Rizin Fight Federation returned to our lives on Sunday morning, taking place in the fabled Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan—made famous by the heady days of now-defunct JMMA promotion Pride.
The 13-fight show featured the opening round of the promotion's 16-man open-weight tournament, alongside a number of marquee match-ups with names such as Kron Gracie, Mirko Cro Cop, Gabi Garcia, Andy Souwer and Charles "Krazy Horse" Bennett.
If you didn't manage to stay awake for the show, don't worry—we've got you covered.
Kron Gracie submits Hideo Tokoro in first round
Brazilian jiu jitsu wizard Kron Gracie took on one of Japan's most favored MMA fighters in Hideo Tokoro on his third fight under mixed rules. 39-year-old Tokoro, who has over 60 professional bouts to his credit, had already fought two of Kron's family members—beating Royler Gracie and drawing against UFC 1 winner Royce Gracie.
With Kazushi Sakuraba in the corner of Tokoro and Rickson Gracie in the corner of his son Kron, this contest had all the hallmarks of an old-school Pride FC-style shootout.
The pair traded punches at the beginning of the round until they clinched and Gracie took the back of Tokoro just over a minute into the fight. Tokoro defended the multiple rear naked choke attempts from Gracie with some admirable hand fighting and even got out of guard of his opponent.
Tokoro threw soccer kicks and stomps to put an end to the fight, before being drawn back into the guard of Gracie. Tokoro attempted a leglock but promptly got swept by Gracie, who re-took the back of Tokoro. In a wild scramble, the experience Japanese fighter escaped the back control of Gracie again and oddly went for yet another leglock.
Gracie soon resumed full control of Tokoro on the ground and started hammering punches down on his opponent from full mount. Tokoro rolled onto his front and finally Gracie synches in the rear naked choke to end the fight. Dominant work from Kron Gracie, who is his first family member to have defeated Tokoro.
Charles "Krazy Horse" Bennett scores early knockout win
It was a satisfying blast from the past as Charles Bennett's incredible punching power for his size told, knocking out Wanderlei Silva protégé Minoru Kimura, who came out to his mentor's Darude – "Sandstorm" walkout music, in just seven seconds.
Kimura tried to launch himself into a flying knee, but instead launched his face into the looping right hand of Bennett to send the normally-placid Japanese crowd into raptures.
It was yet another fantastic dose of nostalgia as Bennett performed a backflip off the ring ropes in celebration, before claiming said celebration was more work than the fight itself. Oh and he called out Wanderlei for good measure in one of the all-time greatest post-fight speeches.
Bennett's words didn't go unnoticed by Wanderlei and it kicked off behind the scenes.
Daron Cruickshank cruises to submission win over Andy Souwer
Dutch K1 champion and kickboxing figurehead Andy Souwer was making his sophomoric MMA appearance after knocking out Yuichiro Nagashima in his debut at Rizin in New Year's Eve, taking on former UFC lightweight Daron Cruickshank.
With Cruickshank's extensive MMA experience, it was always expected that he would be more comfortable than Souwer when the fight is competed on the ground. This rang true as Cruickshank took Souwer down with a single leg takedown, catching the leg kick of his Dutch opponent.
Threatening with submissions, Cruickshank soon cruised to the dominant full mount position of Souwer, raining down ground and pound. Panicked, Souwer began to twist and buck, which allowed Cruickshank to sink the hooks in and take the rear-naked choke after four minutes of action. Comfortable win for the "Detroit Superstar" who has looked impressive in both his Rizin appearances so far.
Gabi Garcia makes light work of Destanie Yarbrough
Hulking Brazilian Gabi Garcia improved her MMA record to a perfect 3-0, having beat Destanie Yarbrough who moves to 1-1.
The high-level Brazilian jiu jitsu blackbelt—who has won numerous world championships in the discipline, including ADCC gold on two occasions—dominated Yarbrough.
After some sloppy strikes on the feet Yarborough crumpled to the ground. Garcia tried ending the fight by ground and pound. But, instead opted to take side control and used the right arm of Yarbrough to easily pass to mount before cranking said arm in a nasty looking keylock submission.
The opening bout of the night perfectly encapsulated the strange world of Japanese MMA. Gabi proclaimed she was the Queen of Japan after the fight. Who could argue with that?
Mirko Cro Cop advances with slick submission win. Yes really.
I will never tire of the strains of "Wild Boys" by Duran Duran as Mirko Cro Cop waltzes his way to the ring—even if he is in his forties these days. In the final fight of the Openweight Grand Prix's first round, South Korean opponent Hyun Man Myung was aggressive right off the bat, bull-rushing Cro Cop into the corner to get some strikes off in the clinch.
