This Saturday night we have an incredible RIZIN 17 show airing live from the famous Saitama Super Arena. On paper, this card could be, as the kids says, “lit.” It is a 12 fight card with 10 MMA fights and two kickboxing fights. Many of the fights have some incredible stories behind them. In this piece, we will look at four of them.
Yusuke Yachi vs. Mikuru Asakura
You rarely see trash talk among Japanese fighters. When it happens though, it’s more memorable than when trash talk happens anywhere else. Who can forget when Shinya Aoki snapped Mizuto Hirota’s arm then proceeded to give him the middle finger? In the rare pantheon of Japanese fighter trash talkers we have Yusuke Yachi (20-8) and Mikuru Asakura (10-1).
When the two took to the ring at RIZIN 16 to officially announce their fight, kind words were not expressed.
Asakura said “I have nothing to gain from this fight.” Yachi said “He is talking a bunch of smack but I honestly think I am the one who has nothing to gain, fighting a smaller opponent who hasn’t beat any legit competition. I’m not the one to say this, but if you want to talk big, beat legit guys or you have no credibility.”
Since, things have only gotten more heated. Yachi has called Asakura “scared” and “frivolous.” Asakura upped the ante calling Yachi’s team KRAZYBEE out. He said “everybody at KRAZYBEE is losing” and Yachi “wouldn’t be on a losing streak if they’re so smart.”
This should not be a disappointing fight for the fans. You do run the risk of a fight being so heated that the fighters are hesitant to do much of anything for fear of eating their words. I think the stakes are too high for both to play it too safe. Yachi wants to get back on the winner’s chart and Asakura wants a featherweight Grand Prix with a win. There is also the possibility the winner will get penciled into the upcoming lightweight Grand Prix.
Tatsuya Kawajiri vs. Ali Abdulkhalikov
To think that I am writing about Tatsuya Kawajiri (36-13-2) fighting in 2019. This is something I never could have predicted. After his split decision loss last December at RIZIN 14 to Satoru Kitaoka, Kawajiri questioned whether he should continued fighting in his post-fight interview. Here we are where Kawajiri is trying his hand in another RIZIN tournament. The first was the bantamweight tournament that Kyoji Horiguchi won and he was eliminated with a knee KO by Gabriel Oliveira.
Here is another stat about Kawajiri’s losses in RIZIN: two of them are to undefeated prospects (then undefeated Oliveira and Kron Gracie). Will Ali Abdulkhalikov (7-0) be the third?
Abdulkhalikov is a Wushu Sanda champion and will have the striking advantage. He will also have the grappling advantage. If you watch videos of his fights, just like Khabib Nurmagomedov, he will hug your back to the ground until the end of the round. So what does Kawajiri have that can get him a win? His heart and determination to not go down; to show he is not an “Old Yeller” that needs to be put to pasture. This could be the last big opportunity for “Crusher” to go out on a high note. With a win, Kawajiri will qualify for the lightweight tournament and can potentially become the first RIZIN lightweight champion.
KING Reina vs. Stephanie Egger
KING Reina’s (11-2) overall RIZIN run I think has been underwhelming. She does have some memorable wins but her two loses seem to stem from her having an almost lackadaisical preparation and approach to her fights. Even with her fight against Crystal Stokes she won but came pretty close to losing to an 0-0 fighter.
Reina now faces a fighter whose grappling credentials could be equal or better. Switzerland’s Stephanie Egger might be 3-1 in MMA but she has finished all of her opponents. Egger also qualified for ADCC Worlds in California in the fall. To qualify for Worlds is an amazing accomplishment. A lot of the participants get invited but she had to go through an elimination tournament to place in the +60kg division,
This will be the fight to see if Reina should continue to be RIZIN worthy. All signs point to her being prepared and motivated for this fight. She got two incredible wins recently in DEEP JEWELS (including a first round 25 second knockout), competed in Quintet this year, and is losing weight to fight at a viable weight class. If Reina does lose, especially due to lack of motivation, RIZIN just may not be the place for her to fight.
Jake Heun vs. Vitaly Shemetov
Jake Heun (13-9) has called his light heavyweight clash against Vitaly Shemetov (23-9-1 NC) “the people’s main event.” And it really is. Here is the unique backstory to this fight:
Siberia’s Vitaly Shemetov took to social media to make a case for why he should join the RIZIN roster. He posted videos of training in the brutal cold (sometimes shirtless and pantsless), started a #shemetovtorizin hashtag on twitter, and even made his way to Japan to visit the RIZIN offices. While in Japan, he and his brother bicycled around, meeting fans, collecting signatures to get a fight in RIZIN, and bewildering onlookers. But why was it so important for Shemetov to get this fight? Well according him, when he was fighting in Japan previously, he met a girl that he took a liking to. They lost contact when he moved back to Russia. He hopes that by fighting in Japan and having his fight air on TV, he can reconnect with this girl. In his own words, he is “fighting for love.”
Beyond the crazy backstory of this match, this fight is a perfectly booked match-up. Shemetov has been asking for it, Heun has been asking for it, fans asked for it and I have been asking for it. The mad Russian hasn’t had a fight in two years and this will be an adequeate test to see if he has a long term future with RIZIN.
If Heun wins this, it will stake his claim to another high profile fight and set him on a course for a rematch with Jiri Prochazka. A win for Shemetov will see the fans who’ve hashtagged to death #shemetovtorizin stand up and cheer. The icing on the cake will be if the girl he met years ago, runs into the ring and embraces the winning Russian like Adrian does at the end of “Rocky.”
RIZIN 17 airs live at 1 a.m. EST Saturday night, Sunday morning on FITE. You can order here through the website or through the FITE app.