December 31, 2016
Saitama Super Arena
by Roberto Pedreira
Kron Gracie vs. Kawajiri Tatsuya
and other Rizin Fights
The View from Japan
Rizin appears eager to avoid the
"evil customs of the past" (as the somewhat misleading English
translation of the 1868 Gokajo no Goseimon put it; the original
Japanese text didn't say the past customs were evil, it just implied
that kyuurai no kanshuu, 旧来ノ慣習, old customs,
weren't up to date, which in 1868, automatically made them undesirable).
Pride got into trouble, rumor has it,
by borrowing from organized crime. The former president of Pride Sakakibara
Nobuyuki is the founder of Rizin and evidently intends to
avoid needing to borrow, by keeping costs down. The way to do that is to
hire up-and-coming fighters, predominately local, with potential fan
appeal, and to resurrect veterans and people who who by all logic should
never go anywhere near a ring, except to announce a fight and give an
award, as Rickson's old nemesis Nobuhiko Takada did on December 31, 2016
(the fans still adore him; he has that samurai voice that Japanese
associate with manly men and they couldn't care less, if they even
realize it, that his fights, most of them, were worked).
Rizin has also adopted the Hollywood
formula of providing something for everyone. There were a lot of small,
young girls and women in evidence on December 31, along with a few
seriously hefty specimens, all the better to pull the younger fans in.
One thing that Japanese like to see is foreign fighters. There were no
superstars and not many Brazilians. One of the commentators (Takada
Nobuhiko and Rumina Sato) asked the other, "where are all the
Brazilians?" The other answered: "They're in the UFC".
Actually, there were some Brazilians, even the most Brazilian of all the
Brazilians, as far as Japanese fans are concerned, namely Rickson
Gracie. Not fighting, of course, but coaching his remaining son, Kron
(as Kron said, he had to fight because he was the only one left who
could do it).
Below, the broadcast line-up on commercial
television in the Kanto (Tokyo) area, December 31, 2016. Some fights were not
shown, and a few fights from the Thursday quarter-finals were shown, and some
were edited down to highlight length.
1. Two girls were first up. Rizin undoubtedly
assumed that most viewers wouldn't be paying much attention yet. No problem, if
they did a good job, they'll be back.
2. Hayato "Mach" Sakurai vs. Sakata
Hayato "Mach" Sakurai is a veteran,
formidable, and versatile in his prime, now, needless to say, well past it. His
opponent was a pro-wrestler, whose wife is the popular TV talent Koike, whose
face looks like she's also on the verge on breaking out into tears, or at least,
remembering an unhappy experience. The camera spent as much time on her face as
the fight. Sakata did alright for the first few seconds but then quickly got
mounted and punched out. As Sakurai showed, experience lasts when everything
else is gone. Just pick the opponents carefully.
3. Kizaemon Saiga vs. Dillin West.
Saiga and Dillin (from South Africa) are 58
kg. flyweights. We don't expect fireworks from flyweights, but that assumes that
the fighter will "move your head, keep your hands up" as Dillin's
corner reminded him during the opening seconds. He needed to be reminded. Saiga
caught him with a left hook. Dillin got back up. Saiga put him down again.
4. Nasukawa Tenshin vs. Nikita Sapun.
Tenshin is an 18 year high school student, a
practitioner of karate and Muay Thai who has not neglected his throwing and
ground either. Someone is serious about molding him into an MMA star. His
opponent was a Tae Kwon Do stylist from the Ukraine. Tenshin weighed 56.6 kg.
and Nikita was one kg. lighter. After a brief exchange they hit the ground.
Tenshin went for an armlock and then mounted. Tenshin stood up, Nikita stayed
down. It was reminiscent of Sakuraba versus Vitor Belfort. Tenshin threw some
Saku kicks at Nikita's legs. Nikita turtled up, Tenshin pounced on him, raining
punches down, mostly not hitting vital targets. The referee stepped in and
stopped the match. It seemed that management had planned a little something
extra for Tenshin, as will be seen below.
5. Gabi Garcia vs. Hotta Yumiko.
Gabi is a 111 kg. lady Brazilian
jiu-jitsu fighter. Her opponent was a former pro-wrestler named Hotta
Yumiko, who weighed 77.6 kg. The only thing Hotta had going for
her was that she was short, something that can be an advantage if used
correctly. If a taller opponent lets a shorter fighter get near enough
to place their forehead on the opponent's chest, their reach advantage
disappears and can actually become a disadvantage. But to accomplish
that the shorter fighter must move laterally and forward. In boxing it
is known as a bob and weave, or the Dempsey crouch style. It is used by all
"shorter than average for their weight class" fighters, and
for very good reasons. In MMA or Muay Thai, you would (obviously) have
to avoid bending over. Gabi can be hit and hurt, as her first two fights
proved. More accurately it proved that she doesn't keep her chin down
and hands up at the right times (anyone can and will be hurt if they are
hit on the point of the chin with enough force and a sharp impact).
