Next weekend RIZIN Fighting Federation is slated to make a highly-anticipated return to the Saitama Super Arena with a loaded RIZIN 11 fight card.
Top to bottom, the card is filled with highly-intriguing contests. From light heavyweight hitters to unpredictable flyweights and gritty women’s atomweights, the card is jam-packed with talent.
Of the nine fights announced so far, there is none that are not very much exciting on paper. But let’s take a look at what, in my estimation, the five can’t miss fights of the upcoming show will be.
1. Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Hiromasa Ogikubo II
As much as I would love to stray from the obvious here, it is very difficult to try and come up with a reason to not put the show’s main event in this number one spot.
This is a rematch that is five years in the making, and it is very tough to not be completely stoked for this fight when familiar with both fighters as well as their very entertaining first fight, learn everything you need to know about that here!
In Kyoji Horiguchi (24-2) you are dealing with a guy who, when it comes to flyweights, is arguably the second best fighter on planet earth. And, considering the one man ahead of him would be Demetrious Johnson to many, that’s not bad company to be in at all.
He is one of the most entertaining strikers in the sport, one of the fastest, and one of hardest hitting amongst any of the lighter weights. He enters the bout with nine-straight wins, this includes victories in the UFC as well as RIZIN – even winning last year’s RIZIN Bantamweight Grand-Prix, and most recently stopping Ian McCall in a ridiculous eight-seconds.
Opposite Horiguchi is a man he knows far too well. A man he defeated for the Shooto Championship in 2013.
Hiromasa Ogikubo (17-3-2) is an incredibly slick grappler and one of the very best the flyweight division has to offer coming out of Japan. Up until his run on TUF 24, Ogikubo was relatively unknown to the non-hardcores despite being a mainstay on the Japanese scene for a decade prior.
With multiple titles to his name across multiple promotions, Ogikubo entered TUF 24 as a tournament darkhorse. Despite being one of the most proven and experienced fighters on the season, the coaches didn’t know the talent they had in front of them. Because Ogikubo was the seventh pick of Team Benavidez – meaning he was picked second to last.
And, of course, he showed all of them what was up by tearing through the TUF house, including a win over tournament favorite Alexandre Pantoja, before losing to UFC-veteran Tim Elliot in the finals.
The winner of that season was slated to earn a shot at UFC flyweight king Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson. Tim Elliot went on to give Johnson hell for five rounds.
Ogikubo didn’t slow down post-TUF however, as he’s won two-straight and is the current Shooto Flyweight Champion. One of his recent wins came against UFC-veteran Danny Martinez.
What adds even more intrigue to the fight is that the two involved have very different views on one another seemingly.
Kyoji Horiguchi has spoken about how he was very much rooting for Hiromasa on TUF 24, whereas Ogikubo has openly said he watches every Horiguchi fight hoping for his loss. This as Horiguchi seems to be looking a bit ahead to the upcoming RIZIN KICK tournament and a potential fight with Tenshin Nasukawa, as Hiromasa Ogikubo seems to have not taken his attention off of Horiguchi since losing to him five years ago.
As made evident by their first meeting, almost anything can happen when these two engage in combat with one another. And when the two meet on July 29 as new and much-improved fighters, the collective MMA world should be paying close attention.
2. Daron Cruickshank vs. Tom Santos
This fight is unreal. On-paper, this is Fight of the Year potential, this is Knockout of the Year potential. This is everything. This is violence. And no one has any clue what is going to happen.
If you’re reading this, chances are you know who Daron Cruickshank (20-10, 1NC) is. He was a competitor on TUF 15 and was a fan-favorite on the UFC roster from 2012 – 2016 before joining the RIZIN ranks.
He entered TUF 15 as a former KOTC title-challenger and a former Ringside MMA Champion, but those accolades hardly mattered when the fans saw him fight. He always put on exciting fights or pulled off wild knockouts thanks to his ridiculously wild kicking game.
When it was announced that “The Detroit Superstar” signed with RIZIN in 2016, the first thing every fan thought of was Daron Cruickshank being able to utilize soccer kicks and Japan, and, sure enough – in his debut, he stopped Shinji Sasaki in round one with soccer kicks.
Aside from a single detour on the Michigan regional scene, Cruickshank has fought exclusively for RIZIN since. This includes tough losses against Kitaoka and Yachi as well as finishes over Andy Souwer and most recently a vicious headkick KO against Koshi Matsumoto at RIZIN 10.
The question for many heading into this fight is; who exactly is Tom Santos (9-5)? With a record of 9-5, is he really all that impressive?
Do not let his record fool you. Of his nine wins, seven come via devastating knockout. This includes two KO wins against Yui Chul Nam, a veteran of the UFC, ROAD FC, and M-1 Global.
Nam is dubbed “The Korean Bulldozer,” and it is quite fitting. He is a guy known for this toughness and in 28 career fights, he has been knocked out two times. Both of these were against Tom Santos. And, oh yeah, one of them was in seven-seconds.
He possesses power in his hands that many people cannot even fathom – let alone in the lightweight division. He is a Brazilian slugger, and, honestly, if you just watch his pair of fights against Yui Chul Nam, you will see what he’s all about.
