In less than a year of existence, Japan's Rizin Fighting Federation has already established itself as one of MMA's most reliable purveyors of wackiness. This Saturday night (Sunday in North America), the Nobuyuki Sakakibara helmed Pride revival will return to the hallowed Saitama Super Arena with just the kind of delightfully circus-like event we've come to expect from it.
The main highlight of this card will be the opening round of Rizin's 2016 Openweight Grand Prix, a 16-man tournament that will unfurl over three nights between now and New Year's Eve, and feature an eccentric blend of fading Pride legends, largely untested European prospects, and scale-breaking sumo specialists.
Elsewhere on this 13-fight card, we'll witness the returns of some of MMA's most interesting fighters, from Charles "Krazy Horse" Bennett, to Gabi Garcia, to Kron Gracie, and moustachioed UFC outcast Daron Cruickshank. We'll also see showings from two family members of Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto: Miyu and Asen Yamamoto, who happen to be mother and son.
Here's a quick rundown of the card as a whole—though we should add that you'll have a very hard time watching it live from North American soil.
Rizin Fighting World Grand Prix 2016 - First Round:
As stated above, the most noteworthy feature of Rizin's upcoming card is the opening round of the organization's 2016 Grand Prix. Featuring 16 men from all disciplines, backgrounds and corners the globe, this tournament will begin this Saturday, while the middle rounds will occur on December 29, and the finals will occur on New Year's Eve. The two biggest names in this tournament are undoubtedly Wanderlei Silva, who will get a bye until the second round, and Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, who will compete in the first round this weekend.
Here are the details on Saturday's opening round matchups:
Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic (31-11-2) vs. Hyun Man Myung (3-2)
In the most high-profile bout of the night, Pride and UFC veteran Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic will return to action for the first time since his April 2015 TKO of Gabriel Gonzaga—and subsequent PED bust. He'll do so against South Korean striker Hyun Man Myung, who is a veteran of Road FC. In advance of this bout, Cro Cop has made no secret of his intention to take his foe to the mat and end things there.
Kaido "Baruto" Hoovelson (1-0) vs. Kazuyuki Fujita (15-11)
The next biggest bout of the tournament's opening round will see Estonian sumo specialist Kaido Hoovelson, nicknamed Baruto, attempt to improve his MMA record to 2-0 after a successful debut over Peter Aerts. The 365-lb. sumo fighter's opportunity to do so will come against 45-year-old Pride veteran Kazuyuki Fujita, who was knocked out by fellow tournament entrant Jiri Prochazka in April.
Jiri Prochazka (17-3-1) vs. Mark Tanios (5-1)
The aforementioned Prochazka has now fought three times under the Rizin banner. First, he defeated Vadim Nemkov in last year's light heavyweight tournament. Then, he lost to Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal in that tournament's final. Most recently, he rebounded with his first-round smashing of Fujita. In the opening round of this tournament, the Czech fighter, who arguably has the brightest future of any tourney entrant, will make his fourth Rizin appearance opposite a relative unknown in Lebanon's Mark Tanios.
Karl Albrektsson (5-0) vs. Valentin Moldavsky (3-0)
The opening round will also feature a clash between two unbeaten prospects. One of these prospects is Swedish light heavyweight Karl Albrektsson, who made a successful Rizin debut in April with a split win over Vadim Nemkov—the first decision on his record. The other is Russian sambo specialist Valentin Moldavsky, who has won all three of his pro MMA bouts by submission.
Joao Almeida (4-1) vs. Amir Aliakbari (2-0)
One of the more interesting entrants in this tournament is Iran's Amir Aliakbari. With just two fights on his record—one a TKO at the 1:02 mark of the first round, the other a TKO at the 17-second mark of the first round—we don't know much about him as a mixed martial artist. What we do know about him, however, is that his incredibly talented Greco-Roman wrestler with an unfortunately long-list of doping violations behind him. He'll be taking on 6'5 Brazilian striker Joao Almeida in the tournament's open round.
