Rizin FF returns to the iconic Saitama Super Arena on September 24 with a pair of former champions topping the card as they look to re-establish their championship credentials.
Juntaro Ushiku captured the Rizin featherweight title with victory over Yutaka Saito at Rizin 31 in October 21, then defended his crown in a rematch six months later at Rizin 35. However, one day short of his one-year anniversary as champion, Ushiku’s title reign was halted by Kleber Koike at Rizin 39.
Ushiku tried to bounce back in the main event of Rizin Landmark 5, but lost out on the scorecards to Mikuru Asakura. Now Ushiku returns, desperate to snap a two-fight skid and bounce back into title contention with a statement-making victory when he faces Kyohei Hagiwara.
Also looking for redemption is the man who dethroned Ushiku for the featherweight belt. Koike represented Rizin as its champion as he faced Bellator featherweight champ Patricio Pitbull in a losing effort in a non-title matchup on New Year’s Eve, 2022. And the disappointment got even worse when his title was on the line at Rizin 43.
Koike failed to make championship weight for his bout with Chihiro Suzuki and was promptly stripped of the title. It meant that his first-round submission victory over Suzuki merely added another win to his record, while the title remained vacant.
Now Koike will look to show the world that he still deserves to be considered Rizin’s premier featherweight when he takes on Masanori Kanehara.
The fight card for Saitama also includes a host of familiar names, including former UFC and Bellator veteran Spike Carlyle, who takes on Yoshinori Horie, while former UFC heavyweight Todd Duffee is also set for action against Tsuyoshi Sudario.
Rizin 44: Confirmed fights
- Juntaro Ushiku vs. Kyohei Hagiwara
- Kleber Koike vs. Masanori Kanehara
- Spike Carlyle vs. Yoshinori Horie
- Yoshiki Nakahara vs. Rikuto Shirakawa
- Kazumasa Majima vs. Takeji Yokoyama
- Taichi Nakajima vs Ryo Okada
- Shoma Shibisai vs. Janos Csukas
- Tsuyoshi Sudario vs. Todd Duffee
- Ryuya Fukuda vs. Erson Yamamoto
- Takaki Soya vs. Ramazan Temirov