With their traditional New Year’s Eve event this year, RIZIN is putting a focus on the North American market. There are three main ways that they are doing this: by having lots of recent UFC fighters in action, by having a collaboration fight with Bellator Champion Darrion Caldwell, and by giving young kickboxer Tenshin Nasukawa fight in an exhibition boxing match against Floyd Mayweather. The initial promotion of this event had a bump in the road, as after an initial press conference, Mayweather took to Instagram to say that he was mislead and that he has backed out of the bout. Since then things have seemingly been worked out between the boxer and the promoter Nobuyuki Sakakibara, since the fight is back on.
The official ruleset will be pure boxing, with no scorecards after the scheduled three rounds. The fight will also not affect anyone’s professional records. Nasukawa, the undefeated kickboxer, showed up in Nevada for on open workout at Mayweather’s gym earlier this month. This will be the second fight in a row for Tenshin where he is fighting a crossover bout. In September he battle RIZIN’s MMA star Kyoji Horiguchi in a kickboxing match. Nasukawa trained in Nevada leading up to this fight with boxer Jorge Linares.
There are two championship bouts on this card, with the biggest one being between Darrion Caldwell and Kyoji Horiguchi. Caldwell is a champion in Bellator, but won’t be defending his belt. Instead, he will face Horiguchi for the inaugural RIZIN Bantamweight Championship. The fight is expected to be only the start of a collaboration between the two promotions. Horiguchi has been undefeated in MMA since joining RIZIN. Putting that together with his final UFC fights, he is currently on a 10 fight win streak.
The biggest women’s fight on the card is Kanna Asakura defending her RIZIN Atomweight Championship against Ayaka Hamasaki. Hamasaki is 2-0 after making the move from Invicta to RIZIN. Asakura’s first title fight was against RENA, who she also defeated once before. Hamasaki’s last win was against Mina Kurobe, who was at the time the DEEP Jewels Atomweight Champion. The story going into that RIZIN 13 fight was it was two champions (Kurobe had her DEEP JEWELS belt and Hamasaki was a former Invicta champion) fighting, with the winner challenging Asakura.
After Norifumi “KID” Yamamoto unfortunately passed away in September, three Krazy Bee fighters were booked on this show. One of the fighters was Yusuke Yachi, who was highlighted on RIZIN’s web-docuseries “RIZIN Confessions.” On the show it was shown that Yachi is on a road to redemption. Before fighting in RIZIN he spent time in Shooto and Pancrase. From 2016 to 2018 Yachi was on a tear, getting five wins with three of them being first round stoppages. His momentum was halted at RIZIN 12 when he lost to Luis Gustavo. Part of his loss came because of his long hair getting in his eyes during the fight. On the web series he teased that he might go bald for NYE. He is set to face Johnny Case, who had a short stint in PFL after being released from the UFC.
Norifumi’s sister, Miyuu Yamamoto is also in action. The wrestler only delved into MMA in 2016, currently holding an even record of 3-3. She is set to face Mika Nagano, who is a veteran of the DEEP JEWELS promotion, making her RIZIN debut. Her son, Erson Yamamoto is scheduled to make his return to MMA after a round one loss to Manel Kape back in 2017. He looks to break even with his pro MMA record when he challenges Kazuyuki Miyata. Miyata is also coming off a long layoff, with his last fight being in 2016, defeating Andy Souwer in the first round of a Bushido Rules fight.
On the card there are three fights where RIZIN is feeding fighters to the promotions talent. These three bouts are an attempt to put RENA, Gabi Garcia and Shinju Nozawa-Auclair into the spotlight. In RENA’s case, her fight is a way to bounce back from the two losses she received from Kanna Asakura in her last two RIZIN fights. She is matched up against Samantha Jean-Francois, who has a professional record of 3-5-0. Nozawa-Auclair is clearly being built up as a star in the promotion since her mother, Naoko Nozawa is a well known Japanese comedian. In her first two RIZIN bouts she got first round Armbar victories, with one of the wins avenging her only amateur MMA loss. She fights Justyna Zofia Haba. Haba hasn’t had a professional MMA fight, and had her one amateur win back in 2014. Now longtime RIZIN fighter Gabi Garcia returns after a Road FC win back in the Spring. She fights Barbara Nepomuceno, a kickboxer making her MMA debut.
Former UFC fighter Damien Brown will be welcomed into the promotion by Daron Cruickshank. Also a former UFC competitor, Cruickshank has made himself known in RIZIN as a fighter who doesn’t rely on scorecards to win the bout. Currently on a four fight winning streak, Cruickshank has a 6-2 record in the promotion, all via stoppage. Brown’s run in UFC ended after he lost three fights in a row, exiting the promotion with a 2-4 record.
In a similar situation, former UFC Flyweight Ulka Sasaki will make his RIZIN debut against young fighter Manel Kape. Kape is currently bouncing back from two losses in a row, as he put on a dominant performance against Yusaku Nakamura at RIZIN 13. At age 25 he seems like a young prospect for the promotion. Sasaki had a 50/50 sort of run in the UFC, with his last fight being just last month against Alexandre Pantoja at Fight Night 140.
The fight between Nobumitsu Osawa and Tofik Masaev will be a battle of the newcomers. Osawa has been a fighter for the Shooto promotion for all of his career, and comes into RIZIN on a three fight win streak. Masaev is a fighter with an impressive 13-3 record, which has been collected from fights in China, Turkey and Azerbaijan, among other places.
For a couple of years now, Yuki Motoya has went back and forth between RIZIN and his main promotion DEEP. Currently on a four fight win streak, including one of them being at RIZIN 12, he will face Justin Scoggins. Scoggins is, like many people on this card, a former UFC fighter coming into the promotion. He had a three fight losing streak in the UFC, with one of those losses coming from the previously mentioned Ulka Sasaki.
Back in 2015 Jiri Prochazka joined RIZIN. Since then he has been a regular for the promotion, only losing one of his nine fights. He is currently on a six fight winning streak and is set to battle Brandon Halsey, who competed in PFL Season 1.
The prequel to the evening’s events, “RIZIN Heisei’s Last Yarennoka!,” kicks off in the late evening on the west. The headliner for that show is veteran fighters Tatsuya Kawajiri and Satoru Kitaoka. In Japan the show will be televised on Fuji TV, and in the rest of the world it can be seen via purchase on FITE TV. The 14 fight show is one that will be the main focus of the MMA world before we all say goodbye to 2018, and welcome the new year.