Hotta wasn't up to the job, to no one's surprise but she earned some
respect for getting in the ring on short notice, not that more notice
would have changed much.
6. Andy Nguyen vs. "Queen
Bee" Miyu Yamamoto
Miyu is a member of the famous
Yamamoto family of wrestlers, Kid Yamamoto being the most illustrious.
Kid trained his striking enough to hang in with Masato and some other
very good strikers (for a while), and was able to give Royler Gracie a
sound spanking. Royler had an expert boxing coach in his corner, namely Claudio
Coelho, but it didn't help, or least not enough (it probably
helped, of course. Royler did keep his hands up most of the time). The
point is that some people can't learn boxing (good example, Wallid and
Vitor had the same boxing coaches, including the same Claudio Coelho
above, but Vitor learned well, while Wallid
didn't). It helps to start young. Miyu is already too old. She's 42 now
and probably for her it's wisest to go with what she knows. Andy is a 34
year old mixed martial artist from California, of all places. Miyu got
the take-down, as expected, Andy landed in guard. They stood up. Another
take-down by Miyu. Andy again applied her guard, no surprise there
either. Anyone fighting a wrestler should expect a high probability of
being taken down, and focus on your position once you get there, i.e,
having your legs in play. Which Andy did. She then patiently
applied for a left foot arm-lock, the same one we can see Rickson using
on the big wrestling coach in one of the Gracies in Action tapes. Miyu
hasn't won a fight yet but being a popular TV star, she'll probably be
back. Anyway, she didn't get punched in the face.
7. Rena Kubota vs. Hanna Tyson
Rena is strong and beautiful, a good
combination for a professional female fighter. Even better, she wins
fights. She also has skills. She's aggressive. She takes the fight to
her opponents. They don't have to go looking for Rena. Her punches are
straight. Any boxing coach would be happy to see crisp, sharp. straight punches
like Rena's. She uses her reach well. Hanna's real name is
not Tyson. That's her nickname, possibly because her style is similar
to Mike Tyson's? (The style before he lost his focus on boxing). Or
maybe she simply likes Mike Tyson's style without trying to
imitate it. Who knows. In her home country of Poland, she's known as the
”Queen of Stand-Up" （立ち技女王).
Her problem was the same as Hotta's against Gabi. Lateral, forward
movement to get inside the opponent's reach. Hanna wasn't able to do
that. Rena dominated on stand-up, getting off several aesthetically
pleasing throws, keeping forward pressure on at all times. Hanna never
had a moment to rest and get untracked, as they say in boxing circles.
The fight went into the 3rd round at which time Hanna was breathing
heavily. Finally Rena kicked Hanna with her toe. Hanna collapsed. Rena
had attacked a "vital target" (急所), Hanna's liver. It was
8. Mirko Crocop vs. Baruto
Big things were expected of Baruto
after his Rizin 1 performance against Peter Aerts. He didn't do as well
against Fujita, a wrestler, but he won. Evidently his comparative
advantage was against strikers. If so, Mirko would be a likely candidate
to test him. Baruto failed the test. Unlike Aerts, Mirko has plenty of
experience fighting the best grapplers. Mirko avoided
Baruto's initial charge. When Baruto did get his clinch, Mirko stayed on
his feet and defended against strikes, which is not usually a problem
for almost anyone, other than knees, as we soon saw. At the 49 second
mark, Mirko threw a left knee that caught Bartuto in the rib cage area
(possibly liver) and he was down and out. Baruto weighed 180 kg., Mirko
was 106 kg. and at 42, 10 years older than the former sumo oozeki
（大関、the second highest rank in sumo).
9. Tokoro Hideo vs. "Krazy
Bee" Erson Yamamoto
Tokoro's last fight, in Rizin
2, was with Kron Gracie. Tokoro lost. Kron used Gracie Jiu-Jitsu on
him. Erson Yamamoto also lost to Kron, in Rizin 1,
for the same reason. Erson is only 20, and according to his uncle Kid
Yamamoto, the best wrestler in the family now competing in MMA. Tokoro
is much more experienced than Erson. He is also 19 years older. Erson
didn't have to worry about being taken down by Tokoro, which is a big
advantage. And he didn't appear to be in a hurry to put Tokoro on the
ground. That happened anyway when he knocked Tokoro down with a right
hand. His mistake was in going to the ground with Tokoro. Tokoro used
his ground experience by pulling guard and in a few seconds applied for
a submission on the same arm that had just before knocked him down.
