RIZIN 30 in the Nosebleeds
As it happened from Saitama Super Arena
Yesterday Typhoon Chanthu swirled through Tokyo dropping sheets of wind and wet across the region. There was severe damage in parts of the country and a lesser flood warning in my neighborhood. I woke up chagrined, as I knew I had to make the long trip out to Saitama Super Arena in the torrential elements, but of course I would do anything for the transcendent power of JMMA. I donned my raincoat, grabbed an umbrella, and begin the miserable, soaking trek to the train station to begin the automated portion of my journey to Saitama – over an hour trip. Wait a second, I thought, frantically checking my phone… RIZIN 30 is tomorrow. Nice one, grandpa.
Today, however, the sun is shining and the temperature is pleasant. There’s a nice breeze blowing and my trip was a delicious piece of chocolate cake. Best of all, here we are, finally, back in Saitama Super Arena. Back where RIZIN really belongs. Frankly speaking, Tokyo Dome ain’t shit. The Yomiuri Giants play there and supporting them is like supporting the New York Yankees. In the words of Bartleby, “I’d prefer not to.” I’d much rather be here in Saitama.
The last RIZIN show held in Saitama Super Arena was the New Year’s Eve 2020 show. I haven’t personally been here since 2019. COVID fucked with shit, no? And while we’re still in the pandemic, things are getting better in Tokyo and Japan. Despite a late start to vaccination and a scary Olympic surge, many more people are vaccinated and cases are steadily going down. We still wear masks everywhere, but that’s sort of Tokyo for you. There’s still a cap on attendance for this show and limits on booze, but I imagine those will be eased fairly soon, most likely in time for the NYE 2021 show and the finals of the Bantamweight Grand Prix whose quarterfinals we will witness shortly – this begs the question: where and when are the semis? A couple days before the finals? Same day? Inquiring minds.
For the sake of accountability, I posted my picks a few days ago. It was a somewhat tongue-in-cheek exercise, but there they are. For now, welcome home RIZIN!
The arena is already filled (given COVID restrictions) as the first fight of the night kicks off. The crowd is as eager for the return to Saitama as I am. It’s a somewhat historic fight as it’s the first women’s kickboxing fight in promotional history – I do not expect RIZIN history to wind up being a great catalogue of women’s kickboxing, but whatever. Panchan Rina is attractive and “not shy” meaning if you look hard on the internet you can probably see some skin, so she gets all the promotional push here. Her opponent Momoka is a wizened vet and I can imagine her pulling Panchan Rina aside backstage and saying in a gravelly Shinya Aoki voice, “Looks fade, toots.” It’s a reasonably close fight and Panchan Rina takes the unanimous decision. I’m shocked!
For the second bout, we have a battle of the walkouts that may just wind up being better than the fight. Chihiro Suzuki has got a huge fucking sword which makes me think of Guts from Berserk, but I don’t actually think that’s what it is, which is super disappointing. Shoji does his standard cool quasi-traditional walkout. But nope, the fight beats the walkouts. Absolutely bonkers 20 seconds and the old man takes it. The young pup wanted to swing and got dropped – maybe if he’d cosplayed Guts instead. Or the behelit. Awesome display from Shoji. Old man power! Best Finish.
The third fight pits two relative debutantes to MMA from other disciplines and I’m kind of intrigued. Kubo has a Ferrari and a weird hot wife and Ota has a 2016 Olympic medal in wrestling. Oh my! The wife can apparently sing and rap too and she performs her husband’s walk into the ring. He looks nervous; it could be a long night if he gets taken down early. He gets taken down early.
Someone really needs to tell Kubo that he’s not going to win by striking off his back. Not an impressive performance from Ota either, despite spending 14:30 on top. He should finish someone so completely outmatched. Kubo will have to find comfort later with his wife and her boyfriend.
