2015 was a big year for Japanese MMA. Pancrase inked a deal with UFC Fight Pass, broadcasting their Tokyo shows live to the world. And, Rizin Fighting Federation (Rizin FF) rose out of the ashes of the Pride legacy, with Nobuhiko Takada and Nobuyuki Sakakibara at the helm.
The first show was a 3-day event featuring two full fight cards split between December 29th and the 31st, with a grappling tournament and MMA expo in the middle on the 30th.
The 29th featured the first round of the ~100kg tournament. With a number of relatively unknown fighters in with King Mo, and the native Satoshi Ishii, nobody knew what to expect. And, it did not disappoint – all four qualifiers ended in knockouts. Not only that, but the high level of the fighters left Saitama Super Arena buzzing.
Tsuyoshi Kosaka (TK) fought a nearly 12kg-over James Thompson who was unable to make the 120kg agreement. TK fought incredibly hard – his first match in 10 years since retiring – placing solid punches on Thompson, punishing him with knees to the head on the ground, and eventually dropping the giant with punches in round 2. And, this was only the first fight of the day!
The main event, Sakuraba versus Aoki was a fight that should arguably never have happened, and ended with Aoki on top battering his hero with punches from the top while appealing to the referee to stop the fight. The towel was thrown from Saku’s corner, but the whole thing left a somewhat bitter taste at the end of an otherwise superb card of fights.
The New Year’s Eve card had a lot to live up to, the ripples of the old Pride show days beginning to be felt strongly from the 29th. The cute, highly skilled, and much hyped Shootboxing girl, Rena, lit the torch in the first bout of the night with a beautiful flying armbar. Making her win all the more impressive was the fact that she’d only started grappling recently.
Brennan Ward took out a notoriously tough Ken Hasegawa at middleweight, Hasegawa losing all power and stamina.
Gabi Garcia was dropped early in her fight, showing she has a vulnerable chin and no striking
skills, although still taking out Lei’D Tapa with ground and pound.
Peter Aerts stepped in on 2 days notice to replace Jerome Le Banner in a very Pride-esque match up against former Sumo, Baruto. Aerts tried for an arm bar and a choke but was overpowered by Baruto on top.
Andy Souwer applied precision striking to Yuichiro Nagashima, finishing him viciously in the first round with well placed power shots to the head and body. A treat to watch the technician at work.
Kron Gracie dominated a young, tough, good wrestler from the Yamamoto family. Asen Yamamoto sealed his own fate when attempting to slam Gracie while going for a triangle choke. The slam allowed Gracie to synch the choke perfectly and the young lad was schooled from one of the best in the game.
Fedor chose his opponent wisely – Jaideep Singh, a dangerous striker, young, tall and powerful, but ultimately not at the level to deal with the legendary Russian. A good comeback fight for Fedor, but the fans will be expecting to see him against someone with more than two professional MMA fight under their belt next time.
King Mo knocked out Jiri Prochazka to take the ~100kg crown in the grueling tournament. Fight fans should keep their eyes on Prochazka, and indeed all of the tournament competitors, from now, and expect to see big things. All came in shape, all brought the fight, and all gained the respect of the Japanese fans immediately.
Rizin FF marks a solid and exciting return of mainstream JMMA. The show production was nothing short of outstanding, incomparable to a UFC show. The whole staff clearly worked incredibly hard to make this end-of-year martial arts show, going out on terrestrial TV again for the first time since the fall of DREAM, the rebirth of Japan’s MMA glory days. We cannot wait to see what Rizin FF brings in 2016.
By: Stewart Fulton