Erson exited the ring very much discouraged. Tokoro then challenged Kid.
Even though they were in the same weight class, they had never met in
the ring. Now was the time. It would certainly boost interest in MMA in
Japan, badly needed in 2017, Tokoro said. Kid had no immediate comment.
10. Amir Alikabari vs. Valentin Moldavsky.
A few seconds of the Amir vs.
Moldavsky match was shown, basically to inform viewers who was going to
be in the final match of the an open-weight (無差別) tournament that
began on Thursday. Mirko was one of them, having beaten Mighty Mo on
Thursday. The final moments of that fight were shown prior to the final
(see #18 below). The other was Iranian wrestler Amir Alikabari, who
decisioned Valentin Moldavsky.
11. Nasukawa Tenshin vs. Dylan Oligo
After his rather easy win over Nikita
Sapun, Tenshin took the mic, as is the tradition, to offer thanks to
fans, trainers, and sometimes Jesus Christ, for their support,
requesting future support, and often challenging opponents. Fan reaction
then and there, and on facebook, blogs and the usual social media gives
the promoters some useful clues as to whether the match is worth making
and at what price (and obviously, is advance advertising for the fight
in case it happens). Tenshin added a new twist. His first fight was too
easy, he said. He wanted a harder fight but since his opponent couldn't
rise to the occasion, he (Tenshin) wanted to fight a second opponent as
soon as possible, that same night in fact. He hoped his second opponent
would give him a tougher test. The promoters obliged, picking Dylan
Oligo from among the alternates. Oligo did give him a tougher test or
more time to display his versatility. Both were southpaws. The first
round was active, with mostly grappling. The round ended just as Oligo
took Tenshin down with a right leg outside hook but landed in Tenshin's
guard. In the second round, Oligo went for a spinning back-fist (or
elbow) and got knocked down, Tenshin applied for a Darce choke (or
Anaconda, anyway, a head and arm spinning choke). Lights out for Oligo.
Tenshin demonstrated that at his weight he is likely to be a crowd
pleaser, otherwise known as "taking care of business."
Actually the fights happened on
different days, but were presented as though they were both on December
11. Kron Gracie vs. Kawajiri Tatsuya
The Gracie family was back in Japan.
The Gracie's have always been known as being as tough at the bargaining
table as in the ring, if not more so (technically, the Carlos/Helio
side; The George Gracie side, no longer in the game, was available for
any fight at any price. Carlson was more like George in that respect,
but Carlos made the business decisions. See Choque 1, 2, and 3
for details. Also see Gracie Jiu-Jitsu vs. Japanese Judo Part
1 and Part 2).
looked more like a philosopher than a fighter, according to one Japanese
fan. He looked like a guy from India. Maybe because he had a turban-like
cloth wrapped around his head for some reason, and also because he was
talking about death. which to Japanese is the only genuine philosophical
topic and should properly be approached vaguely, with metaphors about
changing seasons, falling leaves, and cherry blossoms. "We're all
gonna die; I train to win or kill" Kron said. The Japanese fan
said, Kron looks too nice (優しい) to be a fighter. He doesn't look
like he really wants to hurt anyone. Kron explained that he's fighting because he has to, because he's the only one in the family
left, after Rockson passed on, who can do it and he has to do it for the
family. That made sense. To Japanese, doing something you don't
really want to do because of family, pseudo-family, or collective
obligation, is taken for granted. Rizin referred to Kron as the
"Neo-Gracie", the new Gracie, which he sort of was, in terms
of ring exposure. But Kron isn't young, just inexperienced in MMA. He's
had four fights (4-0). His opponents haven't been Conor McGregor level
people, but for an inexperienced fighter, Kron's opponents were
appropriate. The problem is that he's already 28. Fortunately, his
Rizin 3 opponent was 38, Kawajiri Tatsuya, who, though experienced
(35-10-2) against good opponents, is descending the downward slope, as
happens to all fighters sooner or later, and 38 is pretty late.
Basically, Kawajiri was a somewhat better version of Hideo Tokoro (whose
record before the fight was 33-29-2). So, an appropriate test for Kron.
