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Rizin’s Asakura Bros. emerging as Japan’s answer to UFC’s Diaz Bros.

Street fighting Mikuru & Kai close to Rizin gold, continue to draw comparisons to MMA’s most famous siblings

Japan’s RINGS Fighting Network began promoting MMA fights in 1995, but after enjoying years of healthy success, they were out spent, and their marquee names migrated to the emerging giant in Pride. The network eventually folded and ceased operations for six years until the brand was resurrected in 2008. The flagship event of their relaunch would be the concept series The Outsider. The focus is on rehabilitating delinquents, criminals and gang members with MMA.

RINGS was assured a cavalcade of interesting characters and storylines as the thugs of Japan’s mean streets take their talents to the canvas. While The Outsider certainly more than flirts with the underbelly of its society, it does so under the auspice of discipline and redemption by dangling the carrot of reform.

The Asakura brothers Kai (Flyweight) and Mikuru (Lightweight) are both surging prospects in their respective weight classes and both are products of The Outsider series. They developed through the series’ pro-am system and then graduated to Korea’s Road FC before both finally signing contracts with Rizin. Mikuru is currently on a 6 fight win streak and undefeated in Rizin. Kai is on his own five fight win streak and also undefeated in Rizin, most recently skyrocketing onto the radar of MMA fans around the world with his stunning one minute knockout of cross promotion champion Kyoji Horiguchi.

With the stigma of The Outsider series coupled with their natural born killer toughness, a bite down on the mouthguard attitude, the Asakura Brothers have been packaged to the western world as Japan’s answer to the Diaz Brothers. The comparisons are certainly there, if not necessarily always in a like for like manner. And there may even be better comparisons to make, but for all intents and purposes western media has latched onto the notion. Perception aside, what really matters here is winning. And they both do a lot of that.

Kai’s had a 6-2 amateur record in The Outsider. Both of his losses were by unanimous decision, first to Riku Shibuya (7-2-2) and second to Ryota Kitamura (0-0). Shibuya currently has a 3-2 record in One Championship with a 6-2 professional record overall. He has had a decision laden campaign at Flyweight until his most recent fight he secured a first round victory via guillotine choke. He has been sidelined since that 2017 victory after a series of surgical procedures for detached retinas. Kitamura finished his amateur run 7-3 and lost his only professional fight with The Outsider in 2018.

Kai would respond to those back to back amateur loses with a fifteen fight win streak, consisting of eleven by KO/TKO (eight of those in the first round), two first round submissions and two unanimous decisions.  Over the course of three years Asakura would consistently have his hand raised. The win streak would stretch over from his amateur to professional career until he was upset by Je Hoon Moon at Road FC 39.

Moon always felt ahead on the cards the entire fight. Kai tried to keep it close but was slow to start. In the first round the conceivable edge would go to Moon who seemingly landed more significant strikes in a feint filled dance. Although both fighters were reluctant to overcommit, it was always engaging when the action finally snapped into rhythm. Moon was really feeling himself early repeatedly dropping his hands down taunting and pointing at Kai. This incites a couple acrobatic offensive moments from Kai as he searches for cartwheel kicks and jumping knees.

The second round was more of the same Moon looked to stay ahead on the cards early. Moon defends the takedown well, but the ensuing clinch leads to a brief stoppage for a low blow. Asakura enters the final round with a bloodied face, but this time abandons the gregarious starts of the previous rounds and looks to set the offensive pace. Moon is more than willing to match Kai’s enthusiasm, again flexing and dropping his hands in a primal taunt as they both unload for the finish. Moon again defends the takedown and eventually drops Asakura with a solid left hand, finding victory in the follow up ground and pound.

Kai would again respond to a loss with a significant win streak, claiming five consecutive victories while now competing in Rizin. His momentum eventually led him to an opportunity at redemption in what would already be his second rematch in his overall career. The first man he would rematch was Yoichi Oi, who he defeated as an amateur by punches and again as professionals with an early first round knockout at The Outsider 42. With both fighters now signed to Rizin, his second rematch was set for Kai to redeem his only professional loss to Moon.

They faced off on the massive New Year’s Eve card that featured Floyd Mayweather at Rizin 14. This time around both fighters were much more aggressive and willing to exchange. Kai wore down Moon who in the end of the third round began to slow to dream like pace. Kai kept up the pressure and pummeled the bloodied Moon with his heaviest shots. The heart and determination of Moon was on full display as despite the maelstrom he was weathering he would slowly and calmly reply with his own depleting shots. Kai’s pace churns onward uninterrupted as he eats Moon’s desperate rebuttals on his way to a unanimous decision victory.

Back to his old ways again on a four fight win streak and 12-1 record overall, Kai Asakura was now set up to rocket into the realm of the MMA casual with a non title feature bout against Rizin and Bellator Bantamweight Champion Kyoji Horiguchi. Despite the Rizin Bantamweight title not being on the line in the contest, the windfall from a victory over the cross promotion champion would undoubtably have an equally massive impact on the surging prospect’s career.

And that is exactly what happened at Rizin 18 when Kai Asakura shocked the world with a stunning first round knock out of Kyoji Horiguchi. Asakura came on strong early in the match, swarming Horiguchi by again using his knees and reach advantage to overwhelm him onto the backfoot. Horiguchi never had an answer and only found an escape after being dropped in the corner and finished with a brief yet emphatic ground and pound. To be the man, you’ve got the beat the man. And belt or no belt, Kai just finished a two promotion double champion in just barely over one minute and celebrated accordingly.

Kai is close to claiming Rizin gold as a Horiguchi rematch for the title seems likely on the horizon, but a title shot for his brother is right around the corner as well. At Rizin 17 Mikuru won his qualifying match against Yusuke Yachi for a spot in the Rizin Lightweight Grand Prix. The unanimous decision victory ensured his place in the eight man tournament kicking off on October 12.

The stage is set for both Asakura Brothers to become Rizin Champions in 2020, which also provides a massive validation of the effectiveness of The Outsider series and its Horatio Alger concept. After successful campaigns in Rizin, it is surely only a matter of time before the western markets begin to break out the checkbooks to add the Asakura Brothers to their rightful place within their menagerie of the sport’s top competitors.

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