Rizin Fight Federation returned to our lives on Thursday morning, taking place in the fabled Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan—made famous by the heady days of now-defunct MMA promotion Pride.
The 13-fight show featured the quarterfinals of Rizin’s inaugural open-weight tournament, which included a notable main event contest between Muhammed “King Mo” Luwal and Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic. Non-tournament fights included names such as the bizarre Rin Nakai, Satoru Kitaoka, Daron Cruickshank, Andy Souwer and The Ultimate Fighter’s Kai Kara-France.
If you didn't manage to stay awake for the show, don't worry—we've got you covered. You can also catch the fights for yourself here. A word of warning: you may find Joe Warren’s commentary annoying.
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Mirko Cro Cop knocks out King Mo to advance to the semi-finals
Undoubtedly the marquee match-up in the quarterfinals of Rizin’s inaugural Openweight Grand Prix, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic took on Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal in another fight cobbled together at the last minute—this time, due to Wanderlei Silva pulling out of a fight with Cro Cop just weeks before today’s event. A lot of respect should be shown to King Mo for stepping up against such a dangerous opponent on short notice.
Wearing his wrestling shoes akin to the late Kevin Randleman, King Mo was hoping to achieve a similar result as Randleman shocked the world by knocking out Cro Cop back in 2003. The fight got off to a good start for King Mo as he caught a kick of Cro Cop to drive him down to the mat, before flattening the Croatian out on the ground to land some punches from on top. Cro Cop did a good job to nullify King Mo’s ground and pound attack, which prompted the referee to stand the pair up with around two minutes remaining in the first round. The last two minutes were closely contested as King Mo looked for another takedown, which were largely defended successfully by Cro Cop, who drove knees and kicks to the body in response until the first round ended.
The second was started pensively by both men as Cro Cop tried to ascertain his distance and King Mo circled away from the cocked left leg of his foe. Cro Cop threw a head kick which was blocked by King Mo and the two traded punches. King Mo then went for a forced double leg takedown, which was easily rebuffed by Cro Cop. The Croatian then forced Lawal into the corner and ripped a left uppercut to slump King Mo, only for Cro Cop to deliver more vicious punches to call it a night. Cro Cop advances to the semi-finals to set up a contest with the behemoth Baruto.
Tournament favorite Amir Aliakbari defeats the returning Heath Herring
The return of Heath Herring completed the dose of Pride nostalgia Rizin provides. A last-minute replacement for Shane Carwin, who pulled out of the Grand Prix for undisclosed reasons, Herring hadn’t fought since 2008, when he lost a unanimous decision to Brock Lesnar at UFC 87.
It wasn’t exactly an easy return for “The Texas Crazy Horse”—he was making his return to the ring against Amir Aliakbari, a gold medal winner at the 2010 wrestling World Championships and an unbeaten MMA heavyweight prospect with all his wins coming by way of first-round knockout. Aliakbari is considered the Openweight Grand Prix favourite for a reason.
Sporting his typically eccentric hair style and shorts adorning the image of Mickey Mouse, Herring weighed in a massive 274lbs ahead of the fight and looked out of fight shape as Aliakbari asserted his dominance on the fight early. Scoring an early knockdown, Aliakbari then slammed Herring down with a spectacular German suplex to find himself in side control to land a number of heavy punches from on top. The Iranian then had Herring in the crucifix position to dish out further punishment and even landed a couple of soccer kicks after a scramble. Bloodied and beaten, Herring did well to escape the first round.
From all of his offensive output in the first round, Aliakbari appeared tired from his earlier exploits. Herring smelled blood and took hold of his opponent in the clinch to deliver a number of hard knees to the head of Aliakbari. The Iranian escaped and began to maul Herring on the floor once again after Herring had slipped.
Herring escaped, though, and landed a nice head kick after returning to his feet. The pair then started trading punches with Herring landing the harder, cleaner shots before Aliakbari forces the fight into the corner of the ring with his clinchwork. The referee then restarted the fight due to inactivity with Aliakbari just leaning on his foe. This sequence, in its entirety, happened once again before Aliakbari landed a late takedown. It looked like there would be a third round, but the judges awarded the win to Aliakbari from those two rounds—much to the chagrin of those watching. The Iranian tournament favourite is now in the Rizin Openweight Grand Prix semi-finals.