Now, the last time Cruickshank fought a hitter with even somewhat comparable power to Santos was Yusuke Yachi. And that ended with Cruickshank unconscious on the mat early. And given Santos’ ability to shut people’s lights out, the same could happen here if the American doesn’t play his cards right. As Santos has really only ever lost to grapplers.
3. Satoru Kitaoka vs. Diego Brandao
Yet another example on this card of a fight where genuinely anything can happen.
At 38-years-old, Satoru Kitaoka (41-16-9) has really shown no signs of slowing down any time soon. He has ended 20 fights with a submission and will look to make it 21 at RIZIN 11.
Despite being known for his grappling, Kitaoka has shown that when he must, he has no issue staying on the feet and swinging if need be. Even doing so against the ultra-dangerous Yusuke Yachi down the stretch despite being outmatched.
He loves the ground game, and he loves to make people tap out. The list of fighters he has finished includes names like Paul Daley, Carlos Condit, Takanori Gomi, and Daron Cruickshank, to name a few.
Kitaoka is quite honestly a bit of an anomaly. Yes, he has a few (T)KO losses on his resume, but his chin is still very good. And he really only seems to wilt when exhaustion kicks in. As an incredibly tricky grappler to deal with, Kitaoka has never in his career been submitted and he most recently dispatched of Tara Sapa very quickly at Pancrase 295 in April following back-to-back losses in RIZIN.
Opposite Kitaoka will be a guy who can truly do it all. Diego Brandao (22-12) is a knockout artist who also has a knack for pulling off some truly incredible submissions wins from time to time.
The Brazilian competed on TUF 14, picking up three insane first-round knockout wins on the show to earn his place in the finals. Here he had a back-and-forth one-round war with Dennis Bermudez that saw him come out on top with a wild armbar submission out of nowhere.
Brandao then had a 10-fight run in the UFC, this saw him earn a vicious knockout against the likes of Katsunori Kikuno, and only losing to some of the divisions best in Poirier, McGregor, and Ortega on his road to 6-4 in the promotion.
After his UFC career, Brandao signed with Fight Nights Global and in his debut defeated Murad Macahev (then 20-1) with a 2017 Submission of the Year contender in the form of a beautiful helicopter armbar in round two. Four months later he knocked out Vener Galiev (then 29-9) in brutal fashion within 40-seconds of round one.
Whereas Kitaoka has zero knockout wins on his resume, Brandao has 12. But the Brazilian also possesses some solid grappling, and he has even showcased this in losing to some of the best in the world – like Brian Ortega. A fight Brandao was winning before eventually getting finished.
So this becomes highly intriguing anywhere the fight goes. Can Kitaoka take the power shots on the feet before mounting a comeback submission win like he did against Cruickshank? Or will Brandao stun in under a minute – or become the first man to ever submit the wildman that is Team Lotus’ Kitaoka? Who knows. But, not long until we get to find out.
4. Kanna Asakura vs. RENA II
As I very recently did a RIZIN 11 Retrospective on their first meeting, as well as the events leading up to it and the events that followed, I will not say much about this one. Just have a look at the previous article.
What I will do is state the obvious; this fight is very interesting. When they first met, both women ran through their side of the RIZIN Atomweight Grand-Prix bracket, doing so all the way to the finals. And, here it was RENA, the tournament favorite from the start, against Kanna, the tournament darkhorse.
And now, they meet again. Seven months later. And the roles have seemingly reversed, as they should have given the result of their first meeting.
The reason this fight isn’t higher up on this list, perhaps even potentially #1 or at worst #2 below Horiguchi vs. Ogikubo II, is that it feels as if not nearly enough time has passed since their first meeting.
Make no mistakes, these two can fight ten times in a row, and I’d bet that something compelling would happen each time. But since their first meeting, Kanna Asakura (12-2) fought a relatively unimpressive Melissa Karagianis, and RENA (7-1) faced an equally unproven Brazilian in the form of Elaine Leal.
Especially when viewed next to the Horiguchi and Ogikubo fight on the same card. Kyoji Horiguchi has fought 15 times since facing Ogikubo, and Ogikubo has fought 12 times. Since their first meeting, Kanna and RENA have each fought once – against less-than-stellar competition mind you.
As great as the fight is, time would have done it wonders.
5. Takanori Gomi vs. Melvin Guillard
Finally, we have one of the most intriguing fights on the entire card. But unlike every other fight mentioned, this is for all the wrong reasons.
Both guys have looked terrible in their most recent outings, and are on the worst losing streaks of their careers.
Takanori Gomi (35-15, 1NC) has lost six-straight, losing in the first round each time. Melvin Guillard (32-20-2, 3NC) has lost seven-straight, being finished in four.
Both men have not been victorious since 2014, and each are in desperate need of a win. But, prior to their individual awful runs, both were known as some of the best finishers at lighweight.
Guillard has also competed at 185+ pounds for his past three outings, so who knows if he’ll even make weight. If he doesn’t – due to RIZIN rules – he literally will not be able to win if the fight continues, meaning his best result would be a No Contest.
So, this fight is very, very compelling – just not for the reasons one may hope.