Though not the main event of RIZIN 45, Juan Archuleta took most of the headlines heading into the final major MMA event of 2023.
Heading into fight week, Asakura was attempting to become a two-time bantamweight champion after previously holding the belt in 2020 before falling to Kyoji Horiguchi. Archuleta took the belt off of Hiromasa Ougikubo in his last outing at Bellator MMA x RIZIN 2.
However, continuing the trend of the seemingly cursed RIZIN bantamweight division, Archuleta missed weight for his co-main event fight with Kai Asakura to get stripped of the belt. The scheduled fight was on track to give Archuleta a chance to be the promotion's first champion to make a successful title defense before the 36-year-old weighed in above the 135-pound limit.
In the hours between the weigh-in and fight night, the status of the co-main event remained up in the air. The fight was still in limbo heading into the start of the event as drama continued. To begin the night, the ring announcer told the crowd that the fight was still in question and Asakura would only compete if Archuleta weighed in at a contracted limit an hour before their scheduled bout.
The fight eventually would take place with only Asakura able to win the belt. In case of an Archuleta victory, the fight would be ruled a no contest.
Watch Kai Asakura knock out Juan Archuleta at RIZIN 45
After all of the chaos leading up to their fight, Kai Asakura and Juan Archuleta put together a fight to remember at RIZIN 45.
In a hectic round one, both fighters would hurt each other and score a knockdown, with Asakura appearing to hold the edge. As the round closed, Archuleta unleashed a flurry of punches with some landing after the bell. The referee would punish the former champion with a yellow card.
Entering round three, Archuleta seemed likely down two rounds and pushed the pace for a finish. Coming out aggressive, Archuleta would miss on a 1-2 combination just as Asakura timed a knee that landed flush on the body and beard. Archuleta would drop, and the fight would be stopped seconds after, awarding Asakura as the new champion.
After the fight, Archuleta apologized to the crowd for his weight miss and compromised performance while simultaneously congratulating his opponent.