The New Year’s Eve clash between Bellator MMA and Rizin FF will pit some of the two promotions’ very best as they go head to head in four featured bouts at the Saitama Super Arena.
Bellator vs. Rizin will feature matchups between the cream of the crop from both promotions, with bouts at flyweight, bantamweight, featherweight and lightweight set to play out to a packed crowd in Saitama, Japan, on December 31.
A special press conference was held in Japan on Wednesday to officially unveil the event, as well as the four featured bouts, as Rizin announced their four fighters to take on Bellator’s already-confirmed quartet at the show.
Main eventers promise to put on a show
The main event will see a battle at lightweight, as reigning Rizin lightweight king Roberto Satoshi Souza takes on former Bellator featherweight champion A.J. McKee.
“It was always a childhood dream of mine to come to Japan and fight. So, being here now at this moment is phenomenal, and I’m just looking forward to just going out there, giving fans what they’re looking forward to, a great show, action-packed,” said McKee.
“Since I was a kid I’ve watched ‘Rampage’ (Quinton Jackson) and everybody else come here and put on a show. So, for me, just being here in this present moment is unbelievable and surreal.
“So, I’m looking forward to going out there, and putting on a great show for you guys, and hopefully you guys will enjoy it.”
Rizin’s lightweight champion and resident submission specialist, Souza said he’s proud to represent his adopted nation of Japan, as well as the Rizin promotion as he prepares to face one of Bellator’s most talented stars.
“Everybody here probably knows I’ve always been wanting to face a Bellator fighter, and now I’m getting this opportunity” he said.
“I’m extremely happy about this opportunity, and I will promise I will fight for Japan and I will fight for Rizin. So, I appreciate everybody’s support.“
Pride… and nerves?
The co-main event will see a champion-versus-champion bout, as Bellator featherweight king Patricio Pitbull faces off against newly-crowned Rizin featherweight champion Kleber Koike.
“When I was a child, I watched Minotauro Nogueira, Wanderlei Silva, Shogun… and I had a dream – I want to fight there in Japan,” said Pitbull.
“So today has happened, and I am very happy to be here, and I’m going to represent my country, but I love this country, too.”
Koike, meanwhile, seemed slightly in awe of the opportunity that lies in front of him, as he admitted some early pre-fight butterflies ahead of the matchup.
“I’m a bit nervous right now, but I promise I’ll put on a good fight and not disappoint you all,” he stated.
“I’ll do everything I can to put on a good fight. Rizin fans, I appreciate your support.”
Cartoons vs. video games
The bantamweight clash between Bellator’s former champ Juan Archuleta and Soo Chul Kim looks set to entertain, with the character of both fighters shining through in their press conference statements.
Archuleta was all class, stating that, “I’m here to give back to Japanese martial arts, and show traditional martial arts, and put on a show with this man right here.
“All of you guys are gonna be in awe, and you guys are going to love the performance I come out and put on.
“Since I was a little kid, I watched Dragon Ball Z – it’s one of my favourite cartoons!” he smiled.
“I said, ‘One day, I’m going to do that in Japan!’ And here I am today, standing in front of you, giving you thanks, and my performance will show that.”
Archuleta may be inspired by cartoons, but his opposite number is driven by entertainment of a different kind.
“In my previous fight in Rizin, my wife promised me that she would buy me a Nintendo Switch if I win,” he grinned.
“I won the fight, and she did not buy it for me! So this time, I would like to secure the win for sure, and get a Nintendo Switch from my wife!”
The end to a rivalry?
Finally, the flyweight clash between former Bellator and Rizin 125-pound champion Kyoji Horiguchi and perennial Rizin contender Hiromasa Ougikubo will deliver the third instalment of the pair’s decade-long rivalry.
Horiguchi defeated Ougikubo via second-round rear-naked choke to capture the Shooto featherweight title back in 2012. Then, six years later at Rizin 11, Horiguchi added a second win, this time via unanimous decision.
Now they’re set to face off for a third time, with both men using the past two encounters as fuel for their latest clash.
“I admit and respect what Horiguchi has done,” said Ougikubo.
“He’s fought tough opponents, he’s had significant accomplishments. However, I’ve fought him twice, and he’s hit me so many times, I hate his guts!
“I need to repay my debt in this next fight, and I promise I will return that favour to him.”
Horiguchi is also motivated to meet Ougikubo in the ring again, and he plans on putting an end to the rivalry with a third straight victory over his foe.
“This is going to be our third fight, fighting for a third time,” he said.
“And I’ll make sure he’ll never want to fight me again.”