Tomorrow at Differ Ariake in Shinjuku, Tokyo, GLORY holds its first Road to GLORY Japan event with a 65kg tournament that features LiverKick's #1 ranked Lightweight Masaaki Noiri, former Krush 63kg champion Ryuji Kajiwara, former RISE 63kg champ Yuki, K-1 Koshien fighter Riki Matsuoka, MA Kick Super Lightweight champ Mohan Dragon, REBELS 65kg champ Zen Fujita, Hiroya, who recently moved up to 65kg, and Yukihiro Komiya, who fought at 70kg until last year. The winner earns a spot in GLORY's 65kg World Tournament which already features Abdallah Ezbiri, Mosab Amrani, Kevin Ross and former UFC fighter Marcos Vinicius. This post will break down the 65kg tournament, ranking each fighter by his likelihood of winning the tournament. I'll also talk about the 60kg super fight between Krush 60kg champ Hirotaka Urabe and WPMF Super Featherweight champion Shigeru.
1. Masaaki Noiri: There's really no question who the favorite is here. Sure, he's fighting at a higher weight, but there's a chance he could face Ryuji Kajiwara and Yuki in the semifinals and finals. And his first round opponent is a man he's convincingly defeated twice in Hiroya. The last time he went up in weight there was a question of whether it was a good idea or not, but he beat Ryuji Kajiwara who was one of the hottest fighters coming into the tournament, and gave Yuta Kubo a tough fight. The difference here is that he's established himself as the top kickboxer at his weight. His defense is still inconsistent and that could cost him against bigger, stronger fighters, but he has so many offensive weapons that he can trade with and hurt anyone. If Noiri impresses in this tournament, there's a chance he could be the favorite in the World Tournament.
2. Yuki: I debated whether or not to place Yuki here because I'm not entirely sure that he'll win his opening round fight, but there is no clear cut #2 in this tournament field. Yuki hasn't looked great in some of his recent outings, but that was against a technical, high-volume striker in Sung Hyun Lee and Kyokushin stylist Yuto Watanabe. However, his quarterfinal opponent Mohan Dragon is a brawler. This plays right into Yuki's wheel house as he was able to come back against Yuto Watanabe by turning the fight into a brawl. He also picked up a huge win over former It's Showtime 61kg champ Javier Hernandez with his most deadly weapon, his leg kicks. His style is good for this tournament field and his leg kicks will have an impact on the tournament whether he wins or not, but trading with the bigger Mohan Dragon could end badly. Still, I see him as the best fighter in the upper half of the bracket and he could give Masaaki Noiri some trouble if he's not too beat up.
3. Ryuji Kajiwara: I realize it's somewhat strange that my top 3 fighters are all fighters moving up in weight, but I think they're the best fighters in the field and have the best résumés. Not too long ago Kajiwara was considered a top 10 Lightweight after a 9-1 stretch saw him pick up a win over Naoki Ishikawa, then win the Krush 63kg Tournament with wins over TaCa, Kizaemon Saiga and Koya Urabe. He disappointed in the last K-1 63kg tournament, losing in the quarterfinals to Masaaki Noiri, but he followed it up with wins over Tetsuya Yamato and Hiroya before losing his Krush title to Thomas Adamandopoulos. His first round matchup is against a former 70kg fighter in Komiya and a rematch of a fight from 2006, but Kajiwara actually has a height advantage, meaning he'll be able to keep Komiya at range with his jab and work his counters. I think he'll falter again against Noiri unless he lands a perfect counter shot, but if he were to pull the upset I'd definitely favor him over anyone in the upper half. That's an unlikely scenario, but he is one of the more technical fighters in this field and it could serve him well.
4. Zen Fujita: Zen Fujita has a distinct advantage and disadvantage coming into this tournament. His advantage is that he's a 65kg fighter, but he's not used to GLORY's ruleset, as he fights under full contact rules with clinching and elbows. He's not really known for either, so it won't be too much of a hindrance to his game. I think he has a decent chance of getting into the finals due to a convenient path. His first round opponent is a bit of an unknown and it's somewhat hard to judge the K-1 Koshien tournaments in the past few years due to their 3x1R format, but from what I've seen Matsuoka doesn't have much defense. Fujita should be able to glide through the quarterfinal and unless there's a quick knockout in the Yuki-Mohan Dragon fight, the winner will probably be beat up. I wouldn't favor Fujita against Noiri or Kajiwara, but there's no reason he can't beat either of them if either has a tough time in the quarters and semis.
Numbers 5-8 and a preview of Hirotaka Urabe vs Shigeru after the break
5. Mohan Dragon: I have no idea what to expect out of the MA Kick champion from Nepal. He has power, but throws wide looping shots and because of it, his gas tank gets empty quick. There have been fighters who have overcome stamina problems in tournaments before, but Mohan Dragon is also facing a better fighter that excels against brawlers and could further damage his chances in the tournament with leg kicks. If he gets out of the first round, I'm almost entirely sure he'll lost to Zen Fujita, who he's had two close fights with, losing the latter. I'm not writing him completely off because I always do the same with Yuya Yamamoto and he proves to me that there's something about tournaments that just puts certain fighters in the right mindset.
6. Yukihiro Komiya: It's a shame that the Koji Yoshimoto-Yasuomi Soda fight is taking place just a week after this tournament. Not to disrespect Komiya, but he is the clear #3 in RISE at 65kg behind Yoshimoto and Soda while Krush sent their top 63kg fighter and former 63kg champ, RISE its recently dethroned 63kg champ and REBELS and MA Kick sending their 65kg champions. There's a chance Komiya can beat Kajiwara, but Kajiwara has improved a lot more in the past 7 years than Komiya. Even if he makes it out of the first round, he's probably going to have to take out Noiri in the semis and I do not see that happening.
7. Hiroya: Hiroya has looked good at 65kg with two solid wins, but even against Keiji Ozaki he showed the same flaws that have haunted him for the past few years. He still poses after he throws and faster counter fighters will always be his kryptonite. Moving up in weight may help him take a shot better, but he still gets hit far too often and against Noiri he won't be able to go three rounds without getting dropped. Noiri represents a big obstacle in Hiroya's career and if he pulls the upset it's huge for his career. That said, his chances are small.
8. Riki Matsuoka: The footage I've seen of him shows me a lanky fighter that doesn't protect his face. Granted, I haven't seen anything from him in the past 2 years, but unless he's made big improvements, he's going to have trouble against Zen Fujita. It's hard to judge his career because most of his quality opponents were in Koshien under the 3x1R system. I'm welcome to a new face in the mix, but I don't think Matsuoka is it.
Hirotaka Urabe vs Shigeru: Shigeru was one of the top prospects to emerge from 2012, winning the WPMF Super Featherweight title and avenging the only blemish on his record, a draw, against Takahito Fujimaki, defending it once and picking up wins over Hiroto Yamaguchi and Yuji Takeuchi. However, I don't think he has a good shot against Urabe. Hirotaka is one of the hottest fighters in Japan right now as he's currently on a 13-fight undefeated streak with 6 stoppages and 3 title defenses, though two were draws against Naoki Ishikawa. Shigeru has good hands and has a good amount of power, but he also gets hit a lot. He can draw Hirotaka into a brawl, but Urabe could just as easily drop him and at range, Urabe is the better fighter. Urabe has looked a bit vulnerable in his recent fights with Naoki Ishikawa and Xavier Bastard, but I don't think Shigeru is the one to stop his streak.