Tenshin Nasukawa, Rizin FF Twitter photo.

Despite being just 18-years-old, there has been plenty of online speculation over the mixed martial arts debut of Tenshin Nasukawa at Rizin 3.

Set to feature against Ukraine’s Nikita Sapun (1-0) on the December 29, 2nd round card in Saitama –  STREAMED LIVE ON MMA PLUS – the Japanese Flyweight is being talked up as the potential future of JMMA.

Over the past decade, since the UFC’s then-parent company Zuffa LLC purchased Pride Fighting Championship, JMMA has undergone a tumultuous time trying to reestablish its identity as the sport’s grandest showcase.

Japanese MMA has always done it ‘big’, to say the least. The stadiums, fireworks and high budget presentations were the backbone of Pride’s early success. It’s a formula which is ingrained in Japanese sporting culture; as also seen in New Japan Pro Wrestling, and an ideology which JMMA has adhered to in almost biblical fashion.

From Kazushi Sakuraba – the original JMMA megastar- to Norifumi Yamamoto, Genki Sudo and Takanori Gomi, there have been a slow influx of top Pacific Ocean talent over the years, but very few have managed to reach the same acclaim as “The Gracie Killer.”

Of course fighters like Tatsuya Kawajiri and Shinya Aoki have gone on to modest success in the UFC, with the latter even beating (and I put strong emphasis on that word) an over the hill (this one too) Sakuraba at the inaugural Rizin show in 2015.

So with the rise of Rizin as a dominant force in Asia, which fighter can lead the way as their very own, homegrown, baby faced superstar? Enter Tenshin.

It’s safe to say that even at such a tender age, Tenshin has all the makings to be a huge draw in MMA. Don’t let his baby face charm fool you, the young buck has a dash of “Rainmaker” about him with the way he carries himself (click here for the reference) and certainly has the in-ring ability to back it up.

According to the brilliant Lawrence Kenshin (who also wrote a superb piece on the talented Tenshin) he held an amateur kickboxing record of 99-5 and has since gone onto forge an unbeaten start to his pro career at 17-0 with 13 Knockouts.

In 2016, he captured the biggest feather in his cap to date, finishing Lumpinee stadium champion Wanchalong, who was considered by many to be in the prime of his career. Highlighted by a spectacular spinning back KO, it was a win which saw many take notice of Nasukawa and speculatively one of the biggest reasons behind Rizin’s interest.

He may still attend high school, but the flare haired Tenshin is gaining some serious mainstream love in Japan, as he is set to feature on the cover of popular JMMA magazine Gong Kakutogi in February. 

Yes, Nasukawa may be new the MMA game, with Rizin 3 marking his junior outing, but if he can transfer even half of his prowess from kickboxing to MMA, then Japanese MMA may just have found their next big thing.