Teodoras Aukstuolis (9-3) vs. Szymon Bajor (15-6)
Last but not least is a bout pairing 24-year-old Lithuanian prospect Teodoras Aukstuolis and hot-and-cold Polish veteran Szymon Bajor. This bout will mark Aukstuolis' third under the Rizin banner. In the first, he took out Brazil's Bruno Henrique Cappelozza with a first-round punch. In his second, he gave up a decision to King Mo. In is third, he rebounded with a three-round thumping of one-time Fedor Emelianenko meal Jaideep Sing. Bajor, meanwhile, is a veteran of Poland's KSW, where he has taken on names like Marcin Tybura and Denis Goltsov.
The Rest of the Card:
Though the Grand Prix's opening round is this card's main selling point, it's certainly not all the card has to offer. Elsewhere on the card, we'll witness showings from BJJ dynamos Kron Gracie and Gabi Garcia, wild enigma Charles Bennett, UFC veteran Daron Cruickshank, and two family members of MMA legend Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto.
Here's a bit of information on the card's remaining action.
Kron Gracie (2-0) vs. Hideo Tokoro (33-28-2)
The evening's main event will pair the 28-year-old Kron Gracie, who has just two MMA bouts under his belt, with the 39-year-old Hideo Tokoro, a veteran of a whopping 63 MMA bouts in major organizations like Bellator, Dream, K-1, and Shooto. What makes this bout interesting, of course, is Gracie's incredible jiu jitsu skill. Though he's severely outmatched in terms MMA experience, he possesses the kind of grappling pedigree that could easily end Tokoro's night in a blink.
Miyu Yamamoto (0-0) vs. Rena Kubota (1-0).
As her name suggests, Miyu Yamamoto is one of the two Kid Yamamoto relatives competing on this card. The older sister of the MMA legend, and ex-wife of Japanese icon Enson Inoue, Miyu is a decorated wrestler who will be making her MMA debut when she steps into the ring this weekend. She'll make this debut against Rena Kubota, a kickboxing veteran with a record of 25-5 in that sport, and one win in MMA competition—a flying armbar that, unsurprisingly, occurred under the Rizin banner.
Daron Cruickshank (17-8) vs. Andy Souwer (1-0)
Elsewhere on the card, we'll watch UFC veteran Daron Cruickshank attempt to improve to 2-0 under the Rizin banner. His opportunity to do so will come against 33-year-old kickboxer Andy Souwer—a two-time K-1 World MAX champion. Though Cruickshank's bread-and-butter is also his striking, don't be surprised if the MMA veteran looks to capitalize on a massive grappling edge by grounding this fight quickly.
Asen Yamamoto (0-1) vs. Kizaemon Saiga (2-1)
The other Yamamoto on the card is Asen Yamamoto—Kid's nephew and, more interestingly, Miyu's Son. After losing his MMA debut to Kron Gracie, the wrestling specialist will look to track down his first MMA win against kickboxer-turned-mixed-martial-artist Kizaemon Saiga.
Charles "Krazy Horse" Bennett (29-30-2) vs. Minoru Kimura (0-0)
Also on this weekend's card, hot-and-cold veteran Charles "Krazy Horse" Bennett will look to bring his MMA record back up to the .500 mark in his debut on the Rizin stage. His opportunity to do so will come against Brazilian kickboxing import Minoru Kimura, who has yet to compete in the mixed martial arts arena.
Kyra Batara (5-3) vs. Kanako Murata (3-0)
Rizin's Saturday card will also feature the fourth effort of 23-year-old Kanako Murata, one of the country's most exciting young female prospects. She'll look to keep her perfect record intact against the younger, but far more experienced American Kyra Batara in a 115 lb. bout.
Gabi Garcia (2-0) vs. Destanie Yarbrough (1-0)
One of the most anticipated features of this latest Rizin card is BJJ whiz Gabi Garcia's third foray into the mixed martial arts ring. This time around, the towering grappler will take on Destanie Yarbrough, a former semi-pro football player who made her MMA debut with a 33-second KO back in April. The two will compete in an openweight women's bout.
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