By: Albert Miller – Since January of this year, I have been extremely critical of the Rizin Fighting Federation (Rizin, Rizin FF). A big part of my problem is how a lot of people, people who make up the MMA economy & global scene alongside me, are putting so much blind faith into Rizin as if it’s a sure thing. Rizin isn’t a sure thing, just like DREAM wasn’t a sure thing, or Sengoku wasn’t a sure thing. With the recent happenings of global MMA, the UFC isn’t a sure thing.
What it all really comes down to is that we all miss the PRIDE fighting Championship (PRIDE FC). We miss the same theatrics and pageantry that a lot of MMA fans condemn professional wrestling fans for. For the record, I was a huge fan of PRIDE; I thoroughly enjoyed the presentation, and PRIDE’s massive presence pushed the UFC to evolve into the monolith of combat sports that we enjoy today. When Dream Stage Entertainment (SEG, the owners of PRIDE) had dissolved, we were promised lofty realities that were never delivered upon. PRIDE was never operated separate from the UFC, we never got the Super Bowl super fights we were promised; I for one, still feel cheated. I imagine that’s how a lot of us feel, and perhaps that’s why so many people are willing to cling to Rizin.
As someone who tries to carry the least amount of bias, I have assembled a list of things that still bug me about Rizin, in hopes that I can fully embrace Rizin without reluctance. Perhaps you, treasured reader, will be able to reason these reluctances to me. In no particular order:
No. 1: Is there an operational difference between a fighting promotion and a federation? By definition, a federation is a noun, federating or uniting in a league. Well, that still doesn’t answer my question. When Nobuyuki Sakakibara sat down to plan the business of Rizin Fighting Federation, did he plan the organization to be its own promotional body, or a sanctioning body (like the World Boxing Organization in boxing) to oversee other promotions? So far, we’re almost ten months into the year, and Rizin has only functionally promoted three events, albeit large events. Those events were almost entirely populated by fighters from other organizations; Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal was representing Bellator MMA, Fedor Emelianenko most always represents M-1 Global, and Rin Nakai (who is slated to fight at the next Rizin event) is a Pancrase fighter. When I visit the Rizin website (the English version), there is no roster of fighters that Rizin claims as their own. The question remains: is the Rizin Fighting Federation holding their own events, or helping to unite smaller promotions?
No. 2: How is Pancrase playing both sides of the fence? Remember when Fedor Emelianenko was being courted by the UFC right after the PRIDE buyout? When Fedor signed with Strikeforce, he had said that the UFC contracts are so restrictive that he couldn’t sign it. The contract that Zuffa had put down in front of “the Last Emporer” was rumored to be 60 pages. With the UFC’s “Fight Pass” being as proprietary as it is, how can Pancrase be on Fight Pass and still cooperate with Rizin? Does the UFC not view Rizin as a threat? Did the Fight Pass deal have such a massive loop hole in it that Pancrase was able to legally capitalize on the opportunity? Is a deal in Japan not under UFC jurisdiction? Or, was the UFC not able to forecast Sakakibara’s plans for such a conglomeration of MMA promotions? What it boils down to, is that Pancrase (a Fight Pass partner with the UFC) is cooperating with Bellator, the UFC’s biggest domestic competitor. It would appear that Pancrase’s involvement with Rizin, although good for their business, is hurting strategic partners. That appears dishonorable to me.
No. 3: How are heroes from decades ago “The Future of Fighting”? This has been my soapbox for quite some time. Bellator (a Rizin partner) is exceptionally guilty of signing guys who might be past their prime in hopes that they are going to rekindle the magic of the first kiss, but it seems like Rizin might be worse. On that English website for Rizin, under the “Concept” page, the first line is “What we seek in the future of fighting…” Future is the exact conceptual opposite of “the Past.” With that being understood, why is the promotion banking on the rematch of a fight that happened ten years ago? Rizin has been the platform that Kron Gracie (Rickson Gracie’s son) and Gabi Garcia have made their MMA debuts on, wouldn’t it stand to reason that the smart money is in developing their own stars to draw attention away from the UFC’s market share? Both CroCop and Silva were in the UFC, and had failed to break into championship contention. If CroCop and Silva are the top competition in Rizin when they weren’t able to capture gold in the UFC, doesn’t that dilute the competitive stock of the entire roster? If anyone were to beat CroCop or Wanderlei in Rizin, does it mean as much, knowing their UFC performance?
I miss PRIDE as much as anyone; perhaps I have the burden of remembering the scars from all of the times we’ve tried to capture that second bolt of lightning in the bottle. Every so often, the second coming of the “rizin” PRIDE comes along and we get disappointed all over again. DREAM was supposed to be the new PRIDE, so was Sengoku; both of which were tremendous disappointments.
I want to like Rizin, but I’ve seen the heralds of “the second coming of PRIDE” before. I will remain skeptical for now, until Rizin proves me wrong. For the health of the global economy of MMA, I hope it does.