Rizin committee chairman Nobuyuki Sakakibara. Nagoya: The beginning. Looking back on Rizin 1, held on April 17th in Nagoya.


I have so many great memories of Rainbow Hall (now known as Gaishi Hall). I am so happy that we were able to pull off Rizin 1.

The timing of having our first event take place in Nagoya has great significance for me. In 1996 I met Nobuhiko Takada here for the first time, and we also had the first pride here. In 1996, it was UWF International vs New Japan Pro Wrestling tournament. It was around that time that I was tricked by Ken Suzuki. He said “We are having a tournament in Nagoya. New Japan Pro Wrestling are coming too”. I was watching on Tokai TV, and no NJPW guys came out (laughs). Then, Tatsumi Fujinami came out, followed by Yoshiaki Fujiwara. I asked myself “so where did NJPW go?” (laughs)

But I was able to meet Mr. Takada through that. Then, in December of 1994, we had a K1 Legend event at Rainbow Hall. At that time, I was able to get into the martial arts competition business thanks to Tokai TV talking to K1 founder Kazuyoshi Ishii. This was the first K1 event held in regional Japan and also the first time Tokai TV broadcast it. Fuji TV didn’t start broadcast K1 first, Tokai TV did. For that event, we brought over Patrick Smith and Kimo. The very first MMA event held in Japan was K1. We call this the forbidden fruit. We placed wire netting on all four corners of the ring and before the opening fight, we told the Nagoya crowd that this was their Christmas present. The fans were dumbfounded (laughs). Kimo brought over the Cross (of Christ) from American on purpose, and it became a really big deal (laughs). Those are the kind of fond memories I have of Rainbow (Gaishii) Hall and that is why I am so happy to have had Rizin 1 here.

I want to give a special shout out to Namiko Murata, who put on one hell of a fight.

MMA is not that popular right now, but we were still able to have an event at Rainbow Hall. This is such a big challenge for us, people think we cannot do it. Despite all this, we were still able to pull in a big sponsor in Top, as well Tokai TV. Along with the efforts of Nagoya City, we were able to have a great event. And then there are the kickboxers!

It might have something to do with Yoshihiro Sato, but it is so great to see just how popular kickboxing is here in Nagoya! The kickboxing matches really gave life to the event. I wondered if they were going to be good to go today, but around the Chris Barnett fight I thought “huh? What`s going on?” and then after the intermission, during the Rena fight I thought “something is wrong”… but the first three matches were really good in my opinion. I was a little worried during the last few matches, but I think everyone got to see the good points of MMA today. I also think that having 14 fights on the card was maybe too much. We fed the fans too much and they got full quickly.

I would like to hear the fans opinions on this but having only 8 or 10 matches doesn’t really show exactly what Rizin is. This time, we tried to put everything into one event, and it ended up being 14 matches. I am the kind of person who likes to have fewer matches, but I think that the fans were satisfied with the overall show. The core fans especially really seemed to enjoy the show.

As far as the Kazuyuki Fujita main event is concerned, everything that happened in front of my very own eyes was the truth and I think, basically, reality. The passing of the torch, so to speak, is a fact of life. What is cool about this now, is that a lot of people are going to ask where Fujita goes from here.

In regards to Jiri Prochazka`s fight, of all the fighters I saw since I came to Nagoya, he trained the hardest for sure. He was in the hallway this morning smashing the mits with his trainer, and has been training this whole time. I thought to myself, “What`s going on?” (laughs). But that`s how much spirit he has. He has a very high level of motivation. I saw a lot of Fujita`s fights in the past, and I don’t know if it’s because of his age now, or because Jiri is so good. When he started landing a couple of shots on Fujita, especially the left straight, it was the first time I have seen Fujita troubled so much like that. There was just some little thing missing from Jiri though.

I just want to say, Namiko Murata`s match was just amazing. Her capacity for potential is extremely high. Just because she excelled at amateur wrestling doesn’t mean she can automatically fight for Rizin. Her ability to respond is very good, and she also has the judo background, as she was one of the top Judoka as a junior. Murata has even told me that she believes her ground game is her strong point but she only showed us a portion of it. And as far as her striking went, she wasn’t nervous or afraid and didn’t back down at all. She learns so quickly so we all have high expectations of her. She has a very bright future.

Also, on the other hand we have Saori Yoshida who is aiming for the gold medal once more. It is an incentive for Murata to train hard and we hope that Saori can win gold and bring that medal to a Rizin ring and fight for us.

