As with Japan’s combat sports tradition, a major martial arts event will be held on New Year’s Eve to end 2020. Pandemic travel restrictions have limited the foreign talent for the card, but RIZIN.26 still ended up as a quality event filled with many of the top Japanese stars.
Headlining the event is a rematch between two top tier fighters in Kyoji Horiguchi and Kai Asakura. The pair of Japanese fighters are not just among the two of the best outside the UFC, but they’re arguably in the top 10 or 15 in the world, regardless of promotion.
Horiguchi was ranked #3 in the world and had a three fight winning streak when he left the UFC as a free agent in 2017. The former UFC flyweight title challenger then moved up to bantamweight and extended that streak to 13 fights, over some of the best competition available. During that impressive run, he won both RIZIN and Bellator’s bantamweight titles, having stoppages over the likes of current/former UFC fighters Manel Kape, Ian McCall, and Ben Nguyen, and Bellator champ Darrion Caldwell.
Horiguchi’s only loss in the last five years? His current foe, Kai Asakura, who just needed a little over a minute to end that run and swiftly knock him out in a 2019 non-title bout.
The UFC vet hasn’t competed since that loss, with an ACL injury forcing him to drop both his Bellator and RIZIN belts. Asakura on the other hand, fought five times since then, adding more brutal finishes (two via soccer kicks) and the RIZIN title to his resume.
It’s an interesting rematch to say the least, with Horiguchi looking for redemption and a return to form after serious injury, and Asakura already targeting lofty goals with another clear win.
“I plan to defend my belt against Horiguchi and then go after the Bellator belt,” Asakura said during the official weigh ins. “I think this fight will be seen by many top fighters so this is a great opportunity for me to show what I can do. Everything about me has gotten better and I want to show that in my fight. I will make a statement in this fight.”
In typical NYE tradition, the rest of the card is filled with established MMA veterans, title bouts, and high level kickboxing bouts involving the likes of Tenshin Nasukawa. Of course, there’s also those that are brought in purely for the spectacle — like a special rules bout involving Takanori Gomi, an openweight bout featuring Minowaman, and pro wrestler facing off against an unknown opponent “Mr. X.”
For what it’s worth, Shibatar apparently still doesn’t know who he is fighting tomorrow, and it will only be revealed when they walk out during the event.
“I hear that Peter Aerts is in Tokyo. Is he Mr. X?” Shibatar asked. “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.”
RIZIN.26 happens starting at 12:00 am ET on December 31, and can be streamed on live-now.com. Full weigh in results and fight card can be found below.
Bantamweight championship: Kai Asakura (60.75 kg) vs. Kyoji Horiguchi (60.80 kg)
Kickboxing: Tenshin Nasukawa (56.9 kg) vs. Kumandoi Phetjaroenvit (56.5 kg)
Catchweight: Mikuru Asakura (68 kg) vs. Satoshi Yamasu (67.85 kg)
Special rules bout “standing only”: Takanori Gomi (78 kg) vs. Koji Tanaka (65 kg)
Atomweight championship: Ayaka Hamasaki (48.95 kg) vs. Miyuu Yamamoto (48.55 kg)
Bantamweight: Yuki Motoya (60.95 kg) vs. Naoki Inoue (60.35 kg)
Catchweight: Kyle Aguon (66.5 kg) vs. Kleber Koike (66.75 kg)
Catchweight: Kyohei Hagiwara (68 kg) vs. Ren Hiramoto (67.8 kg)
Bantamweight: Hideo Tokoro (60.7 kg) vs. Shinobu Ota (60.9 kg)
Kickboxing: Yoshinari Nadaka (49.9 kg) vs. Petmalai Phetjaroenvit (49.95 kg)
Bantamweight: Ulka Sasaki (60.75 kg) vs. Kenta Takizawa (60.95 kg)
Atomweight: Kanna Asakura (48.95 kg) vs. Ai Shimizu (48.75 kg)
Openweight: Shibatar (92.6 kg) vs Mr. X (“made weight”)
Catchweight: Taiyo Nakahara (62.3 kg) vs. Kazuma Kuramoto (62.75 kg)
Openweight: Ikuhisa Minowa (82.7 kg) vs. Tsuyoshi Sudario (114.65 kg)
Strawweight: Sakura Mori (52.7 kg) vs. Eru Takebayashi (50.60 kg)