Asian MMA

Rizin 31 Preview: Yutaka Saito Defends FW Belt

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Rizin 31 is already upon us this weekend. The show will take place at the Pia Arena MM in Yokohama on Saturday for those on the east coast. The show will be headlined by 11 fights. Nine fights will be MMA rules and two will be kickboxing. Some of the notable fights include Yutaka Saito defending his Rizin featherweight championship for the first time, the return of Kanna Asakura, a big boy heavyweight match, and more. We will look at a few of the fights on the card and break down said fights.

Tsuyoshi Sudario vs Saint

Two big boys will clash at Rizin 31 in a fight that will guarantee a knockout. Photo courtesy of Rizin FF.

We have two kaijus that are going to brawl in this fight.

Tsuyoshi Sudario (3-1), former sumo, suffered his first professional loss in MMA this year at Rizin 28. Previous to that, he finished all his fights by TKO including having a record 8 second KO. Training under Enson Inoue, he also did training at Xtreme Couture for this fight. “This fight will be the beginning of my second year as a professional fighter. I will show you what I’ve learned in the US,” Sudario said.

Saint (2-0) is new to the MMA game but is looking to be a heavyweight on the rise. An active marine stationed in Yokosuka, the New Jersey native made a thunderous debut when he brutally knocked out veteran Ryo Sakai in the first round in 43 seconds. He trains at the famed Y & K Academy. “My opponent is just a big sack of nothing so I’m not worried,” Saint said. “He’s an easy opponent for me because I’ve succeeded in several life-threatening missions and I don’t plan to fail this one.

The Fight

Will this fight go to the ground? Hopefully not. Will this fight be a boring, slow-paced heavyweight match? Highly unlikely.

Both Sudario and Saint have strong striking acumen. Sudario has shown great stand-up progression in each of his fights. Along with his sumo background, he can use his size and clinch to bully and wear down Saint’s punching strength. He will need to take from what Tyson Fury did to Deotany Wilder in their third match and try something similar.

Saint has the rare, scary one-punch knockout power. He can likely send Sudario to the canvas with one punch that hits him square in the temple. He will need to choose and spend his power carefully because the longer this fight goes, the more likely his power will be diminishing.

Daisuke Nakamura vs Suguru Nii

Daisuke Nakamura will have his 52nd MMA fight as he takes on another strong MMA grappler Suguru Nii. Photo courtesy of Rizin FF.

Daisuke Nakamura (30-20-1) needs no introduction to MMA fans. Fighting since 2002, debuting on a Pride show, Nakamura is instantly recognizable due to fighting in black speedo trunks. He has 15 submission wins with 14 of them by his trademark armbar. Lately, he has changed his style of a pure submission fighter as his last four wins have all been by TKO. One of those wins includes Rizin featherweight champion challenger, Juntaro Ushiku. “I want to show you the romance of a 41-year-old man following his dreams. I will stick with who I am, and do my best to win every fight that is put in front of me,” he said.

Do not let Suguru Nii’s (12-10) record fool you. He is an incredible fighter with also a strong submission background. A lightweight champion in the Hawaiian promotion X-1, most of his wins have been a variation of an armlock/kimura. Most of his finishes have come in the first round. “I’ve been a bouncer for 13 years and I will be representing all bouncers when I step in that ring… On fight day, I will face him with full respect for him and his tight black shorts.”

The Fight

It would be cliche to say that Nakamura should simply focus solely on his submission background to get the win. Lately showing how much of a successful striker he is, he can surely mix up his striking in this fight. He will not solely have to rely on his submission skills. However, he shouldn’t look to get into a brawl with Nii.

Nii also has a strong submission background but it is not stronger than Nakamura’s. His best bet is to keep Nakamura on his feet and make it a standup fight. Nii is a strong puncher and can likely score a knockout over Nakamura. He better be careful with the ground and pound. If Nakamura can successfully grab an arm, he will surely take it home with him.

Seiichiro Ito vs Kunta Hashimoto

Seiichiro Ito, once a prospective flyweight, will take on a prospective flyweight in Kunta Hashimoto at Rizin 31. Photo courtesy of Rizin FF.

Seiichiro Ito (13-4-2) was at one point a flyweight fighter on the rise. His career though has hit a snag. He is 1-3 in his last MMA fight with his last win over a 1-0 fighter. He is 1-2 in Rizin and has been finished in both losses. His last MMA fight was almost a full year ago. He has become a main fixture in the team grappling promotion Quintet. “Yokohama is my home town and I have been grateful to be fighting for most Yokohama events, but I haven’t been able to leave good results lately, so for this one, I look to put on a great showing and hopefully it will lead to New Year’s Eve,” Ito said.

Kunta Hashimoto (7-1) is a 22-year-old up-and-coming flyweight who has fought in Fighting Nexus and Pancrase. Most of his wins come by submission. Ito will be the highest level of competition he has faced yet. “This will be my first time in Rizin and nobody knows me but I plan to put on a performance to be remembered. I look to dominate in all aspects of the fight and hope Ito comes prepared,” Hashimoto said.