I’m a little nervous about the next two fights as I have a rooting interest in each that might just wind up face first on the canvas. First up, my man Ulka Sasaki. I’ve been a fan since his UFC days and he’s had a tough run of it lately and got his face broken by tonight’s headliner Kai Asakura. He’s up a weight class against a tough guy in Yoshinori Horie. Ulka gets into a clinch early and pushes his opponent against the ropes. Not much happens. In the second round, Ulka is getting hit a bit, but controls the grappling. Round-by-round, I’d say 1-1, but I’m not hopeful going into the third. After the third: not a great fight and I think he’ll lose the decision. He loses. Yachi revenge me!
Probably my all-time RIZIN fave Yusuke Yachi takes on scary California Dreamin’ Orange man Koji Takeda. I’m terrified he’s gonna get destroyed and may close my eyes for the next 15 minutes or until I hear screams. Yachi comes out to a new song by some band that sounds like Japanese White Zombie and I have a burst of confidence like he’ll be able to steal Takeda’s dirtbag mojo. Yachi opens with a surprise knee ala Masvidal but gets a hook to the jaw in return. Then he almost gets his arm snapped off. But he survives! And lo and behold for the next two rounds fights a smart and measured fight! At the bell, I’m feeling kind of hopeful for Yachi. He fights well and intelligently (a rarity!) and gets the unanimous decision. Sugoi desu ne!
The following sequence may include hallucinations…
I need to pee before the next fight and somehow fall down a flight of stairs and wind up in a parking garage with a bunch of pasty otaku dudes watching the fights on TV and eating fruit salad. Okay, when in Rome. I sit down and grab a fruit salad and get ready for Ayaka Hamasaki vs Emi Fujino. Hajimemashite otaku-sama. It’s a pretty good fruit salad and in fact I eat two. There are also rolls but I’m low carb right now. Ulka Sasaki walks in through a curtain of silk to answer questions, possibly about the fruit salad but I’m not sure, and it’s tough to follow Hamasaki vs Fujino, but Boss (as the former calls the latter) seems to be doing better than expected. Despite his loss, Ulka seems unhurt and in good spirits, which is good, but I’m trying to watch Hamasaki at the moment. My plan is to grab more food and get out of here ASAP but perhaps the fruit salad has rendered me trapped ala Persephone.
It seems like Hamasaki may be losing a step - she’s getting older (not unlike her opponent). She’s also doing this thing lately with just striking, which I don’t get. She seems to have a fixation on a knockout or maybe is just bored and wants the challenge of making herself one-dimensional. She sits/kneels Boss with a right in the second, but on we go. “Take her down and submit her, Ayaka!” I shout, spitting melon chunks on a passing otaku, who bows sheepishly. Gomen! Boss looks beat up. Yusuke Yachi comes into the room on a beam of sunshine riding a unicorn, dismounts, and plumps into a Yogibo chair. Sorry pal, I’m still trying to watch Hamasaki. From behind his golden glow, Yachi can tell people are looking at the TVs and asks what fight is on. Hamasaki is the reply. Ah, he says, no problem.
The ladies are both tired and beat up. Boss more so. Hamasaki takes it.
You know those big Yogibo chairs? They have a serious design flaw. You really need two people to sit down in one. One person has to pull up the back while the other sits. Otherwise it’s weirdly off-center and imbalanced. You can see the fighters usually have some assistance when they sit down. I went to a Yogibo store the other day and tried it out myself. I crushed the medium size chair under my corpulent gaijin bulk and the large just barely worked with the kind assistance of the shop lady. The lap rests and cushions are cool though.
I escape from the land of fruit salad by scaling a wall of delicious carb-filled onigiri and get back to the top of the mountain to see the end of the retirement ceremony for Shintaro Ishiwatari. They do the ten-bell memorial thing they did at Triller the other day for 911, but unlike the U.S. it’s dead silent and actually quite moving and not some drunk chick screaming “9/11 was an inside job blow me COVID bitches!” Respect Shintaro.
