In the few short months since its inception, Rizin Fighting Federation has already managed to carve a particular niche within the MMA market. Led by former Pride FC boss Nobuyuki Sakakibara, the promotion has acquired the likes of legendary Russian heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko, as well as a variety of prospects. The promotion has also created alliances with other international promotions like Bellator and KSW in an effort to develop their sphere of influence rapidly.
The most recent acquisition was Pride and UFC veteran Wanderlei Silva, who is scheduled to headline the upcoming Rizin 1 show on April 17th in a grappling exhibition match. Despite the Brazilian's ongoing suspension in Nevada, which does not end until mid-2017, Sakakibara expects Silva to compete under MMA rules in 2016.
"Wanderlei will most likely be making his appearance in an MMA event at some time in the summer or autumn of this year," Sakakibara told BloodyElbow.com through a translator.
Silva's Rizin debut will take on an interesting form: a two-on-two tag team grappling match against former rival Kazushi Sakuraba and Hideo Tokoro. While Sakakibara opted not to reveal Silva's partner, he explained that the entertainment-based grappling match was always something that interested him.
"I had the opportunity to talk to Ralek Gracie from Metamoris. I actually went to one of their events and I definitely saw the possibility of grappling matches being very entertaining," Sakakibara explained. "This one is going to be a tag-team grappling event, which is going to add more to the entertainment aspect in grappling. The goal is to make this grappling match a very active, high-paced grappling match where the fighters don't stall."
While the match-up may seem bizarre to the traditional MMA connoisseur, it is part of Rizin's long-term investment in creating new forms of entertainment within the combat sports sphere. According to Sakakibara, it was that creativity that made Pride FC a successful organization.
"We are in the stage of experimenting - the feeling out process. The UFC is all set. Everything is good to go and they have a template. Back in the Pride days, everything was about challenging and trying new stuff to make it work. When you look back at the Royce Gracie vs. Sakuraba fight - unlimited 15-min rounds - that is just crazy when you think about it now. But just trying new things made it into a wonderful, historic fight.
"I will not be locked into templates. It is all about creating new stuff."
Apart from grappling endeavours, Wanderlei's arrival in the upstart Japanese promotion creates a variety of interesting match-up, the most appealing of which is against Fedor. Silva has already expressed his interest in the fight, while Fedor has famously claimed little interest in handpicking his opponents.
"I do believe that both of them have that fight in mind for sometime down the line," said Sakakibara. "I feel like they already know. When I negotiated with Wanderlei, he definitely brought up Fedor's name. But as far as Fedor, I haven't heard anything from his mouth. He is not the type of fighter to pick his opponent. If all the terms are right, there is no reason for him to turn it down."
Though both fighters may eventually show heightened interest in the bout, Sakakibara is concerned that whether there will be enough demand from viewers for that particular showdown.
"Is that what fans really want to see? If the demand is there and fans talk about it enough, am sure it is eventually going to happen but I want to be sure that there is demand for it."
Given that Silva is will not be Fedor's next opponent, the 'Last Emperor' will need a different opponent for his upcoming fight. While Sakakibara refused to comment on the specifics regarding the heavyweight's next foe, he expects the bout to take place sooner rather than later.
"When I met with Fedor last month, he was ready to fight at anytime. He just wanted to fight as soon as possible. He wants to fight constantly. That is where his mindset is. There has to be a storyline behind it and a meaning for the fight."
Fedor, who is currently in the Netherlands preparing for his upcoming fight, revealed that he is already aware of who his next opponent is, and that the fight is expected to take place in Russia. Sakakibara confirmed that the promotion plans on putting on a show in Russia, particularly because of the expanding Russian contingency on their roster.
"We are interested in putting on a show in Russia because we have quite a few young up-and-coming Russian fighters on the roster. But it is not an easy task to do and it is not going to happen overnight. We are reaching out - obviously we are going to need support from the Russian end to make this happen."