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Amir Aliakbari is a darkhorse in the Rizin tournament

Most of the attention paid towards Rizin’s openweight grand prix has been directed toward the return of Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and the eventual entry of Wanderlei Silva. However, the tournament also features the big show debut of one of the most intriguing heavyweight prospects in recent memory, Amir Aliakbari.

Aliakbari is a two-time Greco-Roman wrestling world champion. He won the worlds at 96 kg before moving up to heavyweight in 2013 and winning another gold medal. He missed the 2012 Olympics due to a doping violation. After a second doping offense following to 2013 world championships, Aliakbari was stripped of his gold medal and banned from the sport.

In three world championships, he went 14-1 and outscored his opponents 61-11. That is good enough for a 97.88 Wrestler’s Pythagorean Expectation. 

“He won the worlds a few years ago, popped positive though. Beastly talent, unfortunate,” said Tim Hands of Greco-Roman wrestling website “He had a power game. He had a lot of typical Iranian qualities too, quick technical. But again, he’s tainted.”

Aliakbari made his MMA debut last October. He has dispatched both his opponents, Hyung Chul-Lee and Radu Spinghel via first-round knockout, while only spending 1:19 in the cage. His opponent Joao Almeida holds a 4-1 record and is ranked #89 by Fight Matrix.

With the UFC bringing in USADA and coming down harder than ever before on performance enhancing drugs, it will be interesting to see where Aliakbari’s career goes. However, there is no denying his natural talent, and there is a good chance he will make a long run in the Rizin tournament.

Amir Aliakbari Record at World Championships
2013 UWW World Championships at 120kg
Def. Oleksandr Chernetskyi (UKR) 3-1 (Fall)
Def. Johan Euren (SWE) 7-0
Def. Eduard Popp (GER) 7-0
Def. Riza Kayaalp (TUR) 4-1
Def. Heiki Nabi (EST) 4-0

2010 UWW World Championships at 96kg
Def. Davyd Saldadze (UZB) 1-0, 1-0
Def. Mohamed Abdelfatah (EGY) 1-0, 1-0
Def. Kaloyan Dinchev (BUL) 3-0, 1-0
Def. Aslanbek Khushtov (RUS) 1-0, 1-0
Def. Tsimafei Dzeinichenka (BLR) 2-2, 1-0

2009 UWW World Championships at 96kg
Def. Jesper Viholt (DEN 5-0, 4-0
Def. Kaloyan Dinchev (BUL) 3-0, 3-0
Def. Alin Alexuc-Ciurariu (ROU) 2-0, 1-0
Lost to Balasz Kiss (HUN) 1-0, 0-5, 0-1
Def. Davyd Saldadze (UZB) 1-0, 2-2

Film Study: Miyu Yamamoto at the 2016 Senior Canadian Championships

Rizin Fighting Federation returns this weekend with a 13-fight event that features the opening round of their openweight grand prix and some interesting superfights. In Japan, the name of the game is broadcast television, and Rizin secured their timeslot on Fuji TV by acquiring the services of Miyu Yamamoto.

The former multiple-time world champion freestyle wrestler is part of a famous wrestling family. In addition to herself, her sister Seiko is also a world champion, her father Ikuei represented Japan at the 1972 Olympics, and her son Asen and brother Norifumi “Kid” are also MMA fighters. 

Yamamoto recently turned 42 years old, which is certainly not the ideal age to begin an MMA career. Her three world championships came in 1991, 1994 and 1995. However, she has been competing at a high level in wrestling throughout 2016. Yamamoto hoped to make the 2016 Canadian Olympic team at 53 kg, but failed to make the team. 

At the 2016 Senior Canadian Championships, Yamamoto went 4-2 and ended up finishing in fifth place. Her two losses came against eventual champion Samantha Stewart and third place finisher Brianne Barry. In those two matches, Yamamoto scored only one takedown on 16 committed attempts. However, all of her other matches were won by either technical superiority or pin fall. She finished the tournament with a 88.43 Wrestler’s Pythagorean Expectation.

Yamamoto’s wrestling background should serve her well against Rena Kubota. With a background in Shootboxing, instead of regular kickboxing, Kubota does have experience dealing with takedowns. However, in her fight against Jessica Penne, she was taken down 16 times in a 15-minute fight. In three UFC fights, Penne has only landed four takedowns. 

The following are videos of Yamamoto at the 2016 Senior Canadian Championships via 49 North Wrestling.

Miyu Yamamoto vs. Kaitlin Kucharski
In the opening round of the tournament, Yamamoto quickly scores a takedown and works for the fall. She needed only 1:40 to move onto the next round

Miyu Yamamoto vs. Samantha Stewart
Things got a lot tougher for Yamamoto in the second round. Against the eventual champion, Yamamoto went zero for 10 on takedown attempts and eventually lost 12-2. While shooting from the outside without very much setup was not very effective against Stewart, it might work against a less experienced wrestler.

Miyu Yamamoto vs. Rachel Alder
Yamamoto rebounded in the consolation bracket with a dominant 10-0 technical superiority victory over Rachel Alder. She landed a takedown right away and finished with several exposures en route to the 1:25 win.

Miyu Yamamoto vs. Cara Nania
In her third shutout victory of the day, Yamamoto landed xx of xx takedowns on the way to a technical superiority win.

Miyu Yamamoto vs. Brianne Barry
Barry was able to stop five of six takedown attempts from Yamamoto and eliminate her from the running for third place. Barry earned fifth place finishes at the 2010 UWW Junior World Championships and 2014 World University Games.