They both weighed 65.5 5 kg. Kron fought southpaw style.
They came out boxing. Kron didn't go
for his father's preferred style, but elected to box with Kawajiri, who
luckily, is not a boxer. (Rickson said "never box with a
boxer"; it is arguable whether it is wise to box with anyone if you
are not yourself a good boxer, but we assume Rickson and Kron knew what
they were doing. Rickson is not someone who leaves things to chance in
the ring). Kawajiri led off by punching Kron's face. Kron clinched.
From then on they exchanged light shots in the clinches. Kron controlled
Kawajiri's head well so he couldn't get "leverage", although
Kawajiri did once shake Kron with a knee. Kron kept his hands up, not
trying, in classical Gracie style, to bait Kawajiri into taking a wild
swing (probably assuming that Kawaijiri was too smart to do that).
6:14 left in the 10 minute round, Kron jumped to guard and beat on
Kawajiri's left kidney with his (Kron's) heel, which was one of Helio's
favorite original techniques (he used it on Dudú in 1935, see Choque
1 chp. 15) for details. With 4:55 left Kawajiri
stood up and went for a Sakuraba jumping stomp. Kron stood up. With 4:05
left Kron jumped to guard again, gradually angling to the side and
climbing up Kawajiri's back. Kawajiri posted on his right leg (knee up)
at which point Kron had a body-lock from the side (halfway to back).
Kron went for an arm-lock. They fell over the rope and halfway out of
the ring. Back inside, Kron took Kawajiri's back with hooks in. They rolled face up,
Kron bashing Kawajiri's head to get his arms into position to finalize
the naked choke. The round ended.
The second round started. Kawajiri,
understandably, looked and undoubtedly was, tired. Kron jumped to guard.
The round was a repeat of the first, minus the stand-up and clinch
phase. This time when Kawajiri attempted his Sakuraba stomp, Kron used
his leg to turn Kawajiri around, briefly exposing his back. Kron brought him down, and
returned to Kawajiri's back, working for the choke as before. Kron had his right foot
inside Kawajiri's left upper leg, with his right foot crossed over his
left leg (thus avoiding the crossed-ankle lock blunder that novices
often make). This time Kawajiri was not saved by the bell.
12. Allysa Garcia vs. Asakura Kanna
Two more young ladies. Asukara Kanna
entered the ring dressed as a schoolgirl, which she in fact was, in
addition to being a good wrestler. Alyssa Garcia was also a wrestler and
a student of Josh Barnett and Erik Paulson. "With Erik and Josh on the
team, I'm unbeatable" she declared. It was a close-fought and
technical confrontation. They both obviously knew what they were doing, both
wanted to wrestle, and neither one appeared to have a noticeable edge in
that department. Kanna was more aggressive in working for the take-down
but Alyssa was effective in stopping her. In the clinch, Kanna was
always in the body-lock position so when they landed on the ground
Alyssa was in a top, advantageous position. Kanna had prepared a
surprise however, and was working diligently toward a Sakuraba
double-wrist lock, which Josh repeatedly yelled for Alyssa to be careful
about. Kanna put Alyssa on the ground with a morote gari (双手刈; double handed
leg pull). Alyssa went to guard and tried for an omoplata shoulder lock.
Back up, Kanna applied another morote gari. Alyssa was spending a lot of
time on her back at this point. Josh told her in no uncertain terms,
"If you stay here you will lose. I don't care how tired you
are....Do you want to win? Do you?" They got up. Kanna
applied a shoulder throw and the match ended with Kanna on top
trying to pound through Alyssa's guard, which she was struggling to
maintain. Josh didn't want her there, but Kanna had other ideas.
It was close but Alyssha got a
unanimous decision. The commentators liked her game and spirit. "ee
senshu, all-arounder, desu ne" （”いい選手、All-Arounder
ですね one said, the other responded "New face tōｊō
desu ("New Face
Note: ee = good, senshu = athlete,
all-arounder = versatile, desu = is, ne = don't you think? New face
=someone new, tōｊō
= on stage)
13. Kitaoka Satoru vs. Daron
Kitaoka is known as
"eccentric". He tries to be over-the-top. Daron is a no-frills
fighter, primarily a striker. Most of the match was fought on stand-up.
Both landed often, Daron having the edge. Kitaoka's face was a bloody
mess, which he probably didn't mind. With 2:22 remaining Kitaoka tackled
Daron who applied his guard and then reversed Kitaoka, who seized the
chance to apply a head and arm choke. Daron struggled but without
progress. The referee stepped in, whereupon it was evident that Daron
was "groggy", half-out, and couldn't tap even if he wanted to. He
and his corner didn't protest the call.
