RIZIN Fighting Federation has continued to add some phenomenal talent to it’s bantamweight division, and those new names are featured in three new 135-pound additions to the RIZIN 21 fight card. This, of course, topped by DEEP title-holder Victor Henry (19-4) taking on Masanori Kanehara (27-13-5) of UFC, DEEP, Sengoku, and Fighting Network ZST fame.
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Fighting out of UWF USA under the legendary Josh Barnett, “La Mangosta” Victor Henry is one of MMA’s most prominent catch wrestling practitioners, and he’s damn proud of it. Riding a seven-fight win streak, Victor Henry is a very well-traveled individual, having competed in Japan, Russia, and the United States during this time.
Last year, Henry began 2019 on the ultimate high, defeating the reigning DEEP bantamweight champion Yuki Motoya to become the new title-holder. This before travelling to Russia to take out a battle-tested Nikita Chistyakov, cementing his spot on the RIZIN roster.
He made his highly-anticipated RIZIN debut at RIZIN 18 last August, besting Trent Girdham (12-3) in an all-out mat war before forcing the Australian to tap out with a reverse triangle. Now, still representing DEEP as their champion, Henry returns to RIZIN for bout #2 to face a familiar face.
Following a two-year stint in the UFC, former Sengoku champion Masanori Kanehara returned to Japan in 2016 and has been doing a little bit of everything ever since.
MMA fights, muay thai bouts, grappling matches, Kanehara is making the most out of not being locked down under the UFC’s strict, exclusive contracts. Following a 30-second stoppage of Charlie Alaniz due to cuts in a DEEP MMA bout, Kanehara had two stand-up fights under the KNOCK OUT banner. Here he picked up a fifth-round knockout over Mitsuru Nakao before dropping a decision to Fukashi Mizutani.
Now tested under muay thai, the Japanese veteran returned to DEEP to quickly submit a Thai newcomer in the form Jomhod Chuwattana. Following three grappling matches in one night at a QUINTET event in early 2018, Kanehara has not been seen since.
On that night, he went 1-1-1. Competing to a draw against Tomoshige Sera, losing to Daisuke Nakamura, and submitting none other than Victor Henry with a foot-lock.
In his inactivity, you’d be forgiven if you were unsure of what to expect from Masanori Kanehara. But he is one of Japan’s best and most underrated fighters of the last decade or so. As evident by his wins over Joe Pearson, Norifumi “KID” Yamamoto, Chan Sung Jung, Michihiro Omigawa, and Jong Man Kim.
Heading into his RIZIN debut, let’s see if Kanehara can get yet another win over a very much in-his-prime Victor Henry – this time under MMA rules.
Speaking of former Henry foes, Victor Girdham of Tiger Muay Thai will also return at RIZIN 21. Another man who doesn’t shy away from testing himself, as he followed up his loss to Henry by travelling to Thailand and competing in a professional boxing match-up, defeating India’s Nelson Paes.
Three months after losing to the American in both men’s RIZIN debuts, Girdham returned to mixed martial arts action in November. Taking his talents to Abu Dhabi, the Australian knocked out Jayson Margallo at UAE Warriors 9. It is worth mentioning that Girdham had competed under the UAE Warriors banner multiple times pre-RIZIN. In fact, it was his two-straight wins in the promotion that earned the attention of RIZIN brass.
Much like Masanori Kanehara, the 22-year-old Girdham is not afraid to test himself under any and all disciplines. In 2018, he competed in Japan on a SHOOT BOXING card against the incredibly experienced Kenta Yamada under shootboxing rules. Then, just four months later, he won a kickboxing match-up in Seoul, South Korea.
It’ll be a battle of young up-and-comers in Trent Girdham’s RIZIN return, though. He gears up to face a fellow 22-year-old in the form of Naoki Inoue (12-2), a UFC and DEEP veteran.
Inoue’s UFC career was cut short, for whatever reason, as all it took was one split decision loss to Matt Schnell for him to get released. This following a wildly impressive grappling showcase win in his promotional debut.
Before the two-fight UFC run, Naoki Inoue had competed exclusively under the DEEP banner, winning eleven-straight in the process. In retrospect, when you consider that Inoue was a teenager at the time, what he was able to accomplish pre-UFC is genuinely incredible. Defeating the likes of Tomohiro Adaniya, Yuya Shibata, Go Minamide, Naoyuki Kato, and Chikara Shimabukuro.
Now training alongside some of the world’s elite at LAW MMA under Ray Longo & Chris Weidman, Inoue was given a CFFC title-eliminator against Sean Santella following his UFC release, but was unsuccessful. In December, for the first time in three years, Naoki Inoue returned to DEEP and quickly submitted former DEEP title-challenger and tournament champion Toshiaki Kitada.
Considering Inoue and Girdham both being high-level and wild in the grappling department, this clash of potential future champions is sure to be something special.
Finally, rounding out the new additions at bantamweight, it’s a match-up between two newcomers. Pancrase knockout-artist Yuto Hokamura (12-8-2) will face Shooto veteran Kenji Kato (10-6) in a surefire barnburner.
Better known as “Kintaro,” Yuto Hokamura has fast become one of Japan’s premier knockout-artists. A veteran of The Outsider, Hokamura shockingly found himself in a Pancrase title fight last year. His opponent? A world-class grappler in Rafael Silva, the reigning King of Pancrase.
Long story short, “Kintaro” was eventually grounded and submitted by Silva in round two, but what Hokamura was able to do in the opening frame was truly impressive. Trouncing the champion with punches on the feet, Hokamura followed Silva to the mat and beat the brakes off the Brazilian in what would have been a stoppage nine times out of ten depending on the referee.
Prior to the title opportunity, Hokamura won four-straight, three of those four wins coming by way of absolutely devastating knockout. Now, debuting in RIZIN Fighting Federation, he will face another slugger in Kenji Kato, a man who is riding a two-fight win streak of his own under the Shooto banner. This includes a vicious third-round knockout in his most recent outing.
RIZIN 21 takes place on February 22, live from the Hamamatsu Arena in Hamamatsu, Japan. These three fights join the previously announced match-ups featuring Mikuru Asakura, Roque Martinez, and Marcos de Souza.