Just days following a successful debut event, Rizin Fighting Federation finished out its three-day New Year’s Eve expo with the Rizin Fighting World Grand Prix: IZA Festival. Over 12,000 fans filled the Saitama Super Arena on Friday, Dec. 29, for Rizin Fighting Federation World Grand Prix: Saraba Festival, the inaugural event from the upstart founder of Rizin, Nobuyuki Sakakibara. The thrilling event featured the theme of honoring what was a great tradition in the Pride Fighting Championships and moving on to a new generation of martial arts in Japan. The main event featured what was a “passing of the guard” as one of the best Japanese fighters competing today, Shinya Aoki, completely dominated Japanese MMA legend Kazushi Sakuraba in his return to the ring after over four years of inactivity. The current ONE Championship lightweight champion Aoki immediately took his fellow grappling expert down and repeatedly pounded his fists into the legend’s face. After what seemed like an endless beating, referee John McCarthy pulled Aoki off of the legend, completing the narrative for the first day of the three-day event.
The Rizin Fighting World Grand Prix: IZA Festival took place on Thursday, Dec. 31, at the Saitama Super Arena. Fighters from multiple martial arts disciplines from all over the world completed a truly international event. The promotion brought in many talented and well-known fighters to make their transition to retirement, test their skills against the best or assert their dominance in the future.
Fedor Emelianenko made his return from a two-and-a-half-year retirement from the sport. Emelianenko went nine years and 28 fights unbeaten during a stretch in which he was considered to be without a doubt the greatest MMA fighter to ever live. The Russian fell upon hard times during his stint with Strikeforce, losing to Fabricio Werdum, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and Dan Henderson. The losses took away the unbeatable aura that Emelianenko had felt for so long. He defeated UFC and Pride FC veteran Jeff Monson and 2008 Olympic gold medalist Satoshi Ishii in December 2011. The fan-favorite left the sport following a first-round knockout victory over former UFC heavyweight title challenger Pedro Rizzo. The retirement lasted all of 30 months. After a revolving carousel of rumored opponents, Emelianenko landed Indian kickboxer-turned-mixed-martial-artist Jaideep Singh.
The final event of the three-day Rizin Fighting Federation expo aired live at 1 a.m. ET in Japan on Sky Perfect and in Russia on MatchTV. The event will be broadcast on Spike TV in the United States on tape delay.