Hiromasa Ougikubo beat two of the best fighters in Japan to win the Rizin bantamweight tournament last Friday. It was perhaps the most impressive evening of work put in by any mixed martial artist anywhere last year.

After winning the tournament Ougikubo proposed to his girlfriend at Rizin 33 and she accepted. It should have been the perfect day for the 34 year old but afterwards he revealed he was still nursing a grudge from 2016.

Ougikubo was not offered a UFC contract despite reaching the final of TUF Japan. A few months later the promotion would sign up Naoki Inoue and by beating him in the semi final and winning the tournament he thinks he proved this was the wrong decision,

“I’ve never understood why the UFC didn’t sign me after coming in second in the TUF show. I’ve always held a grudge about that and I feel like I’ve proven them wrong by winning this tournament.”

Survival mode

He had to endure a difficult first round against Inoue. Ougikubo appeared in danger of being stopped and barely survived the first five minutes.

But he never gave up and sensed in the second round that his opponent was starting to tire,

“When I was fighting Inoue, I heard him breathing heavily from the second round and I felt that I could beat him as long as I continued what I was doing”

Kai Asakura posed him fewer problems. Ougikubo controlled that fight from start to finish and says he decided to seize the initiative and put his opponent on the back foot,

“I felt that Asakura was holding back on his right hand so I felt this was the chance for me to be aggressive. I felt that I could win the fight after the first round.”

Successful strategy

The strategy was extremely successful. Asakura was forced to constantly defend takedowns and it was Ougikubo pushing the pace in the striking exchanges too.

Ougikubo looked like a man who believed he was going to win while Asakura seemed unable to cope with the pace his opponent was setting. Afterwards the veteran admitted he had come close to retiring on several ocassions,

“I’ve thought about hanging them up several times. But I’m very glad that I didn’t give up. It’s nice to be able to show that as long as you never give up and keep working hard, there will be a chance for success.”

Whether anyone at the UFC was paying attention to Rizin’s New Year’s Eve extravaganza is a matter of conjecture. But Ougikubo is coming off the best year of his entire career and surely can’t have any regrets about the way things have panned out.