UFC 251 is next Saturday!
Three title fights are scheduled for UFC Fight Island on Saturday, July 11. Order the PPV now on ESPN+.
The theme and main focus of the show, however, was on four fights in particular. The four quarterfinals for the ongoing RIZIN Lightweight Grand-Prix in what was the first round of said tournament.
Eight of the best lightweights in Japan competed in Osaka at RIZIN 19 to see who would go onto the next round of the tournament for a chance at competing in the finals at RIZIN 20 on December 31, and four still stand.
Fighting out of Azerbaijan, Tofiq Musaev (16-3) lifted his incredibly win streak to twelve as he completely out-gunned the scrappy UFC veteran Damien Brown (19-13) of Australia enroute to a first-round knockout win. Musaev landed devastating left kicks at will, primarily to the body. Later in the round, the Azerbaijan native finally went to the head with that same kick with fantastic results. Though it looked as though Brown had blocked the strike, it still sent him reeling. Musaev followed up that shot with a barrage of punches to a grounded, bloody Damien Brown for the merciful stoppage. Some didn’t think the stoppage was just, but Musaev put together a textbook showing regardless.
Brazilian brawler Luiz Gustavo (10-1) successfully rebounded from the first loss of his career with a first-round stoppage of Japanese soccerkick connoisseur Hiroto Uesako (16-8). The Evolucao Thai MMA rep opened up a cut on the face of the former DEEP champion early, also causing severe swelling on the local fighter’s left eye. Uesako’s face looked rough, the doctor stepped in, and he called an end to the contest. Hiroto Uesako was by no means out of the fight, and he was visibly upset with the stoppage, but the doctor did not let him continue.
In one of the most talked about and anticipated fights of the night, Bellator mainstay Patricky “Pitbull” Freire (22-8) brought his heavy hands to Japan to face an absolute legend. The Brazilian bomber took on Tatsuya Kawajiri (37-14-2) of Shooto, PRIDE, DREAM, UFC, and now RIZIN fame. Bellator’s all-time knockout leader launched a flying-knee at the head of Kawajiri early. It landed, and the Japanese legend attempted to get a single leg on his foe to recover, but “Pitbull” continued to launch punches at the head of Kawajiri for the quick, merciful stoppage.
In the final quarter-final bout, two surging lightweight contenders would meet. Former UFC fighter Johnny Case (27-6-1), the only American in the entire tournament, faced Brazilian grappling ace Roberto de Souza (9-0). It was a huge win for Case as he landed a perfectly placed counter-uppercut on de Souza during a takedown attempt to send the Brazilian-born resident of Japan into the fetal position for the knockout win.
After the fights at RIZIN 19, all four winners took to the ring for a random drawing that would make the semi-final match-ups. And what a pair of bouts we have!
We’re guaranteed a Brazilian representative in the finals as Patricky “Pitbull” will face Luiz Gustavo in an absolutely ridiculous should-be brawl. On the other side of the bracket, it’s Azerbaijan vs. the United States of America as Tofiq Musaev faces Johnny Case.
Four fights, four first-round finishes, and four world-class semi-finalists left standing as four incredibly talented men have been eliminated. Grand-Prix’s are something special.
Though there has been no confirmation, it sounds like the semi-final bouts will take place at Bellator Japan on 12/29 with the finals taking place two nights later at RIZIN 20. Regardless, the tournament will conclude this December.