JMMA Monday: No Surprises Here

Kleber Koike holds a RIZIN and KSW belt on each shoulder while in the RIZIN ring. Cornerman and fighter Hiroaki Suzuki stands in the background.
Kleber Koike is the new RIZIN Featherweight Champion (RIZIN FF)

RIZIN 39 this Sunday provided some intriguing performances but overall had incredibly expected outcomes.

It’s rare that someone can flawlessly predict an entire MMA card. I have come close a few times on UFC shows, getting maybe 10 or 11 of the bouts right. But on the flip side this week, it almost felt like you couldn’t mess up your predictions for RIZIN 39.

There was a clear a-side to every fight this weekend. And while the performances caused an interesting scene in some fights, people often had a clue from the start as to who would emerge victorious.

I joked to someone last night that RIZIN has a “time skip arc” event sometime around the fall every year. An event that doesn’t have much significance and will likely be forgotten altogether by some.

This event felt similar to 2019’s RIZIN 19 card, in which all of the top stars really steamrolled their opponents. It was a show where nearly all of the big names made quick work of their opponents. In retrospect, it was also a surprisingly strong lineup all things considered.

Last year, we had RIZIN 32 from Okinawa. It had some interesting and close matchups, but overall not much of it was relevant to the promotion’s canon.

To an extent, it’s hard to expect something spectacular in this weird holding period time of year for RIZIN. New Year’s Eve, their biggest event of the year, is right around the corner. It’s the show that they try to stack as hard as possible, as it is a big ticket draw and attracts more mainstream attention to the promotion than during any other part of the year. This was (probably) the last numbered card before we get to that show. The promotion is clearly already protecting some fighters who they will book for that December show. And names that they might want to book for that event, like Tsuyoshi Sudario or Koji Takeda, received pretty light matchups for this show.

The focal point of RIZIN 39 was the main event, where Kleber Koike beat Juntaro Ushiku to become the new RIZIN Featherweight Champion. It’s truly interesting to me how Koike was so heavily favored despite being the challenger. I tried to look at the flip side of that earlier this week for an interview with Ushiku, as I thought the angle of the “underdog champion” was a really awkward position for someone to be in and was worth covering – but of course, that didn’t change the fact that everyone (including myself) expected Koike to pull off a win.

It’s hard to get a hot take out of this show considering most of it was pretty predictable. Sorry if this let you down. However, you did click an article that was titled “No Surprises Here.”

But wait! Don’t click away yet! I have thrown together some thoughts about the show in case you didn’t catch it or wanted a refresher:

Kleber Koike put on a Kleber Koike performance. That’s to say, he showed his incredibly impressive grappling skills and picked up another submission victory, this time against Juntaro Ushiku.

Koike is the king of featherweight now. That’s a title that he arguably deserved to get a shot at much earlier than this weekend.

I personally believe that Koike will be interesting to watch going forward. He’s so impressive as a grappler, but it’s clear that his striking skills are not up to the same level. What type of challenge can he get in the future from someone who is enough trouble on the feet? I’m hoping an opponent will be found that can answer that question.

Tsuyoshi Sudario continues to look like a solid heavyweight. He earned a finish win against Janos Csukas, stopping him in the second round. We have come such a long way from where Sudario was when he debuted in 2020. But the perennial question is: what do you do with him? Do we just keep bringing in random heavyweights from around the world to face him? Can you sustain interest around him as some special attraction without any other real heavyweights in a division to face?

Yusuke Yachi picked up a very slow-paced decision win against Boyd Allen. Completely unrelated to the performance, which was less than entertaining, there’s a conversation about Yachi to have. My friend Luke first mentioned it today, and I have thought about it since: what is there left for him? He lost twice to the current champ. He’s not really moving anywhere in his division. His ceiling as a fighter feels very well-defined. He has taken a lot of damage as a fighter. He is really only successful when fighting in an ultra-conservative style that revolves around winding down the clock. Gosh, I’m not saying retire but like, what is there for him currently?

Sho Patrick Usami scored a late finish against veteran Shinji Sasaki. Usami is most certainly a strong prospect. He was supposed to be in UFC’s “Road To UFC” tournament this year but was thrown out of his bracket after missing weight. He missed out on a strong opportunity there but has another one in front of him with making RIZIN his home. If lightweight is trouble for him, why doesn’t he move up to welterweight? (for context: he fought at 165 this weekend). Either way, I’d figure that RIZIN brings him back, as he is a solid prospect for sure.

Other things happened, but I really don’t have any real interesting opinions. The live coverage piece that can be read here has full results and a breakdown of each fight. See you next week, when we break down RIZIN’s next “LANDMARK” show!

