RIZIN 33 NYE 2021
As it happened from Saitama Super Arena
Before I get started, check this amazing shit out.
I found this clip from 1896 on the U.S. Library of Congress website listed as Japonias wrestlers, but I think it’s really early Javanese MMA. Neat, huh?
Now, Happy New Year’s Eve RIZIN-as-it-happened-live-from-Saitama-Super-Arena. 💪🍾 (You can also just scroll to the bottom for my major-takeaways.)
I’m packed up and ready to go. I’ve got a couple onigiri (rice balls - my go-to combo of plum and tuna/mayo), my laptop, my phone, my charger, a bottle of water, a spare mask. We’re going full capacity for RIZIN 33, a big change from nearly the last two years of events, but a mask and registration with a COVID notification app are still required for entrance. They’re saying there will be 30,000* people in the house and that this is the biggest MMA event since the beginning of the pandemic. (*This was not true.) I’m not bothered to research it (somebody did), but I can remember a few boxing events at least that were bigger. Nonetheless, it’s a lot of fucking people and I’m not all that stoked about it; the last year or so of half-capacity events was super pleasant in terms of personal seating space. Of course it’s wonderful news for RIZIN’s shaky bottom line, which is probably the more relevant consideration.
Speaking of relevance and personal comfort, I’ve decided to breeze through the early bit of the card - aside from the tournament fights - and limit my notes and observations for the first several hours of the event. Two reasons:
These “as it happened” things get way too long and nobody wants to read/write a 5000-word MMA diary.
I invariably lose steam by the top of the card when I should be most dialed in.
As an aside (fuck, see what I mean?), this is the kind of thing they love in Japan, epic all-fucking-day marathon events; it’s the worst for a metal show. I love metal. I cannot listen to it at ear-splitting volume for eight hours straight on a Sunday afternoon in a dingy basement in Shinjuku.
Making my way to my seat, I see there’s already a lot of people up in this place. Rows filled to the top all the way around the building. We get rolling and the first fight is a sloppy, scrappy, amateurish affair that was actually pretty fun and a nice debut for the kid, Kota Miura, whose dad was a big-time soccer player.
Now for today’s epic lunchtime Slayer/Metallica set: “Scary Kenta” Takizawa vs. Kai Asakura followed by Hiromasa Ougikubo vs. Naoki Inoue. If you read my preview, you know my picks; let’s just see what happens.
Of course Kenta walks out to some nü-metal garbage that would make Kerry King puke, but he wouldn’t be Scary Kenta otherwise. Kai’s coming out now and it’s weird having such a big fight and his walkout so early - the vibe is reserved - but that’s the way they gotta do it for two fights in one night.
Takizawa spends much of the first round circling on the outside with a kick heavy attack, while Kai steps in for some power shots. The second round is more even, with Kenta landing some nice kicks and generally being more active. I think Kai takes just about any decision though. Three minutes into the third and I was about to say Kenta’s winning the fight when Kai takes over. He momentarily drops Takizawa and connects multiple times. The fight ends. Kenta throws his mouthpiece and Kai jump on the ropes. Both fighters know the judges’ decision.
Surprisingly sedate showing from Kai though; he was clearly thinking about the next fight. Didn’t look like he took much damage*; maybe a bit to his legs. *We find out later this was not true.
Naoki Inoue is probably my favorite RIZIN fighter right now - sorry Yusuke, I’ve moved on - and who I’d like to see win it all. In my preview I predicted a quick finish in this fight. Despite my fondness for Naoki, I far prefer Hiromasa’s walkout song, which is sort of Japanese Country & Western.
Much better first round of action than anything we saw in the first fight, though Inoue is largely in control. His striking and ground work both look fluid while Ougikubo doesn’t have much to offer.
It seems I spoke too soon as Ougikubo offers quite a lot of ground control in the second and has Inoue in some trouble. Whoever emerges from this fight will not be unscathed. In the third, Naoki just doesn’t look right and I wonder if he’s hurt or expected a much easier match (as I did!). Regardless, he’s about to lose a decision. He does.
Wow, super impressive from Hiromasa. I did not expect that. Here’s hoping he has something for Kai in the final. *Spoiler: he does.
