Some of the most notable rivalries in combat sports are drawn out over numerous years, sometimes with big pauses at points.
The same simply cannot be said for the ongoing rivalry between former RIZIN Super Atomweight Champion Ayaka Hamasaki and current undefeated titleholder Seika Izawa.
The feud between these two kicked off on New Year’s Eve in 2021 and might possibly have its final chapter on New Year’s Eve 2022.
Why? Because things move fast in RIZIN. Fighters have quick turnarounds, prospects can ascend to challenger status fast and strong reigns can suddenly come to an end.
Izawa shocked many on New Year’s Eve last year, scoring a second-round ground and pound finish against Hamasaki. This fight was a seismic shift for the 108-pound division, but warranted another fight – this was because Izawa picked up her win in a non-title fight.
They fought again four months later, this time with a title in the mix. Izawa picked up a decision victory and officially dethroned the division’s best.
The loss ended Hamasaki’s second reign as champion. Since it was her second time facing Izawa, it was clear that a third rematch would have to be earned instead of instantly granted.
In the end, it was a request from Izawa that actually started Hamasaki’s road to a rematch. After earning her belt in April, Izawa called for a RIZIN Super Atomweight Grand Prix.
Just three months later, said tournament kicked off at RIZIN 37 – because things move fast in RIZIN.
Hamasaki’s bracket run started with a fight against former UFC talent Jessica Aguilar. This bout came with some history: Hamasaki was originally meant to face Aguilar 11 years ago on a regional JEWELS card. And not only that, but Aguilar was the final opponent of Megumi Fujii, the AACC fighter who is arguably the biggest influence on Hamasaki’s career.
“I never anticipated this fight would actually come through after all these years,” said Hamasaki in an interview with Knockdown News. “I think it was a very meaningful fight for me.”
Hamasaki won the fight, although she expressed feeling “not satisfied” about the bout going to scorecards as opposed to a finish.
But she quickly had to prepare for her next fight, which comes this weekend at RIZIN 38 – just two months after the quarter-final bout. “I don’t really recall having such a quick turnaround in my professional career,” she said.
Things kept moving fast in RIZIN.
Hamasaki will now face Park Si-woo, who is, like Izawa, a talent who has seen success in the regional promotion DEEP Jewels.
Hamasaki isn’t counting out the tough Korean talent. Park won her first grand prix bout against the experienced Kanna Asakura, overcoming her for a unanimous decision victory in July. And before then, she had a win over RENA in her RIZIN debut.
“She’s a great striker [and] she’s got a good ground game, which makes her an overall well-rounded fighter,” said Hamasaki about Park. “She has an iron will … I personally think that fighters who have the strongest mentality are the toughest.”
With just two rounds left in the tournament, the possibility of a third match against Izawa in the grand finals later this year is starting to look good for Hamasaki.
More than a decade into her career, some might think that Hamasaki’s two losses to Izawa would make her lose motivation. But instead, her current chase for a win against the champ has been rejuvenating for her.
“I think [defeating Izawa] would be like a grand sum of my career. I have been at the top for such a long time. By losing to her and being in this position, it gave me a new goal to go after. It’s something very new and motivating.”
Reflecting back, Hamasaki wished she had more time to prepare for her second fight against Izawa earlier this year. But she won’t let those two losses hold her down. Instead, she is grateful that a third chance to face Izawa could come around soon: “I take it more as I’m given the opportunity to fight her again after losing to her twice.”
It will undoubtedly be another quick turnaround for Hamasaki if she wins this weekend. She will have just about three months to gameplan against a rival that she has known for less than a year. A third consecutive loss to Izawa would likely end their rivalry and shut the door on the chance of facing her ever again.
“If it happens I just have to adjust and make the changes and go after that revenge.”
When opportunity knocks, you have to be ready. Why? Because things move fast in RIZIN.