It’s a new year, so Combat Press is taking a look back at the best of MMA in 2019. Throughout the the week, Combat Press will announce its award winners in multiple categories, covering everything from the action in the cage to the biggest stories surrounding the sport.
The criteria for the “Regional/International Promotion of the Year” is constantly evolving. It would be easy to pick the UFC or Bellator MMA on a yearly basis if this was simply a “Promotion of the Year” award. Now, however, ONE Championship and the Professional Fighters League have also transcended what we think of as a fair playing field for this award. These leagues are signing the big free agents and delivering the best of the MMA world at a national and global scale. They are the big leagues.
Our award, on the other hand, is meant to honor those in the trenches. These are the leagues that provide the UFC and Bellator with talent. These are the companies whose reach doesn’t extend quite as far. They tend to have less shows per year or smaller budgets, but they’re passionate about what they do and attempt to deliver the best product possible to the fans.
Plenty of companies gave it their all in 2019. Invicta Fighting Championships delivered renewed interest in its product with one-night Phoenix Series tournaments. The Kansas City-based organization served as the stage for Brianna Van Buren’s rise to the UFC in the first tournament. The second tournament event elevated Miranda Maverick as a company star. Over the course of seven shows, the organization reminded us of how it is a pioneer in the field of women’s MMA.
Poland’s KSW checked in with six events in 2019. The promotion delivers production value on par with the big leagues, but it focuses primarily on the European sector. It delivered an excellent year of action with the continued rise of Phil De Fries in the heavyweight division, a continued broadcast deal with Fite TV, an extended reach into Croatia for one event, and an exciting rematch between Scott Askham and Michał Materla. These were but a few of the big moments for a company that exceeded the 50-event mark in 2019.
Yet, our pick for the 2019 “Regional/International Promotion of the Year” goes to the Rizin Fighting Federation.
Japan’s leading organization also hosted six events during the year, but it continued to break ground as it partnered with Bellator MMA for a year-end extravaganza that spanned two events. Rizin continued to deliver solid lineups that mixed women’s MMA with the best male talent outside of the big leagues. The company has built a strong stable of star power that includes Kyoji Horiguchi, Manel Kape, Jiří Procházka, Ayaka Hamasaki, Seo Hee Ham, Rena Kubota, Kai Asakura, Tofiq Musayev, and kickboxer Tenshin Nasukawa. Its events may air during the wee hours of the night here in America, but that hasn’t stopped Rizin from developing a strong following on this side of the Pacific Ocean.
The Japanese promotion ushered in 2019 with an event that pitted Nasukawa against legendary boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. While it didn’t end the year with quite as big of a name on its marquee, the pairing with Bellator led to a set of shows that featured an exciting one-night lightweight tournament that propelled the aforementioned Musayev to a win over Bellator staple Patricky “Pitbull” Freire, a big win for Ham over Hamasaki, and another New Year’s Eve appearance for Nasukawa. The organization also got to put its name on a Paramount Network broadcast that featured Fedor Emelianenko.
It was truly a great year for the Rizin Fighting Federation.
Other finalists: Invicta Fighting Championships, KSW
Make sure you check out the rest of the Combat Press 2019 MMA Award winners.