RIZIN 19: Closer Look at Lightweight Grand Prix Participants

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This weekend is the first round of the highly anticipated RIZIN lightweight Grand Prix. The matches kick off at RIZIN 19 from the Osaka Edion Arena on October 12. The winner will become the inaugural RIZIN lightweight champion. You might know some of the fighters, while other fighters could be new to you. To help everyone who will be tuning in, we will look at all eight fighters and propose how that fighter can win in their first match.

Patricky Friere vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri

(Photo by Daniela Parra Saiani/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Name: Patricky “Pitbull” Friere

Age: 33

Record: 21-8

Height: 5’8″

Affiliation: Pitbull Brothers Academy

Country: Brazil

The older brother of Bellator MMA featherweight and lightweight champion Patricio FreirePitbull has carved out a name as a fighter who brings scary violence to every fight he is in. Known for his aggressiveness and knockout power, he enters the RIZIN lightweight Grand Prix as the Bellator representative. He is on a five-fight win streak, with three coming by way of KO/TKO. He also has the most knockouts in Bellator clocking in at ten. Despite being a high caliber fighter, championship gold has always eluded him in Bellator.



Pitbull is no stranger to tournaments. Having competed in two of Bellator’s lightweight tournaments, he knows the pace that will be required. He also will not have any problem adapting to the RIZIN rules of legal kicks and foot stomps to a grounded opponent. He has two finishes by stomps and could obtain his third in this match.

How He Can Win the First Found at RIZIN 19:

Pitbull got lucky drawing his opponent, Tatsuya Kawajiri. Kawajiri has been through some wars and has lost a good portion of his chin. Pitbull won’t need to do anything fancy in this match. I don’t see Kawajiri being able to keep with Pitbull’s speed. Pitbull needs to keep the fight standing and should stick to striking.

UFC Japan

(Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Name: Tatsuya “Crusher” Kawajiri

Age: 41

Record: 37-13-2

Height: 5’7″

Affiliation: T-BLOOD

Country: Japan

At 41, Tatsuya Kawajiri is the oldest competitor in this tournament. He also has the most professional MMA experience in terms of number of fights. RIZIN 19 will be his 52nd fight. No stranger to tournaments, he competed in tournaments for Shooto, DREAMPride, and RIZIN. A fan favorite for a long time due to his frenetic pace and willingness to brawl, he has been utilizing grappling more recently to beat opponents. In his qualifying match against Ali Abdulkhalikov, he managed to take Abdulkhalikov down numerous times and attempted various submissions.

How He Can Win the First Found at RIZIN 19:

Out of all the fighters in this tournament, Kawajiri is the person I have least likely winning. This is not a slight on him as a fighter or his skills. His recent battles, even his wins, don’t give me a lot of confidence he will make it through Pitbull. Stranger things have happened in MMA though. With Pitbull, he will have to fight smart and not reckless.  Putting his hands down for a second can mean lights out. He will have to wear Pitbull down so his strikes become weaker as the fight goes on. While not the most exciting way to win, he will need to do exactly what he did to Abdulkhalikov. Use grappling to hold him down and work his way to a victory that way. He will need to dig deep.

Luiz Gustavo vs. Hiroto Uesako

Photo courtesy of RIZIN FF.

Name: Luiz “Killer” Gustavo

Age: 23

Record: 9-1

Height: 5’9″

Affiliation: Evolução Thai MMA

Country: Brazil

The youngest competitor in this tournament, Luiz Gustavo made an incredible splash in his RIZIN debut. Coming in as a late replacement against Yusuke Yachi at RIZIN 12, he knocked Yachi out cold. For a young fighter, he completely outclassed the bigger and more experienced Yachi and gained numerous new fans. He has had one other fight in RIZIN, a decision loss to Mikuru Asakura. It should be noted he never officially had a qualifying match. Gustavo comes into his fights like a rabid animal and makes every strike a knockout, very similar to his coach Wanderlei Silva.


How He Can Win the First Found at RIZIN 19:

Gustavo has shown he likes to stay on his feet. His opponent, Hiroto Uesako, also likes to stand as well. Gustavo is going to have to overwhelm Uesako and give him no breathing room. He can get a knockout punch that way or at least wear him down with those strikes. From there, if he sends Uesako to the ground,  he can stomp or soccer kick to his heart’s content. Gustavo is also a great grappler and he should be ready to utilize those skills as a backup. Expect an exciting performance at RIZIN 19 from the Wanderlei Silva protege.

Photo courtesy of RIZIN FF.

Name: Hiroto Uesako

Age: 32

Record: 16-7

Height: 5’9″

Affiliation: Wajutsu Keishukai HEARTS

Country: Japan

The self-proclaimed “strongest lightweight in Japan,” Uesako, just like Gustavo, is a former featherweight moving up a weight class. Uesako is a former DEEP featherweight champion and has also fought in Pancrase. He has numerous wins due to soccer kicks, knockouts, and TKO’s. He qualified for the tournament when he beat the flashy fighter from France, Yves Landu, by TKO. RIZIN 19 will be his second fight for the promotion. Uesako is a fighter who is dangerous on the feet. He also will not hesitate to soccer kick or knee your head off if the opportunity arises. Look at the gifs below for evidence.

How He Can Win the First Found at RIZIN 19:

Uesako and Gustavo are both strong strikers but their approaches are polar opposites. Gustavo has an aggressive, in your face style. Uesako is a lot more technical, waiting for an opening to get that kick or punch that finishes the fight. He’s going to have to bait Gustavo. He will have to let Gustavo waste his cardio on his wild style or wait for that split second opening for Gustavo to let his guard down and put him down that way. Uesako better have his hands up and keep his defense on point. He’ll have to fight smart and not reckless.

