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Rizin 39 Preview: Ushiku Defends Title Against Koike

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Rizin returns this weekend on already packed combat sports weekend. Rizin 39 will return to the Marine Messe Fukuoka Hall in Japan for a show that lacks the star power of the two previous shows but has a number of compelling and interesting fights. There will be a title fight, a big (pun intended) heavyweight match, and a lot of veterans versus up-and-comers. Best of all the show is available easily internationally through Fite. Let’s look at some of the fights that will be featured.

Juntaro Ushiku vs Kleber Koike

This fight has been a year in the making and it finally goes down at Rizin 39. Photo courtesy of Rizin.

Since Juntaro Ushiku (22-8-1) upset Yutaka Saito to become Rizin featherweight champion, Kleber Koike (30-5-1) has been gunning for him. After some backstage issues with Rizin, Kleber is back in the promotion’s good graces.

Ushiku, who also holds the Deep featherweight championship, always comes in as an underdog. His tenacity and spirit and his ability to get out of dangerous situations is a testament to his nickname “Fighting Bull.” He is not always a finisher but it’s the little things he does and does enough of to get wins.

Kleber Koike may be the best grappler turned MMA fighter at featherweight in Rizin. He has finished all of his Rizin fights by submission and a few of the opponents have even gone unconscious. A former KSW champion, his striking has improved significantly since Bonsai Gym added shootboxer Hirokai Suzuki to their ranks. As the saying goes “Protect your neck!”

The Fight

It’s simple. Ushiku has to avoid going to the ground or given an inch to Koike. Koike’s strength in this fight will be the submission game. Whether it’s a guillotine, triangle, or d’arce, one little mistake by Ushiku could mean getting choked out. Ushiku will have to pick his spots carefully. His strength over Koike will be in striking and he can certainly rock Koike. He will need to make careful use of the classic stick and move. Ushiku should have the stamina advantage so as the fight goes on, it should favor him.

Takahiro Ashida vs Hirotaka Nakada

We got a classic veteran versus up-and-comer in this fight. Photo courtesy of Rizin.

Takahiro Ashida (25-12-2) has been a regular fighter in Rizin going 2-3 overall in the promotion. A fighter from Brave Gym, he is an excellent grappler who brings constant and strong pressure in his fights. While his chin is suspect now, he is still an optimal gatekeeper for the division. He is a former Deep featherweight champion with recent wins over Kyohei Hagiwara and Masakazu Imanari.

Hirotaka Nakada (5-3) has a total of 8 fights in his pro career but has already shown himself to be an exciting fighter who also brings constant pressure to his opponents. Nakada is not afraid to get into a brawl if he has to. He has gotten wins over the previous generation of featherweights including Ryo Asami, Issei Tamura, and most recently Yojiro Uchimura.

The Fight

This fight will show where which fighter stands in the pecking order of Rizin’s featherweights. Both fighters are looking to avenge their recent losses in Rizin. Expect Ashida to come in very fast and furious with that very aggressive Brave Gym style. Ashida should look to take the fight to the ground. In Nakada’s previous fights, he has struggled with takedowns and someone with Ashida’s background should look to set up takedowns at opportune times.

Nakada is always bringing the pressure forward. and will look to bait Ashida into a brawl and he has the power to knock him out. All of Nakada’s finishes come in the first round and that is when he is the most strong and most dangerous. If he can ward off Ashida’s grappling in the first, he can get another easy finish quickly.

Tsuyoshi Sudario vs Janos Csukas

Both of these fighters’ wins are all in the first round. This fight should end similarly. Photo courtesy of Rizin.

Tsuyoshi Sudario (5-1) in his short MMA career has proven himself to be the best fighter to transition from sumo to MMA. All of his wins have gone the way of TKO/KO. He has also noticeably slimmed down since his first fight and it has drastically caused his speed to go up.

Janos Csukas (7-0) is a boxer and MMA fighter originally from Romania but trains full-time in the UK at Great Britain Top Team. While his resume isn’t filled with the highest level of opponents, he packs a pretty mean punch that could mean looking at the lights for his opponents.

The Fight

This is truly a don’t blink or you’ll miss fight. Both fighters are strong in their striking and one hook, jab, cross, or uppercut can end it. It’s a matter of who lands first. I do think Csukas might be slightly stronger on the ground if it happens to go there. Sudario from a sumo background will probably be able to defend any takedowns or attempts to bring it to the ground. This is the co-main event so if you’re tired when this fight starts, get some strong coffee because it is guaranteed to end quickly.

Yusuke Yachi vs Boyd Allen

Once the golden boy of Rizin, Yusuke Yachi looks to get back on track with a win at Rizin 39. Photo courtesy of Rizin.

The Yachi 2.0 experiment was a chemical reaction failure. Yusuke Yachi (23-13) unsuccessfully challenged Rizin lightweight champion Roberto Satoshi Souza. He also did not avenge his loss to Luiz Gustavo this year. With this fight, he’s looking to get back in the win column. No longer training at Krazy Bee, he trains at a variety of gyms including Lotus (coach there is Satoru Kitaoka) and Reversal Gym Tokyo Standout. Yachi who once had the carefree energy and approach to his fights is a more technical and calculating competitor now.

Hailing from South Africa, Boyd Allen (16-4-1) is a boxer and MMA fighter. He has 10 submission wins and has shown to have adept striking as well. This will be his most high profile to date and he is looking to make a great impression in his first Rizin outing.

The Fight

This fight will be more of a story of where Yachi’s level is at. At one point one of the most exciting fighters in Rizin and heir apparent to Kid Yamamoto, his losses have been to fighters that he should’ve won against. Some questions coming into this fight will be where he is mentally. How is his body holding up? What does another loss do to his popularity? Keep in mind he is probably the biggest name on this card and he is right before the co-main event. For Boyd Allen, he just needs to make Yachi uncomfortable. Yachi has shown in his losses when he is not in control of the fight, he is lost. Pressuring him, threatening takedowns, and forcing Yachi to engage will be the way Allen can win this.

Rizin 39 Full Card

Juntaro Ushiku (c) vs Kleber Koike for the Rizin featherweight championship
Tsuyoshi Sudario vs Janos Csukas
Yusuke Yachi vs Boyd Allen
Koji Takeda vs Zach Zane
Shinji Sasaki vs Sho Patrick Usami
Daichi Abe vs Yukinari Tamura
Genji Umeno def Trent Girdham (kickboxing) via TKO (injury) in Round 1
Takahiro Ashida vs Hirotaka Nakada
Yoshiki Nakahara vs Akira Haraguchi
Motonobu Tezuka vs Mehman Mamedov
Shogo Kuriaki vs Kakeru (kickboxing)
Reito Bravely vs Koichiro Seki (kickboxing)

You can see Rizin 39 through Fite either by itself or through a bundle with Rizin Landmark Vol 4 which airs next month. You can get Rizin 39 here or the bundle here.

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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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