It may prove difficult to handicap the Rizin Fighting Federation women’s atomweight tournament after the promotion’s card on Sunday at Marine Messe in Fukuoka, Japan, this on account of two particularly outstanding quarterfinal performances.
In the main event of Rizin’s “Aki No Jin,” Shoot Boxing star turned hot MMA prospect Rena Kubota moved to 5-0, ripping former King of the Cage champion Andy Nguyen with a savage liver shot at 3:23 of the opening round. The 26-year-old striker took two minutes to get warmed up; once she did, she found her left hand time and time again, eventually putting it on “The CrAsian’s” body and trapping her in a corner. Kubota unloaded with combinations from there, smashing Nguyen with crisp lefts on the chin and to the body until a third left to the liver crumpled her in the corner and forced referee Jason Herzog into action.
While Kubota remains the tournament’s promotional focal point, 20-year-old Brazilian Maria Oliveira Mota was sensational in her unanimous verdict over Alyssa Garcia, taking her ninth straight win. A teammate of Invicta Fighting Championships titlist Jennifer Maia and Ultimate Fighting Championship standout Jessica Andrade at Parana Vale Tudo, Oliveira sprawled and brawled beautifully, raking “Tiny Tim” with right crosses and brutal clinch knees to the head and body for 15 minutes. She showed outstanding striking skill and savvy that makes her Kubota’s greatest foil in the grand prix.
In one of the other two 108-pound quarterfinals, 20-year-old up-and-comer Kanna Asakura moved to 9-2 in her three-year career, soundly outwrestling Poland’s Sylwia Juskiewicz for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, Spain’s Irene Cabello Rivera kicked off the tournament and rebounded from back-to-back losses, as she armbarred 43-year-old Miyu Yamamoto, older sister of Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto, at 2:26 of Round 2.
Oliveira Crushes Kawajiri; Ishiwatari, Kape and Petshi Advance in Bantamweight GP
In a “wild card” bout in Rizin’s bantamweight bracket, Japanese MMA icon Tatsuya Kawajiri was absolutely flattened by undefeated Brazilian Gabriel Leite de Oliveira, a vicious lead knee just 60 seconds into the second round doing the damage.
Kawajiri controlled the Brazilian from top position for most of Round 1, but the 39-year-old visibly slowed late in the opening frame, eating punches and knees from the 27-year-old blue chipper over the final minute. As the second stanza opened, the former Shooto world champion continued to indulge his worst instincts, freely swinging at the longer man, eating punches and eventually shooting face first into a vicious stepping knee that left him supine, still and bleeding from the mouth in a brutal sight.
Elsewhere in the bracket, bantamweight King of Pancrase Shintaro Ishiwatari won his eighth fight in his last nine, handing previously unbeaten Russian Akhmed Musakaev his first loss, as he landed the harder standing shots and claimed late top position on the wrestler to cinch up the victory; Portugal-based Angolan Manel Kape burst into the MMA consciousness, as he dumped Erson Yamamoto -- nephew of “Kid” and son of Miyu -- in the corner with a left roundhouse kick to the dome in only 71 seconds; and France’s Kevin Petshi won a highly debatable split decision over South Korean Jae Hoon Moon. Despite Petshi eating many punches on the feet, he took Moon’s back on several occasions to earn two of the three judges’ cards.
Legends Sakuraba, Shamrock Waste Time; Prospects Nasukawa, ‘King Reina’ Take Decisions
The biggest names on the bill, aged MMA legends Kazushi Sakuraba, 48, and Frank Shamrock, 44, went to a 10-minute time-limit draw in their grappling match, which was essentially a waste of time.
Shamrock was a late substitution for another all-time great in Dan Henderson, who might have actually attempted a takedown. The 10-minute encounter featured Sakuraba slowly stalking Shamrock, who circled away and occasionally grabbed a double collar tie to control “The Gracie Hunter” and thwart his glacial single-leg takedown attempts.
Rizin’s young poster child, undefeated teenage kickboxer Tenshin Nasukawa, had the toughest bout of his nascent MMA career against fellow flyweight striker Yamato Fujita but prevailed via unanimous decision.
Nasukawa, who turned 19 in August, got the better of the striking exchanges against Fujita, a national champion amateur boxer who nearly qualified for the 2012 London Olympics; the teenager landed a devastating, face-altering left hook in the first round. It was truly unbelievable that the blow did not knock out Fujita entirely, though it may have broken his jaw, instantly filling the debuting fighter’s mouth with blood.
However, Fujita showed a wrestling game that belied his boxing background, threatening Nasukawa with takedowns that kept the hot prospect off-guard. It also allowed Fujita to land punching combinations when Nasukawa lowered his hands. Despite a strong second round, Nasukawa kept his work rate up in Round 3, where he landed a bevy of punches, knees to the body and chopping low kicks. He also spent time spent standing in the Ali-Inoki position, swooping into Fujita’s guard with heavy punches. With the victory, Nasukawa moves to 4-0 in his brief pro MMA career; Fujita drops his pro debut after going 2-0 as an amateur.
Another of Rizin’s coveted prospects, “King” Reina Miura, had much more trouble collecting a unanimous nod over Cristiane "Cyborg" Justino training partner Crystal Stokes, who was making her pro debut. Though she was nearly armbarred at the end of the first round, the 6-foot-1 Stokes hit Miura repeatedly on the feet with rangy punches and dominated the second frame. However, the American’s conditioning failed her in the final round, allowing Miura to tag her repeatedly with low kicks and wild overhand rights in the final 60 seconds of their 165-pound affair. It sealed the fight and moved the 21-year-old judoka to 7-0.
Returning from a three and a half-year MMA absence, colorful lightweight striker “Wicky” Akiyo Nishiura used his grappling to take a unanimous verdict over kickboxing legend Andy Souwer. A two-time K-1 Max World Grand Prix champion and four-time Shoot Boxing S-Cup champion, Souwer actually pushed for takedowns early, allowing Nishiura to use a belly-to-back kimura to sweep him to the floor, a la Sakuraba. Nishiura spent most of the 10-minute opening round in side control and the early stages of Round 2 with single-leg back control, looking for a twister. Impressively, the 34-year-old Souwer managed to take Nishiura’s back in the second half of the final round as the Shooto and Dream veteran tired, but it was too little too late. The Dutchman falls to 2-3 in his brief MMA career.
Meanwhile, K-1 kickboxing star Jerome Le Banner -- at 44 years old, with five MMA fights to his credit and none of them in nearly seven years -- showed up to collect a paycheck against Guamanian heavyweight Roque Martinez. Martinez easily secured a takedown, passed to side control and cranked on the Frenchman’s head with a scarf hold to elicit a tap in just 2:09.
The card opened with a trio of kickboxing bouts. In a battle of 112-pound 19-year-olds, Jin Mandokoro upset local Fukuoka favorite Issei Ishii via majority decision due to early kicking offense; Rise Kickboxing star Yuki fought to a majority draw with Kurogi Darvish in a 136-pound fight; and at 129 pounds, Yoshihisa Morimoto wasted Ryota Renseigym with a right hook at 2:00 of Round 3.