Combat sports is filled with many Cinderella stories. Everyone loves to cheer an underdog who climbs the proverbial later to a championship. Japan has a history of cheering on people who have that yamato-damashii (“Japanese spirit). On November 4, Chihiro Suzuki (12-3, 1 NC), a fighter that fans of Rizin didn’t think would be a champion, achieved the impossible. He became not only the Rizin featherweight champion but simultaneously held a kickboxing championship. Here’s the story of his journey to becoming a rare two-sport champion.

Biography

Born May 14, 1999, in Mitaka, a neighborhood in Tokyo, the 24-year-old Suzuki did not have an easy time growing up. Born a “hafu,” (half-Japanese, half-foreigner), he is of mixed race that includes Peruvian, Spanish, and Russian. Not looking like the other kids growing up, he was bullied a lot. Other students told him “Go back to your country,” “Why can’t you speak Japanese,” and “Don’t touch me” he recalled in a previous interview.

His dad signed him up for karate classes so that he could defend himself from the harsh school environment. While in junior high school,  he made the switch to MMA. That switch would turn out to be a life-changing experience for him.

MMA Debut

Chihiro Suzuki (third from left) won the 2016 RIZIN FF amateur cup. Photo courtesy of Rizin FF.

After training two times a week at a rural dojo, Suzuki entered the RIZIN FF Amateur MMA 2016 Cup in the flyweight division. He won this major amateur fight and this would open doors to his pro debut in Pancrase in February 2017.

His first two fights were highlight-worthy wins. He won both by KO/TKO, with his second pro-fight win coming in at 8 seconds.

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Neo Blood Tournament

Chihiro Suzuki beat 3 opponents to win the Pancrase Neo Blood Flyweight Tournament.

The 17-year-old Suzuki was selected to participate in Pancrase’s prestigious Neo Blood tournament. The tournament has seen winners and competitors go on to big things in MMA. Taking on 3 competitors in 2018, he beat them all (including future Pancrase flyweight champion Satoru Enomoto). Suzuki’s MMA career trajectory was heading in a positive direction.

Weight Cutting Issues

At Pancrase 302, Suzuki was scheduled to take on Tatsuyuki Nakamura. However, at the weigh-ins, he missed by over 6 lbs. Suzuki was visibly distraught and ashamed at the massive weight miss. The fight was canceled. “The day before the weigh-in, I collapsed from dehydration,” he said in a previous interview. “I couldn’t lose any weight, so I took laxatives twice to get everything out, and then I ran, but I couldn’t sweat at all.” He also revealed that weight-cutting caused him to develop bulimia. “After a match, no matter how much I ate, I couldn’t feel full, so I ate five or six bento lunches until I felt sick.”

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A New Path

Suzuki’s weight miss left him with embarrassment. He was attacked on social media as an “unprofessional fighter” and the negativity caused him to have severe depression. The chairman of his gym, Crosspoint Kichioji, Genki Yamaguchi, made a suggestion to Suzuki to compete in kickboxing. “It’s important to find someplace that suits the fighter,” Yamaguchi said in a previous interview. Yamaguchi elaborated that being allowed to only use punches and kicks could be an advantage for the heavy hands of Suzuki.

The Road to Kickboxing Champion

Suzuki easily acclimated to kickboxing. Fighting under traditional kickboxing rules, Shootboxing, and Muay Thai, he lost only one fight while competing full-time in the sport. One of his biggest wins came when he defeated current K-1 star Yuki Yoza in a tough back-and-forth fight. He cemented his legacy as a top-ranked kickboxer when he defeated Keijiro Miyakoshi by TKO in 42 seconds in the first round to become the first KNOCK OUT Black Super Lightweight Champion. The itch to do MMA still hadn’t left the young Suzuki and he would make his return shortly.

MMA Return

Suzuki was set to make his return to MMA at Rizin 30 as a featherweight. He would be taking on the veteran Shoji. What should’ve been a layup for the younger and hungrier Suzuki, turned out to be a huge wake-up call. Suzuki was knocked out in 20 seconds in the first round.

Devasted and dejected by the loss, he couldn’t hold back his feelings. “I shouldn’t have lost,” he said after the fight. “I’m going to revisit my thoughts and start over.” But almost like a premonition, his opponent Shoji talked to him after the fight with some sage advice. “You will be leading the industry one day so believe in yourself,” the veteran told Suzuki.

MMA Comeback

Despite his loss happening in September, Suzuki immediately returned to fight in November at Rizin Trigger 1. He took on another up-and-comer, Sora Yamamoto. He managed to not only outstrike Yamamoto, but also out grapple the grappler.

He would fight a total of 5 times in 2022. He fought in 4 MMA fights and 1 kickboxing match. He won all of them. 2022 would also be the year he got his biggest win when he beat the trash-talking bad boy Ren Hiramoto. Before their fight Hiramoto verbally attacked Suzuki, calling him “boring.” In their fight, Suzuki handily beat Hiramoto on the feet, leaving his face all battered and bruised.