Disappointing result for Herring, but here’s hoping it means Herring returns to the Rizin commentary booth soon in place of Joe Warren, whose take on colour commentary leaves much to be desired.
Estonian sumo wrestler Baruto smothers Tsuyoshi Kohsaki to advance to semi-finals
In a fight only Japanese MMA could only conjure up, Estonian superheavyweight and beloved sumo wrestler Baruto took on Japanese legend Tsuyoshi Kohsaka. 46-year-old Kohsaka, who was a late replacement for Czech fighter Jiri Prochazka, had not fought since 2006.
Kohsaka landed a big right hand as soon as the contest started, to which Baruto replied with a crushing knee right to the body which folded Kohsaka like a deck chair. After that, it was all Baruto, who had his opponent in a front headlock to drive knees to Kohsaka’s skull. This continued for around two minutes before Kohsaka got back to his feet, which prompted Baruto to drive his opponent into the corner to deliver more knees to the body before being split apart by the referee for perceived inactivity shortly before the fight’s close.
Baruto resumed the course he took in the previous round as the second stanza begun, backing Kohsaka up with his bear-like grip and driving knees into his body. The Estonian soon got a takedown and leveraged his whole bodyweight, smothering while on top of his older opponent, before throwing a number of hammerfists in the corner of the ring. Despite being active on the ground, the referee stood the pair up, but Baruto landed a nice bodylock takedown to land in sidecontrol. Kohsaka attempted an armbar in the scramble, but Baruto bullied the Japanese fighter for the rest of the second round as he had previously.
Unanimous decision victory for Baruto—a decision which was booed by the crowd—who wasn’t troubled at all in this fight and could prove tricky for Cro Cop in the Openweight Grand Prix semi-finals.
Valentin Moldavsky advances to Grand Prix semi-finals
In a clash between two of Europe’s MMA powerhouse nations, Russian brawler Valentin Moldavsky, a natural light heavyweight and a protégé of Pride legend Fedor Emelianenko, took on Polish heavyweight Szymon Bajor.
The pair traded punches upon the sound of the opening bell. Bajor came off the worse, with his left eye swelling and leaking blood instantaneously following a hard right hand from Moldavsky. The Russian soon scored a nice double leg takedown and Bajor appeared happy to hold Moldavsky down to catch his breath. The pair got up with less than a minute remaining and Bajor is visibly tired, coming up short with all of his punches—Moldavsky, on the other hand, was the fresher man and landed a number of punch combinations before the round’s close.
Moldavsky started the second round as he had finished the first, landing another combination before earning another takedown. However, rather than resting like he did in the opening stanza, this time Bajor grabbed the arm of Moldavsky in a kimura attempt. Yelling in pain, Moldavsky managed to escape the arm lock to land some ground and pound to the head of Bajor. Bajor attempted a few more kimuras, but Moldavsky’s ground control told and Moldavsky comfortably earned a unanimous decision from the judges to advance to the tournament’s semi-finals.
Vadim Nemkov handily dispatches Alison Vicente in Grand Prix reserve match
Impressive Russian light heavyweight prospect Vadim Nemkov made light work of Brazilian journeyman heavyweight Alison Vicente in just 54 seconds.
Nemkov, who made it to the semi-finals of Rizin’s World Grand-Prix in 2015, landed some brutal ground and pound to finish the fight in less than a minute. He will now be the stand-in replacement should one of this year’s Grand Prix contenders drop out through injury as a reserve.
RIZIN ¼ GP – reserve match - Vadim Nemkov 1R TKO (GNP) (vs. Alison Vicente) pic.twitter.com/HeHpfHRnzg— Jolassanda (@Jolassanda) December 29, 2016
RIZIN FF OPENWEIGHT GRAND PRIX SEMI-FINALS BRACKET:
Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic vs. Baruto
Amir Aliakbari vs. Valentin Moldavsky
(Alternate: Vadim Nemkov)
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Satoru Kitaoka submits Daron Cruickshank
If a fight could encapsulate and advocate the wonders of 10-minute opening rounds, this contest is one of the best candidates in modern MMA.
Daron Cruickshank, who is ready-made for the inherent excitement of Rizin and Japanese MMA, dominated the early stages of the opening stanza, even knocking Kitaoka down with a backfist before landing a soccer kick on the Japanese submission artist’s dome.
