The first three bouts for Rizin Fighting Federation’s bantamweight grand prix have been revealed, and there are already some intriguing matchups.
The Japanese promotion recently announced the following three pairings for the opening round of the 135-pound tournament: Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Hideo Tokoro; Anthony Birchak vs. Takafumi Otsuka and Keita Ishibashi vs. Khalid Taha.
The opening round of the 14-man bracket, which features two wildcards for the quarterfinals, will take place over the course of two events — three fights on July 30 and three at another event in October. The opening round winners plus the two wildcard entrants will advance to the quarterfinals, which will take place on Dec. 29. The champion of the grand prix will be crowned on Dec. 31. All three of the aforementioned bouts — Horiguchi vs. Tokoro, Birchak vs. Otsuka and Isibashi vs. Taha — will take place on July 30 at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. The rest of the competitors in the tournament were not announced.
“We are excited to be able to have several Japanese champions participating in the [grand prix],” Rizin chairman Nobuyuki Sakakibara said in a release. “We weren’t able reach out to Japanese promotions for the bigger fighters [for the open-weight grand prix last year] since very few of them are active, but with at this weight class, there are tons on talent, and this will be a great way for these champions to test themselves against international opponents.”
A former UFC flyweight title challenger, Horiguchi will move up in weight to face Tokoro. Horiguchi left the Las Vegas-based promotion on a three-fight winning streak and debuted for Rizin with a unanimous decision triumph over Yuki Montoya on April 16. A veteran of 65 professional bouts, Tokoro has compiled a 2-1 record with Rizin, which includes a first-round submission of Erson Yamamoto in his most recent outing on Dec. 31.
Birchak, a four-time UFC competitor, fell to Tatsuya Kawajiri via unanimous decision in his promotional debut at Rizin 5 on April 16. Otsuka is a veteran of the Deep and Dream promotions and has lost just once in his last nine fights.
Isibashi has compiled an 8-5-2 career mark while competing exclusively for the Shooto organization, while Germany native Taha enters the grand prix with a 10-0 record that includes eight victories inside the distance.
Three other MMA contests were also announced for the July 30 Rizin event: Miyu Yamamoto vs. Cassie Robb; Reina Miura vs. Seini Draughn and Satoru Kitaoka vs. Yusuke Yachi.