JMMA Monday: Top Takeaways From RIZIN 37

Seika Izawa raises her arms in triumph inside the RIZIN ring.
Seika Izawa scored the sole finish victory in the quarter-finals of the RIZIN Super Atomweight Grand Prix (RIZIN FF)

RIZIN made their return to the Saitama Super Arena this weekend with RIZIN 37. The card featured many interesting matchups and the beginning of their second Super Atomweight Grand Prix.

There’s a lot to unpack about the show, including some stuff we won’t get to this week. But just a few hours removed from the event, here are a few takeaways I have.

Izawa Makes Statement With Main Event Win

Seika Izawa proved once again why she is the RIZIN Super Atomweight Champion in Sunday’s main event, submitting Laura Fontoura in the first round with a front choke.

There were a lot of unknowns about Fontoura heading into this card. She fought just a few times as a pro and never in any major promotion. Because we didn’t know about her skill level, it could be argued that the expectation was for Izawa to not just win, but have a dominant performance. No doubt, that’s exactly what happened in Sunday’s headlining fight.

RIZIN has the chance to build up Izawa as this untouchable beast if she keeps winning like this. Think about the promotional storytelling you can do from this round of the bracket: Izawa finished her opponent when nobody else in the round did.

Izawa is already a big name in RIZIN. But if she is successful, this bracket will just be about how big they could possibly build her up.

While we’re here, I also want to expand on one point I made before. In April, I published an interview with Izawa that was all about her mental laser focus on fights. The before and after of fights for Izawa are so interesting to me. On the night of a fight, she looks to be in a laid-back, playful mood but still focused.

After the win, all the emotions come out. All the hard work and stress get unloaded the second that bell rings. It must take an unreal amount of mental compartmentalizing to keep those things at bay until after a fight. It’s one of the many things I find truly fascinating about Izawa, and I think it is part of what makes her such a successful fighter.

Park Takes Out Asakura Early 

Heading into this tournament, the four big stars were: Seika Izawa, Ayaka Hamasaki, RENA and Kanna Asakura. Three of them made it to the semi-finals this weekend, with Asakura being the sole name to already get knocked out of the bracket.

Asakura lost to Park Si-woo in a real dominant showing. Park has now earned two wins in the RIZIN cage, along with her success for regional promotion DEEP Jewels. I said before that she is the dark horse for the bracket – I hope that underdog story with her can get further amplified as we head into the semi-finals later this year.

It will be interesting to see how RIZIN books the semi-finals of this tournament. Two matchups that have a history – Izawa vs. Hamasaki in a trilogy or RENA and Park in a rematch – could be made now. But does the promotion want that now? Earlier fights in both rivalries happened quite recently, so it might come off weird to make those matches now. We’ll see what they do shortly.

Okay, So Sudario Improved…

Heavyweight Tsuyoshi Sudario is back and better than ever. The former sumo wrestler turned MMA fighter picked up his biggest win yet this weekend, disposing of veteran Hideki Sekine in just 53 seconds.

This win shocked me, personally. For one, I actually picked Sekine to win. But not only that, I was honestly surprised by how smooth Sudario looked. His striking was crisp and connected. He showed killer instinct with the finish of the fight.

It’s clear that Sudario’s training as of late has done a lot for him. It will now be interesting to see what’s next for him. I’m not sure there are any heavyweights in Japan that Sudario could face next, but there is an endless list of them around the globe that could get flown in.

What We Didn’t See

The RIZIN card we saw this weekend wasn’t entirely like the one planned. Two names that were expected to appear – popular prospect Kota Miura and UFC alum Ulka Sasaki – both didn’t compete due to positive COVID-19 tests.

I know you’re sick of hearing about COVID-19, but I must make a quick mention of it again. Japan is currently experiencing its biggest wave of cases currently, skyrocketing in positive tests as of late. On Saturday alone, 222,000 cases were reported.

The entertainment sector has rolled on amid this spike, albeit with some changes. At the Fuji Rock music festival this weekend, an event that can be compared to major festivals like Coachella or Lollapalooza, schedules had to be adapted due to artists testing positive for the virus.

COVID-19 has definitely faded from news headlines as of late. But, it’s worth noting it is certainly still impacting the entertainment and sports industries – as seen with two notable names not appearing on this weekend’s card.

Other Notes From The Week

  • My full live coverage piece for RIZIN 37 can be read here if you’re interested in checking that out.
  • Important news piece that sort of went under the radar amid a busy weekend: The previously announced Mikuru Asakura vs. Floyd Mayweather exhibition bout will take place at RIZIN 38 on September 25th. It will be in the Saitama Super Arena.
    • And yes, you read that right: The next numbered RIZIN event is just under two months from now. Another bit of a wait before we get a “big” show.
    • RIZIN CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara said something about how he wants to have the show split up, with a section of fights catered to overseas fans, and other usual matches as well.
      • I’m interested to see what this means. Is RIZIN introducing another brand to their promotion, just a year after they released the “LANDMARK” and “TRIGGER” concepts?
  • International viewers had a lot of trouble getting access to RIZIN 37 this weekend. I received numerous messages this week asking me how to catch the show. The unfortunate thing is, I didn’t really have answers. Since the promotion stopped airing shows on Live-Now, it has been unclear what the path is for international viewers to catch the product.
    • I know many used the RIZIN Live platform to watch, but even through that service, I heard some struggled to complete their purchase.
    • I’m hearing that the plan is to still launch something for international viewers that will include an English broadcast. Not sure when exactly it will launch, but it is in the works.
    • “How can I watch” is an eternal struggle for viewers of the scene, it seems. It’s nothing new, and who knows if it will ever go away.
  • Pancrase standout and RIZIN alum Yusaku Kinoshita is apparently expected to appear next month on “Dana White’s Contender Series” against Jose Henrique, per an announcement made this weekend.
  • Time for The International Report:
    • Takashi Sato is back this Saturday, facing Bryan Battle on the prelims of a UFC “Fight Night” card. Sato will be fighting to bounce back from a short-notice defeat that he took against Gunnar Nelson in March.
    • A pair of Japanese talents are expected to fight on LFA 138 this Friday. In the main event, UFC alum Michinori Tanaka will face Ary Farias in a three-round bantamweight bout.
      • Also on the main card, POUND STORM alum Masuto Kawana will make his LFA debut against Elijah Johns.
  • Grand Prix’s! Everywhere! Grachan announced two tournaments recently: one at featherweight, and the other at openweight! The opening round for both brackets will take place at three events over the next two months. GONG has more info here.
  • Rin Nakai is training in Las Vegas currently. Here she is at Xtreme Couture with UFC talent Claudia Gadelha.
  • Here’s how we’re ending this week’s issue: A 74-year-old faced a 67-year-old at K-1 Japan’s amateur event last weekend. Yes, I’m serious.

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