A.J. McKee (T) (Dave Mandel/Combat Press)

Bellator MMA vs. RIZIN FF Preview and Predictions

The year is quickly coming to a close, and the final major mixed martial arts event of the year has a lot on the line as Bellator MMA and RIZIN FF put their promotional reputations on the line as they clash at Bellator MMA vs. RIZIN FF at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. The main event takes place in the lightweight division as A.J McKee meets Roberto de Souza in a non-title affair. McKee moved up to lightweight after losing his title in a closely contested decision in his rematch against Patricio “Pitbull” Freire. In moving up, he looked good as he soundly defeated Spike Carlyle. With all due respect to Carlyle, this fight with de Souza is a marked step-up in competition and it will answer a lot of questions about McKee’s future in the lightweight division. De Souza is a submission machine, racking up 10 wins via tapout over his career. That includes a fantastic reverse-triangle armbar this past April over Johnny Case, as de Souza made his second consecutive title defense.

In the co-main event it will be the two promotions’ featherweight champions squaring off in a non-title bout, as the aforementioned Freire squares off against Kleber Koike. This is a dangerous fight for Pitbull in his 40th career MMA fight, as he takes on one of the sport’s best submission artists. Koike has a staggering 27 career submission wins, including all seven wins on his current winning streak. This showdown between two jiu-jitsu black belts has all the makings of a grappling fan’s dream fight, and it should be fun from start to finish.

Also on the fight card is a flyweight fight between Kyoji Horiguchi and Hiromasa Ougikubo. The former champion in both promotions will fight under the Bellator banner as Ougikubo will move down in weight class to represent RIZIN FF in this clash.


The event airs tape-delayed on Showtime starting at 8 p.m. ET.

A.J. McKee will make the walk as a lightweight for the second time when he takes on Roberto de Souza; can the former featherweight make it 2-0 at 155 pounds?

Yes. McKee’s debut at lightweight went well, but he certainly faced a touch of adversity against Spike Carlyle. That was probably the best thing that could have happened to him, as he not only learned that he can compete against fighters who are naturally a little bigger than him, but he also learned that he could take a shot at the higher weight class. That had to boost his confidence, and, with another training camp under his belt to prepare for a fight at lightweight, he will shine in this sophomore appearance.

Roberto de Souza is no punk. Let that be known. He is a dangerous submission artist, and, after re-watching his reverse triangle armbar win over Johnny Case, I am pretty sure that McKee will look to keep this fight standing. That won’t exactly be a picnic either, as de Souza has some knockout ability as well. Ultimately, the timing and speed of McKee will be the difference maker in this fight. He will be the faster man and will use his footwork to keep de Souza away from him. This one goes the distance in a display of technical striking superiority for McKee, as he gives Bellator the win in the main event.

Patricio “Pitbull” Freire takes on Kleber Koike in a featherweight clash; does the three-time Bellator featherweight champion pick up a win over his streaking Japanese opponent?

This is the one fight on the card where I expect RIZIN FF to get a win. I just don’t see Pitbull surviving the entire fight without getting submitted. I realize that he is a high level black belt in his own right, and he has only been submitted once in his career, but Koike is an absolute nightmare. This one is going to be a crowd pleaser for the well-educated Japanese audience, and it will have some of the highest level grappling exchanges that MMA has to offer fans. This one will end late with an Koike submission victory. It will also mark the beginning of the downside of the career of Pitbull, as I expect him to maybe defend his Bellator featherweight title once more, before either losing the belt or retiring from the sport.

Kyoji Horiguchi represents Bellator in this cross-promotional clash; how does he fare against Hiromasa Ougikubo?

Most times Kyoji Horiguchi fights as a flyweight, he is the bigger fighter. That won’t be the case this weekend as Hiromasa Ougikubo moves down in weight class for this bout. This is great matchmaking. Both of these fighters epitomize the greatness of the lower weight classes. They move exceptionally well and can keep a pace that most fighters can only dream about. The difference maker in this fight will be the power of Horiguchi. He is a more natural finisher than Ougikubo, and I am not sure that Ougikubo will be able to take a punch all that well down at flyweight. Horiguchi wins this one by knockout before the end of the second round.

Fight Pick
Main Card (Showtime, 8 p.m. ET)
LW: A.J. McKee vs. Roberto de Souza McKee
FW: Patricio “Pitbull” Friere vs. Kleber Koike Koike
FlyW: Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Hiromasa Ougikubo Horiguchi
BW: Juan Archuleta vs. Soo Chul Kim Archuleta
LW: Koji Takeda vs. Gadzhi Rabadanov Takeda