Ayaka Hamasaki Captures Title, Gabi Garcia Wins Quickly At Rizin FF 14Former Jewels and Invicta FC champ Ayaka Hamasaki added another title to her collection with an impressive second-round submission win tonight at Rizin Fighting Federation 14 in Saitama, Japan. Hamasaki finished Kanna Asakura to become Rizin FF Women’s Super Atomweight Champion.

Also on tonight’s card, Gabi Garcia rebounded from a series of controversial results earlier in the year and easily submitted striker Barbara Nepomuceno in light heavyweight action. Miyuu Yamamoto, competing in honour of her late brother, Norifumi, dominated veteran Mika “Future Princess” Nagano.

 

Hamasaki (17-2-0) countered early body kicks from Asakura (13-3-0) with a three-punch combo and a leg kick. Time was called after she was poked in the eye, but action resumed after a lengthy delay and both women landed aggressive punches. Hamasaki reversed a takedown into top position and the fighters scrambled back up to their feet. Hamasaki landed a hard combination that snapped Asakura’s head back, and she darted in and out to avoid Asakura’s counters. Both women scored with punch-kick combos and Hamasaki continued to get the better of the exchanges. Asakura dragged her down and landed a series of right hands on the way up, but Hamasaki quickly broke free.

Hamasaki set up a leg-sweep takedown with a quick flurry in round two, and she landed a nice knee as Asakura returned to her feet. Punches were exchanged and Hamasaki landed a head kick. She countered Asakura’s forward movement with short hooks and mixed in more kicks. Hamasaki took Asakura down into side control and landed punches from the top. She spun into an armbar soon after, but Asakura rolled through to defend. Hamasaki adjusted her grip and extended Asakura’s arm for a second time, forcing Asakura to submit at the 4:34 mark of the second round.

“The fight took a course that I didn’t expect,” Hamasaki stated backstage following her win. “I had expected her to come for takedowns. Her arm joint is soft and she was not easy to submit, but I am glad I got the finish. Especially since the eye poke blurred my vision. The younger generation is coming up, but I can’t lose easily to them. I didn’t care about Rena [Kubota] only predicting a “90% chance” that I would win. I forgot all about that. I was champion for Invicta and I will once again wait for the next challenge. I welcome [a] Seo Hee Ham [trilogy fight], too.”

“I lost at striking, so there is a skill difference everywhere, but I have a goal now,” Asakura remarked backstage. “I couldn’t tackle her easily since my arm got snapped. It was difficult.”

 

Garcia (6-0-0, 1 NC) opened the brief fight with a one-two and ate an overhand right in return. A lengthy flurry scored for Garcia and Nepomuceno (0-1-0) was forced to retreat. Garcia clinched and she landed knees and punches in close. She took Nepomuceno down into side control and used hammerfists to set up a keylock, and Nepomuceno hastily tapped out at the 2:15 mark of the opening round.

“Her cross counter is what I was cautious of, so I used my right hand for striking,” Garcia noted backstage. “I finished by submission, as planned. When I was standing with her, I wanted to trade punches. Her specialty is kickboxing, so I decided that I should fight on the ground, but I still think now that I’m a better striker than her. I thank my coach for changing my perception of MMA. It’s already a big challenge to convert from BJJ, and I was offered a kickboxing fight as well, but I chose MMA. As a fighter, I am open to any challenge, though.

“I’m glowing with pride right now. Fighting in Saitama is special for me. I’m Brazilian, but my soul is Japanese, and the Japanese are respectable people. As a martial artist, respect is key, but MMA isn’t all about respect. When I come to Japan, I feel respect and that’s something special. I want [Nobuyuki] Sakakibara to make a [women’s] heavyweight belt. As for [Shinobu] Kandori, she wants a challenge, but when I fight can she not stay away? Talking is easy, but I want to see determination if she really wants to challenge me.”

“I am disappointed about my loss,” Nepomuceno admitted backstage. “However, I am glad to have participated in such a big event. I think that she is a good and powerful athlete. I’m grateful that she accepted my challenge. Some fans had hateful comments for my opponent, but there is no ill-will. If Rizin offers me a kickboxing fight, I will welcome it.”

 

Yamamoto (4-3-0) backed Nagano (16-11-1) into a corner and flurried with punches early on in their catchweight contest. She landed a nice one-two soon after and Nagano was forced to dive for a takedown. Yamamoto defended and punished her with punches and knees. Yamamoto prevented Nagano from returning to her feet, and she battered her with right hands and hammerfists all the way until the end of the very lopsided round.

Yamamoto stuffed a takedown and landed knees to the top of Nagano’s head in round two. Nagano rolled to her back and she regained full guard seconds later, with the fighters trading palm strikes on the ground. Nagano used rubber guard to keep Yamamoto in place as she struck from the bottom, and the referee stood the fighters up. Yamamoto connected with an overhand left and she backed Nagano up with another flurry. A clinch battle ensued against the ropes and Yamamoto tripped Nagano to the mat before time expired.

Jabs and single punches were exchanged in the opening minute of round three. Yamamoto landed a one-two and stuffed another takedown, and she threw knees to Nagano’s face and punches to the body as Nagano latched on to an arm. Yamamoto broke free by punching with her right hand as she pinned down Nagano’s arm. Nagano scrambled back to full guard and looked to set up an omoplata, but the fighters were stood up with 25 seconds to go and Yamamoto landed two final jabs.

All three judges scored the fight for Yamamoto, who took the Unanimous Decision victory.

“If I had been a bit more aggressive, I may have gotten the finish,” Yamamoto reflected backstage. “In 2019, me and [son] Erson will come back stronger. I want to see ‘Kid’ watching me win and how he reacted, but I am wanting something impossible…”

“I enjoyed my entrance, but I was too nervous in the ring,” Nagano said backstage. “She had better balance and wrestling. I trained to attack from the bottom, but couldn’t do that due to her power. I’m very thankful about this opportunity to compete for Rizin.”

