Photo Credit: RIZIN

RIZIN in Fukuoka: Women’s Super Atomweight Grand Prix Preview

RIZIN Women’s Super Atomweight Grand Prix will go down as part of the inaugural event on the southern island of Fukuoka in Japan. The first time in promotional history there will be a tournament for the women and the lineup has a compelling mixture of local talent as well as international flavor. Alongside three Japanese fighters, representatives from Brazil, Poland, Spain and the USA will be clashing for the coveted Grand Prix title.

The combatants involved will battle in the opening round to figure out who will move onto the semifinals on December 31. However, before they step into the storied white ring and put it all on the line, let’s get to know the ladies in the brackets.

Rena “RENA” Kubota (Japan) versus Andy “The CrAsian” Nguyen (USA)

Kubota (4-0 MMA, 4-0 RIZIN FF) is an undefeated juggernaut that possesses ridiculous striking prowess like no other women in Japan. Do not let her mixed martial arts record fool you, she has been dominating combat sports in Japan as a kickboxer for years. In the Shoot Boxing arena, “RENA” holds victories over well-known WMMA figures such as current ROAD FC atomweight champion Seo-Hee Ham, Mei Yamaguchi (2X) and Emi Fujino. So far in RIZIN, she has shown growth by submitting two of her opponents and knocking out the others in impressive fashion. Interestingly, she already has a win over wrestler Miyuu Yamamoto via guillotine choke at RIZIN World GP 2016.

Nguyen (5-4 MMA, 1-0 RIZIN FF) is the former King Of The Cage (KOTC) atomweight champion and one of the scrappiest competitors in the bracket. She won the title by punishing Cassie Robb (KOTC: Social Disorder) and then defended it once against Bi Nguyen (KOTC: Groundbreaking) but lost the belt to Melissa Sophia Karagianis (KOTC: Counterstrike) last August. While all this was going on, she took a little trip over to RIZIN at the end of 2016 and face Miyuu Yamamoto on the New Year’s Eve card. Nguyen played a nasty guard game after being taken down and locked up a unique armbar for the finish.

There are plenty of reasons why this matchup is the headliner yet the main impetus is to put “RENA” against a decent striker so they can stand and bang it out. Nguyen has a chance but she is a step too slow on the feet and not diverse enough to frustrate Kubota. It would be interesting to see what happens if they hit the mat and get into some scrambles, however, do not expect that to commence unless Nguyen gets desperate.

Miyuu Yamamoto (Japan) versus Irene “La Nina” Cabello (Spain)

Yamamoto (1-2 MMA, 1-2 RIZIN FF) is one of the most recognizable faces even though she has not had much success in the ring. She started her MMA career at the age of 41 years old and utilized her wrestling techniques effectively yet could not defend well against submissions at all. Her loses came at the hands of Rena Kubota and Andy Nguyen (mentioned above) at RIZIN events in 2016. However, she turned it around in 2017 by taking a unanimous decision over former Invicta FC atomweight Cassie Robb.

Cabello (6-4 MMA, 0-0 RIZIN FF) is a relative unknown to the fans throughout Asia but she has been grinding all around the globe. After trading wins and losses at the beginning of her career, she hit her stride and finished five opponents in a row leading to a spot in the preliminary round of The Ultimate Fighter Season 23 in early 2016. Unfortunately, she was knocked out by devastating British striker Kate Jackson and subsequently sent packing. Since then, she was submitted twice and has not competed in 2017 at all.

Although Cabello is more experienced, younger and more talented in the striking department, she will not be able to defend against the takedowns of Yamamoto. In many of her previous fights, she has taken down every opponent with ease and kept them there for extended periods. Cabello has a higher possibility of winning the fight with a submission but Yamamoto will likely stay out of dangerous positions and grind out a win in true wrestler fashion.

Alyssa Garcia (USA) versus Maria “Neta” Oliveira (Brazil)

Garcia (3-3 MMA, 1-0 RIZIN FF) hails out of  KSW in California and is a student of JMMA legend and former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett. The 23-year-old has spent most of her career so far fighting for Combate Americas and BAMMA with varying success. In her only appearance for RIZIN late last year, she took on the underdog role and shock the hometown sweetheart Kanna Asakura with great clinch work and submission attempts.

Oliveira (9-2 MMA, 0-0 RIZIN FF) could possess the most power in her strikes compared to the other women in the tournament. She has been tearing up the regional circuit in Brazil and has become somewhat known to be a slugger with six of her nine victories coming via knockout. The highlight of her career so far has to be when she won the Angels and Fight strawweight title against fierce Valesca Machado in a razor close split decision.

The Brazilian is a young powerhouse that has to keep her distance to use her reach advantage to pick apart Garcia. She has to avoid being pressed against the ropes or clinching with her foe unless she wants a long night at the office. Garcia lives to grind and has very good knees when tied up with her opponents. This fight is a toss-up but the edge goes to the American due to the fact she fought in Japan already and faced better competition.

Kanna Asakura (Japan) versus Sylwia “Mala” Juskiewicw (Poland)

Asakura (8-2 MMA, 1-1 RIZIN FF) is a grappler noted for her submission attacks and unlimited gas tank. She is the only fighter that actually earned her spot in the brackets by defeating Saori Ishioka at DEEP JEWELS 17 two months ago which is her biggest win to date. Under the RIZIN banner, the 20-year-old lost her first bout against Alyssa Garcia but redeemed herself earlier this year in Yokohama by decisioning Aleksandra Toncheva.

Juskiewicw (7-4 MMA, 0-0 RIZIN FF) is a Polish kickboxer riding a 5-fight win streak coming into the tourney. She has been jumping back and forth from kickboxing and MMA for the last five years. She debuted in 2012 against no other than the UFC women’s strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejcyk but lost a two decision. Even though she dropped her first fight, she has gone on to knock out five of the seven opponents she has beaten.

This contest is the definition of grappler versus striker. Asakura and Juskiewicw bring totally different skillsets so whoever can implement their strengths from the start to set the tone will likely come out on top. Just like the Garcia versus Oliveira battle, Asakura has to close the distance while “Mala” has to keep it. Having the hometown crowd and not traveling across the world to compete has to be major factors especially when this will be Juskiewicw’s first fight outside of Europe.

RIZIN Fighting World Grand Prix 2017 Autumn: Aki no Jin will happen in Fukuoka, Japan at the Marine Messe Fukuoka on October 15th, 2017. The event will be available for international viewers on FITE TV.

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John Hyon Ko is an Asia-based combat sports journalist as well as the host and producer of Kumite Radio.