RIZIN Fighting Federation, like PRIDE FC before it, largely made waves in the world of MMA by putting on fights that no other promotion would dare to. While this has in part has given it a reputation for “freakshow” events, it has also offered fans the opportunity to see some of the most special and interesting matchups in all of martial arts.
The annual RIZIN New Year’s Eve card is a staple for each year in the promotion, and this year does not disappoint with the lightweight strap on the line between Roberto de Souza and Yasuke Yachi, and not to mention both the semi-final rounds and finals of the bantamweight Grand Prix. However, just a week out from the event, another super-fight has been added to the exciting fight card: a mixed rules exhibition contest between MMA legend Takanori Gomi and kickboxing prodigy Tenshin Nasukawa.
The 23-year-old phenom, Nasukawa has amassed a kickboxing record of 42-0 becoming one of the most recognizable national talents on the Japanese martial arts scene and a genuine star for RIZIN FF. However, as Nasukawa has alluded to a near future sport change into the world of boxing, it’s expected that RIZIN 33 will serve as his final appearance for the promotion before ending his kickboxing career in 2022 elsewhere. Thus far, his career has been a fascinating one, with titles in kickboxing and karate plus both an MMA record and a Muay Thai record. Inside all of this, includes wins over such names as Kyoji Horiguchi, and Rodtang Jitmuangnon as well as three wins in one night under mixed rules in his last outing.
Rewind back to 1998 when Nasukawa was just an infant less than a year old and his future opponent Takanori Gomi was already making his professional fighting debut. He would go on to win this fight and subsequently the following thirteen before tasting his first defeat. However, not to be deterred and already believed to be one of the best lightweights on the planet, Gomi next fought BJ Penn in 2003, which he also lost but used as more motivation. Next making his PRIDE FC debut, Gomi went on a 10 fight win streak climaxing with the one and only ever PRIDE lightweight belt. Although his next 26 career fights would show mixed results, he had already cemented himself in the history books for his skill and mindset, always prepared to fight anyone under any circumstance. As of now, the 43-year-old Gomi will be coming into RIZIN 33 off a victory in another mixed rules bout against Koji Tanaka last year.
Gomi vs. Nasukawa breakdown
RIZIN has been known to shroud aspects of their events in the mist up until the last minute, as evident in Nasukawa’s last appearance against a mystery opponent revealed the day of the fight. This time around will be no different, while we know he will take on Gomi and only Gomi, in an exhibition over two rounds, little else is known. Nasukawa most often competes at about 128 pounds, while Gomi last competes at 172 pounds. As to what the limit will be New Year’s eve remains to be seen. Furthermore, the ruleset has been described as a “special standing rules”, vague but if similar to the last time Nasukawa fought will likely be primarily boxing with the additions of superman punches and backfists, moves illegal in the boxing ring. This would make sense for Nasukawa who is looking to make the transition over to sweet science in the coming years.
Anytime the ground game is taken from an MMA fighter in a cross-discipline fight, it’s quick and easy to dismiss the matchup as having taken out half their game. However, in this instance, it’s interesting to note that the negation of the kicking game may actually work in Gomi’s favor. Having risen in an era where individual styles still flourished, Gomi, known as “the fireball kid” was most famous for his decisive power, especially his overhand right which came across almost akin to a baseball pitch. While he did of course utilize his full arsenal of striking, kicking was never an essential piece to his puzzle and is probably far more used in Nasukawa’s kickboxing game. Furthermore, while we do not know what weight the two will compete at yet, should it be a lenient one, Gomi’s natural size advantage should aid him in emphasizing his needed power, but also his confidence as Nasukawa’s worst performance to date, another exhibition against Floyd Mayweather was largely attributed to the drastic size difference. Gomi naturally is larger than Mayweather, and could potentially bully Nasukawa around should his size and heavy-handed approach be utilized properly.
That being said, Nasukawa is younger, more dynamic and he has competed purely in striking almost his entire life, meaning he has never been roped into the necessary fight attributes of MMA, such as a heavy base and an impulsive reaction to the takedown threat.
Tenshin Nasukawa is a southpaw and most of what we can look at to indicate how he fights come from kickboxing, plus a few recent mixed rulesets but his strengths and weaknesses stay the same albeit altered depending on the rules. Nasukawa is an explosive sharpshooter, he stands just at the point of the range and baits his opponents to throw first in order to evade and counter or intercept. Typically he steps inside his opponent’s lead foot to facilitate the jab and his clean body shots down the pipe, particularly the left straight. He also uses a variety of hooks to the head and sets up a tricky left hook to the body when he can force a committed guard on his opponent. He, himself utilizes a high guard, and often because he throws such a quick jab can influence his opponents to shell as well, at which point he leaves the straight left out and goes low with the lead. When his opponents find difficulty in landing often they resort to rushing him, at which point he is a master at backstepping into a left straight.
The caveat with Nasukawa’s style is that it’s both speed and explosivity-based, meaning it’s not efficient. Once he draws out an attack from his opponent he has to be quick enough to give just enough distance and re-enter, plus almost all his punches aside from the jab are always power shots. Basically, he is always tense and ready to burst at every moment. This has cost him late in fights in the past, particularly against fighters like Rodtang who are willing to eat shots in order to keep the pace and volume of the fight high. If Nasukawa cannot finish the bout via stoppage, he is sometimes left drastically slowed down towards the end of the clock.
Gomi, as touched on before, is best known for his pitch-like “fireball” punch. This is still the case today and he sets it up with a lazy jab from the orthodox stance. “Lazy” in this case meaning not lack of effort but intentionally slow and light as it’s simply meant to impede and gauge the space between his opponent’s guard before the right hand gets through. Gomi has also become a benefactor of the peekaboo style of boxing, although with a low guard which is a rarity. Gomi will look to lower his stance when he jabs or steps in so that he can weave his way underneath his opponent’s hooks or so that they clash low and he can land the overhand right on the break. If not doing this, Gomi has also leaned on his ability to trade heavy hooks although he eats shots in the process.
However, Gomi’s style lays victim to the same weakness Nasukawa does. He throws everything including all his weight behind his signature hooks and overhands, meaning he does not reserve the gas tank come to the later rounds. Volume was never a priority in the first place as even in his wins it’s usually a battle of impact over pace, with Gomi placing his money on the former, however as the fight progresses one of the most particular things in a Gomi fight is his inability to keep his hands up. The more tired he gets the more he drops his hands to his waist tries to avoid punches with head movement alone, and the wilder he throws from the hips.
Gomi vs. Nasukawa prediction
The matchup is difficult to predict in that there are variables that remain to be seen. Will Gomi be allowed a large size advantage, namely? It will be important for both fighters to consider their endurance this time, for Nasukawa he has to be wary that Gomi doesn’t look to clinch and force his weight upon the smaller fighter in order to sap him. For Gomi, he cannot get into a battle of footwork and movement or Nasukawa will out beat him to the punch each time, and Gomi will find himself tired out. However, ultimately I think that size cannot make up for the fact that Nasukawa is in, and Gomi is out of his prime. Furthermore, with more weapons even in just the upper body portion of striking, Nasukawa will be able to make Gomi react and work more than vice versa, and Nasukawa will be able to comfortably work most of the fight.
Prediction: Tenshin Nasukawa via decision
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.