JMMA Monday: The Changing of Mikuru Asakura’s Image

Mikuru Asakura points across the RIZIN ring.
Mikuru Asakura will face Floyd Mayweather in the RIZIN ring next month (RIZIN FF)

The identity of Japanese MMA’s top promotion has always been unique in the combat sports world. For decades, most MMA promotions have marketed the idea of witnessing some of the best athletes compete in a cage.

But that hasn’t always been the situation in JMMA. In many cases, and right now with RIZIN, a different type of promotional strategy has been done. While they also promote high-level fights, title bouts, and more, an attempt has also been made to appeal to unorthodox styles of combat sports that attract eyes. In some cases, it’s people like Shinju Nozawa-Auclair or Kota Miura — fighters associated with big mainstream figures — taking a crack at the sport. Pro wrestlers, sumo wrestlers, even baseball players have made sudden transitions to the sport, and it has always been fascinating to the public.

This type of promoting feeds into the idea of watching a more general unknown that could provide comedy, drama, or simply a good fight. In some cases, it is the spectacle of seeing someone notable engage in violence that attracts viewers.

RIZIN’s identity has always been to serve two different styles of combat sports under the same tent. It could be argued that their focus has always been more on their serious fights, and trying to build up a following through that. However, there is certainly one or two fights on their bigger shows that are meant to drag in crowds that might not be interested in the usual MMA bout.

Next month, RIZIN will unveil their new “Super RIZIN” series. The card, which is set to take place before the numbered RIZIN event later that day, is just five fights in total. We only know one fight on it right now, and that’s an exhibition bout between Mikuru Asakura and Floyd Mayweather.

Asakura is returning to RIZIN in a fight that is solely for entertainment purposes. Looking at Asakura’s record, he is in a good position to hang with some of the top names at featherweight. But instead of doing that, he finds himself in this fight. It’s an exhibition, and the outcome of it doesn’t really mean anything for either fighter in the long run. This booking tells me that RIZIN sees Asakura as a more valuable player for promotion spectacle fights than actual serious MMA bouts. If they wanted him to compete in a real MMA bout, they would just throw him into one.

It’s not surprising for them to do this move, and in a sense it might actually be the right thing to do.

If you didn’t already know, Asakura is incredibly popular right now, and his background as an MMA fighter has almost nothing to do with it. His Youtube channel has grown massively in recent years and helped move into a more general role as an entertainer.

Asakura’s content has leaned into the idea of fighting less as a sport but more for entertainment. He has shot sparring videos with random people, and has fought fellow Youtuber Shibatar before (spoiler, he beat him). Not every video is about fighting, but Asakura has at least gained notoriety for being a character associated with the act of fighting.

His “Breaking Down” series, which showcases random entertainers in one-minute amateur bouts, has been a massive success. The series has provided large amounts of revenue to him through pay-per-view sales and tickets to events. They just held their most recent event a few weeks ago, and the next one is already being planned.

The Asakura that we saw headlining RIZIN 17 against Yusuke Yachi is not the same person we see today. Nor is it even the same person we saw fighting Yutaka Saito in 2020.

Asakura’s image has changed over the years. He has gone from being a fighter to an entertainer. But that’s no insult to him either. Through this change, Asakura has entered into lucrative business ventures and become a more popular person. But for RIZIN viewers, it means they see him in a different way than they are used to. That change in style will be in full display next month as part of this new, mysterious “Super RIZIN” venture.

Other Notes From The Week

  • The top event this weekend is a Grachan card from Chiba. They’re kicking off two tournaments in the same night: one for featherweights, and another up at heavyweight! Eight men in each one. Tapology has the lineup here.
  • It’s time for The International Report:
    • Arguably the biggest story of the week: Yusaku Kinoshita is headlining this week’s episode of “Dana White’s Contender Series” on Tuesday night. He’ll face undefeated welterweight Jose Henrique, fighting for a spot on the UFC roster.
      • I consider this a really good matchup. Henrique is the real deal, and just like Kinoshita is known for finishing opponents. Catch this one, if you can.
    • RIZIN alum Stephanie Egger is facing Ailin Perez at UFC Paris on Saturday. It’s a short-notice fight for her, competing up at the rare featherweight class.
    • Itsuki Hirata bounced back from her sole pro loss on Saturday morning, picking up a decision victory over Lin Heqin as part of a ONE Championship card in Singapore. She now has a solid record of six wins and just one loss.
  • Speaking of ONE Championship: The promotion is finally starting to hold events outside of Singapore once again. They’re currently looking at a Philippines show for December. Nothing has been announced yet, but I would imagine Japan is in the cards sooner than later
  • Ending the week with a feel-good story: Shooto Watanabe and Hikaru Aono recently announced that they are now married! Congratulations to them.

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