Beaten and bloodied, the wily Kitaoka rallied to score a takedown before securing an expertly-executed guillotine choke to force Cruickshank to tap out. Kitaoka isn’t known as “Shimewaza Kuma Shogun” (The Shogun Bear of Chokes) for nothing.
Cruickshank dominated the fight. But, it only took Kitaoka a few seconds to force an end to proceedings. Great fight.
Rin Nakai submits Kanako Murata in third round
Despite its finish, this fight disappointed in an enthralling five hours of Rizin fights. In fact, the most entertaining aspect of this contest was its bizarre introduction, which saw the Saitama Super Arena’s mascot interrupt the fight’s start much to the bemusement of the English commentary team of Joe Ferraro and Bellator fighter Joe Warren.
sliding into your dms like.... pic.twitter.com/pLYA999zDW— Thomas. (@tommyie) December 29, 2016
Pensive throughout, Kanako Murata never mounted any significant offence during her fight against Rin Nakai. Sporting the mask of her hero Sakuraba as she walked to the ring, Murata failed to match her inspiration’s grappling proficiency as she continued to have her takedown attempts rebuffed by the muscular Nakai. Nakai was scoring well in the fight from defensive wrestling and a few jabs alone.
Nakai put us out of our misery in the third round. Stuffing another takedown, Nakai landed multiple knees before earning a takedown of her own. Nakai quickly took Murata’s back and slid her arm under her opponent’s chin to lock in a rear-naked choke, forcing Murata to tap out.
Kickboxing sensation Tenshin Nasukawa victorious in MMA debut despite early scare
Tenshin Nasukawa is a star in his native Japan for his exploits in Muay Thai and kickboxing. Given the striking sensation is still at school at 18 years old, there was an element of protection in his MMA debut. Fighting against 1-0 flyweight Nikita Sapun, their fight was contested under “Special MMA” rules, which saw them compete in three-minute rounds with elbows forbidden.
Nasukawa’s blinding leg speed scored a number of nasty-looking leg kicks. Surprisingly Ukrainian Sapun appeared happy to stand and trade with the prodigious striking talent standing across the ring from him, throwing a number of spinning kicks as a retort to his foe’s efforts.
Nasukawa caught one of Sapun’s comparatively-slow kicks and dumped his opponent to the ground. Surprisingly, Nasukawa dove straight into Sapun’s guard. This appeared a silly rookie decision to make as Sapun quickly rolled over to secure an armbar. With Nasukawa’s arm bending in ways it shouldn’t, it looked like those in attendance at the Saitama Super Arena would be left very, very disappointed at their countryman’s MMA debut.
However, Nasukawa refused to tap despite his arm visibly hyper-extending and managed to escape. As soon as his arm was loose, he went on the ground and pound offensive once again. Sapun attempted another armbar, but Nasukawa did a good job to defend this time. A few heavy punches from Nasukawa forced Sapun to turtle up and the referee quickly called a stop to the fight to award Nasukawa a debut win.
Immediately after the fight, Nasukawa told of his regret of underestimating the submission skills of Sapun and how he wants to get in the Rizin ring once again two days later. Nobuhiko Takada said Nasukawa may have his wish if he is cleared by the doctors following his grisly-looking arm contortion. We could well be seeing Nasukawa competing in MMA again much sooner than expected.
Yusuke Yachi brutalizes Mario Sismundo in the first round
A contest between featherweights, hometown favourite Yusuke Yachi defeated Filipino 145lber Mario Sismundo with relative ease.
The fight was finished promptly. Yachi charged in and landed a flying knee to floor his Filipino foe right off the bat. Sismundo recovered and got back up to his feet. But, Yachi soon landed a devastating knee to Sismundo’s ribs and the referee was forced to intervene during the ensuing ground and pound. A quick, yet-action packed contest.
Yuki Motoya earns split decision win over Allan Nascimento
What a fight. In a Japan versus Brazil contest which harks back to the good old days of Pride, the action also lived up to that billing.
Nascimento looked to be the far more competent striker, landing headkicks, knees and some slick punching combinations in the early stages. Motoya was eventually left grounded—where he is most comfortable in a fight with his series of submissions from his back—but, there was no comfort to be enjoyed on the mat with Brazilian Nascimento standing above him. Like his compatriots Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Wanderlei Silva before him, Nascimento landed two violent head stomps to the head of Motoya.
