RIZIN 17 - Fighting The Japanese Way
An opinion piece by Ivan Spasov
Editor-In-Chief at FITE.TV
Let's talk Japanese MMA
RIZIN 17 is on its way come July 28th and FITE.TV fans can sit back and watch what is shaping up to be a very interesting event.
There are lots of things I want to talk about when it comes to the fight card, the lineup and the matches but firstly I want to step back and reflect on Japanese MMA for a second.
When it comes to Mixed Martial Arts, Japan holds a very special place in the hearts of fans and there is a good reason for that.
Steeped in tradition, founded on honor, elevated on the fighting spirit and presented as a true combat spectacle, the Japanese MMA scene has produced some all-time classics that will be remembered for ages.
From long-anticipated showdowns between two combatants to the unpredictable and exciting Grand Prix tournaments. Fans were always on the edge of their seats, always looking at the story of combat unfolding in the ring. Who can forget the days of PRIDE FC and iconic images like Dan Henderson holding the Welterweight and Middleweight belts in celebration? Legendary matches like the one between Fedor Emelianenko and Mirko CroCop in 2005 and the true insanity that was the Don Frye vs Yoshihiro Takayama fight … all talked about to this day.
And then there were the Grand Prix tournaments. Ah, the GPs were truly something else. No opponent picking, no ladder to climb, no politics or money fights. Just pure competition. In a sense, these tournaments were a perfect showcase for the fighters' exceptional skills - having to fight multiple opponents to get to the top, nobody could rely on one aspect of the MMA game alone. And at the end of it all, the winner could truly be called "The Best" … winning against all other contemporaries, delivering excitement to the fans and overcoming pain, anxiety, and fatigue. That's what being at the top of the game is about.
To make these events even more exciting, fans were treated to some of the best entrances seen to date. Fighters would try to be more creative, more "out of the box", they would do crazy things while entering the ring! From pyro to dance choreography to all sorts of parade ideas. Entertainment was written across everything.
Luckily, all of the nostalgia from these past Japanese MMA events is not lost in the current day. It lives, evolves and grows stronger and stronger with RIZIN!
Ticking all the right boxes, delivering on all the right type of excitement - RIZIN is truly what Japanese MMA tradition looks like in the modern-day and it's spectacular!
So let's look at RIZIN 17
If you've followed RIZIN for a while, you'll know just how interesting the fight card for this event is. We'll see both fan favorites and hungry up-and-comers take the stage to put their skills on display.
To all fans' delight, a new Grand Prix Tournament is here! And we're starting off with qualifiers for the Lightweight GP that is shaping up to be very exciting. Getting flashbacks from the Bantamweight GP, won by RIZIN star and current champion Kyoji Horiguchi shows that this organization really knows how to put tournaments together.
On to the Grand Prix Tournament
One of the highlights in RIZIN 17 are the qualifiers for the Lightweight GP Tournament. There is just so much to talk about here. A true point of interest is the fact that this lineup is stacked with fan favorites! Let's break it down a bit and see what's so special here.
He will be facing off against fellow veteran Johnny Case in what I believe would be a pretty intense and interesting fight.
Kitaoka is the definition of experience. He is one of the very few fighters today that fought in Pancrase during the beginning of the century and are still active in competition. He's seen it all, nothing can surprise him at this point. Never afraid to take on an opponent, never afraid to engage.
Johnny Case is the perfect dancing partner for Kitaoka. Case has made a name for himself with his toughness and his experience in the UFC makes him someone to be taken very seriously. Having had some very good wins at the top of the game, Johnny Case is very dangerous.
This match is one to look out for - equally matched opponents make great fights!
Kawajiri is a favorite of mine. He always brings out that nostalgic feel of days gone by when it comes to MMA. Having seen him in PRIDE, Dream, Shooto, Strikeforce, UFC and now for a while - RIZIN, he makes every fan pop in their seat, wanting to see the veteran take home the win. Having over 50 pro fights and some very high profile wins, Kawajiri is someone to be feared. And although he's been on a bit of a losing streak, he is still competitive and still fights at a very high level. He's still very exciting to watch, he still gives his all in the ring and is still hungry for a top spot.
In front of him, he has dangerous but inexperienced Ali Abdulkhalikov.
Abdulkhalikov has shown that he's explosive and aggressive. He can take the fight to his opponents and he can press on with relentless pace. He's also not afraid of getting into a gritty fight with anyone. His head kick KO over Joel Alvarez at M-1 Challenge 56 is something to remember. However is that enough to beat someone who has the experience and who is as well rounded as Kawajiri? Only time will tell.
This Lightweight Grand Prix qualifier is shaping up to be truly great. But there is more to this card and more in store for the fans!
Ishiwatari faces off against Ulka Sasaki
Ishiwatari has become quite the fan-favorite among RIZIN fans. His fights in the organization have always been memorable and interesting to watch. Winning 3 of his 4 matches in RIZIN, his only loss comes from his fight against the promotion's biggest star - Kyoji Horiguchi. Ishiwatari is a very well rounded fighter that pushes the pace. He's dangerous everywhere - on his feet, on the ground, you name it. His KO over Kevin Petshi was something that reminded people of Ishiwatari's ability to destroy people. A big strength of his is the ability to grind a fight out and be dominant at the same time. Ishiwatari owns his pace and is very good at moving the tempo of the fight in his own favor. A problem for him is that he's been stopped in 5 of his 7 losses - 4 times by TKO/KO and once by submission. He's very tough yet he lets himself get caught on occasion, as was the case against Horiguchi. Ishiwatari needs to be very careful as he's got quite the opponent to fight.
Yuta "Ulka" Sasaki is a fighting machine. Known to the fans from his UFC career as well as his Shooto outings early on, he made quite an impression on fans when he beat infamous Manel Kape at RIZIN 14. After quite an interesting debut, Sasaki has the task of fighting Ishiwatari for a top spot in the Bantamweight division. Ulka is a very experienced and tough fighter, who can pop a submission out of nothing and end the fight just like that. He's also very good at maintaining control and pulling off a decision victory. Sasaki has a variety of chokes that would make any opponent think twice before losing position on the ground or in the clinch. With over half of his victories coming by way of submission, most of them are chokes. Ulka is also very tough. He can take a punch and he can grind out of a dangerous situation. His ability to survive has given him multiple winning opportunities throughout his fights.
This is truly a fight to look out for - no obvious winner, while both fighters have a lot on the line.
Other fights to look out for
There are other great fights on the card as well. Yusuke Yachi vs Mikuru Asakura is a particular standout. Both fighters have become fan favorites in RIZIN with all of their recent fights taking place in the organization. Yachi has wins over legend Takanori Gomi and UFC veteran Daron Cruickshank, while Asakura is riding on a 5 fight win streak. A great match for the fans to enjoy.
<And last but not least, I'm very excited for the Jake Heun vs Vitali Shemetov fight. Two big and powerful guys going at it in the ring, throwing caution to the wind.
Some final thoughts
If you're a fan of Japanese MMA, RIZIN 17 should have you covered!
Great fighters will clash for a spot in the Lightweight Grand Prix tournament, while top contenders will seek to go one step closer to their championship goals. Up-and-comers will take a shot at becoming great, while fan favorites will use the ring as their own canvas and paint a picture of combat to the millions watching live.