Bonus Match
This weekend's Rizin event will not be the first time Yamamoto has competed in a ring. On Nov. 20, 1994, she wrestled at Big Egg Wrestling Universe in front of 42,500 fans. The event, which was a professional wrestling show, featured a pair of freestyle wrestling matches and a Shootboxing match. The following is Dave Meltzer's description of the match from the Nov. 28, 1994 Wrestling Observer Newsletter (paywall).

Another 4:00 one-round amateur wrestling match saw Miyu Yamamoto of Japan defeat Ana Gomez of France 4-1. Yamamoto, who wrestles at 110 and won the world championships this year and has won the Japanese nationals the past three years, is considered the best female amateur in Japan and has something of a name because when she came out everyone in the crowd reacted pretty big to her. Gomez took second in the world meet at the same weight. It was easy to see why Yamamoto is considered the best amateur, regardless of weight because she had the quickness and skill of a lighter weight class NCAA champion male wrestler.
— Dave Meltzer

Junior dos Santos gets back on track and other notes from UFC Fight Night 86 and the U.S. Olympic Trials

Heading into UFC Fight Night 86, one of the biggest stories was the decline of former UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos. However, on Sunday, he turned things around with a dominating five-round victory over the streaking Ben Rothwell. Per FightMetric, Dos Santos broke the records for most sig strikes landed in a heavyweight fight, most sig strikes landed to the body and most sig strikes landed over the course of a career for a heavyweight. For the fight, he finished with a 279 StrikeScore, which is his highest score since knocking out Mark Hunt in 2013.

That is the good news. The bad news is that prior to his second fight with Cain Velasquez, Dos Santos’ average StrikeScore was 1231. Even with the victory, his Rankings Momentum only improved two points and still stands at -24.7. Dos Santos needs to continue to turn out impressive performances in order to get back into the legitimate title picture.

Alejandro Perez scores highest StrikeScore of 2016
Despite closing as a +110 underdog, Perez put up one of the most ridiculous stat lines in recent MMA history. He landed 87 total strikes and 48 sig strikes while absorbing absolutely zero. He finished the fight via submission due to strikes in the first round. For the performance, Perez has supplanted Anthony Johnson and Chris Camozzi for the most efficient striking performance of the year. The Mexican fighters is now in the driver’s seat to take home the best striker of the month and year awards.

1Alejandro PerezIan EntwistleUFC Fight Night 864/10/201611800
2Anthony JohnsonRyan BaderUFC on Fox 181/30/20169500
2Chris CamozziJoe RiggsUFC Fight Night 832/21/20169500
4Derek BrunsonRoan CarneiroUFC Fight Night 832/21/20166800
5Damian StasiakFilip PejicUFC Fight Night 864/10/20166700
6Teemu PackalenThibault GoutiUFC Fight Night 842/27/20165900
7Oluwale BamgboseDaniel SarafianUFC Fight Night 832/21/20164800
8Sheldon WestcottEdgar GarciaUFC 1951/2/20163424
9Jason SaggoJustin SalasUFC 1963/5/20162173
10Derrick LewisDamian GrabowskiUFC Fight Night 822/6/20161539

Another interesting addition to the top-ten is Damian Stasiak’s first-round submission over Filip Pejic. Despite only attempting three strikes and landing two, Stasiak scored a whopping 6700. No statistical measure is perfect, and StrikeScore greatly rewards fighters who do not absorb punishment (Pejic landed zero strikes). In a way, taking your opponent down and working for a submission is the best striking defense you can employ.

Bojan Velickovic vs. Alessio Di Chirico Decision
Velickovic took home a unanimous decision victory over Di Chirico in the opening bout of the night. The judges scored it 29-28 (twice) and 30-27. However, of the 15 media scores tracked by MMADecisions, only four scored it for Velickovic. StrikeScore gives the striking advantage to Di Chirico in all three rounds.

The Bellator Three (Aaron Pico, Ed Ruth and Tyrell Fortune) Olympic Trials Recap
This past weekend at the U.S. Olympic Trials, three Bellator signings were in action. Aaron Pico, Ed Ruth and Tyrell Fortune all previously signed with the promotion with the intention of converting to MMA following their wrestling career. While none of the three ended up making the team, Pico, at only 19 years of age, made a lot of noise en route to coming up one match short of Rio 2016.

In his first match, Pico fell behind former Hodge Trophy winner (wrestling’s Heisman Trophy) Jayson Ness 9-0. If he had given up another point, Pico would have lost via technical fall. Instead, he rattled off 20 unanswered points to instead win with a technical fall. In the next round, he defeated two-time NCAA champion Jordan Oliver 11-9. In the semifinals, he scored a 12-1 technical fall over Reece Humphrey. The finals of the Olympic Trials is a best of three series. Pico defeated Frank Molinaro 4-2 in the first match before dropping the next two and finishing second.

Ruth scored a quick 10-0 tech fall over Deron Winn in the opening round. However, he then fell to Keith Gavin 15-8 and was eliminated from championship contention. Ruth then dropped out of the consolation bracket via injury default.

Fortune lost his first match to Dom Bradley. He then forfeited his way out of the competition.

Aaron Pico vs. Jayson Ness

Most Dominant Champions at the Freestyle U.S. Olympic Trials
The following wrestlers were the most dominant at their weight. The measure is Wrestler’s Pythagorean Expectation (WPE) you can read about it here.

57 kgDan Dennis96.68
65 kgFrank Molinaro71.91
74 kgJordan Burroughs97.57
86 kgJ'den Cox78.11
97 kgKyle Snyder88.69
125 kgTervel Dlagnev95.49