Krush kicks off 2013 with their anticipated 67kg tournament, set to crown a champion in one of Krush's two new weight classes. This post is an attempt at ranking the 8 fighters by their chances of winning the tournament, as I have done with previous one night tournaments.
1. Yuta Kubo - Kubo would have been the tournament favorite if his quarterfinal opponent was still Houcine Bennoui or Roman Mailov. Now, he has the easiest first round matchup against TaCa and a pretty clear path to the finals, as he would fight Shintaro Matsukura or Makihira Keita in the semifinals, neither of which are near Kubo's level. Throw in that he owns a win over one of the upper bracket favorites in Abdallah Ezbiri and he would be the favorite against Yuji Nashiro as well. Add on to this that he is one hell of a tournament fighter, as he made it to the finals of the first K-1 63kg tournament and was winning the fight until a 3rd round knockout, and he won the second 63kg tournament with wins over Kizaemon Saiga, Masaaki Noiri and Koya Urabe, three of Japan's best Lightweights. He even was slotted into the finals of the 2009 AJKF Lightweight tournament as a reserve fighter and was beating tournament favorite Masahiro Yamamoto until a 3rd round knockdown. If there's one downside for Kubo, it is that everyone is expecting him to win this tournament, so there may be a bit of pressure there. He also has shown tendencies to crack a little in the key moments of tournament finals, so it is definitely not out of the realm of possibility that Nashiro could exploit that in the finals.
2. Yuji Nashiro - Despite the toughest quarterfinal matchup, Nashiro will be aided by a drop in weight and fighting someone close to his size. Nashiro has had mixed results in tournaments, being KO'd by Yuichiro Nagashima in the opening round of the 2010 K-1 Japan MAX Tournament, then famously winning 2011 Japan MAX Tournament after an upset win in the quarterfinals over Albert Kraus, a win that shocked everyone watching. Should he get past Ezbiri in the quarters, he could possibly rematch Yuya Yamamoto in the semis, the man he knocked out to win the Japan MAX Tournament. Nashiro was able to excel in a weight class that he was not built for, so I don't see any reason why he can't do it in a more natural weight class for him and maybe even give Yuta Kubo a run for his money in the finals. (Side note: Nashiro came in overweight on his first two attempts and will be deducted a point to start his quarterfinal matchup against Ezbiri)
3. Abdallah Ezbiri - Being the only foreigner in the tournament, Ezbiri has a bit of pressure on him, and it won't be easy as he faces Yuji Nashiro in the opening round. Ezbiri fought Kubo back in June, but was knocked down twice and wasn't able to take a round off of him. It's hard to judge where Ezbiri stands against a fighter like Nashiro, as Kubo can make any fighter look bad. Because of this, and the talent drop off after Nashiro, I have Ezbiri at 3rd and should he get past Nashiro, I would definitely peg him as the favorite of the remaining 3 fighters in his half of the bracket to make it to the finals. I even think he could give Kubo some trouble in the finals, as he has shown some weaknesses in tournament finals.
4. Hitoshi Tsukagoshi - The WILDRUSH League runner-up has one distinct disadvantage as he is coming up from fighting at 63kg, though was not able to move up over the course of a year like Kubo and as so, will likely be one of the smaller fighters in the tournament. That being said, he has a favorable quarterfinal matchup against the struggling Yuya Yamamoto. There's no reason he can't get past Nashiro or Ezbiri in the semifinals, but he will certainly not be the favorite and will need to find some magic if he wants to have a chance of getting to the finals, let alone winning the tournament.
Fighters 5-8 after the break
5. Shintaro Matsukura - I had a hard time differentiating between spots 5-7, as there isn't much difference skill-wise between the three fighters, but I guess if I had to rank somebody the highest of the three, it would be Shintaro Matsukura. He is still young and improving every time he fights and I think he will win against Makihira Keita. That being said, Matsukura doesn't have a good gas tank, and a win in the quarterfinals likely means a matchup with Kubo in the semifinals. He has decent power and has hung tough against top competition, but saying that I give him a chance against Kubo is just something that I have trouble doing.
6. Makihira Keita - Everything I said about Matsukura can be applied to Keita other than his record against top competition. The only real top fighter he faced was Masaaki Noiri, who used him as target practice for 3 rounds at Krush.22. Because of that, I ranked Matsukura over Keita, though their chances against Kubo in the semis are just about the same.
7. Yuya Yamamoto - Just a year and a half ago, I said I believed Yuya Yamamoto was the 2nd best 70kg fighter in Japan and had him pegged to make it to the finals of the Japan MAX Tournament. While that held true and he made it to the finals, the times have changed quite a bit. A debatable win over Kenta, a knockout loss to Yuji Nashiro and the reemergence of Yasuhiro Kido moved Yamamoto from 2nd to 5th at 70kg. But the worst had yet to come, as Yuya went 0-2 in 2012 as he was knocked out by Xu Yan then lost to the unheralded Asami Zaurus. However, the move to 67kg and the career low loss could be motivating factors for the former K-1 MAX World Semifinalist. I am placing Yamamoto this low due to poor performances. That being said, he has good power, has a good gas tank, can take a punch and has performed well in tournaments before, so I may even pick him to beat Tsukagoshi, who isn't the most talented fighter. Hell, he may even give the winner of Nashiro-Ezbiri a run for his money. But honestly, I have no idea what to expect from Yuya Yamamoto at this point in his career and have been disappointed by him far too many times to warrant putting him any higher than the 5-7 range.
8. TaCa - TaCa finds himself at the bottom of this list because, well, he has to fight Yuta Kubo in the opening round. He does hold a win over Hitoshi Tsukagoshi, but that won't help him much as he is in deep waters to start the night. The fact that he was also initially slated to fight in the reserve fight should tell you why he's placed at 8th. I'm not saying there's 0 chance he'll beat Kubo, as he does have good power, but like Tsukagoshi and Keita, he has been fighting at 63kg until this tournament and will give up some size to Kubo. Honestly, I'd say his best chance at winning is a Kubo injury.