Following the former title-holder Kyoji Horiguchi (28-3) vacating his belt last week, RIZIN Fighting Federation has announced the fight that will determine a new champion. Kai Asakura (14-1), who was set to challenge for the title, will have a rematch against a surging Manel Kape (14-4) to determine the second bantamweight title-holder in promotional history.
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Proving to be unstoppable throughout his RIZIN run, Kai Asakura has won six-straight fights since joining the RIZIN ranks in 2017. The former champion of The Outsider has won two-straight fights in vicious fashion. With two fights in 2019, Asakura has only spent just over two minutes in the ring in this calendar year.
Challenging Kyoji Horiguchi in non-title action at RIZIN 18, Kai Asakura shocked the world as he knocked the then Bellator and RIZIN Fighting Federation champion out cold in 68-seconds. Cementing himself a guaranteed title shot at RIZIN 20 with that staggering win, Kai Asakura put that all on the line two months later in October when he challenged Ulka Sasaki on short-notice. In 54-seconds flat the scrappy Toyohasi, Aichi, Japan native shattered the jaw of the UFC vet Sasaki for the brutal TKO win.
Though not riding a six-fight win streak like Asakura, 26-year-old Portuguese prodigy Manel Kape has looked equally impressive in his two 2019 outings. Starting out the year right with an absolute masterclass against former ZST champion Seiichiro Ito before finishing him in round two, Kape recently welcomed the bonafide Japanese legend Takeya Mizugaki to the RIZIN ring. Acting as a precursor to Asakura’s star-making performance against Horiguchi, Manel Kape knocked out Mizugaki in the second round to secure himself a high-profile potential title-eliminator next. Well, he gets more than that. He gets a title shot against a man he has unfinished business with.
In 2018, Asakura and Kape fought in one of the best fights in RIZIN’s history. A back-and-forth war saw Asakura get his hand raised on a split decision call. It was not without controversy, however, as a lot of viewers thought Kape was the clear victor.
In a fight to perhaps determine the next challenger to that 135-pound strap, it’s a fantastic match-up between longtime local champs Shintaro Ishiwatari (26-7-4) and Hiromasa Ogikubo (19-4-2), a fight that was essentially confirmed following their wins at RIZIN 17.
A former King of Pancrase, Shintaro Ishiwatari has fast become one of the best active fighters in Japan, and arguably one of the most under-appreciated – even on an all-time scale. One of CAVE gym’s top trainers and competitors, Ishiwatari has lost just one of his last nine bouts, with that one loss coming in a war with Kyoji Horiguchi in what was both men’s third fight in 48-hours. Following that loss, Ishiwatari took nearly two years off and returned this past July at RIZIN 17. Here he clubbed and subbed Ulka Sasaki, essentially knocking him out with grounded-knees before choking him unconscious with a North-South choke.
Losing just two of his past fifteen bouts, both to Kyoji Horiguchi, Shooto flyweight king Hiromasa Ogikubo will be looking to win his third-straight when he faces Ishiwatari on December 31. The TUF 24 runner-up most recently had very arguably RIZIN’s finest battle when he and former DEEP champ Yuki Motoya went to war at RIZIN 17. Ultimately, it was Ogikubo who came out on top in what was essentially a battle of two of Japan’s top MMA promotions.
Considering both fighter’s longtime high ranking, locally or internationally, it is stunning that this fight has never happened before. But it will in 2019, and it’s sure to be one of the year’s hidden gems.
Wrestling powerhouse Miyuu Yamamoto (5-4) will challenge the always-dangerous Suwanan Boonsorn (4-2) of Thailand, as well. Following a recent string of success in Japan, Jake Heun (14-9) will fight former Olympic gold medalist judoka Satoshi Ishii (22-10) at heavyweight as the last man Heun defeated in RIZIN, Vitaly Shemetov (23-10), will make his return against a dangerous Simon Biyong (6-1) of Cameroon.
After having her four-fight win streak snapped by ROAD FC title-holder Seo Hee Ham in an atomweight title-eliminator, KRAZY BEE sparkplug Miyuu Yamamoto will look to right the ship and get back to her winning way at the ripe age of 45. Starting her career late, and with a 1-3 record, Yamamoto began to put things together and picked up dominant victories over Saori Ishioka, Andy Nguyen, Mika Nagano, and Kanna Asakura.
Suwanan Boonsorn, often referred to as “Amp The Rocket,” is a highly-touted 23-year-old Thai with an incredibly well-rounded game. She shockingly gave atomweight queen Ayaka Hamasaki a run for her money at RIZIN 18 in August. Boonsorn returned in October under the DEEP JEWELS banner and submitted Yoon Ha Dong in under two minutes with a brutal armbar. Prior to the Hamasaki loss, Amp submitted another Thai prospect in Loma Loonboonmee on a 2018 Full Metal Dojo card before taking out Emi Sato in 33-seconds at DEEP JEWELS 23.
Since a massive social media push for him to join the RIZIN roster, Vitaly Shemetov has become a fan-favorite as he finally made his debut at RIZIN 17 and was finished by Jake Heun after the American opened up a nasty cut on the head of the Russian in round three. Prior to the defeat, Shemetov had won 11-straight, including a brutal knockout win against journeyman Shannon Ritch.
As he prepares to take on “The Dancing Russian,” Simon Biyong enters RIZIN Fighting Federation while holding the EFC Light Heavyweight Championship following a vicious finish of Quinton Roussow back in September. This was Biyong’s third-straight win in 2019, as earlier in the year he travelled to Italy and won the Slam Fighting Championship title by taking out Fabio Russo.
Shoot Boxing superstar RENA (9-3) returns on NYE as well, as she challenges Lindsey Vanzandt (7-2), the woman who choked her unconscious at Bellator’s Madison Square Garden event in June. Finally, RIZIN light heavyweight champion Jiri Prochazka (25-3-1) will defend his strap against another UFC veteran in CB Dollaway (17-9), who has seemingly left the UFC abruptly following his recent USADA suspension.
RIZIN 20 takes place on December 31, live from the Saitama Super Arena in Japan. And the card is shaping up to be something fantastic!