The freakshow that is the former PRIDE organization resurrects in the form of RIZIN Fighting Federation, which will take place with two cards the week of New Years. Tuesday and Thursday, the organization puts on its first two cards, which will feature such names as Fedor Emelianenko, Shinya Aoki, King Mo Lawal and Kazushi Sakuraba.
Tuesday, an eight-man grand prix will occur with men in both the heavyweight and light heavyweight division partaking. The aforementioned Lawal, along with guys like Satoshi Ishii, Goran Reljic and Jiri Prochazka, among others, will compete in this grand prix in a remnant of the aforementioned PRIDE.
Also, Emelianenko makes his return to MMA, as does Sakuraba. Both are legends of MMA that will look for another success in the sport that made them famous. Emelianenko takes on striker Jaideep Singh, while Sakuraba has a fantasy matchup against Shinya Aoki. Both are interesting matchups to say the least.
With that, let’s examine both RIZIN cards that will take place this week. There are plenty of matchups, including shootboxing and kickboxing matchups that we will not look at, that will make this an entertaining offering.
Shinya Aoki vs. Kazushi Sakuraba
Two legends with mythical grappling chops will meet in the main event, as Shinya Aoki and Kazushi Sakuraba meet in a dream matchup. Sakuraba is at the end of his career, while Aoki is still near his prime. And despite the fact Sakuraba is the bigger man, Aoki has uncanny skills, especially on the mat. Aoki wins and Sakuraba rides off into the sunset of retirement.
Hiroyuki Takaya vs. Daiki Hata
Two longtime Japanese vets will meet up, as Hiroyuki Takaya will fight Daiki Hata — who is most recently known for his role on UFC Road to Japan. Takaya is legendary for his knockout power, something he will want to use on Hata. Hata will likely want to take Takaya down and avoid said knockout power. However, I think Takaya will strike again, no pun intended, as he puts away Hata with his hands.
James Thompson vs. Tsuyoshi Kosaka
Two experienced fighters in James Thompson and Tsuyoshi Kosaka will collide in a big way. This will be a sloppy, violent affair, but it should entertain. That said, Thompson has fought men better than Kosaka and has been competitive. I think Thompson should use his power to down Kosaka via KO.
A.J. Matthews vs. Anatoly Tokov
Russian destroyer Anatoly Tokov and Bellator vet A.J. Matthews will collide next. I think this will be a showcase for Tokov, who is one of the best welterweights outside the UFC. Matthews is tough, but Tokov will violently put him down via knockout.
RIZIN Grand Prix
This grand prix is an interesting one with interesting matchups. In the opening round, I have Goran Reljic defeating Vadim Nemkov, Satoshi Ishii over Jiri Prochazka, Muhammad Lawal over Brett McDermott and Bruno Cappelozza over Teodoras Aukstuolis. That leaves four guys who could all easily win the tournament. However, given the four men left to choose from, I think King Mo has the best skill set to to take this grand prix.
Valentin Moldavsky vs. Yuta Uchida
Karate champion Yuta Uchida and 2-0 Russian Valentin Moldavsky are set to fight in the RIZIN Grand Prix alternate bout. Uchida will want to keep this fight on the feet, where his striking skills are vastly superior. Moldavsky has won both pro bouts via submission, which could be a blueprint to this fight. The Russian shoots, takes down and taps out Uchida.
Yuki Montoya vs. Felipe Efrain
The flyweights will meet up next, as Yuki Montoya and Felipe Efrain look to move up the 125-pound ladder. Both men have similar skill sets, but their strength of schedules are very different. Montoya has fought tougher opponents, and been pretty successful for his efforts. Efrain could surprise us here, but I believe Montoya should earn the finish here.
Carlos Toyota vs. Kirill Sidelnikov
Heavyweights will collide, as Carlos Toyota and Kirill Sidelnikov square off next. Sidelnikov hasn’t competed in a very long time, so his return will be interesting. Toyota is a sub-.500 fighter, showing his inconsistency. I think that Sidelnikov has a better skill set, despite his long layoff. He will earn the victory here.
Hideo Tokoro vs. Kizaemon Saiga
Vastly experienced Hideo Tokoro takes on youngster Kizaemon Saiga, who is undefeated at 2-0. Tokoro, who was involved in one of the best fights in 2015 against LC Davis, has faced some of the best in his long career. Saiga doesn’t offer him anything he hasn’t seen at this point. Tokoro will walk away victorious.
Fedor Emelianenko vs. Jaideep Singh
The main event sees the greatest heavyweight of all time compete in his MMA return match against Indian striker Jaideep Singh. This will be an easy win for Emelianenko. Singh will have nothing to offer as Emelienenko either knocks him out or taps him out on the ground. It’s as simple as that.
Rena Kubota vs. Jleana Valentino
Shootboxing star Rena Kubota is set to make her MMA debut when she takes on Italian kickboxer Jleana Valentino. This will be a fireworks fight, as both women like to throw. The difference, in my eyes, is Kubota has trained with great grapplers, which gives her that option. Kubota should take the win here.
Gabi Garcia vs. Lei’d Tapa
Pro wrestling star Lei’d Tapa and gigantic Brazilian jiu-jitsu star Gabi Garcia are set to have an interesting bout next. This is another freakshow bout by RIZIN, but it’s nevertheless interesting. Garcia is insanely big and strong, so she should be able to handle the great strength of Tapa. Plus, on the ground, this will be no contest. Garcia wins via submission.
Kron Gracie vs. Erson Yamamoto
Kron Gracie, of the legendary Gracie family, makes his return to the MMA arena when he fights Japanese debutant Erson Yamamoto. Yamamoto is the nephew of Kid Yamamoto, and is a very successful wrestler. He will probably look to shoot and control Gracie on the ground, but his submission game is of the highest level. Yamamoto is a good prospect, but Gracie should earn another submission win.
Andy Souwer vs. Yuichiro Nagashima
Two strikers are set to light the RIZIN ring on fire, when legendary kickboxer Andy Souwer takes on knockout artist Yuichiro Nagashima. Nagashima does have some ground skills, even if they are not great. However, he likes to strike, which is a bad idea against a juggernaut like Souwer. This will be a good fight while it lasts, but Souwer will score the KO in his MMA debut.
Brennan Ward vs. Ken Hasegawa
Bellator rep Brennan Ward heads to Japan to take on the undefeated Ken Hasegawa. Ward has been on a tear lately, but Hasegawa has looked very strong thus far in his career. You have two men with great momentum running into one another, which will make this a great fight. It will be close, but I will go with Hasegawa, though a win by Ward wouldn’t be shocking.
Jerome LeBanner vs. Baruto Kaito
Those freakshow fights you missed in PRIDE are back, as sumo wrestler Baruto Kaito takes on kickboxer Jerome LeBanner. Kaito also has a high-level judo background, so that could come into use. LeBanner, who is 42 now, has not competed in MMA for a while, so that will be interesting. LeBanner has immense power in his hands, so if he touches Kaito’s chin early enough, he will end his MMA debut in disaster.
Soo Chul Kim vs. Maike Linhares
The underrated Soo Chul Kim, a former ONE Championship titleholder, meets up with undefeated Brazilian Maike Linhares next. Linhares is a Constrictor Team member, which is evidence that his BJJ and submission skills are top notch. He takes on Kim, who has been taking on a higher level of competition to some success. If Linhares gets the fight down, he can win via tapout. Otherwise, I have Kim winning another big fight.