Rizin continued the longstanding tradition of a major fight card on New Year’s Eve in Japan that was built around the return of Kyoji Horiguchi.
The roots of what has become one of the biggest nights of the year for combat sports in Japan goes back to New Year’s Eve in December 2000. It was the first Inoki Bom Ba Ye card, which featured pro wrestling matches highlighted by a tag match with Nobuhiko Takada & Keiji Mutoh defeating Ken Shamrock & Don Frye (the latter two would eventually fight in PRIDE over one year later in a legendary fight that took an enormous toll on both). Others involved in the first Inoki show included Renzo Gracie, Kazushi Sakuraba, Gary Goodridge, Bas Rutten, and the team of Mark Coleman & Mark Kerr.
It opened the door for combat sports on network television on New Year’s Eve as counter-programming for the Red and White Festival, which is the major New Year’s Eve program in the country. K-1 and PRIDE entered the mix and it became an arms race to put on the most spectacular and ratings-driven fights of the year with spectacular production values and millions of viewers. In 2003, it was a three-way race with PRIDE, K-1, and Inoki all presenting cards with K-1 owning the night with Bob Sapp vs. Akebono (Chad Rowan) with approximately 54 million viewers watching the fight.
With the demise of PRIDE in 2007, New Year’s Eve still remains a notable night on the calendar but nowhere near its peak during the early-to-mid 2000s.
In the main event, bantamweight star Kyoji Horiguchi returned to action after missing sixteen months due to knee surgery to avenge an August 2019 loss to Kai Asakura.
Horiguchi, 30, is legitimately one of the top bantamweights in the world. He opted to leave the UFC in 2016 where he fought as a flyweight going 7-1 with his lone loss to former champion Demetrious Johnson.
Since the loss to Johnson, Horiguchi won his next thirteen fights while becoming both the Bellator and Rizin bantamweight champion during that stretch.
In August 2019, Horiguchi fought Asakura in a non-title fight where Asakura scored the upset with a knockout in 1:07 of the opening round that immediately set up a title fight for New Year’s Eve 2019. However, Horiguchi suffered a devastating knee injury that scrapped those plans.
Awaiting Horiguchi’s return, Asakura fought four times and went 3-1 including two victories this past year against Hiromasa Ougikubo and Shoji Maruyama.
In the anticipated rematch, Horiguchi stopped Asakura with punches at 2:48 of the opening round to reclaim the title he never lost and sets the stage for Horiguchi to be a key figure in the promotion’s plans for 2021.
The card featured the pro debut of Olympic silver medalist Shinobu Ota, who medaled at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He was paired with star Hideo Tokoro, who has been fighting for over twenty years and was able to submit the wrestler at 2:23 of the second round. It was Tokoro’s first MMA fight in more than three years.
The New Year’s Eve card included 22-year old kickboxing star Tenshin Nasukawa defeating Kumandoi Petcharoenvit by unanimous decision.
Nasukawa famously competed against Floyd Mayweather Jr. on the New Year’s Eve card in 2018 and suffered a first-round TKO loss to Mayweather. It was an effort to attach Nasukawa to the most famous boxer of the current era but didn’t provide the desired effect. Since that exhibition, Nasukawa has exclusively competed in kickboxing fights and gone 10-0 since the Mayweather exhibition.
Rizin also crowed a new Women’s Super Atomweight champion with Ayaka Hamasaki defeating Miyuu Yamamoto in 1:42 of the opening round by submission. Yamamoto is the sister of the late Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto, who died in September 2018.
Hamasaki was the first champion in the Rizin weight class but lost the title to Seo Hee Ham on New Year’s Eve 2019. Ham vacated the title after leaving the promotion.
Below is the complete list of results from Rizin’s New Year’s Eve card held at the Saitama Super Arena:
*Rizin Bantamweight Championship: Kyoji Horiguchi def. Kai Asakura (champion) by TKO at 2:48 of Round 1
*Kickboxing Bout: Tenshin Nasukawa def. Kumandoi Petcharoenvit by unanimous decision
*Mikuru Asakura def. Satoshi Yamasu by KO at 4:20 of Round 1
*Special Standing Rules: Takanori Gomi def. Koji Tanaka by majority decision
*Vacant Rizin Super Atomweight Championship: Ayaka Hamasaki def. Miyuu Yamamoto by submission at 1:42 of Round 1
*Naoki Inoue def. Yuki Motoya by rear-naked choke at 3:00 of Round 1
*Kleber Koike Erbst def. Kyle Aguon by technical submission at 4:21 of Round 1
*Kyohei Hagiwara def. Ren Hiramoto by TKO (corner stoppage) at 1:29 of Round 2
*Hideo Tokoro def. Shinobu Ota by armbar at 2:23 of Round 2
*Kickboxing Bout: Nadaka Yoshinari def. Phetmalai Phetjaroenvit by KO at 2:19 of Round 1
*Ulka Sasaki def. Kenta Takizawa by unanimous decision
*Kanna Asakura def. Ai Shimizu by unanimous decision
*Special Rules: Atsushi Saito def. Hiroya Kawabe by armbar at 6:00 of Round 2 – initially was ruled a draw
*Kazuma Kuramoto def. Taiyo Nakahara by KO at 2:12 of Round 1
*Tsuyoshi Sudario def. Ikuhisa Minowa by TKO (leg injury) at 3:17 of Round 1
*Sakura Mori def. Eru Takebayashi by armbar at 1:37 of Round 1 – listed as a no-contest due to Mori missing weight