Bellator MMA president Scott Coker recently arranged a cross-promotion deal with Rizin Fighting Federation's leader Nobuyuki Sakakibara to exchange fighters, where appropriate, for exciting headlining events. The most recent example of this creative matchmaking occurred on June 14 at Bellator 222 in New York.
Bellator's bantamweight champion, Darrion Caldwell faced off against Rizin's bantamweight title holder Kyoji Horiguchi in a rematch of their December 31 bout in Japan. In that tilt, Horiguchi won Rizin's inaugural 135-pound belt by submitting Caldwell in the third round.
Ready to settle the score and represent for his promotion, "The Wolf" battled it out against Horiguchi in a five-ground grapple-fest that saw Horiguchi walk away with another victory over Caldwell and a new belt around his waist.
Despite the unexpected result, Coker, who openly rooted for Caldwell to win, is not shying away from embracing his new champion as part of the Bellator family. "See, you have it all wrong, like, Kyoji is a Bellator fighter now too. I'm gonna put my arm right around Kyoji like this and say 'Hey, I'll see you next year,'" Coker declared to MMA Junkie.
"Because, you know, we made a deal, like 'look, Sakakibara,' if DC would have won, I would send DC once a year to fight in Rizin and defend his belt. So now he has to send Horiguchi over once a year. So, now Horiguchi is part of the family. And it's not us versus them, right?"
Coker believes that his fighter outpointed Horiguchi, but is ready to honor the deal he made with Rizin and welcome his newest champion into the fold. "But, in all seriousness, look, he's an amazing talent, and my guy's a tough, tough, tough, dude. And, you know, it's like, I think my guy won, okay? I think he out controlled him, hit him. But, my guy was stalling sometimes too, you know. Just kind of laying there, and in [mixed martial arts] you can't just lay there, you gotta do some stuff. And so, to me, hopefully, Horiguchi at one point will give him a rematch, but in the meantime, Horiguchi is our guy. He's part of the Bellator family and he's our champion, so, welcome to the family."