There are times in life when you are offered certain opportunities you simply cannot refuse. That fear of the unknown is squashed by the internal knowledge that the unknown could end up being a lifetime of memories just waiting to be be imprinted in your memory. Such was the case for yours truly.
I had just returned from doing play by play for Titan FC 41 in Miami, Florida and was settling in at home, catching up on what I missed with family and friend. Then my phone rang with an unknown U.S. number … it was Jerry Millen from Rizin FF offering me the play by play gig for the next event, which was a mere two weeks away.
A quick conversation about the offer with my wife and not more than 48 hours later, my flight itinerary to Tokyo-Narita, Japan was already in my inbox. In fact, everything I encountered with Rizin was quick and precise. No beating around the bush. Everything they said they would do, they did with speed and precision.
They day I left was a tad stressful … I have a hard time sleeping in planes and with a 12 hour flight ahead of me, I crossed my fingers there were going to be some good movies to enjoy … and there were. I was able to watch “Creed”, “Captain America: Civil War” and a few HBO shows and documentaries.
When I arrived in Japan, I quickly picked up my portable wifi unit and met with my transportation representative. She handed me my bus ticket and showed where the departure point would be. No more than 2-3 mins later, Wanderlei Silva shows up and quickly begin catching up. The bus ride from the airport to the hotel had us both laughing, as we swapped stories about our kids and the crazy things they do.
We arrived at the hotel and were greeted by Millen and some Rizin staff. We signed in and were given envelopes with our itineraries, schedule, etc. As I made my way to the hotel check-in counter, the sliding door opens and it’s Charles “Krazy Horse” Bennett. If you haven't read or seen the video by now, you probably should. Instantaneously, all hell breaks loose in the lobby with “The Axe Murderer” looking to maim “The Krazy Horse”. Thankfully, my broadcast partner Heath “The Texas Crazy Horse” Herring was able to step in between both parties and keep the situation calm.
Herring is still big in Japan. We spent a fair amount of time together, eating at various restaurants, interviewing the fighters, hitting the unbelievable Sega arcade and much, much more. Heath was stopped in the streets by loyal fans for pictures. In the restaurants, the waiters, waitresses and sushi chefs were in awe he was in their presence. During our 13 hour day of interviewing each and every fighter on the card, many of them asked for pictures with Heath once their interviews were done.
Interview day was a long one, but it was a time for me to gather as much information about each fighter as I possibly could. At first, Heath didn’t understand why I was doing this. He tried to explain what it was like from the fighters perspective … to be interviewed and to be asked the same question over and over and over again. I smiled as I explained to him to trust me, he will see what I mean once we go live with the Rizin event.
But he began catching on fairly quickly, to the point he began asking questions similar to mine. It began clicking in for him. These weren’t questions that were going to get canned answers. They were something I took pride in (no pun intended) when I pitched my tv show to the sports network. The theory behind them was simple: we already know these athletes are fighters, but who are they as a person? What do they do in their spare time? What makes them tick? Remove the fighter and the training and dig deeper into the individual’s personality. It worked extremely well for my tv show and it we all believed it worked very well for the Rizin broadcast.
The following day were the weigh-ins and the set-up was completely different than what we are used to in North America. In the States and in Canada, for the most part, it’s just an open room with seating facing a scale and a back drop. Not in Japan … in The Land of the Rising Sun, each fighter has his own table, labeled with his/her name and seats for their corners and translators.
One by one, they are brought up and put in a holding area for a few short minutes await their turn, step on the scale, take pictures and head back to their table. On this particular occasion, we all found it hilarious that Herring was thrust into his “Peacemaker” role yet again. Heath jumped on stage when Amir Aliakbari and Joan Almeida nearly went at it.
The following day was what we all came to Japan for; the event … Rizin Fighting Open Weight World Grand Prix 2016, which also had a few special rules fights sprinkled into the card.
And once we went live, it was a site to behold.
You cannot measure the awe factor in the eyes of the fans, the fighters and the Rizin staff. Heath and I were covered in goose bumps as the fighters were introduced to the crowd. One by one, they made their way to their spots, as the lights, music and booming voices rung around the arena. This is not something we are accustomed to in North America. We are ok with the basics of the bells and whistles but that doesn’t jive in Japan. When they do something, they do it big.
In fact, it stems from the cultural mindset when it comes to fighting and the fighting spirit. At the weigh-ins and rules meeting, Rizin President Nobihuro Sakikibara made a poignant speech to the fighters expressing his sincere honest assessment and belief that he did not what fighters who fought not to lose. This was Japan. In Japan, it does not matter if you win or lose. It is far more important to put on a show.
To make the fans proud they spent their hard earned money. It was as if he was saying if you come here and win … but win by playing it safe, you will likely not be back. In fact, maybe your opponent would be back if did everything in his power to try an win the fight.
The event came and went and I was in awe seizing the moment of what had just transpired. I believe one of my strongest characteristics is to always appreciate where I am and what is going on around me. And at Rizin, it resonated within me like no other.
And it wasn’t just the nostalgic feeling of being at an event that felt like the resurrection of Pride. It was the country. The people and the culture. For the first time I put myself in check as I compared my way of life with theirs. There is no secret I am always labeled as the polite Canadian in my travels. My friends at the UFC and friends/co-workers at Titan FC often mock me for being too polite or nice. They call it “The Canadian Way”. I can’t help it to be honest. It’s engrained in us to say “please and thank you”, hold doors for complete strangers … the whole ladies first mentality. But my goodness, I as a Canadian cannot hold a candle to the people of Japan.
Their humble nature and smiling faces are food for the soul. I left Japan feeling like there is an abundance of good in humanity. They Japanese know how to treat one another and guests in their country with dignity and respect. Their sincerity isn’t a vail - it’s real. Their fighters are warriors, who could care less about winning or losing.
I constantly heard the names Antonio Inoki, Takada and Sakuraba everywhere I went, both with and without Rizin staff around. These are but three living legends who have paved the way for the fighting future of Japan’s MMA scene and it’s local representatives inside the ring.
I feel as if Japan is finally back in the MMA game … and for the sport as a whole, I am grateful. I cannot predict MMA’s future but I have a feeling the game is about to change big time.