What happened after that is hard to explain in words. Kickboxing legend Cro Cop took Myung down with two spinning underhooks before taking the full mount with a slick transition. After raining down some nice ground and pound, Cro Cop spotted the arm triangle and took it with aplomb, forcing the tap just 140 seconds into the bout.
True to form, Cro Cop took his opportunity to call out Wanderlei Silva, the man everyone seems to want at the moment, to which Wanderlei took his opportunity to clamber into the ring—sporting what looks like a bit of a shiner under his left eye (could this be following a back-stage altercation with Charles "Krazy Horse" Bennett?)—and it looks like the pair will be competing against one another at the December 29th show should Wanderlei advance in the tournament as a result of this strange post-fight, in-ring fight negotiation segment with Nobuhiko Takada and Nobuyuki Sakakibara.
Estonian sumo wrestler Baruto bests Kazayuki Fujita to advance
The penultimate fight in the Openweight Grand-Prix saw JMMA legend Kazayuki Fujita fight monstrous Estionian sumo wrestler Baruto in a match-up which totally sums up what made Pride FC so damn entertaining.
Outweighing his opponent by near 200lbs, Baruto continually tried utilising his weight advantage in the corner of the ring, before throwing heavy knees a looping, totally untechnical, clubbing right hands which had Fujita reeling. However, Fujita landed some shots himself in a slow-paced first round as Baruto visibly began to tire.
As the second round begun, a wild exchange of big punches had Baruto coming off the worse, sporting a cut above his right eye for his troubles. Fujita landed a number of decent punches, but Baruto seemed to have the innate ability to close the distance to have his man in the clinch position so he can lean on him and land some strikes.
Fujita broke from the clinch, but Baruto managed to pin him against the ropes once again. Despite the sounds of his laboured breathing, Baruto landed some tough body punches and some crunching knees to the ribs of Fujita.
Things were looking up for Fujita in the early stages of the second round. But, Baruto's work in the clinch overwhelmed the 45-year-old JMMA legend and the judges unanimously scored the fight in the Estonian's favour in an interesting, yet snail-paced contest. Fujita later announced his retirement from MMA.
Jiri Prochazka wins unanimous decision over Mark Tanios despite apparent knee injury
The international-feel of this tournament increased in the contest between Czech Republic's Jiri Prochazka and Lebanon's Mark Tanios.
Knockout artist Prochazka, who has 14 KO wins to his credit from 17, fell short against King Mo in the final of Rizin's inaugural tournament on New Year's Eve but was very much looking to top his effort last time around—starting with Tanios.
Those hopes were dented in an odd first round between the pair. Prochazka seemingly injured his right knee and was hobbling for much of the opening stages of the fight. However, he inadvertently bought himself some time by poking the right eye of his Lebanese foe and used the time to recover. Once the action had resumed, Prochazka tried to blitz the timid Tanios to get the fight over with before the bell rung to signal the end of the first round.
With an air of desperation to him, Prochazka begun the second round aggressively in an attempt to mask the pain he's clearly suffering. A lot of respect should be afforded to the Czech for his grittiness to continue and push the action in the fight—a perfect juxtaposition to his bizarrely shy opponent. He was obviously hurt, limping after throwing any knees and kicks, yet Tanios was still unwilling to engage.
The bravery displayed from Prochazka was rewarded as he earned the unanimous decision. I can't see Tanios returning to the big stage any time soon.
Fedor Emelianenko understudy Valentin Moldavsky advances in tournament
Someone's "0" must go as two of Europe's undefeated light heavyweights faced off in the Openweight tournament. Sweden's Karl Albrektsson, who was unofficially named "The Russian Hunter" following his first appearance in Rizin which saw him defeat Vadim Nemkov, took on Fedor Emelianenko understudy Valentin Moldavsky. Both men boasted 5-0 and 3-0 records ahead of the contest.
The aforementioned Russian Hunter moniker didn't exactly stick as Moldavsky eked out a unanimous decision victory. It was a close contest throughout. However, Moldavsky seemingly had a strength advantage in the clinch, landed harder punches and scored a couple of clean takedowns on Albrektsson, who appeared to have never got going.
It wasn't the most enthralling fight, though the action we had seen prior probably adds to that sentiment.
Greco-Roman world champion Amir Aliakbari scores quick, controlled TKO win over Joao Almeida
Iran's Amir Aliakbari took on Brazil's Joao Almeida in the second bout of Rizin's Openweight Grand Prix. Aliakbari, a gold medallist Greco-Roman wrestler in the discipline's world championships opted to instantly take the fight down to the mat.
It's was a wise decision given Almeida's proficiency as a striker—a long-time sparring partner of former UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos. Aliakbari quickly scored a beautiful trip takedown, before holding Almeida in the crucifix position.
