The final major MMA show of the year is just hours away, and the fighters are locked in.
RIZIN 26 bantamweight championship headliners Kai Asakura and Kyoji Horiguchi successfully made weight Wednesday, with Asakura at 60.75 kg. and Horiguchi at 60.8 kg. This is Asakura’s first defense after winning a vacant title at RIZIN 23 in August, while Horiguchi seeks to reclaim the belt that he relinquished due to injury in 2019.
All the prominent RIZIN 26 names were on point including kickboxing star Tenshin Nasukawa, vacant atomweight title contenders Ayaka Hamasaki and Miyuu Yamamoto, 24-year veteran Ikuhisa Minowa a.k.a. “Minowaman,” and MMA legend Takanori Gomi.
Gomi competes for the first time since July 2018. He faces kickboxer Koji “Kouzi” Tanaka in a special rules bout in which only punches and backfists are allowed, the fighters will wear 12-ounce gloves, there will be a judges’ decision rendered after three three-minute rounds, and a three-knockdown rule will be in place.
Wednesday’s official weigh-in was not without its hiccups as Sakura Mori came in 1.7 kg. over the limit for her 51 kg.-bout with Eru Takebayashi. Sakura faces several penalties as she forfeits 50 percent of her purse and begins her fight with a red card, resulting in a 50 percent point deduction. Should she win the fight, the bout will be ruled a no-contest. Takebayashi is still eligible to earn a victory.
RIZIN 26 takes place at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. The event will be available to stream for English-speaking viewers via pay-per-view at www.live-now.com. Joe Ferraro and Frank Trigg provide English commentary. The show is scheduled to begin Thursday at 9 p.m. PT/late Wednesday evening at 12 a.m. ET in North America.
The RIZIN 26 fighters spoke ahead of Thursday’s show and you can see the best quotes below (via press release):
Kai Asakura vs. Kyojo Horiguchi
“I’m not worried if Horiguchi is back 100 percent he can’t change his style that easily. I know what he’s capable of doing, I can adjust to any changes that he may bring to the fight.”
“I plan to defend my belt against Horiguchi and then go after the Bellator belt.”
“I started sparring and training fully in July. I feel like I am close to 100 percent.”
“Once I take back my RIZIN belt, I feel obligated to take back my belt in Bellator.”
“I think I may be weird but I feel no pressure, no concerns leading up to the fight [at] RIZIN 26.”
“My opponent is a very legitimate fighter. He hits hard and has lots of power in his strikes. His timing is spot on, very durable and agile compared to the Thai fighters I have faced in the past.
“With that said I want to show that I am in a different dimension than him”
“My hair is inspired by Billy Eilish.”
“This year COVID took the spotlight but let’s all finish it off with a night where people won’t have to think about COVID. Finish off the year with Tenshin Nasukawa.”
“I think Tenshin Nasukawa is a great fighter. His speed, technique is tremendous. But I feel that if I do my best I will be able to hold my own against him.”
“The rumors that I beat (ONE Championshp flyweight muay Thai champion) Rodtang [Jitmuangnon] is true. It was about 4-5 years ago at outside of the city. We fought five rounds and I beat him by decision.”
Takanori Gomi vs. Koji “Kouzi” Tanaka
“I had no plans of fighting nor attending this NYE event but I got a sudden offer a few weeks ago. Times are tough for everybody with the pandemic and I wanted to give people the entertainment.”
“I am in love with my dogs, just got a second puppy. I care for them more than anything. I’m upset that SSA won’t allow me to bring them into the arena.”
“I’m perplexed with Kouzi’s manners towards an elderly person. His comments and actions as a martial artist are unacceptable. I would be lying if I didn’t say I’m livid with this kid. Promotion or not, there should always be respect and a line that you should not cross.”
“If it goes to distance, I consider it a loss for me.”
“The rules are set and I have nothing to say. Both parties agreed to certain conditions so no excuses from here on. I’m just going in there to punch his head off to win.”
“I wanted to fight with smaller gloves but RIZIN wouldn’t let me but it’s all good. I’m just going to punch his head in like a bobblehead.”
“I don’t want to praise my opponents before a fight, but Gomi is a true legend I grew up watching. But right now he’s nothing but an enemy.”
“I’m glad that he’s all irritated, that’s my strategy. But I did show respect by not going full on trash talk. I know exactly what press conferences are for, and I put a lot of thought and effort into every press conference. If’s he’s all agitated by professional obligations, then [so] be it, it is what it is.”
“It’s been a while I have competed in an MMA fight so just small things remind me on how long I have been away from MMA. I’ve missed these days of not partying at the end of the year.”
“My mindset for recent fights, heading into a fight I go in there thinking, ‘This will be my last fight,’ but for this one, I’ve decided to go in there with a mindset of ‘This will be the beginning.’”
“Many people label this fight as ‘Ota’s MMA debut,’ but for me this is ‘Tokoro’s MMA return.’”
Shinobu Ota (2016 Olympic silver medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling)
“I’ve been training with Shinya Aoki and other top-notch grapplers for my grappling
“Any fighter who gets knocked out due to suplex are careless so I’m not thinking about throws too much.”
“My opponent is a good striker. I have been training striking for about a year now but she’s been training standup for over 10 years. I hope that I will be able to take her down.”
“I will be able to win if the fight doesn’t go to the ground.”
“I’m working with a friend of mine on a project to motivate kids who refuse to go to school due to bullying, I want to show them how important it is to challenge and fight for the things you love.”
Shibatar (comedian and YouTube star, fights mystery opponent “Mr. X”)
“I hear that Peter Aerts is in Tokyo. Is he Mr. X? If that’s the case, I think the fans will witness a beautiful highlight-reel finish. Of me getting knocked the f**k out. So I don’t think Mr. X is Peter Aerts. I hope not.”
“I think all fighters should appreciate me getting on the card. I’m going to bring all the attention to the event, I’m going to deliver ratings for RIZIN, and that will reflect in fighter pay later on. I’m getting everybody paid.”
Minowaman (weighed in at 82.7 kg. for a 120-kg. bout against former sumo wrestler Tsuyoshi Sudario)
“SSA defines NYE to me. It’s been 11 years since my last NYE. It has a special place for me.”
“Weight is just a number and doesn’t represent true strength.”
See the RIZIN 26 weigh-in results below (all weights in kg.):
Kai Asakura (60.75) vs. Kyoji Horiguchi (60.8)
Tenshin Nasukawa (56.9) vs. Kumandoi Phetjaroenvit (56.5) — kickboxing
Takanori Gomi (78) vs. Koji Tanaka (65) — “special standing bout rules”
Ayaka Hamasaki (48.95) vs. Miyuu Yamamoto (48.55)
Hideo Tokoro (60.7) vs. Shinobu Ota (60.9)
Ulka Sasaki (60.75) vs. Kenta Takizawa (60.95)
Shibatar (92.6) vs. Mr. X (“made weight,” according to press release)
Ikuhisa Minowa (82.7) vs. Tsuyoshi Sudario (114.65)
Sakura Mori (52.7)* vs. Eru Takebayashi (50.6)