Rizin 2017 in Yokohama: Sakura is set to go down on Sunday morning. With it, are a slew of exciting fights. As most Rizin cards do, the rising Japanese promotion will feature a range of fighters, from exciting UFC veterans to up-and-coming prospects from around the world to homegrown talent. Here are five bouts that MMA fans should keep an eye out for this weekend.
Tatsuya Kawajiri vs. Anthony Birchak
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this featherweight match-up is that it very well could have taken place in the UFC less than a year ago. Kawajiri, one of the most successful mixed martial artists to come out of Japan, will make his second Rizin appearance opposite former UFC bantamweight Birchak. This match-up will encompass the traditional striker (Birchak) vs. grappler (Kawajiri) match-up that nearly every hardcore MMA fan loves. It doesn’t hurt that it is also a very compelling match-up that fans are torn on when trying to predict a winner. No wonder it’s the main event.
Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Yuki Motoya
When Horiguchi was let go from the UFC, fans were shocked; and for very good reason. Horiguchi is a former UFC flyweight title challenger, went 7-1 in the UFC, and his lone loss in the big show came against 125 lb kingpin Demetrious Johnson, who will be looking to tie Anderson Silva’s UFC consecutive title defense record at 10 on Saturday. Not a bad resume for the Japanese star. Motoya is a solid prospect himself, at 18-4, so expect an intriguing and skillful flyweight battle.
Rena Kubota vs. Dora Perjes
RENA has become a staple of Rizin events, and rightfully so: she’s an exciting shoot boxer who has finished all three of her professional MMA opponents. All of Kubota’s MMA bouts have come under the Rizin banner, and it seems the promotion will provide her with her biggest MMA challenge yet in the form of Perjes. Perjes is a 7-1 Hungarian fighter whose victories have all come by way of submission. If any type of fighter can give Kubota an issue, it’s a strong grappler, which is what truly makes this match-up exciting.
Amir Aliakbari vs. Geronimo Dos Santos
We’ve got a super heavyweight scrap as the co-main event of Sunday’s card. Aliakbari, an Iranian standout, will look to rebound from his first professional MMA loss. He was knocked out by Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic in the finals of the 2016 heavyweight Grand Prix, and will get the chance to rebound against Dos Santos. The majority of the Brazilian’s wins have come by way of knockout, so it should be interesting to see if Aliakbari is able to avoid the power of his foe.
Daron Cruickshank vs. Yusuke Yachi
Cruickshank will look to rebound from his first loss in Rizin when he takes on Yachi in a striking fans’ delight. From a pure strikers’ perspective, this fight should offer the most exciting exchanges of the night in the stand-up department. Cruickshank, known for his Taekwondo, owns a soccer kick TKO in his victory over Shinji Sasaki. Yachi is fresh off of a devastating flying knee of Mario Sismundo. Expect some fireworks in this lightweight bout.