Almeida tried bucking out of the crucifix position, but Aliakbari's weight advantage and superior wrestling control told as he maintained position and rained down punches on the dome of Almeida. The Brazilian wasn't knocked out by any means, but simply couldn't get out of the horrible position he found himself in. Referee Jason Herzog had seen enough and waved off the fight—Aliakbari advances to the next round of the tournament having incurred zero damage. Impressive if not a little dull.
Poland's Szymon Bajor bests Teodoras Aukstuolis in unanimous decision
The opening bout of the Openweight Grand-Prix's first round was an all-Eastern European affair between Poland's Szymon Bajor, who has impressed in his domestic circuit in KSW, and Lithuanian scrapper Teodoras Aukstuolis.
Aukstuolis, who looks like a Street Fighter character and dressed up as Ryu as he made his ringwalk, was thumped with a number of hard shots from Bajor in the opening stanza, though the smaller man in Aukstuolis never seemed perturbed by those thudding punches and kicks and continually threw back in some wild exchanges.
Bajor took a different approach to the fight in the second round and looked to take the fight to the mat instead of brawling on the feet. For much of the round, Bajor utilised his size advantage and had the full mount of Aukstuolis, bearing his weight down on his opponent, raining down some ground and pound strikes and attempted a number of chokes. However, Aukstuolis is damn tough and withstood the damage he was suffering and took the bigger man to a decision.
Poland's Bajor rightfully took a two-round unanimous decision and progresses to the next round of the Openweight Grand-Prix.
Erson Yamamoto wins his first MMA fight in back-and-forth contest
Erson (formerly stylized as Asen) Yamamoto sought to win his first MMA fight against Kizaemon Saiga following his debut loss to Sunday's main eventer Kron Gracie. Yamamoto has a lot of hype behind him thanks to his last name, which he shares with his uncle Kid Yamamoto and his mother, wrestling legend Miyu Yamamoto—who is also competing later on. That's right, mother and son are competing on the same major fight card.
You could tell the shaven-headed Yamamoto had been training with his uncle at Krazy Bee MMA as he appeared aggressive from the very start of the fight and wanted to engage on the feet ahead of taking the action down to the mat to utilise his impressive grappling skillset. This attitude soon changed as Saiga gained comfort in the striking exchanges and Yamamoto landed a nice suplex, though Saiga defended Yamamoto's advances on the ground with numerous kimura attempts.
The momentum of the fight soon changed when contested on the feet once again, with Saiga landing numerous hard shots to the body and had Yamamoto backpedalling in a panic. Yamamoto attempted to mask his worry with numerous attempts at taunting his opponent, but soon reverted back to his wrestling bread and butter and scored another suplex takedown.
The ten-minute first round between these bantamweights was enthralling throughout. It's clear to see where both men's MMA deficiencies lie—with Yamamoto continually getting tagged on the feet while Saiga was yellow-carded for stalling against the ropes when his opponent had taken him down.
The second stanza was equally as frenetic. Both men traded blows before Saiga landed a flying knee which sent Yamamoto reeling on his seat. In the ensuing scramble, Yamamoto took Saiga down once again, a takedown which looked to have dislocated Saiga's right shoulder. Saiga did well to mask the pain he was in, but Yamamoto started getting the better of him on the feet before taking him down again to round out the fight before the bell rung.
In a fight filled with highlight reel moments, Yamamoto wins his first MMA fight via split decision and makes both his uncle and his mother very happy in the process.
Miyu Yamamoto falters in MMA debut, tapping out to Rena
Miyu Yamamoto was seeking to make it 2-0 for the Yamamoto clan following her son's win earlier on in the show on her MMA debut.
A wrestling standout who almost competed for the Canadian team at The Olympics if it weren't for a technicality, 42-year-old Yamamoto was taking on 1-0 Japanese fighter Rena Kubota, a shoot and kickboxer who has won a number of world titles in those disciplines.
Much of the first round was a pensive stalemate with both women knowing what the other wants to do—Yamamoto wants the takedown and Rena wants to stay well clear of the wrestler and strike. It took close to three minutes for any real action and it was Yamamoto scoring the takedown. Following a scramble, Rena was taken down again by the ropes, but did well to nullify and ground-based assault from the experienced wrestler.
Rena then caught Yamamoto with an upkick before rising back to her feet to land some punches. The former then secured Yamamoto's head in an improvised guillotine choke, which Rena later named the "shoot box submission", cranking on her opponent's neck and forcing the tap.
Kanako Murata wins dominant unanimous decision over Kyra Batara
American fighter Kyra Batara had nothing for the wrestling of Japanese standout Kanako Murata.
Murata nullified Batara's striking with a string of takedowns, before smothering her opponent against the ropes with a dominant top game. Batara did well to withstand the submission attempts of Murata, but it was all Murata as she won the unanimous decision.
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