaro Debana are scheduled to appear. Also, a neat prospect matchup at featherweight between Ryuya Iwamoto and Hikaru Kamimura is scheduled.
  • It’s time for The International Report
    • The biggest news this week is that Shooto Japan vet Ryoji Kudo has advanced to the playoffs for the 2022 PFL season. He punched his ticket to the semi-finals at the promotion’s card last weekend, stopping Alejandro Flores in the first round with a right hook.
      • This was quite the turnaround for Kudo, as he entered this weekend with zero points in the season! We’ll see him again in August.
    • Also on the card, RIZIN alum Bruno Cappelozza suffered an upset loss to Matheus Scheffel. Despite the defeat, Cappelozza will still appear later this year in the PFL playoffs.
    • Former Ayaka Hamasaki rival Jinh Yu Frey lost at UFC’s event on Saturday night, dropping a split decision to Vanessa Demopoulos. Frey suffered defeat, although many disagreed with that ruling…
    • Prior DREAM champ Gegard Mousasi dropped his Bellator middleweight belt on Friday evening, suffering a unanimous decision defeat to Johnny Eblen.
    • RIZIN alum Anatoly Tokov kept his winning streak going at Bellator, stopping Muhammad Abdullah in the first round with strikes.
    • Those are the results from last week. After some brief research, I came to the conclusion that there aren’t many JMMA names on the international stage in the coming days.
  • I usually end the notes with a fun thing from the week. I couldn’t find anything this week, unfortunately. But, if I can, I’d like to take this time to thank everyone for the support as of late. Recent coverage of “THE MATCH” did quite well, and I’m very grateful that people choose to read my work. Cheers, and here’s to hopefully some more great work coming in the future.

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