This year, RIZIN FF’s annual New Year’s Eve MMA card will feature both the semi-finals and finals of the bantamweight Grand Prix. Early in the night, four fighters will compete to find their way into the finals, which is to be contested later in the event. On one side, former champion Kai Asakura will take on Kenta Takizawa, and on the other Hiromasa Ougikubo fights Naoki Inoue.
For Ougikubo specifically, it seems there are extra stakes.
Cultivating a name for himself as one of the most promising flyweights to come out of Asia by 2016, Ougikubo was invited to compete on the Ultimate Fighter television show for a chance at a title fight against the UFC champion Demetrious Johnson. Rocketing through the season, Ougikubo found himself professionally 15-3-2 plus his undefeated run on the show as he entered the finals. Tim Elliott would go on to beat him and Ougikubo was left one fight short of fighting for a UFC belt.
While the lost opportunity was disappointing for the young athlete, he would return to Asia in style, picking up two back-to-back wins in professional Shooto. However following this, Ougikubo would make the move to RIZIN for a one-off fight against a young up-and-coming fighter Kyoji Horiguchi whom he’s lost to before and years away from his UFC title bid and his RIZIN and Bellator belts. Coming up short, Ougikubo would go back to Shooto once again and then pick up two RIZIN wins in his return.
By this time a third fight with Horiguchi seemed unlikely but a new rival was about to emerge. Kai Asakura defeated Ougikubo on August 10th, 2020 at RIZIN 23 for the undisputed RIZIN bantamweight title. He has since strung three wins together including two in the current Grand Prix and finds himself opposite Asakura’s bracket going into the new year’s eve event.
For Ougikubo, should both he and Asakura win their semi-final matchups early in the night, he will both have the opportunity to avenge the last loss on his record but also avenge the stakes he lost that night by wrestling the Grand Prix belt from Asakura the same way the championship was taken from him almost two years ago.
However, as fans prepare to watch and see if Ougikubo can rise to the occasion and fight for everything this new year’s eve, it’s only right that we take a deeper look at the unique style he brings to the ring.
Hiromasa Ougikubo breakdown
Ougikubo stands very heavy in a wide stance as he pushes forward in his fights. It’s not a stretch to describe him typically assuming the hammer position to the nail in his matchups, as he often looks to bully his opponents back and throw with heavy-handed hooks. Although, it’s important to know that he is an extremely patient fighter, short and with a stacked frame, Ougikubo stands crouched as if he is an animal ready to pounce. He moves forward almost lazily, with a low guard and a sort of rhythm to his step, but chooses when to explode forward with his hooks, which resonate with a thud throughout the traditionally quiet and watchful Japanese arenas.
Ougikubo stands orthodox but favors his left leg when it comes to powerful techniques. He likes to shuffle the back foot up and throw a quick left head kick from the front, often off of his jab. He uses a similar movement to the leg to gauge distance and bring himself to the pocket to exchange with his hands. Off of his right leg, he rarely throws with finishing intent, rather he mostly throws the right leg kick to keep his opponent guessing and fill space, but when he switches stance the threat of the power rear kick is more evident off of the left again.
He will also switch stance to land the sharp left hook, often jumping to southpaw with the right cross and then coming up high behind it off the left. This left hook is used to end almost all his combinations and he does a particularly good job offering it after his other punches pierce a variety of targets, attacking the ribs to open up the head often.
His striking is based on a patient and methodical pace, crouched and heavy in order to get the full extent from the moments he does choose to explode. His grappling game is much the same, he has great takedowns and attacks them in a very specific way. The best of Ougikubo on the ground usually starts from the clinch, he has a slow attack here, where he battles heavily for underhooks, waits for the opportunity, and drops for an exploding double leg or waist lock takedown, from which he drags his opponents down. From there, his route is no surprise but it’s effective, he likes cross-face control, and he likes tight chest to chest pressure so that he can use extraordinary hip pressure to pass the guard. No tricks or deception in the way he operates but with tight technical offense he often gets the job done and crushes his way into top control. However, he does rarely find the ability to land effective ground and pound due to how tight he keeps himself transitioning.
It’s fair to say there is a bulldozer quality to the way Ougikubo operates as he slowly pushes forward in a heavy stance with constant pressure. His posture is confident and even borderlines cocky. However, there are drawbacks to this style. Firstly, he gets caught flat-footed both with strikes and takedowns, although more than often his ability to get back to his feet has served him well, his legs are an easy target for great wrestlers. His affinity for walking opponents down also allows for his opponents to land with full force should he not anticipate the shot, and this has caused him to take punches down the pipe and lean on toughness when he shouldn’t necessarily need to.
It’s obvious from his fights that Ougikubo is far more comfortable when he is dictating the pace and space of the fight, moving forward he can force the exchanges to take place on his terms, but when he finds he is unable to control the center of the ring and has to act reactionarily, reach and speed become far more a problem. His hand speed is far superior to his footwork ability to get the most from his skills, being the bully helps a lot. That being said, if he can anticipate the shot even though he is moving forward, the heaviness in his hip pressure can allow him to sprawl at times which put him in a deadly position, with wicked knees to his bottom opponents.
His ability to push forward will be put to the test when he first takes on Naoki Inoue this week and then goes even further to clash with his unknown fellow finalist at RIZIN 33 on new year’s eve.
Braeden Arbour is an aspiring journalist out of Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of Trent University, with a black belt in Karate and a blue belt in Judo. He has also been an avid fan of MMA for the last decade.