2016 ended with a bang again. RIZIN Fighting Federation championed its second year end show since its inception, this time putting on an openweight tournament, a switch up from 2015’s 220lb tournament which saw King Mo Lawal crowned champion. This year King Mo stepped in as a last minute replacement for Wanderlei Silva – a fight that many fans wanted to see – because of injury. And, like 2015, it was held over three days: 12/29 and 12/31, with an MMA Expo on the 30th including amateur MMA tournaments and pro-am grappling tournaments.
December 29 opened with Pancrase fighter, Satoru Kitaoka, against Daron Cruickshank at 155lb. Kitaoka blocked Cruickshank’s high kicks well but took a lot of punishment from other kicks and Cruickshank’s right cross. Kitaoka’s face was showing the damage but he kept pressing and set up a double leg takedown and finished the fight with a deep guillotine choke. Harking back to the old Pride 1R 10 minutes, 2R 5 minutes, 3R 5 minutes rule it was definitely crowd pleasing. The first longer round adds a different dynamic to the technicality, conditioning, comebacks and the fighters’ deepest inner warrior coming out in the latter half.
Another Pancrase fighter, Yusuke Yachi, took on Filipino Mario Sismundo, both known for their aggressive boxing. However, it wasn’t hands that finished the bout, but a sharp flying knee to the ribs from Yachi, downing his opponent and forcing the referee to stop Yachi’s unanswered pounds from above. In just under 20 seconds, this lad proved again he has a ferocious fire to unleash.
Bantamweight Queen of Pancrase, now fighting at flyweight, Rin Nakai took on olympic wrestler, Kanako Murata. Murata’s fast and accurate wrestling proved to be a challenge for Rin, and she had obviously improved her striking skills – looking much sharper – but by the 3RD round, Rin’s superior grappling shone through and she finished the fight with a rear naked choke, or ‘choke sleeper’ as it’s known in Japan. With her “sexy weigh in” video going viral, Nakai is a prominent and unique marker of the growing joshi kaku (joshi kakutougi or women’s martial arts) era.
In the openweight tournament, former Sumo wrestler from Estonia, Baruto, used his 6’5″ and 370lb frame to smother old school Japanese heavyweight, Kosaka Tsuyoshi, bullying him into the corners, throwing some knees, and getting takedowns to top position where he was unable to submit or even pound out ‘TK’. The fight went the distance and Baruto took the decision with the home crowd booing – an extreme rarity in Japanese audiences. Baruto did not impress.
The first of the two RIZIN events culminated in Mirko catching King Mo with an uppercut, throwing a few more in quick succession and several punches on the ground, taking the TKO victory and set to face Baruto on the 31st. As a last minute replacement, Lawal had fought less than two weeks earlier in Bellator, taking a UD win over Satoshi Ishii, but he was in good shape and arguably a more dangerous opponent.