There is something special about waking up to watch some MMA madness from Japan during the festive season. As we watched the event from Saitama with Russian commentating this morning, we underlined our love affair for this strange sport.
The streams the majority of us watched from North America and Europe even had a reassuring ‘MAT4’ snow graphic that filled the top right-hand corner of our screens as we watched in the early hours of the morning. It was welcoming, it said ‘come on in, we won’t hurt you,’ but for a lot of people, they will not be able to unsee some of the spectacles bestowed upon them by Rizin this morning.
While Shinya Aoki’s dismantlement of the legendary Kazushi Sakuraba two days before pushed the boundaries of reality in a time when MMA is fighting a battle for legitimacy, Rizin proved that the freakshow is still very much welcomed by fans as we wiped the sleep from our eyes this morning.
From the ramp that the fighters made their way in on, to the crazy screaming female who introduced them to the stage and the yellow cards that were brandished to the athletes for various fouls in their contests, the throwback appeal from the Pride days certainly is a factor in terms of our enjoyment.
Rena Kubota took victory on the second night of Rizin action to get the card started. The female face of shoot boxing scored a flying armbar win over Jleana Valentino, which gave the crowd their first chance to fire up their lungs. The noise filled the Saitama Super Arena far more dramatically than western audiences are used to due to the signature silence of the Japanese crowd.
Muhammed Lawal again established himself as the man to beat in the Heavyweight Grand Prix following his round one KO victory over Brett McDermott on Tuesday. Teodoras Aukstuolis was on the end of decision win for the American in the semi-final of the tournament. Jiri Prochazka battered Vadim Nemkov to such an extent that the Russian was unable to answer the bell for the second, making Lawal versus Prochazka the final for the Grand Prix.
And ‘King Mo’ wasn’t the only man known to Bellator audiences that had success on the night. Despite a dynamic approach to his bout with former Bellator middleweight contender Brennan Ward, Deep champion Ken Hasegawa got finished with a rear naked choke in the second round of their bout. The Japanese fighter enjoyed some spells of dominance in the grappling department in the first round before Ward took him to the canvas and transitioned to the back to claim the victory.
Road FC’s Soo Chul Kim surprised a lot of people with his dominant decision win over previously unbeaten Brazilian Maike Linhares. In a K-1 rules bout, Takeru Segawa earned himself a whole new fan base if social media posts are anything to go by. Smiling as he picked Yang Ming apart on route to a second round TKO win, the entertaining Japanese charge’s bleached blonde hair and golden trunks will be welcomed by MMA audiences again in the future.
Then things got a little strange.
Ten-time world jiu jitsu champion Gabi Garcia restored the Brazilians in the win column with a bizarre striking display. Garcia got dropped by a left hand from fellow debutant Lei’D Tapa, a woman whose previous experiences include pro wrestling and women’s football, but she managed to ground and pound her American counterpart out of contention in the first round. Despite her grappling pedigree, strangely the IBJJF Hall-of-Famer didn’t look to take the fight down at any stage during the bout.
The magical night that was in it even saw 42-year-old Bob Sapp win. Over the last few years, we have seen flashes of ‘The Beast.’ When I say that, I don’t mean we’ve seen him rekindle some kind of likeness to his former self, I mean we literally have seen him flash across the screen, eat a punch and go down. Sapp managed to claim victory over Akebono Tarō via decision in a bout that was painfully uneventful.
The weight difference was just too much for kickboxing legend Peter Aerts when he took on Estonian sumo wrestler Baruto Kaito. Kaito dwarfed the great Aerts, and he marked out his dominance from the word go as he took the celebrated striker to the ground. He landed consecutive shots throughout the first frame to the grounded Aerts, who was lucky to force the fight to the judges’ scorecards.
After Aerts’ loss, Andy Souwer came out and dispatched Yuichiro Nagashima, who entered the cage as a blonde-haired catholic schoolgirl. Souwer’s pugilistic assault dropped the outlandish Japanese fighter in round one, where a body shot seemed to propel him to the canvas to hand the Dutch kickboxer the win.
Kron Gracie looked like he had Asen Yamamoto on the verge of defeat as he locked up an armbar as soon as their bout hit the ground. However, the Japanese debutant did well to escape the tight armlock and even managed to shove the 2013 ADCC champ off him as he looked to establish mount. Although they were back on their feet for a few moments, as soon as Gracie hit the deck he locked up a triangle that forced the tap from Yamamoto.
The return of Fedor Emilianenko was as swift and devastating as expected against the completely outmatched Singh Jaideep who contested his third professional mixed martial arts contest at Rizin. Once the Russian gained mount he battered the Indian into submission.
While it’s always good to see one of the greats fighting, this bout really proved nothing for ‘The Last Emperor.’ The fact that the promotion presented him with a championship belt before the fight was actually contested says a lot about the fight itself because, for the vast majority of the world, there was no doubt that Fedor would take the victory.
The night ended with a lunging right hand from ‘King Mo’ that saw him become the Rizin Heavyweight Grand Prix champion. The solid connection sent Prochazka face planting into the ground in what was a spectacular curtain closer for the event.
While Rizin pushed the boundaries of what we consider combat in some of their showcases, there is no doubt that we will have the coffee bubbling away next year should another event packed with a similar spectacular arousal take place.
Despite the incredible mismatches, ridiculous entrances and colossal weight differences between some of the fighters, the viewing experience was a positive one after all.
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