So Saori Yoshida vs Namiko Murata is definitely a match we might see in the future. We may see them in a grappling match, or some different kind of match. I don’t dream of this match just yet, but I am so excited to think that the 4 of them might all fight in a Rizin ring someday. In my opinion, logically, the match would be separated into two different fights. The four have injected a breath of fresh air and people could feel the difference.

Who do you have in mind for Murata’s next opponent?

That’s a good question. I just saw her after her fight, and she was almost in tears. I think it really took a toll on her, all the training and the stress of the fight. But after some careful thought, I think she was able to try out a lot of different variations and adjusted well to different situations within the 5 minute 3 round limit. It wasn’t an easy victory, and she was exhausted at the end but she gave it her all for 15 minutes and I think her opponent was perfect for her. Her shoulders were all stiff at the end though, so I think she needs to work out where to relax and where to find your power. I think she learnt a lot in this fight. I’d like to get her next opponent sorted quickly because she is training at her peak right now. I think this also includes fighting overseas. In 5 years, I see her winning the UFC belt. I have high expectations for her (laughs) and this is not the time for her to slacken off. I will push her and back her as much as I can.

Wanderlei Silva has said that he wants to see a fight between Sakuraba and Tamura.

That’s not something I really want to hear from him (laughs). If something like that were to develop, I think it means that this special grappling match had real meaning. I really want to hear what the fans think about this. If Wanderlei felt that being that close to the action, I think having an MMA match with Sakuraba and Tamura would work as long as the fans are onboard and have the same wishes. I can’t see Sakuraba and Tamura saying no to the fight either. Wanderlei vs Sakuraba would be good too, and there are also several combinations that we can think about. There have also been shouts for Wanderlei vs Fedor, and the fact that Wanderlei has come back means there are so many possible choices now.

Saori Yoshida has just come out and talked about what would happen if she faced off against Murata. She claimed that if it was MMA, being punched is “scary”, but if it was grappling, she would be totally fine (laughs)

She did say that didn’t she! Every time I have met Saori, I have made a play to get her to Rizin. I think the Olympic committee is doing the same (laughs). I am not supporting her, I am trying hard to recruit her (laughs). I think that amateur wrestlers, judoka and Japanese martial artists are all top athletes and have a big chance of making it big in the MMA world.

However, there hasn’t been a big enough stage for these athletes to shine in Japan yet. You cannot immediately go and fight in the UFC, you need time to develop. You need to be ready and without being in the right environment, it really is difficult.

When Pride was at its peak, there was no problem with language, no problem with time differences. We pulled off the greatest shows in the world. If we can recreate that with Rizin, giving the fighters the environment they need to thrive on, I really believe that the top amateur stars will want to fight for us too. We don’t want to be limited to just Saori Yoshida, we want the best from amateur wrestling and judo. The last remaining members of Judo will all be appearing together at the end of April.

I think that of course there are also athletes in each Judo class who have a shot at making the Olympic Games in Tokyo. There is also the challenge of Rio as well as the possibility of them retiring from Judo competition life. When Yoshida, Takimoto, and maybe up until Ishii’s generation were coming through, several top tier MMA fighters came over from Judo but that has stopped recently. We want to be a company that Judoka aim to fight for, for them to focus on after Rio.

And how are your negotiations going with Aoki?

You know how he is (laughs). He should be taking responsibility for the cocky things he says. He is a cocky fighter and he fights like he wants to take people down a peg or two.

I think he comes up with the things he says on the spur of the moment. So if he continues to run his mouth, I think he should take on Daron Cruickshank. He said he’d fight him for 2 million dollars? Where does he think that kind of money comes from (laughs)? Is he really aiming for that much? I have a lot of things to say about him, but I want him show me all the things that make people dislike him.

After watching Daron vs Sasaki today, I now really want to watch Daron vs Andy Souwer. Daron has had 13 fights in the UFC and you can tell he knows his way around a ring. I am not chasing UFC and not challenging them. It is just a case of me really liking Daron, who by chance has also fought in the UFC. We were very lucky that Daron got released from his UFC contract and made him an offer. Rizin is a place where UFC fighters can fight. We are not a UFC minor league and just because someone has been in the UFC doesn’t mean we will try and sign them. We want to take fighters, polish them, and then show them off to the world. Rizin will be a place where results will speak for themselves and that’s why Aoki shouldn’t be running his mouth so much.