Ayaka Hamasaki is no stranger to wearing championship gold around her waist but winning another title in her native Japan would definitely be special.
At Rizin 14 she will get that opportunity. She faces fast rising star Kanna Asakura, who at 21 years of age has already become one of the most talked about up and coming fighters in all of Japan.
Obviously there’s going to be a lot of attention on Asakura going into the New Year’s Eve card, especially after she ran roughshod through the Rizin women’s atomweight Grand Prix but Hamasaki has faced plenty of good opposition over the years with much deeper resumes than her upcoming opponent.
In fact, Hamasaki says rather bluntly that ‘experience’ is the biggest advantage that she’ll hold over Asakura when they step into the ring together.
Stylistically, Asakura has been dominant by showcasing a strong wrestling attack and incredible grappling every time the fight hits the mat. Hamasaki gives credit where credit is due when it comes to Asakura’s skill set but she still believes her ability to adapt to any given situation will give her the edge in their fight.
“She is good at shooting in, and takedown, and she looks very flexible,” Hamasaki said ahead of Rizin 14.
“Compared to before, she got better at finishing the opponent. I actually don’t have a specific game plan. I am going to react to whatever she does. I would like to dominate her in both standing and on the ground though.”
The fight puts Hamasaki in a bit of a strange position considering she has wins over a long list of the best atomweights in the world, particularly from her past competing in Invicta Fighting Championships.
She holds wins over the likes of Mei Yamaguchi, Herica Tiburcio, Amber Brown and Jinh Yu Frey not to mention back-to-back victories in Rizin against Alyssa Garcia and Mina Kurobe.
Still, Hamasaki might feel like a bit of an underdog going up against Asakura thanks to her name recognition in Japan, especially after what she’s done in Rizin since making her debut there in 2016.
“Unfortunately I am still not so known in Japan yet so this fight is happening because of Asakura,” Hamasaki said candidly.
“But it’s a big chance in the big show and my family and friends can watch this fight so I am very excited.”
Fighting on New Year’s Eve in Japan is a bucket list item for many fighters across the globe as Rizin carries on a tradition that stretches back nearly two decades including promotions such as Pride Fighting Championships and Dream as well.
Just being a part of the year end show isn’t enough for Hamasaki, however, as she won’t be satisfied until she’s celebrating with another championship being added to her collection.
She’s been a champion in both Invicta FC and Jewels and now she hopes that the Rizin atomweight belt will be another accolade she can add to her career accomplishments come New Year’s Eve.
“To become a champion in the biggest Japanese MMA promotion means a lot to me,” Hamasaki said. “As an Invicta FC champ I can’t lose this fight.
“So I am going for my third belt on New Year’s Eve.”
The upcoming Rizin card also features an intriguing co-main event where Bellator 135lbs king Darrion Caldwell will crossover to face Japanese superstar Kyoji Horiguchi in a fight that determines the first ever bantamweight champion in the promotion.
That fight coming together has opened up all sorts of crossover possibilities in the future and Hamasaki likes the idea of facing the best of the best from promotions across the globe while representing Rizin.
First things first, however, Hamasaki is staying focused on beating Asakura and then she’ll worry about those possibilities after she’s champion.
“It would be great if that happens,” Hamasaki said about crossover super fights. “But for now I am concentrating on my fight on December 31st.”