JMMA Monday: Is The RIZIN Vibe Shift Happening?

RIZIN fighters pose at a press conference.
Three title fights are set for RIZIN 35 (RIZIN FF)

Do you sense a change coming? I certainly do.

RIZIN has definitely been an interesting promotion to cover in recent years. They have experienced drama, made stars, and continued to be a backbone for one of the strongest ecosystems in the sport. But to say things have been flawless would, of course, not be true.

It has been seen over the past two years that RIZIN has been playing shorthanded. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions that surround it, the promotion has relied heavily on talent from within Japan. But at the same time, the promotion has been increasing the number of events they hold per year. We have already seen three cards in 2022, and by the end of April we’ll be up to five for the year. For reference, they did six events in 2019 in total. You can probably see where a limited roster plus a higher number of events could cause problems.

It was recently mentioned online by the We Are RIZIN podcast that interest in the promotion has been somewhat smaller recently. I obviously don’t have the numbers in front of me regarding pay-per-view buys and I can only go off what I see, but I definitely feel like international interest has dropped over the past year-or-so. In part, I think this is inevitable. More events means more of a time investment, and some people simply don’t have that time. But also, I think the cards as of late might have garnered less interest as more domestic talent means less names that international viewers won’t recognize if they aren’t regular viewers of the product or other JMMA promotions. From what I have seen, it does feel like there has been less interest overall.

The doubleheader that RIZIN is putting on next month looks promising. I know you’re likely sick of hearing this phrase around the world, but the “return to normalcy” for the promotion feels like it is finally happening now. We’re getting more international fighters again, and some of the higher quality title fights that you can make are being put together. RIZIN are bringing back some names we’re familiar with, and they’re also testing out some new names that already have some buzz surrounding them – take for example Spike Carlyle, who tore up the U.S. scene last year and has been calling for a RIZIN fight for ages. It feels like a vibe shift is happening, and I’m predicting this might mean the beginning of a new era for the promotion. Not to get ahead of myself.

The RIZIN product is always unique in its presentation, and that in itself will always bring a crowd to it. As previously documented, the promotion puts together a unique show every time, and the ruleset they have is rarely utilized elsewhere in the MMA world. This alone will always bring some people in. This is no cry that RIZIN’s viewership was going to drop to zero, or that the interest is dying in the international market. The nostalgia that JMMA brings and the style it has will always attract a crowd of some sort. However, it is the stronger and even stacked shows that generate large amounts of interest.

Before the pandemic, RIZIN’s product was very international. Just look at the RIZIN 20 card and count how many flags are represented in the lineup. I’m personally sensing that we are inching towards a return that previous focus. That 2019 New Year’s Eve card is an example of how stacked RIZIN were able to make their cards that year. Those international, high quality shows likely would have continued if not for a global pandemic, but we could be re-entering into that type of era now.

The vibes might be changing.

Other Notes From The Week(s)

  • RIZIN held a press conference last week for RIZIN 35 and their third “TRIGGER” event. Many fights were announced for the lineup, including a bout between Kanna Asakura and Shooto Japan Champion SARAMI. As expected, many international fighters were booked for the show as well.
  • ONE Championship held their 10th-anniversary card, “ONE X,” on Friday. JMMA was highly represented:
    • In the biggest JMMA matchup, Yoshihiro Akiyama scored a stoppage win against fellow veteran Shinya Aoki on the main card.
    • Former RIZIN Super Atomweight Champion Ham Seo Hee picked up a win in her rematch against Denice Zamboanga, defeating her via unanimous decision.
    • Jihin Radzuan handed Krazy Bee talent Itsuki Hirata her first pro loss, beating her in a split decision outcome.
    • Shoko Sato and Ryogo Takahashi lost their respective matchups.
    • In a Pancrase vs. Shooto Japan matchup, Senzo Ikeda stopped Ryuto Sawada in the first bout of the evening.
    • Mei Yamaguchi also appeared in a grappling exhibition against Danielle Kelly – a name that has been making waves as of late. They both settled with a draw.
    • More details on the card can be found in my report here.
  • We never got to react to RIZIN 34 on this blog. I personally thought a lot of the early bouts on the card stole the show, as they were fast paced and packed with finishes. If you want a closer analysis of the fights, the We Are RIZIN podcast did an episode last week about it.
  • Pancrase returned last week with an event in Shinjuku. Here’s some notes:
    • Two prospects earned champion status. Most notably, 18-year-old prospect KAREN scored a fourth-round stoppage win against veteran Emi Fujino to become the new strawweight champion. Sogo-Kaku wrote a quick hit about the fight here.
    • Undefeated Yura Naito also stopped Rocky Kawamura in just 42 seconds to earn a middleweight title.
      • I said before that the theme on this card felt like one generation versus another. Youth came out on top that night.
    • Also: Satoru Enomoto is your new Flyweight King of Pancrase. He went five rounds against Toru Ogawa to win the belt.
  • Former Shooto Japan Pacific Rim Champion Tatsuya Ando dethroned Ryo Okada at the promotion’s March 21st card, stopping him in the second round with strikes.
  • The JMMA scene has a pretty quiet week ahead… Only thing of note is a small Shooto Japan card taking place on Sunday.
    • But my goodness, the kickboxing and boxing scenes have a lot to discuss. RISE Kickboxing and K-1 Japan both have cards, and a fight between Gennadiy Golovkin and Ryota Murata is on Saturday.
  • There was no “JMMA Monday” issue last week. Here’s some quick news tidbits from last week that I’ll fit in now:
    • Gunnar Nelson beat Takashi Sato at UFC’s London, England “Fight Night” card. Sato was a short-notice opponent filling in for Claudio Silva.
    • DEEP is piecing together a solid doubleheader for May 8th. They’re planning on presenting DEEP 107 Impact and DEEP Jewels 37 on the same day. This means that the semi-finals of their flyweight tournament and a title fight between Makoto Shinyru and Yamato Fujita could happen on the same day. More here and here.
    • Yoshinari Nadaka is returning to Battle of Muay Thai (BOM) on April 24th to face Petniphon Suk.chorobo.
    • Ren Hiramoto showed up to RIZIN 34 to hate. You have to love it (or hate it? Up to you, honestly).

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