It doesn’t appear either fighter is injured in any way to require an alternate; the bout to decide who that non-participant is is next up. I’m quickly changing my prediction from the preview post – Eminem is pumping and I’m feeling Motoya over Yutaro. Motoya wins but it’s not a particularly interesting fight and the arena is emptying as people take a break after the early Bantamweight Tournament action.
The next fights are kind of a deadzone for me personal-interest-wise, aside from my perverse curiosity for Shibatar vs Kubo, so I’m gonna unplug for a while. C3PO noise.
Shinobu Ota is improving.
Youtuber Shibatar winning, while entertaining, kinda bums me out and I pity Kubo’s home life.
Kouzi and Ya-Man definitely throw big heat and the crowd is amped for it.
Big pop for Kyohei Hagiwara. He’s popular and charismatic, I’m just not sure if he’s any good.
Shrek Sekine makes crazy grunting noises during the fight, pulls off a suplex, and has liked my tweets. Three big positives.
Beynoah seems to be taking to MMA well, but he needs more equitable match-ups; Koji Takeda is tan as ever.
Okay, I guess I’m back now. Intermission is next, but this is a name fight, if another weird match-up. Super veteran RIZIN champion Ayaka Hamasaki is up against 4-0 Seika Izawa (who is a champion in DEEP) in a non-title fight. This young girl is supposed to be something special, but this fight is purely a “we have nothing else to put on this show” decision; let’s see if it bites them in the ass and they fuck up their prospect or sully their champ. Hamasaki has looked kind of disinterested lately; maybe these young up-and-comers are finally ready to break through. *Prophecy!
Damn, the rookie shoots quickly and eventually gets the takedown. Hamasaki winds up on top however. Nonetheless, the youngster certainly holds her own in round one. In the second, Izawa quickly pulls guard and eventually finishes Hamasaki with pitty-pat ground and pound! Holy shit, with this girl and Saori Oshima - who recently beat Kanna Asakura - the future is bright for the RIZIN women. As I said, Hamasaki has frankly looked bored of the whole thing in her last couple of fights and may well be ready to hang it up and let the 20-somethings take over.
RENA and Park Si-woo are most definitely not 20-somethings or the future of Japanese Women’s MMA, but RENA sells tickets and attracts eyeballs so RENA is on the main card and the FujiTV broadcast. The battle of middle-aged women that recently headlined the thoroughly mediocre RIZIN 32 was entertaining enough despite itself, but RIZIN is pushing my goodwill in pursuit of the leering pervert demographic.
All in all, it’s a busy, fluid scrap; I haven’t got a clue who won which probably means RENA, but no, the judges stick with the upset theme of the night and give it to Park.
Next up is the Gomi v Tenshin shitshow exhibition and I kinda hope Tenshin gets knocked off his feet out of the ring like a Rocky movie or some shit for the hubris of booking this weird, dreadful fight. But who knows, maybe it will be fun. As I mentioned in the preview, I enjoyed Gomi v Kouzi.
Tenshin is throwing hard and Gomi’s got a heater right hook that’s just missed a few times and the fight doesn’t totally suck. Gomi does nice body work and Tenshin gives and takes. I changed my mind. Fun times, mostly attributable to Gomi. Now Tenshin is saying goodbye to RIZIN and bawling like Mayweather just kicked his ass.
They march Takeru out for a rehash of the news we learned on Christmas Eve and then we’re back to some real fighting with the rematch between Mikuru Asakura and Yutaka Saito. I honestly thought Mikuru won the first fight while looking like shit, so I expect him to find redemption. Saito has been singularly unimpressive in RIZIN; let’s see if he can find something tonight and show us his brief championship wasn’t a strange anomaly.
Mikuru doing a lot of measuring from distance early in the first and they are pawing at each other from out of reach and Saito shoots and they hang out in the clinch for a while. A little flurry and a nut shot by Saito, which is revenge for the many Mikuru fouls from the last fight (probably the reason he lost). Not a super eventful round. Similar second round until about a minute to go when Mikuru just cracks Saito and Saito hangs on for dear life. Looks like some facial damage for sure. Mikuru is patient. The end is nigh.