The Fight

This fight has many layers. Both fighters are strong grapplers. A win for Ito will surely allow him to climb back up in flyweight rankings. A win for Hashimoto gives him the biggest win of his career yet and a fighter to keep an eye on.

Ito is the much stronger grappler between the two and he will need to utilize that in his fight. He will need to make this a grappling fight and use strong takedowns and try to work submissions from there. Hashimoto is the taller, longer fighter and he will need to get out of striking range of his opponent.

Hashimoto has great grappling skills but not on the level of Ito. He will need to make this a striking match. He will need to use his long reach to keep Ito at bay. He will also need to be drilling takedown and submission defense or it could be a short night for him.

Kanna Asakura vs Saori Oshima

Kanna Asakura makes her return at Rizin 31 against the Deep atomweight champion Saori Oshima. Photo courtesy of Rizin FF.

Former Rizin super atomweight champion Kanna Asakura (18-5) makes her long-awaited return to their ring. Her last fight was a very close loss against champion Ayaka Hamasaki in their second outing. Asakura has shown herself to be one of the grapplers of her division with multiple submission wins. She is also one of the most popular women’s fighters on the roster. “I lost my last fight and now I have to fight my way back to a title fight. Although she’s new to the sport, Oshima is a great fighter and I respect her for all of her accomplishments,” Asakura said.

Saori Oshima (6-2) is the current Deep Jewels microweight (96 lbs) champion. She also won the Deep Atomweight championship which was decided in a Grand Prix this year. She has a judo background and brings strong grappling into her fights. “I will be stepping in the ring with pride, holding 2 belts, representing everybody I have fought. I have 2-year-old twin daughters and I want to inspire all the working mothers out there,” Oshima said.

The Fight

Asakura is going to have almost every advantage in this fight. She’s a better striker, better grappler, bigger, and stronger. She will need to use everything to overpower Oshima.

Oshima is going to need to use her disadvantages to her advantage. She is 4’11” and will need to use her smallness to evade all of Asakura’s strikes. Use her accomplished judo tie-ups to hold back Asakura from gaining sort of advantage. Oshima will need to use Asakura’s body as a punching bag to slow her down.

Yutaka Saito vs Juntaro Ushiku

Yutaka Saito gets to defend his Rizin FW title for the first time at Rizin 31. Photo courtesy of Rizin FF.

Yutaka Saito (20-4-2) gets to defend his featherweight championship for the first time in this fight. He will be taking on Deep featherweight champion Juntaro Ushiku (19-8-1).

Saito is a former Shooto featherweight champion and has bested the best top featherweights in Rizin including Mikuru Asakura, Vugar Karamov, and Kazumasa Majima. An incredibly well-rounded fighter, he is adept at grappling, striking, and recovering when he is seemingly in a bad spot. He can also adapt very well if a fight is not going his way. In the Keramov fight, he was able to negate much of Keramov’s takedowns the longer the fight went. “I’m going to do what I do and that is to defend my belt in a convincing way. My opponent is a young fighter and I’ve watched him throughout his career. I’m ready for a tough fight but I’m confident I will get a finish,” Saito said.

Ushiku is also a well-rounded fighter from the K-Clann gym. He has wins over Guy DeLumeau, Daisuke Nakamura, and Satoshi “Dominator” Yamasu. He has incredible cardio and strong endurance. He is a smart and crafty fighter that shouldn’t be taken lightly. He has a puncher’s chance to win this fight. “I will put everything I worked for on the line to fully capitalize on this opportunity,” Ushiku said.

The Fight

Saito has shown to be a true mixed martial artist. If he needs to strike he can do it. If he needs to grapple, he can take it to the ground. He will need to use all the tools to defeat Ushiku. Ushiku’s weakness has been grappling and if Saito wants to finish early he will probably need to focus on that to get a finish.

Ushiku is going to come into this fight with a strong will. This is the biggest fight of his career and to get an immediate title shot is unheard of. He cannot play it safe with Saito. He will need to be unorthodox and take risks. He will need to mix up everything and wear down Saito with body shots, leg kicks, and anything that can slow him down.

Check out our previous coverage of the fight announcements for Rizin 31 here.

Full Card

Yutaka Saito (c) vs. Juntaro Ushiku for the Rizin featherweight championship
Kanna Asakura vs. Saori Oshima
Tsuyoshi Sudario vs Saint
Masanori Kanehara vs. Takahiro Ashida
Daichi Abe vs Akira Okada
Daisuke Nakamura vs Suguru Nii
Rikuto Shirakawa vs Takuya Yamamoto
Nadaka Yoshinari vs Naoki Ishikawa (kickboxing)
Yusaku Nakamura vs. Yuki Ito
Seiichiro Ito vs Kunta Hashimoto
Ryuya Okuwaki vs Ryuto Oinuma (kickboxing)

You can check out Rizin 31 live Saturday 10/23/2021 at 10:00 PM EST on Live-Now.

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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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