The Pia Arena played host to the first of two back-to-back events as Japanese promotion Rizin FF made its return to action following the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Taglined “Starting Over,” Rizin FF 22 boasted a nine-fight card, featuring seven MMA bouts, as the action played out in front of a reduced-capacity crowd in Yokohama, Japan.

Here, we recap the best of the action as the Japanese promotion emerged from its COVID-19 lockdown…

Dominant de Souza claims comeback win

Brazilian fan-favorite Roberto de Souza made a victorious return to the Rizin FF ring with a one-round demolition of Yusuke Yachi in the main event of the evening in Yokohama.

De Souza’s previous MMA appearance for the Japanese promotion saw him eliminated from the lightweight grand prix in just 75 seconds by American Johnny Case at Rizin FF 19 as the Brazilian lost his undefeated record in devastating fashion last October.

“Satoshi” subsequently featured in a grappling exhibition at Rizin FF 21, where he defeated five opponents, back-to-back, in a combined time of six minutes, five seconds. But his eagerly-anticipated MMA return didn’t come until Sunday, as he bounced back into the win column in dominant fashion.

It took De Souza (10-1) just 60 seconds to get the action to the mat, and the Brazilian immediately transitioned to mount. He then unleashed a bombardment of ground and pound that left his opponent in a nightmare predicament.

Yachi (21-10) twice considered giving up his back but, after realizing that de Souza was ready to lock up a rear-naked choke at the slightest opening, the Japanese fighter opted to remain with his back on the mat. With the submission route not available, de Souza continued with his relentless barrage of ground strikes that eventually forced the first-round stoppage as he registered his 10th career win in emphatic fashion.

Hamasaki rebounds with submission win

Former Rizin FF super atomweight champion Ayaka Hamasaki produced a dominant performance to outstrike, then outgrapple Deep Jewels atomweight champion Tomo Maesawa and restate her championship credentials in the promotion’s 48-kilo (105.8-pound) division.

Hamasaki (20-3) lost her title to Seo Hee Ham on New Year’s Eve last year at Rizin FF 20, but she bounced back in fine style to submit Maesawa (13-11) via second-round Kimura and keep herself in the mix for a rematch with the South Korean champ.

Hamasaki dropped Maesawa early in Round 1, but the 32-year-old immediately bounced back up and returned fire with strikes of her own in a breathless start to the matchup. Working out of the southpaw stance, Hamasaki slowed the tempo and started to pick off her shorter opponent, using her height and reach advantage to connect with her strikes almost.

In the final minute of the round, Hamasaki managed to trip Maesawa to the mat and immediately went on the attack as she established side control and worked for an armbar. But the Deep Jewels champion fought hard to avoid the submission and survived the round.

The action went to the mat much earlier in Round 2, as Hamasaki again worked her way towards an armbar attempt. Maesawa again attempted to use her strength to hold off the submission, but this time Hamasaki wouldn’t be denied, as she switched techniques and locked up the fight-ending Kimura to claim the 20th win of her career.

Asakura makes title statement

Immediately before Hamasaki’s victory, fellow super atomweight contender Kanna Asakura delivered a statement performance of her own as she proved her credentials as a title threat by scoring a decisive victory over teenager Mizuki Furuse.

Asakura (17-4) was submitted by Ayaka Hamasaki for the vacant title back in 2018 and has been looking to work her way back to the belt ever since. And, after picking up victories over Alesha Zappitella and Jayme Hinshaw at Rizin FF 18 and Bellator 237 respectively, Asakura produced a decisive performance to finish Furuse (7-7) and move one step closer to her goal.

Despite her mixed record, Furuse headed into the matchup on a four-fight win streak after suffering her career losses in her first few fights. But the 19-year-old was quickly taken down by Asakura, who took her back and delivered a non-stop barrage of strikes that eventually forced a swift first-round TKO stoppage.

Inoue grabs quickfire sub

Former UFC bantamweight Naoki Inoue delivered an impressive performance to hand veteran Shooto Watanabe his first loss since 2017.

Watanabe (20-5-6) went into the matchup riding a nine-fight unbeaten run, but Inoue (14-2) stuffed his early takedown attempt, took things to the mat himself, snatched the 31-year-old’s neck and locked up a rear-naked choke for a clinical first-round finish.

Rizin FF 22: Full results

  • Roberto de Souza def. Yusuke Yachi via TKO (ground strikes) – Round 1
  • Ayaka Hamasaki def. Tomo Maesawa via submission (Kimura) – Round 2
  • Kanna Asakura def. Mizuki Furuse via TKO (ground strikes) – Round 1
  • Naoki Inoue def. Shooto Watanabe via submission (rear-naked choke) – Round 1
  • Tetsuya Seki def. Kouya Kanda via TKO (punches) – Round 2
  • Kyohei Hagiwara def. Rikuto Shirakawa via TKO (punches) – Round 3
  • Kenji Kato def. Erson Yamamoto via TKO (punches) – Round 1