Johnny Case vs. Roberto de Souza:

Photo courtesy of RIZIN FF.

Name: Johnny “Hollywood” Case

Age: 30

Record: 26-6-1

Height: 5’10”

Affiliation: Xtreme Couture MMA

Country: USA

If there is anyone who has made an impact prior to being in this tournament, it is former UFC fighter Johnny Case. The Iowa native finished both Yusuke Yachi and Satoru Kitaoka with powerful strikes. With Yachi, he put a beating on him so bad that the doctors ended the fight. In his fight with Kitaoka, his opponent tried for a takedown. Case blocked the takedown and gave countless elbows to his Kitaoka’s temple. Kitaoka had to be carried back by his team to his corner and they subsequently threw in the towel. He got eliminated from the PFL tournament, but at RIZIN 19, he has the opportunity to make up for that blemish.

How He Can Win the First Found at RIZIN 19:

It’s fair to classify Case as a true all-rounder. He has great striking, takedowns, takedown defense, and grappling. For this fight, he should keep it standing. If he tries to go to the ground with his opponent, he is at risk of being submitted. While de Souza’s striking has improved since his first RIZIN fight, it is nowhere near the level of Case’s. Case should look to keep it standing and light up de Souza with his expert-level striking. While he is doing this, he must be ready to defend against takedowns.

Photo courtesy of RIZIN FF.

Name: Roberto “Satoshi” de Souza

Age: 30

Record: 9-0

Height: 5’11”

Affiliation: Bonzai Jiu-Jitsu

Country: Brazil

The only undefeated fighter in the tournament, de Souza is going into RIZIN 19 with a lot of fanfare. One of the best grapplers in the world, many expected him to submit his competition in RIZIN. He instead wound up winning his two RIZIN fights by TKO/KO. In his qualifying match against Mizuto Hirota at RIZIN 17, he knocked him down with a right hand and delivered hammerfists for the KO (see below gif of highlights from that fight.) As de Souza evolves as an MMA fighter, his striking has gotten better. He is less stiff, much more comfortable on the feet. If we get to see him grapple, prepare to be blown away how effortless he makes it look.

How He Can Win the First Found at RIZIN 19:

De Souza might be tempted to show off his striking in this fight, but getting into that battle with Johnny Case will not end well. Being one of the best jiu-jitsu competitors in the world, he needs to grapple his way to victory. If his submission skills were to be graded, they would be an S. He has one of the most brutal and tight rear-naked chokes in the world. If we’re going to see him finish that way, he will need to backpack Case to submit his way to victory. Save his striking for another fight.

Tofiq Musayev vs. Damien Brown:

Tofiq Musayev (left) beat Daron Cruickshank (right) to qualify for the GP. Photo courtesy of RIZIN FF.

Name: Tofiq Musayev

Age: 29

Record: 15-3

Height: 5’10”

Affiliation: Orion Fight Club

Country: Azerbaijan

If there is one fighter who is an under the radar favorite to win this GP, it’s Tofiq Musayev.  The Azerbaijani fighter comes from that Eastern Bloc style of wrestling. Once he gets hold of you, he sticks to you like glue and you can expect to either be finished or stay on the ground for the entire round. To qualify for this tournament, he faced off against Daron Cruickshank. He managed to outstrike and outwrestle the NCAA athlete to a decision win. In his RIZIN debut, he pounded “Tyson” Osawa’s head into ground meat with hammerfists.

Other facts include that he is on an 11-fight win streak with 10 coming by way of KO/TKO. This will be the biggest opportunity for Musayev in his fight career so expect to see a determined, confident, and strong fighter in his match.

How He Can Win the First Found at RIZIN 19:

Musayev has shown he is both great standing up and getting fights to the ground. We have seen Damien Brown submit one opponent when he tried for a takedown and almost submit another. It might be wise to try to keep it standing when they are squaring off in the middle. If he does try for that takedown, he should try near a corner. Leg kicks will be Musayev’s best weapon to slow Brown down and then finish off with stand up strikes.


Name: Damien “Beatdown” Brown

Age: 34

Record: 19-12

Height: 5’10”

Affiliation: BASE Training Center

Country: Australia

The comeback of Damien Brown, is one of the most wholesome stories going in MMA today. After going 4-4 in the UFC, he came into RIZIN facing stiff competition in his debut. In the first round of his RIZIN 14 fight, Daron Cruickshank attempted a takedown. Brown locked in a tight guillotine choke and got the much-needed win. His second test was a fight against then-undefeated DEEP lightweight champion Koji Takeda. Brown put a beating on him for three rounds to get the unanimous decision win. Brown always comes down for a fight and doesn’t take the easy way out. He hopes to continue his streak at RIZIN 19.

How He Can Win the First Found at RIZIN 19:

When Brown had his first fight with Daron Cruickshank, I said if it goes to the ground, Brown will win. He has to do the same this time. He’s going to have to get Musayev to make a mistake in going for a takedown. He might have to tire Musayev by going for body shots or letting him expel his energy going for those takedowns. An exhausted Musayev could let his guard down and that way Brown can lock a submission on for the win. He will need to be careful trading shots with Musayev.

RIZIN 19 airs live from the Osaka Edion Arena on October 12, 1 a.m. EST. You can watch the show live on FITE.TV.

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Andrew has been a long time MMA and pro wrestling fan. When he isn't writing about MMA, he is usually training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, playing video games, or going bar hopping (he only drinks on days that end in "y"). He also co-hosts the RIZIN focused podcast "We are RIZIN" which you can listen to on Soundcloud & Stitcher.

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