It’s hard to deny that, when the UFC closed the doors on PRIDE back in 2007, something special was lost in the MMA world. Japan’s highest profile mixed martial arts promotion brought a level of spectacle and pageantry to the sport that other organizations around the world have spent years chasing, but few have rarely been able to match.
With the expiration of his non-compete clause in 2014, however, former PRIDE CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara jumped straight back into the combat sports world with RIZIN Fighting Federation. Since 2015 this new venture has looked to recapture as much of the past glory of the J-MMA scene as it possibly can.
The results haven’t been nearly so consistent, however Sakakibara & Co. finished the year on a high note with a massive NYE cross-promotion event in partnership with Paramount’s Bellator MMA. Bellator president Scott Coker was on hand for the fight card, as apparently was former UFC champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. After the event Coker spoke to attending media, noting that ‘The Eagle’ was mightily impressed by the production values surrounding the evening’s bouts.
“It’s very interesting, because he wasn’t here in the heyday,” Coker said of Nurmagomedov (transcript via MMA Fighting). “I got to see those fights. A lot of you know that [I’ve been] in the martial arts business a long time, I started working for K-1 in 1999, so I got to see all the great fights in K-1. I got to see the great fights of PRIDE. And Khabib has never see the production and the fans, and he was freaking out.
“He was telling me, ‘This is unbelievable.’ He kept telling me, ‘This is unbelievable. I had no idea that something like this was happening in Japan.’ And I said, ‘This is where it started, Khabib.’ This is where MMA and martial arts combat, it started here. It grew throughout the rest of the world, but there was a time when Japan had the best fighters in the world, the best production in the world, the best promotion in the world, and that’s why the UFC bought it. Just like my company, Strikeforce, I think we had a great roster, great events, so they bought it.”
Unlike their purchase of PRIDE, after which the doors were more or less immediately closed on the organization, Zuffa continued operating Strikeforce for two whole years after taking over the Showtime-based promotion. Coker remained with Strikeforce throughout its time as a sister operation with the UFC. Shortly after his contract with Zuffa ended in 2014, he was hired by Bellator to replace former president and promotion founder Bjorn Rebney.
No 2023 events have been announced for RIZIN as of yet. The promotion typically doesn’t hold its first event of the new year until February or March.