For the long time die hard MMA fans, there has been an inherent void since the demise of Pride FC. Thankfully, the man who was behind Pride’s massive success, Nobuyuki Sakakibara, is back and is ahead of schedule when it comes to successfully resurrecting the Japanese MMA scene.
Before I continue, please allow me to admit full disclosure: I have done play-by-play for the last three Rizin FF shows and such want to ensure anyone and everyone that if you feel my forthcoming thoughts are biased, I will sincerely understand.
But it was what I experienced during the two shows last week that were an eye opener for me … that sad, empty space from the old days of Pride FC, was filled with joy, awe and a certain sense of righteousness.
As it was back in the day, I am confident there are fans who are not impressed or could actually care less of how Rizin FF is completely different than all other MMA events, including the sport’s biggest promotion, the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The bottom line is this: for some, it’s simply not their cup of tea. For others though, it’s the greatest form of MMA imaginable.
Dating back to November of 1993, I have been lucky enough to see the introduction, near demise and incredible growth and evolution of the UFC. From shocking the world during it’s first few shows, to being banned from pay per view, the promotion went from near dead over 20 years ago, to the world’s best today.
I also saw the creation of Pride FC and witnessed it’s own growth as the biggest show on the planet, with it’s ghosts still gleefully haunting the minds of MMA fans to this very day. I also bared witness to it’s demise, destruction and extinction. That is, until the right pieces were put into play, allowing it to resurrect itself as Rizin FF.
Sitting ringside for the Open Weight Grand Prix Quarter-Finals on Dec 29th and the one night, take all Semi-Finals and Finals on Dec 31st, the feeling inside the Saitama Super Arena is one that can be a challenge to describe.
The pageantry and heart thumping production is second to none. No other MMA promotion is in the same stratosphere. There is no comparison with how Rizin FF kicks off their shows and how they parade their fighters out like superstar actors before they are set to perform in a sort of MMA Shakespearean Play. The message was akin to “Behold the selected few who will entertain you tonight”.
Each and every fighter is introduced twice … once at the beginning of the night and the second time, as they make their way down to the ring, by the sultry voice of Lenne Hardt, the booming voice synonymous with Pride FC. The MMA Gods were in full agreement, that she is a mandatory piece of the Rizin FF puzzle. Without her, it simply would not be the same.
The same can be said for it’s team of ring announcers, who portray an unmatched flair and sincere joy for their assignments. Their passion cannot be matched. They boom the fighter names as if more than just this dimension should know who they are speaking of. It’s as if they are transcending time and space and calling out to all beings across the universe that it is time to recognize what is about to take place.
From the different sets of MMA rules per bout, to fighters being allowed to express themselves in whatever manner they see fit, including having their own sponsorships, the promotion is a throwback to how it used to be, and perhaps, the one option of how it should be.
One key point that is often overlooked is the pre-fight meeting the aforementioned Sakakibara has with all the fighters. It is speech that is more of a plea and a request that can be summed up quite simply: Rizin FF will never care if they win or lose. Rizin FF cares that they channel their inner warrior(s) and perform with all of their heart for the paying fans.
And the proof is in the pudding. Every bout (minus perhaps one) is an incredible display of technique, will and determination, to fight to the bitter end. Go out on your shield. Fear not the loss but embrace the vitality that it is to be a Mixed Martial Artist.
Rizin FF, from it’s owner, production team and it’s fighters, paint the perfect picture for what is great in MMA. Now some bouts may not be what some fans may exactly enjoy, but such is Japanese MMA.
It is a show. It is entertainment. And it is a piece of the world that will grow quicker than Pride did. Why you may ask? Perhaps it is as simple as this: when Pride started, really, there was just the internet. There was no social media. Now … things grow quicker and catch lightning in a bottle more often. In my sincere opinion, all I can say, is stay tuned.