Naoki Inoue will be one of the favourites for the upcoming Rizin Grand Prix. Since returning to Japan after a brief UFC stint he has won four fights out of four.
His UFC career was somewhat forgettable with Inoue winning one and losing one. He subsequently parted ways with the promotion and decided to continue his career with Rizin.
Inuoe has won three fights out of three for his new employers choking out Yuki Motoya and Shooto Watanabe in the first round at Rizin 26 and Rizin 22 respectively. These victories followed on from a debut decision win over Trent Girdham at Rizin 21 with the 23 year old hitting top form as he heads into this tournament.
He came across as extremely confident in a recent episode of Rizin Confessions,
“I’ll win against anybody. I’m going to win it all.”
Inoue certainly chose a robust test for his opponent in the opening round. He’ll be up against Shintaro Ishiwatari, a veteran of 48 fights who has won eight of his last ten.
The process for deciding the first round fights was complicated but Inoue was essentially able to pick his opponent. He explains the choice as follows,
“The reason is simple. I want to fight the best guys.”
Ishiwatari may be coming into this bout on the back of a loss, but it couldn’t have been much closer. He dropped a split decision to former Shooto champion, Hiromasa Ougikubo at Rizin 20 and Inoue enjoyed that fight,
“His fight against Ougikubo was really good. I hope the fight against me will be an even better fight,” said Inoue.
MMA runs through the Inoue family. His older sister Mizuki still competes in the UFC. Both siblings began training in martial Aarts when they were young children and Naoki remembers how his sister would encourage him to improve.
“Mizuki would look at my practise and make suggestions,” he said.
“I was terrible, I would be matched with a girl in a tournament and lose. But I felt like quitting was not an option. This is all I had, fighting was all I could do.”
Mizuki is currently training at Longo and Weidman back New York, while Naoki returned to Japan to focus his current mission. His sister has been running the rule over Ishiwatari and sounds impressed,
“He can counter, he can fight coming forwards. I think the fight’s going to be mostly on the feet. He likes to swing that left hand. Those shots are quite powerful. You have to be aware of his left hand,” she warned him.
Inoue sees Ishiwatari as a serious threat too. He knows it will be one of the most eagerly anticipated matchups in the opening round of the Bantamweight Grand Prix and wouldn’t have it any other way,
“The motivation is totally different, how I approach this fight mentally is totally different. I want tough competition and if that gets people excited then it kills two birds with one stone.”