JMMA Monday: The Atom-Wait Is Almost Over

Kanna Asakura, Seika Izawa, Nobuyuki Sakakibara, Ayaka Hamasaki, and RENA pose at a RIZIN press conference.
Kanna Asakura, Seika Izawa, Ayaka Hamasaki and RENA will all compete in a tournament starting later this month (RIZIN FF)

The thing we all knew was coming for a while is about to finally arrive.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that RIZIN 37 was missing something – a real “umph” factor to the card that gives it the quality and prestige that you would want for a show at the Saitama Super Arena.

Last week, the card got that something it needed. As announced at a press conference last week, the RIZIN Super Atomweight Grand Prix will kick off on July 31st.

The tournament will start with a special Japan vs. The World type structure in the opening round, and then go from there. While the bracket has eight names, the four RIZIN regulars are the clear biggest characters of the tourney. To preview the bracket, I wrote briefly about the four biggest storylines heading into the bracket.

The Return of RENA

RENA speaks at a RIZIN press conference.
RENA will return to super atomweight this month (RIZIN FF)

RENA is one of RIZIN’s biggest stars. Judging solely off popularity, she’s the top woman in the promotion. Yet, she’s sort of been in the background for a few years.

RENA departed the 108-pound super atomweight division in 2018 after a failed weight cut left her hospitalized. She then had a two-fight rivalry with Lindsey VanZant that very much defined her 2019. But after that, there hasn’t been much going on with RENA.

Now in this bracket, RENA has her first big challenge in a while. Really, she has two challenges. With her troubles making the 108-pound limit, attention will be drawn toward her first weigh-in. But after then, she has some of the division’s best to compete with.

RENA notoriously didn’t win the promotion’s 2017 tournament. She can get that loss back in her “return” of sorts.

Hamasaki Has To Earn It

Emi Fujino and Ayaka Hamasaki standing in fighting poses in the RIZIN ring.
Ayaka Hamasaki needs to earn her trilogy fight against Seika Izawa (RIZIN FF)

It was shocking to many when Ayaka Hamasaki was dethroned by Seika Izawa earlier this year. It ended the reign of the most dominant super atomweight in RIZIN’s short history and kicked off the Izawa era.

Hamasaki is undoubtedly not out of the scene. Entering this tournament, she’s on the road to possibly regaining her belt.

Hamasaki can get another fight against Izawa, but first she has to get some wins. If she meets Izawa in the finals, that means that Hamasaki has proven to be the second-best super atomweight along the way. The trilogy fight simply isn’t being handed to Hamasaki here. She’ll fight her way to that spot.

Asakura Is Chasing Career-Defining Highs

Kanna Asakura will challenge Ayaka Hamasaki for the second time at RIZIN 27 (© RIZIN FF)
Kanna Asakura can become a two-time grand prix winner and enter the title conversation (© RIZIN FF)

In an interview with Knockdown News, Kanna Asakura said that winning the 2017 grand prix was one of the greatest moments of her career. And how could it not be? On New Year’s Eve 2017, she was on top of the MMA world. It’s a large part of why Asakura wanted to do another grand prix this year.

While Asakura has already won a tournament, she has yet to win a championship. This is something she remains focused on as well.

It remains unclear whether the champion will have her belt on the line during the tournament, but one thing is for sure: the winner of this bracket will be in the title picture. Asakura has the chance to possibly knock down two birds with one stone in this bracket, winning another grand prix and getting close to a title opportunity. But she’s still a long way from doing that, and her path starts later this month.

Izawa Has The Chance To Cement Herself In History

Seika Izawa gets her arm raised by the referee.
Seika Izawa can prove that she is here to stay as the division’s top name (RIZIN FF)

Seika Izawa has already done a lot for her legacy. She had one of the quickest climbs to champion status in recent memory, going from being an undefeated prospect on the regional scene to the division’s best in no time.

But a recent loss for Izawa could take away this momentum. If she burns out of this tournament, Izawa might be recognized as a flash in the pan – despite her incredibly impressive performances thus far.

For Izawa, this tournament is about showing that she is here to stay, and proving that she is the present and future of the division. Three wins over the course of this year would undoubtedly do this for her.

Overall, the tournament couldn’t come at a better time. There’s lots of storytelling to do in the super atomweight division, and new moments will be created when this bracket kicks off in late July.

Other Notes From The Week

  • You can’t stop him: Juri Ohara extended his winning streak to a strong eight consecutive victories this Sunday, scoring a first-round finish win against Yuma Ishizuka to defend his DEEP Impact Lightweight Championship. Sure, Ishizuka wasn’t much of a challenge, but Ohara arguably deserves more attention for the run he’s on currently.
  • On Monday this week, Pancrase will present a strong show from Tokyo. They’ll crown a new interim champion in the main event when Tokitaka Nakanishi and Shinsuke Kamei face off.
    • Veteran Daichi Kitakata will also return in the co-main event, putting his strawweight belt on the line against undefeated prospect Keito Yamakita. I’m personally very interested in this one.
    • More details.
  • Shooto Japan also has a Korakuen Hall show set up for this Sunday. It’s not a big show, but some names are worth looking out for. RIZIN alum Mina Kurobe will compete in the main event. DEEP Jewels alum Otoha Nagao will make her promotional debut. Undefeated Taiga Iwasaki will search for his eighth pro win. The full lineup can be seen here.
  • Emi Fujino will return at Pancrase’s September 11th show. Appearing for the first time since losing her strawweight belt, she’ll face Korean talent Song Hae-yoon.
    • Worth noting: Current Strawweight Queen of Pancrase KAREN is expected to appear on the card as well. Her opponent isn’t known just yet.
  • DEEP Impact has a 12-fight card set for their August 21st Korakuen Hall appearance. As announced this week, Ryuichiro Sumimura will return to face Shingo Suzuki on the card. Sumimura won his last appearance, as a foul during a finishing sequence by Yusaku Kinoshita caused his stoppage win to get overturned.
  • Opportunity knocks… Bellator Lightweight Champion Patricky Pitbull is out of his July 22nd fight against Sidney Outlaw. Now, former RIZIN talent Tofiq Musayev will face Outlaw on that date. There’s no championship involved, but you would think a win for Musayev would steal him the #1 contender spot at lightweight?
  • Mikuru Asakura’s own MMA reality show is airing on Youtube right now. “BreakingDown” is hectic and all over the place, but also wildly popular. As of writing this message, three of the first four episodes of the show have over four million views each.
  • Kleber Koike paid a visit to American Top Team recently! You can see some of his footage at the prolific gym on his Youtube channel.
  • Two people who I would consider friends, CJ and BabaluJack, premiered a podcast recently. Listen to “High Kicks & Armbars,” a new show for JMMA and JKick content.
  • Speaking of CJ, the Sogo-Kaku blog continues to be updated. It’s essential for anyone who is following the JMMA scene.
  • I want to thank everyone who reads this series! I’m thankful for your continued support. Something neat is in the works and will be revealed soon.

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