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Huge RIZIN Bantamweight Grand Prix Preview

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On the 26th of March, the RIZIN Bantamweight GP was announced. It will be the largest premier mixed martial arts Grand Prix since the 2005 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix. 16 participants have confirmed their participation, with each fighter making selecting their match-up.

Below are the 8 matchups named for the RIZIN Bantamweight GP.

The Participants of the RIZIN Bantamweight GP 16 man tournament take a photo | Photo Credits to RIZIN FF

Rizin Bantamweight GP

Shian vs Takafumi Otsuka

The title challenger Shian (8-8) is a quick finisher, scoring 3 wins by KO in under 30 seconds, with 1 of those being in his RIZIN debut against veteran Kazuma Sone at RIZIN27. He has fought one other participant, Kuya Ito in what was the given title bout for the GRACHAN Bantamweight title.

The two-weight champion Otsuka (28-17-2) returns to the RIZIN ring after a semi-final finish in the 2017 RIZIN Bantamweight GP. He was riding a 3-fight win streak before dropping a decision loss for the Shooto 132lb Championship to fellow participant Ryo Okada.

Kintaro vs Kuya Ito

The former Pancrase Bantamweight title challenger Kintaro (13-9-2) makes his 3rd appearance in RIZIN. He won his first bout via first-round submission and then dropped a split decision to fellow participant Kenta Takizawa in his 2nd appearance last September at RIZIN24. He also holds a win over fellow participant , Alan Yamaniha.

The reigning GRACHAN Bantamweight Champion Ito (10-8-1) is coming into the GP on a 9-2 streak in his last 11 bouts, stretching back to 2017. His last bout was a win over fellow participant Shian in which he captured the title.

Yuki Motoya vs Ryo Okada

The second two-weight DEEP Champion Motoya (27-9, 1NC ) makes his 10th RIZIN appearance, taking on the debuting Shooto Champion Ryo Okada.

He holds a 4-4 (1NC) record in RIZIN and holds the only Teepee choke victory in RIZIN history. He has faced 5 other participants, losing to Takeshi Kasugai, Hiromasa Ougikubo, and Naoki Inoue, while managing to defeat Masakazu Imanari and Takafumi Otsuka. He will likely earn a rematch in the next round, should he get past Okada.

The reigning and defending Shooto Bantamweight Champion Okada (17-4-3) is on an 8-fight, 4-year unbeaten win streak, making 1 defense of his title against Takafumi Otsuka at Shooto 2021 Vol.2. 8 of his 17 wins are by finish, with 6 of them in the first round.

His last 2 bouts were title fights came against fellow participants, Kazuma Kuramoto and Otsuka.

Shooto Watanabe vs Kai Asakura

The reigning Bantamweight Champion Watanabe (22-5-6) will have to overcome the GP favorite to advance to the final eight. With 12 of his 13 career submissions by rear-naked choke, and having 10 wins under 2 minutes, fans can expect a classic striker vs grappler matchup.

“I didn’t have an opportunity to pick an opponent. And I got picked by the favorite. I felt like everything was a joke but I guess it’s not, and I’ll really be facing the former Champ.” said Watanabe ahead of RIZIN Bantamweight GP.

The former champion and favorite Kai Asakura (16-3) will have to pave his own path back to the title the long way and will have to compete in his second non-title fight in his last 5 bouts.

His 8-3 record puts him at 4th all-time for wins in RIZIN history, as well as his 5 KO/TKO victories placing him 3rd all-time. His title aspirations will have to wait for at least 4 more fights.

“I don’t care who I face, I know I can beat all of them. I picked Watanabe because he was available. My job here is to win this tournament and take my career overseas.” said Asakura ahead of RIZIN Bantamweight GP.

Kenta Takizawa vs Kazunari Imanari

The Pancrase Bantamweight title challenger Takizawa (11-7) holds a 1-2 record in RIZIN, only dropping decisions to top contenders Ougikubo and Sasaki. He equaled Kyohei Hagiwara’s record of 3 fights in 95 days after his NYE ​​bout at RIZIN 26.