Other Notes From The Week

  • “Road To UFC” continued this Sunday from Abu Dhabi. For those who are out of the loop: this was a series that UFC first launched in the summer. It was four, eight-man brackets. The winner of each bracket will get a UFC contract. JMMA was well represented to start, and now we just have two representatives left.
    • Rinya Nakamura scored a quick first-round finish win against Shohei Nose to advance to the finals of the bantamweight bracket. He will presumably face Toshiomi Kazama, who was scheduled to fight this week but didn’t after opponent Kim Min-woo missed weight for their bout. It will be an all-JMMA final at bantamweight.
      • Pretty neat to now know that someone from JMMA will win at the end of this (barring disaster)
    • ONE vet Koyomi Matsushima dropped a split decision to Yi Zha in the featherweight semi-finals. And at flyweight, RIZIN alum Topnoi Kiwram suffered a first-round submission loss to Park Hyun-sung.
    • One more thing worth noting: Shooto Japan Featherweight Champion SASUKE won a non-tournament fight, beating Balajin on scorecards. It piqued my interest that UFC brought him back, considering he was in the tournament before but got eliminated.
    • Tapology has the results for the cards here and here (it was two separate cards)
  • More news from Abu Dhabi: So… Yamato Nishikawa isn’t a UFC fighter anymore.
    • In what was an incredibly left-field move, Nishikawa joined the UFC 280 lineup a few weeks back to face Magomed Mustafaev. But he was pulled from the fight the week of the event, as he reportedly was still under contract with a different promotion. Whether that was Shooto Japan or a different one, I’m not sure. But still, a pretty weird turn of events and one that might be painful in retrospect if he doesn’t back get up to that level in the future.
  • ONE 163 in November is going to have a lot of JMMA fighters in action. Ironically, it’s not the promotion’s return to Japan. They’ll be back in Singapore.
    • Quick! Shinya Aoki against Saygid Izagakhmaev. Yushin Okami against Aung La N Sang. Itsuki Hirata vs. Ham Seo Hee. Wait. Hirata vs. Ham?! That’s certainly a big test for both: how has Hirata developed, and how will Ham do after fighting so few times since late 2019.
    • Also announced was Yuya Wakamatsu against Woo Sung Hoon. We previously knew that Hiroki Akimoto would face Petchtanong Banchamek in a kickboxing title fight as well.
  • DEEP Impact has announced the quarter-finals of their flyweight grand prix for a December 11th event at the New Pier Hall. 
  • This is a story that made me do a double take: Makoto Takahashi (also known as Makoto Shinryu) will be over in Tampa on November 10th to face Diego Paiva in a CFFC Flyweight Championship bout! So the decorated DEEP fighter will test himself abroad. Not on my 2022 bingo card, but interesting.
  • Live-Now, the platform that hosted English RIZIN events from late 2020 to early 2022 seems to be closing up shop or rebranding. You can no longer log in or browse events, and there is only a splash page to look at.
    • RIZIN was just a very small part of what they were doing. The site invested large amounts of money to lure music, sports, and lifestyle stars into presenting pay-per-view events. Their budget seemed to be pretty high, with a name like Dua Lipa even hosting a concert there at one point.
    • RIZIN is back on FITE for now, which seemingly nobody has a problem with. It’s a solid service that has years in the game now and is focused on combat sports. Unless a truly attractive deal comes around for RIZIN, it feels like them staying there is the best move.
  • Quick International Report notes: RIZIN alums Yves Landu and Simon Biyong are in action this Saturday over at Bellator 287 in Italy.
  • It’s a quiet week on the regional front. DEEP is hosting an event in Okinawa. That’s all I got for ya, haha.
  • Mikuru Asakura’s “BreakingDown” tryouts returned on Youtube this week. For those who don’t remember, this is an amateur fighting series where (mostly) influencers try to prove themselves in one-minute fights. The numbers on the episodes as I write this: 4.9 million, 3.9 million, 6.2 million, and 5.5 million. My god!
    • What!? For context, these are bigger numbers than what Asakura as a solo act can pull. His post-Floyd Mayweather fight video did 3.4 million (which is still a good number). Most other videos hover around one and two million.
    • This is no endorsement of “BreakingDown,” which is an unapologetically trashy show. “Audition Goes Wild as 100 Thugs Come Out Looking for a Fight!” goes about, well, as you’d expect. But I’m consistently intrigued by how Asakura has made a product that is: 1. Bigger than himself and 2. Bigger than most things actually going on in Japanese combat sports.
  • STARDOM pro wrestler KONAMI was at RIZIN 39.

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