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In the same year, he took a last-minute fight against leglock legend Masakazu Imanari. Despite Imanari applying a leg lock at one point and injuring Suzuki, he still came out the winner. His last win of 2022 saw him get rocked and on the verge of being possibly knocked out by Yoshiki Nakahara. Suzuki gritted his teeth and survived the onslaught and came back to knockout Nakahara with a 1-2 combo.

The First Championship Opportunity

Though Rizin does not have public rankings, it could not be denied that Suzuki should sometime face then featherweight champion Kleber Koike. Koike, one of the most dangerous submission fighters, had all 6 of his Rizin wins by submission. When the two would finally clash, it would certainly be the toughest opponent Suzuki had faced since returning to MMA.

The two were scheduled to face each other with with Koike putting the belt on the line at Rizin 43. But a fighter would miss weight. It wasn’t Suzuki. It was Koike. In a first for Rizin, a champion did not make weight. Officials stripped Koike of the title with the agreement being that only Suzuki would be eligible for the title. If Koike won, his win would be overturned to a no contest.

The two met in the main event and in almost 3 minutes, Koike submitted Suzuki by armbar in the first round. Suzuki left the ring, unable to hold back the emotion of the loss. He collapsed on his knees, crying and hitting the ground with his fist. “I will start over again,” he said after the fight. “I want to become the champion. that doesn’t change. I’ll win in the end. That’s what my life is about.”

The KO Heard Around the World

If there’s one guy who you can call to fight on short notice, it is Suzuki. Super Rizin 2, one of Rizin’s biggest shows of the year had seen some hiccups and last-minute changes. To make up for it, Rizin CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara added one more fight the week of the show. Bellator featherweight champion Patricio Pitbull versus Chihiro Suzuki in a non-title fight. Many overlooked Suzuki for good reason. Pitbull was a champion and considered one of the best in the world.

When the two met in the ring, Suzuki got two liver kicks on Pitbull. Suzuki cornered Pitbull to the ropes and hit the Brazilian with an overhand right that stunned him and then a devastating right cross that knocked Pitbull out cold for the time in his career. The crowd erupted in fervor. Suzuki’s former opponent Kleber Koike jumped from his chair and clapped. Takanori Gomi’s eyes were teary.

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“I’m not going to forget this moment,” Suzuki said after the fight. “This is going to change the world big time.” And for him, it would change.

Two Sport Champion

Suzuki had done the impossible once again in beating Pitbull. When the cards are not in his favor, he manages to defy the odds. The short-notice win netted him another chance to become champion. Suzuki would be heading into enemy territory where he would take on then-champion Vugar Karamov in Rizin’s first international show in Azerbaijan.

Karamov had run through almost all of his opponents in Rizin. He effortlessly submitted Mikuru Asakura to win the vacant featherweight title on the same show that Suzuki got his incredible KO over Pitbull. Suzuki would once again have to contend with not only a strong grappler, but a strong striker as well.

During the fight, Karamov easily took down Suzuki with a single leg. Suzuki held off Karamov from passing his guard. As Karamov stood up, Suzuki still on the ground, threw a powerful wheel kick that immediately sent Karamov into another realm. Karamov collapsed on Suzuki who delivered a rapid series of punches before the referee finally realized Karamov was knockout cold.

“I’m the champion,” Suzuki screamed in celebration on the top of the cage. Once again, the “hafu” from Mitaka proved to doubters that he is the real deal. “Heck yeah! My dream! Finally, I wanted this for so long fighting with 2 swords,” Suzuki said after the fight. “An active kickboxing champion and an active MMA champion at the same time. That’s the best feeling.”

What’s Next

Suzuki will make his first defense as champion as he takes on the veteran Masanori Kanehara at Rizin 46. Photo courtesy of Rizin FF.

Suzuki will make his first defense as champion on Monday, April 29 in Japan at Rizin 46. He will take on the veteran grappler Masanori Kanehara. Kanehara since moving up to featherweight has gone undefeated in Rizin. One of those wins is over former champion Kleber Koike who surprisingly was out-grappled by the former UFC fighter. Kanehara has also shown he is not afraid to strike when in the stand-up. Can Suzuki once again knock down the wall of adversity? Or will he succumb to another veteran’s elite game? In the latest Rizin Confessions video, Suzuki said he is coming out with a book. One of the chapters is called “After Pushing Yourself to the Limit, You Can Still Push Yourself Harder.” That’s been the story of his life and will likely be the story of this fight.

You can catch Chihiro Suzuki defending the featherweight championship against Masanori Kanehara at Rizin 46 at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT with English commentary on Rizin’s streaming service, Rizin.tv.





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