The 2017 LiverKick Awards: Rising Star — Tenshin Nasukawa

(Rizin FF/Sachiko Hotaka)

There are times when you need to adjust your thinking to make way for greatness, because thinking in the “old way” would mean ignoring the future. Tenshin Nasukawa is not a prospect, yet he did many things in 2017 that have worked to show potential for the future, not just for himself, but for kakutougi as a whole in Japan. So instead of crowning him the Prospect of the Year for perhaps a second time, the award is being adjusted to the “Rising Star” award.

If you’ve been following Japanese MMA and kickboxing in 2017, you’ll understand why. If not, well, it’s because Tenshin Nasukawa went from a guy that people were talking about to a can’t miss fighter. You know how Rico Verhoeven is an “event fighter,” where people tune in to see him fight, even if it’s against Bigfoot Silva, just because he’s Rico? Tenshin Nasukawa, at 19-years-old, is becoming an event fighter. If you scroll through the hype and aftermath of the last few big RIZIN shows, there’s one name that continually comes up: Tenshin.

Why? Because in late 2016 he made his MMA debut and didn’t just win — twice — but he won with style. He won two more MMA fights in 2017 and won SEVEN kickboxing fights in 2017, including the RIZIN four-man tournament no New Year’s Eve. Fans of not just kickboxing, but also MMA, are talking about Tenshin and talking about him like he’s the next big thing. Fans in Japan and abroad are aching for Tenshin vs. Takeru and RIZIN has even stretched itself out trying to make it happen. It probably won’t happen any time soon, but they are still trying to put that fight together because they know how big it could be.

While it might be a bit early still, Tenshin has that feeling of filling the void that the last generation of Japanese kakutougi stars left when they either retired or faded off. No, he doesn’t have the boyish good looks of a Masato or that same goofy affability of a Genki Sudo, or hell, even the bad ass appeal of a KID Yamamoto, but that’s because Tenshin Nasukawa is Tenshin Nasukawa. He’s his own person and he’s carving out that niche for himself. He’s following that path that creates the next big star in Japan and it appears almost like an inevitability right now. K-1 Japan is doing well on its own, but having a star like Tenshin build up in another company and create the kind of hype for a fight with one of their stars is also very good for their business as well.

Is that a lot of weight to place on a 19-year-old’s shoulders? Yeah. Does Tenshin seem to care? No.

The 2017 LiverKick Awards:
Knockout of the Year: Antonio Plazibat
Fighter of the Year: Rico Verhoeven