…emerging from the rabbit hole
We’re back and RIZIN CEO Sakakibara is in the ring announcing some upcoming fights. RIZIN 31 in October in Yokohama with featherweight champ Yutaka Saito against TBD. Kyohei Hagiwara comes out to talk some shit for his upcoming fight against Mikuru Asakura at RIZIN Landmark and the crowd seems to be into it. I love his brashness, but he may not have the technique for Asakura. Some Hot Topic-looking Chiba dudes have been added to the WEED card, which fits. What’s their story? They look like pro-wrestlers. No idea. I’ll find out later. (Later: pretty much.) Birthday boy Satoshi Souza gets a warm round of applause from the crowd. He is excited about his birthday flowers and expresses great happiness with RIZIN and RIZIN fans. He does his “UFC sucks!” thing (I guess it’s a thing? He does it often.) and melts away.
Now for the good stuff. Everything before was a mere appetizer and now the Bantamweight Grand Prix quarterfinals are the sumptuous entrée we have been salivating for. I’m feeling iffy about my Kenta Takizawa pick after seeing his dance moves on a Tik Tok video or something. In fact, I’m slightly worried about him and he reminds me a bit of Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs. Yuki Motoya probably has a MySpace page and doesn’t know what Tik Tok is (he’s not really that old).
But nope, my superior prediction skills and careful study of fight metrics (lol) were right on the money. Takizawa takes out Motoya in the first round starting with kicks from a karate stance – he’s like the Japanese Wonderboy, which makes him even creepier really – and finishing with gnarly combos while Motoya was hanging halfway out of the ring. Motoya is pissed to be beaten by an (allegedly) effeminate serial killer and runs out of the joint. Takizawa gives a mercifully short victory speech. Interesting! Who will they match him up with next? I’d guess Kai, presuming he wins later.
We’re quickly on to the next fight and I’m happy and hoping I’ll be home by 9PM. Some swanging and banging in the first round after Hiromasa Ougikubo gets tagged by Takafumi Otsuka. Ougikubo’s got a bit of that Eddie Alvarez energy and needs to get hit to get amped up. He definitely controls the round, though they both land strikes throughout. I space out during the second round, but it seems like Ougi-chan is cruising for a decision win. The ref’s mic comes out of a speaker to my right somewhere and I keep looking over into the next section for a guy shouting “Action! Action!” It’s very confusing and I want more fruit salad. At the end, it’s not a bad fight with some nice bursts of “Action!” and Ougikubo gets the deserved win.
Down to the last two! Naoki Inoue is the most interesting fighter in RIZIN to me at the moment and I’m excited for his fight. Here he gets Kintaro, the heavily tattoed former “gangster” nicknamed Joker, in the anti-social sociopathic sense, not the fun-loving jester sense, or worst of all, the Steve Miller sense. Interestingly, given in Japan they can’t even show tattoos like his on regular TV, the camera repeatedly lingers on his artwork. This is really the first time today I’m feeling some big fight vibes. That’s the co-main for ya! No glove touch from the Joker.
It’s very tense in the arena during the first round, despite the fact to my eyes Naoki easily wins and barely gets touched – the Kintaro fans in the audience are quite audible the few times he does connect, but it seems most of the strikes are off Inoue’s arms (please remember I’m like 5000 yards away from the ring at an incline looking through a veil of rain and fog). Kintaro has a better second round but Inoue has completely destroyed his right leg with low kicks. I am surprised how the crowd seems to favor Kintaro, though I think that may be selection bias as those fans are just the atypically vocal ones. At the beginning of the third Naoki is styling on Kintaro like Floyd Mayweather or Neo and Kintaro responds with nasty body shots and it’s like oh shit, Kintaro is better than I thought he was and is coming for Naoki’s head! The battle continues. Excellent third round. Excellent fight. Fight of the night absolutely.
