At a press conference for RIZIN.13 in Saitama Super Arena (Sep 30th) held in Tokyo last night, Sakakibara shocked audiences by announcing that they were postponing plans for a previously announced kickboxing GP. Instead, the expected main draw of the proposed GP–a kickboxing bout between RIZIN 2017 Bantamweight GP champion Horiguchi (American Top Team) and striking phenom Tenshin Nasukawa (TARGET/Cygames)–has been announced for RIZIN.13 as a standalone fight.
— NOBUYUKI SAKAKIBARA (@nobu_sakakibara) August 24, 2018
“We had originally, though unofficially, announced an eight man kickboxing GP with the opening rounds in September and the semi-finals and finals on NYE. But we quit that.” explained RIZIN CEO Sakakibara Nobuyuki. “There’s a lot of reasons, but we’re moving in the direction of putting everything we want to show the fans on September and doing a one night four man kickboxing GP on NYE.”
The RIZIN kickboxing GP plan had been in the ether since the start of the year. Its postponement is a major change of plans, especially as multiple notable kickboxers including former K-1 Japan 60kg champion Taiga and Shootboxing 55kg champion Naito Taiki had moved to RIZIN in anticipation of a matchup vs. Tenshin (Taiga has been separately scheduled in a matchup vs. RISE contender Haraguchi Kento). It remains to be seen if they will have their opportunity to take tilt against the wunderkinder on NYE.
RIZIN further explained that it was Horiguchi who had proposed an one off fight in September as opposed to conducting a tournament. This is a turn in events since RIZIN 10 (May 6th) when Horiguchi took the mic after KOing Ian McCall to ask to be enrolled in a kickboxing grand prix for an opportunity to fight Tenshin.
What prompted RIZIN’s decision to expedite the much hyped matchup is subject to debate, but speculation abounds that RIZIN is under pressure to deliver significant ratings improvement before FujiTV, its main broadcast partner, makes decisions on programming later in the year. RIZIN is now in its third year of broadcast and continues to underperform on broadcast metrics, with the last event achieving an average rating of 5.9% vs. a public target of 10%.
With ratings on the minds of RIZIN executives, the spectre of another kickboxing vs MMA fight–Masato vs. KID Yamamoto–looms over the matchup. That now legendary bout was the second highest peak for TV ratings in K-1’s history and the parallels are striking. Like his mentor KID, Horiguchi is similarly a newcomer to professional striking, but he is renown for his explosive in-out movement and one punch KO power. While Horiguchi appears to be approaching kickboxing with an attitude one might consider somewhat cavalier–he is on record saying that he doesn’t expect to see anything new in kickboxing rules due to his karate background–it is undoubtable that his physical attributes alone make him an intriguing matchup vs. the far more traditionally polished Tenshin. Whether RIZIN can replicate the precedent’s commercial success remains to be seen.
While the bout has tentatively been announced as a 58kg kickboxing fight over three three minute rounds, the specific rules remain in flux. No decisions have been made on the use of elbows or clinching. Horiguchi, perhaps in jest, suggested that the matchup be set as a 15 minute one round fight with the only official decision coming from KO. Tenshin accepted the proposal although RIZIN has yet to confirm whether anything would come from their banter.
Overall, the superfight represents a major coup for Nasukawa. Nasukawa, who just turned 20 this month, was originally forced to take MMA fights for RIZIN. Since then, his breakout performance has made him one of RIZIN’s top attractions and his gravitational pull has forced RIZIN to wade increasingly into the kickboxing business. Now the phenom stands poised to presumably main event RIZIN’s biggest event while dragging its most legitimate MMA competitor into his own ruleset. While the superfight vs. three weight K-1 Champion Takeru remains a fight that makes far too much sense to come together in the foreseeable future, the Horiguchi fight feels like a potential bookmark for a new era of kickboxing in Japan.
“I am happy to be able to take this fight while it’s still hot,” said Nasukawa about his RIZIN.13 fight. “All eyes are on us. This is a battle between MMA and kickboxing, and I will champion kickboxing in my fight”
RIZIN.13 September 30th, Saitama Super Arena
- Tenshin Nasukawa vs Kyoji Horiguchi (RIZIN Kickboxing rules/ 58kg)
- Taiga vs Kento Haraguchi (RIZIN Kickboxing rules/ 59kg)
- Mirko Cro Cop vs Roque Martinez (RIZIN MMA rules/ 110kgs)
- Ayaka Hamasaki vs Mina Kurobe (RIZIN Women’s MMA rules/ 47kg)
- Mitsuhisa Sunabe vs Haruo Ochi (RIZIN MMA rules/ 53kg)
- Kai Asakura vs Topnoi Tiger MuayThai (RIZIN MMA rules/ 59kg)
- Mikuru Asakura vs Karshyga Dautbek (RIZIN MMA rules/ 66kg)
- Yusaku Nakamura vs Manel Kape (RIZIN MMA rules/ 57kg)
- Andy Nguyen vs Miyuu Yamamoto (RIZIN Women’s MMA rules/ 49kg)
- Jiri Prochazka vs Jake Heun (RIZIN MMA rules/ 93kg)
- Daron Cruickshank vs Diego Brandao (RIZIN MMA rules/ 70kg)