With 8 of his career wins coming by KO and showcasing grappling competence against Ulka Sasaki, he will present a challenge on the feet for long-time JMMA veteran Imanari. The originator of the Imanari Roll and the Imanari Choke, Imanari (38-19-2) will make his debut under Japan’s premier banner RIZIN.

He is a multiple time world champion and two-weight DEEP Champion, who holds 27 wins by submission (8 armbars, 11 heel hooks, 1 leglock, 1 omoplata crossface, 1 rear-naked choke, 1 reverse heel hook, 1 rolling kneebar and 3 toe holds).

10 of these submissions came within the first minute of the fight, and 19 of them came in the first round, so fans can expect a fiery match between the young Takizawa and the crafty veteran.

Kazuma Kuramoto vs Alan Yamaniwa

The two-time Greco Japan National Champion Kuramoto (8-1) will make his second appearance in RIZIN after a 1st round soccer kick victory over 18-year veteran Taiyo Nakahara. His sole loss came in an interim Shooto World title bout against fellow participant and reigning Shooto Champion Ryo Okada.

With two of his impressive TKO victories coming by german suplex, Yamaniwa will need to overcome the strong wrestling style of Kuramoto.

Yamaniwa (17-8-4), a Pancrase veteran is currently riding a 3-fight win streak. He has faced 4 other participants with mixed results, with wins over Takeshi Kasugai and Kenta Takizawa, and losing to Shintaro Ishiwatari and Kintaro.

A victory over Kuramoto most likely sets up a rematch in the quarter finals.

Takeshi Kasugai vs Hiromasa Ougikubo

The HEAT Bantamweight Champion Kasugai was all set to make a title defense in April but declined in order to participate in the Grand Prix. He has competed against 3 other participants, beating Yuki Motoya in 2011, losing to Ougikubo in 2014, and losing to Alan Yamaniha just 18 months ago.

With a 4-1 streak in his last 5, Kasugai looks to keep his momentum as a champion into his RIZIN debut and try to have a rematch with Ougikubo from the Vale Tudo Japan event, 7 years prior.

Hiromasa Ougikubo was introduced to the global MMA scene by earning a finalist appearance on The Ultimate Fighter 24: Tournament of Champions. Since then, he made 2 defenses of his Shooto World Bantamweight Championship, as well as holding a 3-2 record in RIZIN, with both losses to champions Horiguchi and Asakura.

His victory over fellow veteran and Grand Prix participant Ishiwatari earned him a title shot, and their paths may cross once more for the next challenge.

Naoki Inoue vs Shintaro Ishiwatari

The Japanese prodigy and 2-time UFC veteran Naoki Inoue has been on the rise ever since his debut at RIZIN21.

After an exciting technical back-and-forth scrap with the tough Trent Girdham, he scored back-to-back submission victories over fellow participants Shooto Watanabe and Yuki Motoya via his patented rear-naked choke (by which he earned 6 of his 10 submissions). Now, he faces a new challenge, the quest to the top of the division, and is only 4 fights away from realizing his dream.

“I want to face tough competition. I was determined to pick the toughest one if I had a choice. I actually called out Ishiwatari last year, but it didn’t happen, so this time I made sure I got the fight I wanted.” said Inoue.

After claiming the Bantamweight King of Pancrase crown in December 2011, Ishiwatari enjoyed 6 title defenses – the most in Pancrase history. He then vacated the title to compete at RIZIN, after his final title defense.

Entering the 2017 RIZIN Bantamweight GP and making a run all the way to the final en-route to an all-time-great rematch with Kyoji Horiguchi, he returned after an 18-month hiatus to split 2 fights against fellow bantamweight veterans, Ulka Sasaki and Hiromasa Ougikubo. After another 18-month wait, he returns to seek another shot at Grand Prix glory.

4 fights from the RIZIN Bantamweight GP will be booked for the May 30th event at the Maruzen Intech Arena.

Will you be tuning in to the monumental RIZIN Bantamweight GP?

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Image Credits to RIZIN FF

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James Rees is host of ReesTalks Podcast and a Football, F1 and MMA writer, who strives to bring you the best content aswel as bringing you interviews with some of the sports top stars.