Despite Kintaro’s heart and perseverance, I think Inoue still wins. He does. The fans seemed surprised, shouting out “Ao!” (Blue), but that was the right call. RIZIN fans just love their sketchy antisocial heroes – hence the new RIZIN Landmark WEED sponsor. Marijuana is considered “edgy” in Japan; it’s kind of hysterical. Regardless, Kintaro did really well here and has my newfound respect. Best Fight.
Main event time. This one could be over quick which is cool cause I have to pee again. The big underdog Alan “Hiro” Yamaniha comes in to “Believer” by Imagine Dragons and looks relaxed. Stranger things have happened. He’s got the killer Brazilian corner of Satoshi Souza and Kleber Koike after all. Mikuru Asakura, who Kleber choked out at Tokyo Dome, is in his brother Kai’s corner. This event is giving me the impression little bro has usurped big bro’s position in the RIZIN fight hierarchy, if not in overall Japanese celebrity. Kai comes out and knocks Hiro across the ring like Dolph Lundgren in Rocky 4 and continues to manhandle him for a couple of minutes; Kai is the bigger fighter and has added some muscle (according to RIZIN Confessions).
Much to Kai’s shock, however, Hiro survives and even stings Kai a couple of times and sort of threatens a triangle before the round ends. It seems that Kai thought this fight would be over after his early rush and he finds himself in an unhappy position. He no longer has the pop of round one, he’s tired, and Hiro is hanging around and bothering him. What an upset this would be! Worse than Mikuru losing to Yutaka Saito? Probably. Maybe the Asakura bros just don’t have what it takes for the big fights? The fight reaches 15 minutes. Wild! The crowd is mystified. A Brazilian lady is shrieking “Hiro! Hiro! Hiro!” I really have no idea how this one will come down. To me, Kai clearly takes the first, but I think two and three may go to Hiro to a lesser degree. So RIZIN whole-bout-scoring rules? No fucking idea. Oh RIZIN, what will you do?
Unanimous decision for Kai, pfffff. Not one judge thought Hiro had that? Ah well. Sure would have made for some fun chaos for Kai to lose, but would rob us of our desired match-up of Inoue vs Asakura that everyone, including RIZIN and myself, wants to see. Fans start pouring out of the place the moment the final bell rings and continue throughout the reading of the verdict. Are they not so interested in hearing from the very mediocre winner or just beating the crowd to the train? Probably the latter. Speaking of which, BYE!
Thoughts on the train:
Fun show, with the last two fights having some big fight feel and the others kind of just fights.
Two underwhelming results for the two tournament favorites, but also great showings from the underdogs. It seems this tournament was deeper than I thought.
My guess for the semis is Kai vs Kenta and Naoki vs Hiromasa.
Nice match-up between losers Hiro and Kintaro for an alternate bout. Wildly different personalities, though both potentially murderous.
Maybe Ulka should concentrate more on his fashion line now or maybe he already has?
The Ishiwatari ceremony was very nice and the fans seemed super into it.
RIZIN should probably start its own gravure publication at this point, so diligently they pursue the leering ojisan demographic.
My seats really weren’t that bad; I’ve had worse and did at the Tokyo Dome show, but “RIZIN 30 in okay seats” as a headline doesn’t sound very good.
I really didn’t think any of these things on the train. I thought of them when I was sitting in the arena, but they just fit better at the end here. On the train I was watching the day’s sumo, which if you’re interested is quite easy to follow on YouTube. Natto Sumo is the man.
I’m looking forward to watching RIZIN Landmark on October 2nd from the comfort of my couch and curious where it will be held. My original guess was the Ryogoku Kokugikan, but now I’m thinking the grungy back storage area of a head shop in the Tokyo suburbs. Hopefully I will be able to attend RIZIN 31 on October 24th, but we’ll see how it plays out. Either way, sign up for Fight Pizza for coverage of both events and the rest of RIZIN’s year. ✌