Nascimento should have stayed away from Motoya’s ground game, but he impulsively dove into his opponent’s guard. The Brazilian held his own on the ground, but Motoya’s array of submission techniques soon came to the fore, looking to have locked up an omoplata before going for a heel hook to eventually take the back of Nascimento. Motoya then managed to position himself to score a number of knees to the head of the grounded Nascimento. Nascimento eventually escaped that position to try and secure an armbar of his own, but Motoya successfully defended that to attempt a guillotine choke to close out the round. Crazy opening to this contest.
Round two unexpectedly started off in an all-out brawl. But, more surprisingly, Motoya was getting the better of Nascimento. After being staggered by two big shots, Nascimento scored a takedown to escape a beating on the feet.
"Awwww he shoulda kept it." - Joe Warren. Pretty good advice IMO pic.twitter.com/ofx3M5UtJi— caposa (@Grabaka_Hitman) December 29, 2016
On his back, Matoya slipped his leg under his opponents chin to attempt a gogoplata. Failing to secure it, he then transitioned into an omoplata—Nascimento turned with the contorting omoplata to defend but soon found himself in a tight-looking guillotine choke. The Brazilian survived the choke, but Motoya secured another one from full mount. Nascimento barely survives and the judges rightly award the fight in favour of Motoya in a split decision.
Andy Souwer needs to face a striker—loses to Kazuyuki Miyata in quick submission
Dutch kickboxer Andy Souwer’s foray into MMA hasn’t been the easiest road. After winning his debut against Yuichiro Nagashima by knockout, he was then severely outmatched by Daron Cruickshank. Next up for Souwer was Japanese wrestler Kazuyuki Miyata, who competed for his country at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
Considering Souwer’s lack of wrestling experience, it seemed an odd matchup from the get-go. That proved to be the correct sentiment as Miyata quickly scored a takedown within 30 seconds of the fight’s opening bell. Quickly moving into mount, Miyata immediately moved to a triangle choke and an armbar, which Souwer successfully defended.
Back on their feet, Miyata took the fight back to the floor with a jumping guillotine, which he then used to move back into mount. After a scramble, Miyata locked in a triangle then transitioned into an armbar once again—this time, Souwer was forced to tap.
Japanese shootboxing star Rena Kubota, who is competing for Rizin in two day’s time, didn’t look best pleased at the plight of her fellow kickboxer.
Tatsumitsu Wada defeats Kai Kara-France
Kai Kara-France failed to make weight before this contest and, Japan being Japan, the native of New Zealand was instantly penalised with a yellow card and if he were to emerge victorious in this fight, it would be ruled a no contest. Kara-France was essentially fighting for a paycheck only.
That wouldn’t matter though, as Japanese flyweight Tatsumitsu Wada impressed on his way to a comfortable unanimous decision victory.
From the opening bell, the pair continually traded brutal calf kicks, but Kara-France came off the worse—visibly limping as yet another swinging Wada leg thudded the back of his left lead leg. Kara-France showed grit to overcome the pain he was clearly in and scored a knockdown in the first.
The second round continued in a similar fashion, with Wada now knocking Kara-France down with another crushing leg kick. Kara-France got up but was forced to change stance—his left leg now jellied and visibly weaker when thrown for a kick. In an entertaining second round, Kara-France scored a takedown off a single-leg trip before landing a vicious soccer kick to the floored Wada. But, Wada seemed unfazed, got up, and even managed to cut Kara-France down with a leg kick once again before the round’s close.
Wada helped alleviate any fears of some dodgy refereeing in the third round by dominating his Kiwi opponent on the ground, trying to secure a number of chokes. Kara-France did well to survive and fight off these submission attempts, but Wada was comfortable and largely dominant throughout the round as he was in the fight. As a result, Wada was rightly named the winner by the judges.
Alyssa Garcia bests Kanna Asakura in unanimous decision
Josh Barnett-trained Alyssa Garcia defeated top 10-ranked atomweight Kanna Asakura in a surprisingly comfortable unanimous decision victory to her coach’s screams to “punch her [Asakura’s] face off.”
Asakura continually tried, and fail, to take Garcia down, who showed some fantastic takedown defence. Garcia opted to take the fight to the clinch to land some hard knees to the body, which left Asakura in visible pain. When Garcia was taken down, she did well to nullify any attack from her opponent.
The judges sat at ringside got this decision spot on and Garcia was rightly rewarded for a great performance which belies her modest 2-2 record.
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