JMMA Monday: A Friendly Competition

Nobuyuki Sakakibara and Scott Coker smile at a press conference.
Promoters Nobuyuki Sakakibara and Scott Coker will work together to put on this year’s NYE show (RIZIN FF)

RIZIN will go to battle this New Year’s Eve. On their biggest card of the year, the promotion will put some of their top names against champions and headliners from Bellator for a five-fight series.

As announced this week, the December 31st card from the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan will be a co-promoted one between RIZIN and Bellator.

Okay, let me be fairer: to call it a “battle” might not be right, because this is actually a partnership of sorts — and a really big one at that!

A big question heading into this year was what would the New Year’s Eve plan look like. In 2019, Bellator went over to Japan to host an event the same week as RIZIN’s New Year’s Eve card. The doubleheader of events seemed to be received as a success by the public and was a big moment for both promotions (talents were shared between both cards that week).

After 2019, it felt like all signs were pointing toward Bellator returning to Japan as soon as possible. But then, obviously, things happened. The COVID-19 pandemic meant that RIZIN was on its own for New Year’s Eve in 2020 and 2021.

It’s very likely that a large-scale collaboration between the promotions has been in the works for a long time. When I spoke to RIZIN’s Shingo Kashiwagi last month and asked about co-promoting, he said: “There has always been plans. We wanted to do something last year. We wanted to do something two years ago.”

So fast-forward to the current year, I had a feeling that this would be the time when the promotions finally work together.

If I had to make a prediction, I would have guessed that they would do a similar two-show arrangement so that both promotions could get their spotlight on a different night. However, this new plan is much grander. Let’s unpack some thoughts about the card.

Dare I Say ‘Super Fights?’

Kleber Koike holds the RIZIN Featherweight Championship beside Patricio Pitbull, who holds the Bellator Featherweight Championship.
Kleber Koike and Patricio Pitbull will meet as part of the 2022 New Year’s Eve card (RIZIN FF)

The top four fights for this card were announced, and it’s already really strong.

To start: Patricio Pitbull vs. Kleber Koike is a champion vs. champion fight. And, I feel this is exactly the type of fight that Koike needed. Pitbull is a well-rounded fighter with tough striking. How will Koike fare against him? This is most certainly a big fight for both of these names.

RIZIN Lightweight Champion Roberto Satoshi Souza will face former featherweight champion AJ McKee Jr. This will be McKee Jr.’s second fight since moving up to lightweight, and will certainly be the biggest challenge that Souza has ever faced.

I would argue that both of those fights are in “Super Fight” status. Four real stars from their respective promotions are being put together to see who is the best. I’m always a little hesitant to say what is an elite booking, but I have no pause in saying that here.

Also: Hiromasa Ougikubo will get his trilogy fight against Kyoji Horiguchi, a bout that he has been asking for as of late. Both guys are currently trying to get things back together – Horiguchi snapped a two-fight skid recently, and Ougikubo is coming off a loss. This is a good time to make this fight, I feel. Another interesting angle to this pairing is that it’s a flyweight fight as well, placing both talents back into that weight class for the first time in years.

And finally, Road FC Champion Kim Soo-chul will represent RIZIN when facing Juan Archuleta. After a stellar performance earlier this year, it’s likely a big deal for some people to already see him back.

Did RIZIN Need This?

You know the saying: Some people are “glass half full,” and others are “glass half empty.” Let me be both for a second, because of fairness and journalism and stuff. Yeah!

There’s a lot to like about this lineup if you’re a RIZIN or Bellator viewer. You’re getting three-or-four potential event headliners packed into one card, and we still don’t know about the 10-or-so fights that will go with it.

But something more hypothetical can’t escape my mind. I can’t stop thinking “what if we didn’t get this?” In a world where we couldn’t get this massive co-promoted event, what would RIZIN be able to throw together?

This hypothetical is sort of focused on a more long-term issue than anything. I struggled with a similar question when we talked about how Floyd Mayweather said he wants to return in 2023 for RIZIN, and I thought “but against who?”

It’s clear right now that RIZIN is a little low on stars. The Asakura brothers aren’t fully in on MMA (who knows if they’ll ever actually retire, but they’re basically half out right now). Tenshin Nasukawa has moved on to boxing… I think. Many other stars from recent years are out of the picture as well.

It feels like the omnipresent question this year has been who can RIZIN make into their next stars. I don’t feel like we have that answer just yet. I think the fact that this year’s New Year’s Eve card is co-promoted buys them some time to figure out who can be the big name now. We’ll see what happens in the coming months.

Okay, here’s the chorus where the glass half full and glass half empty guys sing in unison: This year’s New Year’s Eve card is really strong on paper and fans will look forward to it, but it could be argued that RIZIN needed co-promotion this year to put on a late-December event anywhere near this caliber.

Old Habits Never Die

It’s time to discuss our absolute favorite topic in this column: accessibility. Listen, it’s been a pretty good few months for RIZIN. Their English broadcasts are back and on FITE, a service that most people seem to like.

