In what was the last major MMA event of 2021, RIZIN Fighting Federation saw its lightweight champion Roberto de Souza retain his title and longtime MMA veteran Hiromasa Ougikubo capture the promotion’s vacant bantamweight championship via two same-night tournament victories.
However, it was the relatively unheralded Japanese 24-year-old teaching student, atomweight Seika Izawa, who stole the show.
Entering RIZIN 33, Izawa’s 4-0 record did little in the way of inspiring fans that her chances against Ayaka Hamasaki, a 27-fight veteran widely considered to be one of the greatest atomweights of all time.
A legend renowned for her atomweight dominance among MMA fans, Hamasaki holds wins over the likes of Mei Yamaguchi, UFC veterans Jinh Yu Frey (twice) and Mizuki Inoue, fellow divisional great Seo Hee Ham (twice), Kanna Asakura (twice), and Miyuu Yamamoto.
A 2019 split-decision loss to Ham was Hamasaki’s lone career loss in her true weight class of atomweight; she suffered her other two losses at strawweight to UFC standouts Claudia Gadelha and Livinha Souza, respectively.
But the K-Clann product was far from deterred.
Halfway through the second round of their New Year’s Eve matchup, Izawa leveraged a threatening triangle attempt into a mounted triangle position, from which she landed a barrage of unanswered punches en route to a referee’s stoppage TKO.
The win, a massive upset, immediately vaults the still-undefeated Izawa into the upper echelon of Japanese MMA fighters. However, the bout was a non-title match; a rematch for Hamasaki’s championship is expected in 2022.
Izawa had had a remarkable 2021 campaign leading up to the victory over Hamasaki, a storybook accomplishment for any atomweight prospect. The win also marked her RIZIN debut, a first foray into a new promotion for the longtime DEEP competitor.
She began the year in March, when she snatched up a sub-minute rear-naked choke against former Shooto title challenger Megumi Sugimoto in a DEEP JEWELS grappling match.
Three months later, she challenged for her first MMA championship in a rematch of her 2020 unanimous decision win over Miki Motono at DEEP JEWELS 33. History repeated itself; Izawa again saw her hand raised against Motono, this time by way of first-round armbar submission.
The finish can be seen above (h/t to Drake Riggs, a veritable resource on MMA).
The former Judo and wrestling standout told MMARising.com after the fight that the armbar win was a route to victory she had envisioned in training:
“The armbar was one of my potential goals, but I thought about many submissions. In the fight, I wanted the armbar to come naturally, so I used my ground punches to set it up and then the armbar finished her,” said Izawa.
In September, the manga-obsessed Izawa added two more lightning-quick submissions to her grappling record in DEEP JEWELS submission matches, stopping RIZIN veterans Mika Nagano and Emi Tomimatsu by sub-minute heel hook and first-round rear-naked choke, respectively.
October saw her continue her dominant ways, scoring a unanimous decision over Korea’s Si Woo Park — a win whose value has since appreciated greatly, given Park’s +1000 upset victory over Rena Kubota at RIZIN 33 alongside Izawa.
The Hamasaki win capped a 3-0 MMA and 3-0 pro grappling year for Izawa, who cemented her status as one of Japan’s brightest combat sports stars.
2022 should be a good year for Izawa, who told AsianMMA.com in February:
“I will be the best fighter in the world.”
Below is an informative Japanese interview (with English subtitles) with Seika Izawa, via SogoKaku.