RIZIN 25 Standout Performances: Taiga, Yutaka Saito, Shohei Asahara & Kyohei Hagiwara

Yutaka Saito became RIZIN's first featherweight champion by defeating Mikuru Asakura. Photo courtesy of RIZIN FF.

RIZIN 25 saw the crowning of its first featherweight champion. Shooto featherweight champion Yutaka Saito went on to beat Mikuru Asakura via unanimous decision in a highly anticipated fight. This brought Asakura’s first loss since starting in RIZIN and his second loss in his pro career. That wasn’t the only memorable moment of the night. We got to see a 20-second knockout, a possible career rejuvenation, and more. Let’s look at who stood out at RIZIN 25 and what the future might hold for them.

Taiga

Taiga’s RIZIN run has been seen as a joke by many kickboxing fans. His run before securing his RIZIN 25 win was 1-4-1. Outside RIZIN, the former K-1 60kg champion had lost a number of fights you would expect him to dominate. In this fight though, there was something different about the TRY HARD GYM kickboxer. He walked to the ring cold and emotionless. When the pre-fight staredown happened, Taiga stared through the soul of his opponent.

When the bell sounded, it became three rounds of all Taiga. His opponent, Yumi Yamahata, had nothing to answer for Taiga’s crisp striking. Taiga was able to successfully target Yamahata’s head and body, while using kicks to keep him at bay. He wasn’t able to get a knockdown, but his volume and accuracy were something to marvel at.

This has been the best Taiga has looked in years and whatever he did to train and prepare for this fight, he needs to continue adhering to it. While Taiga has seemingly called for a fight against Tenshin Nasukawa forever, he still would be outclassed in that match. After he won this match, he called out Koji for New Year’s Eve. The two fought three years ago in K-1 with Taiga winning by unanimous decision. That would be a big match to have and would truly see whether Taiga is truly back or just happened to be lucky.

Yutaka Saito

Yutaka Saito (19-4-2) has joined the rare pantheon of double champions. Coming into RIZIN 25, Saito had a brutal soccer kick KO over Kazumasa Majima at RIZIN 23. To the surprise of many, including Saito, he was chosen to fight Mikuru Asakura for the inaugural RIZIN featherweight championship. Saito, despite being a underdog, was seen as Asakura’s toughest opponent to date in RIZIN.

During the fight, what became clear to Saito’s victory was grappling and takedowns. He was able to utilize both to control and keep the pressure on Asakura. In the third round, we saw the two engage in an exciting brawl. Both managed to land hard shots on each other. Asakura got a knockdown on Saito, but he quickly recovered. Saito managed to get Asakura to back up to a corner with his striking. Asakura tried to go for a takedown but Saito blocked it by falling into the ropes.

When the judges’ decision came, there were fans who thought Saito won and some who thought Asakura won. Regardless of your thoughts, Saito did something that no other fighter has done to Asakura in RIZIN. He exposed Asakura’s weaknesses and was able to capitalize on his lack of grappling defense. It wasn’t the most dominant of victories, but Saito should get credit for going in with a gameplan and utilizing it fully to win.

As for what is next, the big money fight to make is a rematch. However, Saito will be getting nasal surgery for a broken nose from the fight. That means an immediate rematch on NYE is out of the question. The featherweight division is becoming full of top contenders so expect to see some great fights when the belt is defended.

Shohei Asahara

There’s something incredible about last second finishes. The anticipation of possibly seeing one, seeing a fighter not give up despite losing on the cards, a great fight IQ, and so many more stories that make them memorable. With this fight, we got to see a fighter who could’ve coasted a decision but still was going for that finish.

Shoei Asahara (23-16, 7 KO) came into this fight the senior by 10 years and fewer finishes compared to his opponent, Yuma Yamaguchi. On paper, it seemed the latter would be the favorite.

Other than the first round, Asahara dominated the rest of the fight. He was able to get into the pocket of Yamaguchi, hitting him with incredibly hard strikes to the head securing one knockdown in the third. Yamaguchi did not fully recover and Asahara kept swarming his opponent till the referee waved off the fight at 4:59.

This fight was booked at a catchweight of 139 lbs. It’s entirely feasible for Asahara to make 130-135 lbs. if RIZIN wanted to book him for a kickboxing match in that weight class. While Taiga said he wanted Koji next, if that fight can’t be booked, putting him up against Asahara would be a good way to say if he happened to just have good fortune at RIZIN 25 or if Asahara is a future top contender in the promotion.

Kyohei Hagiwara

“The Underground Emperor” Kyohei Hagiwara (4-3) has an enigmatic personality. He stands out from all the other fighters in the 145-pound division. His body has multiple tattoos, his pro record is different depending on which source you read, he has less than 10 fights, and he is a fan of the Mary Jane. That is why he has future star potential.

Coming into this fight against the much more experienced Yojiro Uchimura, Hagiwara had gone 1-1 in RIZIN. Uchimura would seemingly have every advantage coming into this fight.

If your plan was to make some coffee as soon as the bell rang, making your coffee probably lasted longer than the fight itself. Twenty-two seconds into the fight, Hagiwara hit a straight right on Uchimura. Uchimura fell face first and right as the ref dove in to wave off the fight Hagiwara got a foot stomp in for good measure.

Hagiwara is a guy to watch out for. Despite his record, he can be a RIZIN main eventer one day and will be sought out by bigger promotions such as UFCBellator, and ONE as his record gets more wins. As for who he should fight next, featherweight is stacked. A great fight on paper and a major step up would be Hagiwara vs. Asakura. Not only from a fight perspective, but their strong personalities would make for some incredible pre-fight buildup.

You can see all the fights from RIZIN 25 on RIZIN’s Youtube channel.

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