 

In flyweight action earlier on the card, Justyna Zofia “Lara Croft” Haba (1-0-0) choked out the previously unbeaten Shinju “Juju” Nozawa-Auclair (2-1-0).

Nozawa-Auclair jabbed and threw front kicks early on until Haba answered with two right hands. Nozawa-Auclair pressed forward with punches and clinched, but Haba broke free and she connected with an overhand right. Four right hooks landed for Haba, but Nozawa-Auclair was unfazed and she dropped Haba with a right hand of her own. Haba recovered quickly on the mat and locked on an armbar from the bottom. Nozawa-Auclair, whose left eye began to swell up from the force of Haba’s earlier punches, pulled her arm out and Haba switched to a toe hold. Nozawa-Auclair kicked her way free and took Haba’s back. Haba prevented Nozawa-Auclair from sinking in both hooks, but Nozawa-Auclair landed short knees to the face and she rolled forward into an armbar attempt before the bell.

Nozawa-Auclair rushed at Haba with punches in round two, but Haba fought off a clinch attempt. Both women landed in an exchange and Nozawa-Auclair took Haba down into back control with a headlock throw. Haba reversed into top position and worked from Nozawa-Auclair’s guard. Nozawa-Auclair countered Haba’s punches with an armbar, but she lost the position and Haba mounted her soon after. From the top, Haba dropped punches and elbows to the face of Nozawa-Auclair, who rolled to her side. Haba locked on a rear-naked choke and trapped Nozawa-Auclair’s arm. Nozawa-Auclair refused to tap and was choked unconscious at the 3:41 mark of round two.

“I used the combinations that I had trained well,” Haba stated backstage after her impressive win. “I expected that she would be the better striker due to her long reach, but she wanted to grapple and I overcame her there as well. My coach taught me how to use my leg to trap her arm when choking her. I trained it exactly and that’s what made me win. I will continue to train and improve.”

“I haven’t watched the video yet and so I don’t know where I went wrong,” Nozawa-Auclair noted backstage. “Sorry to my coach and teammates. She took advantage of my mistake tonight. I wanted to show what I had trained in an actual fight, but my opponent studied me well. I lost today, but I want to get back in the ring ASAP. I will have better performances with a more active schedule.”

 

Rizin FF 14 was also intended to feature a matchup between Rena Kubota (7-2-0) and Samantha Jean-Francois (4-5-0), but the bout was cancelled after Kubota collapsed prior to weigh-ins due to a difficult weight cut that was made worse by her menstrual cycle. Kubota was pulled from the card and her long-time teammate, Mio Tsumura, posted updates about her condition prior to the event.

“It’s hard for me to understand,” Jean-Francois commented backstage following the cancellation announcement. “She missed weight. I sacrificed a lot for this fight, and I could not imagine missing weight [at home] in France. If my April opponent is Rena [again], I will take the fight.”

 

Earlier in the day, the first part of Rizin’s two-part doubleheader, “Heisei’s Last Yarennoka,” featured two additional women’s matchups.

In a flyweight rematch, Kana Watanabe (5-0-1) needed just 11 seconds to dispatch of popular veteran Shizuka Sugiyama (16-6-1). It was Sugiyama who rushed forward aggressively to begin the fight, but Watanabe avoided her punches and floored her with a counter right hook. Sugiyama’s eyes rolled back in her head and the referee jumped in to rescue her from any further damage. Watanabe previously earned a decision win over Sugiyama in the pair’s first fight at Rizin’s year-end show in late 2017.

“I’m glad I got the finish today,” Watanabe stated backstage. “I threw that punch exactly as I had prepared. She has an aura as a fighter, and I had expected lots of grappling today, but I was able to show striking improvement. If there is a flyweight tournament in 2019, I want to participate. I am interested in facing another top Japanese athlete [Rin Nakai] who is muscular.”

“After the fight, I couldn’t remember what happened,” Sugiyama said backstage. “What was the time? 11 seconds…that’s my Rizin [experience]. I felt that she was small when I rushed at her, and I was calm, but I got hit. I thought it was a flash knockdown and I tried to do jiu-jitsu from the bottom. I’m still in shock, so I can’t say much about the future, but I want to come back.”

 

Opening up the “Heisei’s Last Yarennoka” card, Ai Shimizu (2-0-0) spoiled the Rizin debut of Japanese idol Nanaka “Nijika” Kawamura (2-3-0) in 49kg action. Shimizu circled early on and initiated a clinch, which allowed her to secure a takedown. She used a guillotine choke to set up a move to mount, then rained down punches from the top until the brief bout was waved off at the 3:01 mark of round one.

“I did not plan to finish by ground and pound,” Shimizu admitted backstage. “I had expected a submission, but the position allowed me to pound. Rizin is a big stage, but I knew it was important to remain calm and I was not nervous. I will do even better next time. I naturally passed my opponent’s guard because of my grappling training. She is good at striking, but I was not worried because I was determined to take her down. Nanaka is an idol, but she is passionate about MMA and I could feel it. I’m relieved, and I dedicate my win to ‘Kid’ Yamamoto.”

“I couldn’t do what I had trained,” Kawamura confessed backstage. “I thought I could hit her with some good shots, but she is good at wrestling. My reflexes were slow when she got the takedown. I trained for grappling, but her wrestling was too strong for me to be able to move. I wanted to continue to fight more, but it was stopped and I regret not living up to people’s expectations. Participating in Rizin was amazing and I want to return here with more strength.”

 

 

(Photo Credit: Esther Lin, AllElbows.com / InvictaFC.com)