But we’re going to run into a possible issue on New Year’s Eve.

Bellator announced this week that the card will air during primetime hours for U.S. viewers on Showtime. But, wait. Primetime New Year’s Eve in America is roughly 12 hours after Japan’s. You’re not telling me, oh no…

That’s right, the Bellator broadcast will air on tape delay. The question we do not know the answer to is: does this mean that part of the card won’t air live, or even the rest of the card won’t either?

As much as the quality of Bellator’s broadcasts is a plus, it would take something away from the event to be watching hours after it actually occurred.

Here’s the solution I propose: Air the Bellator part of the card on Showtime on a tape delay, but also have a live FITE broadcast. The FITE broadcast will be pay-per-view and will be in the middle of the night here – it will attract the usual audience that you get for those cards, but likely won’t take away large numbers from the audience that Showtime is hoping to get (viewers that are at home on New Year’s Eve and maybe don’t want to watch possibly-not-sober news anchors or music performances from Times Square).

The accessibility conversations will never go away in the JMMA circles, sadly. It is what it is. Let’s see how this chapter of the saga turns out. I’m feeling optimistic about this one considering it is New Year’s Eve.

Other Notes From The Week

Ren Hiramoto, wearing sunglasses, sits at a RIZIN press conference.
Ren Hiramoto will headline this Sunday’s card against Satoshi Yamasu (RIZIN FF)
  • Before RIZIN and Bellator had their bombshell announcement, I was hoping to actually spend this week’s column previewing the upcoming “LANDMARK” show. I’ll take some time now to unload some thoughts while I have a second:
    • I said this before and I’ll say it again: this is the level of quality you should expect from a b-tier RIZIN card. No amazing fights per se, but a long list of recognizable names that you might consider yourself a fan of. I’d say that this is a step up from what we received on the now-defunct “TRIGGER” series earlier this year and in late 2021.
    • End of the Road? Ren Hiramoto is facing Satoshi Yamasu in the main event. Hiramoto is a big draw, but I don’t know what they could do with him if he loses this and his record drops to one win and three losses. I’ll go ahead and just say that outcome in the fight is my prediction – but I don’t know what would happen with him from there.
    • Neat Matchup: Yuki Motoya vs. Kazuma Kuramoto has the potential to deliver. Real “the people’s main event” vibes to this fight. Look out for that.
    • I’m Glad You’re Here: There are a few names on this card who it is neat to see: Laura Fontoura will return to face SARAMI. Yang Ji-yong, an undefeated prospect, will face Uoi Fullswing. Kiyoshi Kuwabara, sorry, “Samurai Mark Hunt,” ends his four-year (four-year!!!) absence from competition (although side note, I don’t know how to feel about him returning against a 46-year-old Minowaman Z. Maybe that one shouldn’t have been made).
    • Don’t Forget: The cage is back on this show. The structure will be making its first appearance since April. Also: despite being a lower-level card, there will be an English broadcast via FITE.
    • Programming Note: The plan is to have a preview article up on Knockdown News by Saturday morning. Keep an eye out for that!
  • Shooto Japan announced seven fights for their November 27th show at Korakuen Hall at a press conference this week.
    • Shooto Bantamweight Pacific Rim Champion Hayato Ishii will look to defend his belt for the first time in the main event, facing veteran Nobuki Fujii.
    • Kiyotaka Shimizu will have his retirement fight in the co-main event, taking on four-fight undefeated prospect Wataru Yamauchi. Shimizu said he wanted a young fighter on the rise, and boy is that exactly what he’s going to get.
  • DEEP Impact announced some fights for their December 11th doubleheader. Most notably, Hiroto Uesako will meet Yuma Ishizuka. Uesako made his return earlier this year, competing for the first time in nearly two years to defeat Satoru Kitaoka.
  • More fights are on Pancrase’s December 25th show as well. Among the new names in the lineup: vet Issei Tamura, 23-year-old prospect Ryo Takagi, and former UFC fighter Yusuke Kasuya. GONG has further details here.
  • That was a pretty normal week for headlines! Wait:
    • “Kickboxer Kouzi will box 3-0 Team Mayweather prospect J’Hon Ingram on November 13th in Dubai,” I wrote on Sunday night, just moments after I closed this document and thought my writing for the week was over.
    • So, this is the show that is headlined by Floyd Mayweather and Youtuber Deji. What an odd, left field, unexpected matchup. We’ll see how that goes in, wow, only two weeks.
  • Mikuru Asakura’s “Breaking Down” series will have an event on November 3rd. It is set to include 26 matches.
    • The series has continued to be a successful venture for Asakura. He’ll likely be counting his earnings from this latest event while watching RIZIN 40 on TV this New Year’s Eve. Sorry, that was my witty way to say he’s not going to be on that card. Realistically he’s probably at a club instead of watching TV on New Year’s Eve or doing something else that rich Youtubers do.

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