Nobuyuki Sakakibara's plans for bringing major MMA back to Japan are larger than expected.
Thursday at Midtown Tokyo, the former Pride Fighting Championships boss announced details not just for the expected Dec. 31 New Year's Eve show in Japan, but rather a three-day event under the Rizin Fighting World Grand Prix banner. The event will start on Dec. 29, and run through Dec. 31, with the multi-day spectacle at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, serving as a fan expo, as well.
At the press conference, Sakakibara confirmed the participation of Fedor Emelianenko. Though no opponent was announced, it was reported this week that Emelianenko is expected to face K-1 veteran Jaideep Singh. Also officialized for the Dec. 29 card was a catch-weight bout between MMA icon Kazushi Sakuraba and grappling ace Shinya Aoki.Additionally, the Dec. 29 portion of the card will feature an eight-man heavyweight tournament, to conclude on Dec. 31.
Rizin will also feature female grappling star Gabi Garcia, as well as the pro MMA debut of Shoot Boxing and kickboxing standout Rena Kubota.
Sakakibara, flanked by former Pride figurehead and friend Nobuhiko Takada, explained that when Pride FC was purchased by Zuffa and the UFC, he vowed to keep Pride alive, but it became a lie that he wished to rectify. Furthermore, Sakakibara revealed ongoing negotiations with major broadcaster Fuji TV, former TV backer of Pride, to air portions of the event, although at this point, there is no confirmation of any fights being aired live. Both Emelianenko's bout and Aoki-Sakuraba are presently expected to air on Fuji TV via tape delay.
Sakakibara also revealed that given the nature of the mob allegations that sank Pride in the Japanese tabloids, that Rizin was cooperating with lawyers and former police officials to ensure legal transparency. Japan Wrestling Federation president Tomiaki Fukuda was also in attendance, announcing that Rizin would feature Japanese amateur wrestling talent.
Sakakibara noted that the multi-day event might have many as 30 bouts and would include kickboxing and other rule-sets beyond MMA. The former Pride head hopes Rizin will produce four more events in 2016.
The rules of the event are in the mold of Pride, but Sakakibara did reveal a few twists. Sakakibara noted they were hoping to have a new ring design and that if fighters wanted elbows, in addition to soccer kicks and stomps to downed opponents, that he was willing to discuss it. While men will fight the Pride standard 10-minute opening round followed by two five-minute rounds, women's fights will be three five-minute rounds.