OPINION: Rizin FF, Bellator Should Be Moving Forward Instead of Looking Back

RizinLogoBy: Albert Cameron – I remember going to see the latest Avengers movie with some friends from work and I didn’t like it as much as I liked the first Avengers movie. Now, I’m not sure if he was quoting anyone or not, but my friend Garrett says “You can’t recapture the magic of the first kiss.” I’ve always known my friend Garrett to have a wise outlook on a lot of things; while he was talking about a movie that was maybe two hours too long, that particular sageness really holds its water in a lot of different instances, even combat sports. Both Bellator Fighting Championships and the Rizin Fighting Federation (in Japan) are relying on stars of yesterday to be relevant in today’s fighting climate. As many times as we can book Fedor Emelianenko, Kazushi Sakuraba, Ken Shamrock, and Royce Gracie, we’re never going to get those days of their prime back; while we’re waiting on that magic, we’re missing out on great opportunities to expose the up-and-comers.

I’m not sure what kind of reaction that the Bellator hype machine was looking for when they announced Shamrock vs. Gracie 3, but all they got from me was tremendous disappointment. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been extremely critical with Bellator for their use of “Legends” talent. My problem with Bellator is that they have the resources and the platform to be putting tomorrow’s champions in the spotlight and they are wasting it on fights that are almost guaranteed to disappoint. Even worse is that Scott Coker, who was the CEO of Strikeforce during their hay-day, knows better. Scott Coker himself discovered “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey, Meisha “Cupcake” Tate, and gave Gilbert Melendez a place to fight when he couldn’t come to terms with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Now, I’m not sure how you remember Gracie vs. Shamrock 1 and 2, but I don’t remember them as bouts that need a rubber match.

“The World’s Most Dangerous Man” Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie first met during the semi-final rounds of the Ultimate Fighting Championship number 1. Royce Gracie was the underachiever of the Gracie family at the time and was selected to champion the family (and their brand of jiu-jitsu) to prove just how superior the martial art was. Ken Shamrock was a professional wrestler turned shoot-fighter that had the accolades of being the King of Pancrase on his resume. The match up was unique at the time because Gracie wasn’t the only man who understood and was versed in submissions at the time. The fight ended because Royce Gracie observed solid jiu-jitsu fundamentals and Ken Shamrock was caught in an intermediate gi trap. Royce Gracie went on to win the tournament. Rematch? Ok, I get it.

Shamrock vs. Gracie 2 was one of the best naps that I’ve ever taken. Shamrock was so determined that he wasn’t going to get tied up in Gracie’s gi again and that he was going to use his endurance and stamina against the UFC 1 tournament champion that he’d circle and tire Gracie out. The inherent problem is that a time limit would be instituted and Shamrock’s strategy now had a serious flaw in it. Royce Gracie was relying on jiu-jitsu and even the best Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu can be boring to watch against a guy whose sole strategy is to evade and not engage. In the last few seconds of the fight, there was a flurry and Gracie got a mouse under his eye. Even I know that a bruise doesn’t forecast an entire ass kicking. Gracie went on to Japan to fight in the PRIDE organization and Shamrock went on to build his legacy in the UFC. That was not a fight I’m super excited to see again; the problem is that the match makers and decision makers of Bellator aren’t fans of Cage Nation TV, have not been heeding our warnings and have booked the rubber match between “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie as a main event.

Before the days of UFC Fight Pass, I collected MMA dvds and there were more PRIDE FC dvds in my collection than UFC (More King of the Cage than PRIDE, but that’s a story for another day). It was hard to find anything that you didn’t love about PRIDE: the entrances were magic, the battles were hard fought and it really had a global feeling like all of the best fighters around the world were coming together to one platform. Thanks to PRIDE, we were given the great battles of Mirko CroCop, Fedor Emelianenko and Kazushi Sakuraba. It is rumored that PRIDE got involved with an organized crime syndicate in Japan that I will neither confirm nor deny the existence of. Through one poor decision after another, PRIDE had postured itself to be consumed by its largest rival: the UFC. Since the rise and demise of PRIDE, a few other organizations have tried to recapture the magic of that first kiss; DREAM, Sengoku, K-1 Heroes (just to name a few) and the results were the same: the magic is gone.

The Rizin Fighting Federation (Rizin FF) has revealed itself as the newest MMA venture from Noboyuki Sakakibara (former president of Dream Stage Entertainment, the company that owned and operated the PRIDE Fighting Championships) and (like every new MMA promotion, I’m sure) it’s going to revolutionize the world of MMA, as described on their official website. Japanese MMA has been missing its grand stage since PRIDE’s demise; relying on Pancrase and One FC to satiate the thirst for Japanese prize fights. Here’s the initial problem: Sakakibara is trying to repeat PRIDE’s success with the fighters that carried PRIDE on its shoulders. The initial problem is the immortal one, time. It’s been ten years since PRIDE has ceased operations and their legends have aged. Fedor Emelianenko is on the card, coming out of retirement and having his mystique destroyed by Dan “Hendo” Henderson and current UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum, as is Kazushi Sakuraba and Shinya Aoki. All of which are great fighters, but run the inherent risk of being past their prime.

Rizin FF is trying to position themselves as the global destination for championship fighting, almost comparing themselves to Soccer’s World Cup. Bellator has a co-main event for Shamrock vs. Gracie of Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson vs. Dhafir “DaDa5000” Harris. DaDa5000 has two pro fights to his record. Two. To me, to place DaDa5000 in a co-main event spot after two pro-fights, especially when his claim to fame is being a Florida street-fighter like Kimbo Slice, is insulting. There are men and women who are training religiously to get their shot and they are being passed up for a guy who organized unsanctioned street-fights. Forget your hard work, forget your sacrifice, if you commit criminal activity (it’s essentially aggravated assault) you get the rewards of national exposure.

I am one of Ken Shamrock’s biggest fans (if not the biggest) and I remember being amazed by Royce Gracie taking their world to the mat and securing chokes. I have argued with people that Fedor Emelianenko is the greatest fighter of all time and I celebrated when watching Kazushi Sakuraba submitting Conan Silva in the finals of UFC Japan. Like my friend Garrett said: you can’t recapture the magic of the first kiss. As great as Ken, Royce, Fedor and Kazushi were, it’s time to let the next generation come through. Now is a time when regional promotions are obtaining resources to put names on the map. Chris Dempsey (UFC Middleweight) fought for Gladiators of the Cage, Cody “No Love” Garbrandt (a coach on this season of the Ultimate Fighter) fought for Pinnacle FC. Tomorrow’s stars are paying their dues and it’s to everyone’s benefit that we await for their arrival.

I’m going to leave you with a parting thought. We can all agree that the UFC is the world’s largest and arguably the best MMA promotion in the world. If pouring money into throwback fights was profitable and made sense, wouldn’t the UFC be doing it? The UFC booked Royce Gracie vs. Matt Hughes and after that, Royce Gracie’s legacy was left to rest in the UFC Hall of Fame.