The crowd is doing this weird Mikuru-clap-chant which I can’t remember them doing for another fighter, egging him on to a finish, but Saito is doing a good job hanging on. There’s some late flurries, but not much effect, and Mikuru should take a comfortable decision. Maybe we’ll see a trilogy, but both of these fights were pretty sloppy from what I recall and I’d much rather see some other options.
Now for the only proper championship bout on the card (the next is for the tournament champ), another rematch with Yusuke Yachi against Roberto Satoshi Souza. The first fight wasn’t close with Yachi getting pretty well fucked up. I think it’s likely again, just maybe not so quickly. Yachi seems to have learned some patience lately and will not be eager to throw himself at Satoshi’s many weapons. Souza could be really good I think, and might even be able to succeed in the UFC. The talks are for a Pitbull fight in Bellator in 2022, which would be excellent.
They both come out with jumping knees and it quickly moves into Souza’s terrain, ground scrambles, and Yachi does a good job running for his life with several crafty escapes. The crowd seems to be firmly in Yachi’s corner and are madly cheering his successful defense. In an earlier VTR, Yachi was training extensively with grappling master and all around asshole Shinya Aoki and seems to have learned something.
Souza gets a quick takedown in the second. Somebody’s quite bloody and it’s a war of attrition and Souza is winning. Souza gets into position for an armbar and secures a quick tap. As predicted: a little longer, same result. Souza calls out a Bellator fight.
A not insignificant number of people are heading for the exits, perhaps not thinking much of the coming main event between earlier fighters Kai Asakura and Hiromasa Ougikubo. I think it’s likely an easy win for Kai, considering his relatively painless victory earlier and Ougikubo’s age and tougher semifinal fight. But, Hiromasa surprised me earlier, maybe he can do it again. Then again, these two have fought before and it wasn’t pretty.
One more time for Hiromasa’s cowboy song.
Ougikubo survives the early going and even gets a takedown and briefly mounts Asakura. The underdog has the crowd on his side. Great first round for Hiromasa.
Kai finds more success with his strikes in the second, but Hiromasa manages a last takedown to steal back the momentum. Going into the third, Ougikubo’s winning the fight!
Kai is somehow managing to stay on his feet as Hiromasa tries everything to take him down and ice the result. Kai refuses to go down, but I think Hiromasa does enough anyway. What a shocker! Let’s see if the judges concur – they damn well should. They do!
I sprint out of the building to catch the last train.
Final thoughts after a few hours of sleep and some reflection:
First and foremost, what a display from Ougikubo. Fantastic. Logically, you’d think he was the third seed out of the four fighters tonight. He wasn’t at all overwhelming in the previous rounds of the tournament. Inoue was handling him easily in the first round before he came back. All this, yet he takes the tournament. Big kudos to him.
Apparently Kai injured his hand, but how many times has he lost big fights in big moments? I count three. Not a superstar record.
Naoki was also disappointing. It seems the top seeds may have believed the hype to some degree and expected to be handed the fight we all wanted to see. (And still want to see.) Why not set that up next with both Naoki and Kai coming off a loss?
Let’s be honest, the Grand Prix fights were the biggest attraction in this event and they weren’t particularly exciting – all decisions.
The lack of big name fights and fighters on this card was definitely an issue. Most of the middle of the card should have been the beginning of the card, if you know what I mean. The four missing foreign fighters would have definitely made for more interesting match-ups.
Satoshi Souza needs a bigger challenge, and stage, than RIZIN can currently provide.
The young RIZIN women are on the rise. Let’s phase out the 40+ crew already.
Tenshin vs Takeru in June MUST happen and MUST be a huge event. It remains to be seen how K1, RISE, and RIZIN will work out the logistics and money and everything but for the sake of Japanese combat sports on a global stage they need to do it near flawlessly.
RIZIN got a nice boost of gate income with the big sellout show; the TV ratings remain to be seen (UPDATE: ratings were roughly the same as last year which is pretty much whatever). They need to manage 2022 very astutely to remain a viable global organization and not just Japan’s biggest regional promotion, if that. That means more foreign fighters, more big fights, and likely some cooperation with Bellator. Another year of glorified DEEP cards is not gonna cut it.
As I said in the preview, this is probably my last live RIZIN card for a while because I’m heading home. Here’s hoping RIZIN can give us fans in the Americas better reasons to stay up all night in 2022.
Happy New Year! ✌️🍕
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