Rizin Unveils 16-Man Bantamweight Tournament; Opening Rounds on May 23, 30

By Jay Pettry Mar 26, 2021

The long-rumored Rizin Fighting Federation bantamweight tournament now has all 16 of its participants lined up.

On Friday morning, the Japanese promotion held a press conference where it announced 16 members of the upcoming all-Japan bantamweight grand prix. A notable absence in the tourney is current Rizin 135-pound king Kyoji Horiguchi, and it is rumored that he will be heading to Bellator MMA to pursue his former belt. After that bout, Horiguchi may return to Rizin to face that same opponent in the Rizin ring with his Rizin belt on the line. The winner of that bout may face the tournament champ for the Rizin title.

The tournament will begin on May 23, where four of the eight opening round matches will take place inside the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo. The only bout official for that Rizin 28 event is Kai Asakura’s (16-3), who gets his wish to compete in the massive stadium after speaking to Rizin head Nobuyuki Sakakibara at Rizin 27 in March. On that card, Asakura will be facing Shuto Watanabe (22-5-6), who landed a submission over Takumi Tamaru in March to earn a spot in the bracket.

The second event staging the opening round will be Rizin 29 at the Maruzen Intech Arena Osaka in Osaka, Japan, one week later. The second round is currently targeted for the end of September, and a venue is not yet set as the organization is waiting on the news of the Tokyo Olympics. New Year’s Eve will carry the blockbuster show which will see both the semifinals and finals go down in one night. Other notable names of the 16 include ex-Ultimate Fighting Championship talent Naoki Inoue, legendary leglock specialist Masakazu Imanari and “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 24 competitor Hiromasa Ougikubo.

Per the promoter, Japanese borders are closed off to international travelers, with some minor exceptions. This Tokyo Dome caps at 10,000 fans at the moment, but Rizin hopes it will expand to 50 percent capacity by the end of May. That card does not have any other bouts scheduled, although the organization is looking to book a lightweight title fight. The plan is for champ Tofiq Musayev to take on Roberto de Souza, but this hinges on getting the Azerbaijani into the country. The last time Sakakibara staged an event in the Tokyo Dome was Pride Final Conflict 2003, which concluded the 2003 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix.

The winner of the tournament will be awarded 10 million Japanese Yen ($91,178) while the runner-up will receive half that amount of 5 million Japanese Yen ($45,589). In addition, the organization is planning on doling out five bonuses after the tournament concludes, each for 1 million Japanese Yen ($9,118), for the following categories: best bout (two of those awards), best knockout, best submission and fastest finish.

The specific brackets of the tournament to determine future matchups have not yet been announced. It is unclear if the league plans on running another drawing to determine the second round. The eight bouts, in which seven have not been given official dates, are as follows:

Kai Asakura (16-3) vs. Shuto Watanabe (22-5-6)
Hiroki Yamashita (8-8) vs. Takafumi Otsuka (28-17-2)
Yuki Motoya (25-9, 1 NC) vs. Ryo Okada (17-4-3)
Yuto Hokamura (17-10-2) vs. Kuya Ito (10-8-1)
Kenta Takizawa (11-7) vs. Masakazu Imanari (38-19-2)
Kazuma Kuramoto (8-1) vs. Alan Yoshihiro Yamaniha (17-8-4)
Takeshi Kasugai (26-7-1, 1 NC) vs. Hiromasa Ougikubo (21-5-2)
Naoki Inoue (15-2) vs. Shintaro Ishiwatari (26-8-4)
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