Takafumi Otsuka brings a lot of experience into the Rizin bantamweight Grand Prix. He is a veteran of 47 fights who made his debut all the way back in 2006.

He has competed in two Dream bantamweight Grand Prix tournaments and the first Rizin bantamweight Grand Prix. On two of these occasions Otsuka was a semi finalist but he never managed to win.

It is a record Otsuka is conscious of as he prepares to face Hiroki Yamashita in the opening round at Rizin 29 next week. The 34 year old seems to feel that either the fans or fighters are writing him off heading into this tournament,

“I’ve entered many tournaments starting with Dream. I’ve never won but I’ve continued to compete on the frontline (so) don’t you dare underestimate (me).”

Keisuke Takazawa / Fightgraph

Well travelled

Otsuka might never have won a tournament but he won the Deep bantamweight title twice as well as the Deep featherweight title. He has never been afraid to travel, beating future ONE Championship and UFC star Leandro Issa in Brazil back in 2017.

A year later he returned to Brazil to face Rafael Dos Anjos in his hometown. The future future UFC lightweight champion needed a split decision to squeeze past Otsuka that night.

He has spent most of his career competing for Deep and Dream but also travelled to Korea to fight on a Road FC card. So when it comes to international experience Otsuka has an advantage over many of the younger fighters in the Rizin Grand Prix.

He had hoped to rematch Shintaro Ishiwatari who beat him by decision in the semi final of the 2017 Rizin Grand Prix,

“I’m committed to this tournament and I (want) revenge on Ishiwatari. I might get that chance,” he said.

Keisuke Takazawa / Fightgraph

Not in our league

But those hopes were quashed when Ishiwatari was eliminated by Naoki Inoue at Rizin 28 last Sunday. First and foremost he needs to get past Yamashita who is coming off an impressive win at Rizin 27 but has a very mediocre record.

Otsuka does not sound particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of facing a fighter who has managed to win just eight fights in eight years as a professional. He didn’t mention Yamashita by name but made it fairly clear he doesn’t feel the 33 year old is on his level,

“There are some killers participating in this tournament but there are (also) guys who don’t even know why they are here. They are just not in our league.”

Otsuka has not fought for Rizin since that 2017 loss to Ishiwatari. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder and he feels extremely confident of progressing to the second round of the tournament,

“I’m back in Rizin, I guess they needed me. I want to fight Kintaro in the quarter finals.”