Rizin Fighting Federation will kick off its bantamweight Grand Prix next month on May 23rd, 2021. The tournament will consist of an all Japanese lineup including former champion Kai Asakura, UFC veteran Naoki Inou and other big names in Japanese MMA. Starting with four fights on the 23rd, the Grand Prix also takes place with four fights on May 30th and finishes on December 31st.
Each fighter was entered into a draw system earlier this year, determining the following matchups:
Kai Asakura (16-3) vs. Shuto Watanabe (22-5-6)
Hiroki Yamashita (8-8) vs. Takafumi Otsuka (28-17-2)
Yuki Motoya (25-9, 1 NC) vs. Ryo Okada (17-4-3)
Yuto Hokamura (17-10-2) vs. Kuya Ito (10-8-1)
Kenta Takizawa (11-7) vs. Masakazu Imanari (38-19-2)
Kazuma Kuramoto (8-1) vs. Alan Yoshihiro Yamaniha (17-8-4)
Takeshi Kasugai (26-7-1, 1 NC) vs. Hiromasa Ougikubo (21-5-2)
Naoki Inoue (15-2) vs. Shintaro Ishiwatari (26-8-4)
Although given the opportunity as former champion, Kai Asakura opted to not choose his first opponent, rather leaving it to the draw outcome. One name seemingly missing from the list is current Rizin bantamweight champion, Kyoji Horiguchi. As of now, it is rumored that Horiguchi may return to Bellator MMA in order to pursue the belt he once vacated, then at which point he would return to Rizin.
As of now, Japanese borders are closed off due to COVID-19 restrictions. Therefore the Tokyo Dome, where the events will take place will cap at 10,000 fans. The fighter who takes first place is expected to win 10 million Japanese Yen, roughly $91,178 American. Second place will receive roughly half at 5 million Yen, and five 1 million yen bonuses will be distributed to those who achieve the best knockout, submission and fastest finish.
The tournament will likely take up the bulk of the card, however a lightweight title bout between Tofiq Musayev and Roberto de Souza is currently being planned. This fight however hinges on Musayev’s ability to enter the country, so chances of the fight materializing are in the air.
Although Rizin is no stranger to the Grand Prix format, this tournament enters a particular period where multiple top organizations in the MMA world seem to be adopting it. With the exception of the UFC, 2021 could be considered the year of MMA tournaments. This includes Bellator’s largest tournaments to date, with their Featherweight and Light Heavyweight belts up for grabs, PFL’s seasonal tournaments and ONE Championship’s Women’s Atomweight Grand Prix set to begin next month as well.
Rizin Founder Nobuyuki Sakakibara, is the brains behind many of MMA’s most iconic Grand Prix’s throughout history, having run Pride FC throughout the early 2000s. As the promoter returns to the Tokyo Dome for the first time since the Pride days, it is a good time to remember that at the height of Pride, the Tokyo Dome held up to 67,451 fans, as the premier MMA organization in the world. Furthermore The last time Sakakibara staged an event in the iconic Dome was Pride Conflict 2003, which finished out the Pride Middleweight Grand Prix.