14. Miyata Kazuyuki vs. Andy Souwer
Miyata was an Olympic wrestler who got
off to a rocky start in MMA most memorably, and painfully, falling
victim to Kid Yamamoto's surprise attack flying knee in 2006. He has
adapted enough to own a 14-9 record, which is not great, but better than
a lot of Olympic Gold medal wrestlers have done. Andy Souwer is a
highly distinguished kickboxer, who has dabbled in MMA without great
success. Nevertheless, he brings the same mentality to MMA that he did
to kickboxing. However, 34 is a bit late to transition to a totally
different game. Essentially, he enters the ring without his main
weapons, "defanged" as it were, which leaves him no more
dangerous than most people off the street--once his on his back. So it turned out on December
31, 2016. Actually, Andy did a pretty fair job of defending himself, at
least for a short time. They clinched and Miyata tossed Andy with a head-and-arm throw. Miyata dominated the grappling phase and felt confident
enough to go for some submissions. In the end, he was going for a
triangle/armlock from his back. Andy was sitting with his leg out in
front, i.e., no base, and when he fell back, as was inevitable, Miyata cranked on his arm.
It left much to be desired technically, but Miyata won the
15. Motoya Yuki vs. A. Nascimento
The end of the match was shown. A. Nascimento is from Brazil and started out grappling but it soon seemed
that Motoyama was the better grappler. Nascimento survived but Motoya
took the decision.
Brief moments of action from (16).
Wada Tatsumitsu vs. Kaikar France and (17). Yachi Yusuke vs. Mario
Sismundo, were shown. Time was running out and no one knew how long the
final would last. Not enough of the fights were shown for GTR to
have an opinion. Generally reliable sources say Wada took a decision and
Yachi KOed Sismundo with a knee.
18. Mirko vs. King Mo
The fight took place on Thursday. Only
the final moments were shown on Saturday December 31, although they were
replayed numerous times (perfect to fill up time without committing to
anything). In that short segment, Mirko was on his back, with King Mo.
above pounding. Then they were up. King Mo threw a fast combination and
went for a tackle of the "high dive" variety. Mirko defended
it by peeling Mo's right arm off. As Mo backed off, Mirko followed him
and threw a left uppercut to Mo's belly (or solar plexus) which was
followed by a barrage that put Mo down for the count.
19. Mirko vs. Amir Alikabari.
Mirko needs no introduction. Amir is a former
world level Greco-Roman wrestler who has had major issues with doping. He won
his Rizin fights to earn a shot at the other finalist, who turned out to be
Mirko (it would have been more interesting possibly to see him against Mo or
Baruto, but Mirko won and they didn't).
Amir started well, throwing ponderous
right hand swings, which Mirko easily avoided. Amir's hands were
dangerously low, especially if we recall Mirko's penchant for throwing
high left kicks that routinely KOed people with much better striking
background's than Amir. There was no question that Mirko was going to make him pay,
the only area of uncertainty was when.
Amir's left was closer to Mirko's right (Mirko
being a southpaw) GTR was anticipating that Mirko would drop a right
hook in over Amir's returning jab, just as Max Schmeling did to Joe
Louis in their first fight in 1936 (although Max's punch was a cross, not a
hook). Amir's right hand was also low so Mirko had the option of
sending in a left at any time he choose, but probably a straight left
rather than a hook, given that Amir's left foot was forward (therefore
his chin side farther from Mirko's left hand). Following a clinch with 3:58
remaining, that's exactly what happened. Amir was knocked down, but landed
in balance with one knee up (i.e., he wasn't flattened, wasn't seriously
hurt, and was in position to continue, if he stood up properly. He
didn't. He should have made sure to give himself enough distance, at
least, if nothing else, keeping left arm extended and circling
away from Mirko's left side (no guarantee of success, but that's the
Instead he awkwardly backpedaled. Mirko pursued him, throwing an
assortment of punches, none of which landed solidly or otherwise (but
then that is the way it works, one of them has to hit you sooner or
later, as Mike Tyson said). About three punches into the salvo, Mirko
launched another straight left over Amir's still fatally low right
In the audience, applauding Mirko's
victory, was his erstwhile comrade in arms, Jerome Le Banner. Will we be
seeing Jerome in a future Rizin? Stranger things have happened.
Previous Rizin Events:
(c) 2017, Roberto Pedreira. All rights
Revised January 14, 2017 (typos