RIZIN’s Nobuyuki Sakakibara discusses future of co-promotions after Bellator sale to PFL, doesn’t see ONE as threat in Japan
RIZIN has co-promoted several times with Bellator in the past, making room for Kyoji Horiguchi to make history as two-promotion champion, but those days could be in the past.
Bellator was acquired by the Professional Fighters League in 2023 and will reportedly become an eight-event international series going forward. PFL founder Donn Davis has previously mentioned an interest in working with the Japanese organization, but RIZIN president Nobuyuki Sakakibara told MMA Fighting that that’s a relationship that needs to be built.
“[Co-promoting] was all possible because of the relationship that we’ve had with Scott Coker,” Sakakibara said, referring to the former head of Bellator. “And this relationship has not been developed within just one or two years – this goes way back of working together and the trust and relationship that we’ve had. That’s the only reason why we could make this happen.
“When two promoters get together and think like, ‘What can we do for the future of this sport? We just can’t have our guys under contract, in an exclusive contract, and not let them fight outside because the fans want to see who’s the best fighter.’ And if promoters with the same open mind can work together like that, we can make these things happen. When two promoters get together and start thinking about what the best move is for the future of our sport, we can do that kind of stuff.”
Bellator and RIZIN worked together for a two-night special on 2022’s New Years’ Eve in Japan, with five Bellator fighters flying to Japan to face some of RIZIN’s best. For such extravaganza to happen again, Sakakibara and Davis must have their “philosophies” aligned.
“We understand that Bellator is under a new ownership and all promoters have different motives – all promoters have different ways to promote and philosophies that are different,” Sakakibara said. “Obviously, if Donn Davis has that passion, if he sees the importance of what we’re doing, the concept of what we’re doing for the sport and for the future. … We call ourselves a fight federation, RIZIN Fighting Federation, we want to continue to work with as many promoters as possible that share the same vision. I understand that Donn Davis has his ambitions and plans, so if we can make things work, our doors are always open.”
RIZIN will hold it’s traditional New Years’ Eve show on Dec. 31 with two championship bouts on top of the card in Saitama, Juan Archuleta vs. Kai Askura and Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Makoto Shinryu, and Japanese fans will get another MMA attraction when ONE Championship returns to the country on Jan. 28.
“We don’t look at ONE coming to Japan and doing a show as a threat at all,” Sakakibara said. “We actually think it’s a good thing, you know? As a promoter, we’re actually interested to see what kind of atmosphere, what kind of product they’re gonna bring and cater to the Japanese fans.
“We actually want the UFC to come and do their thing and just kind of bring their show to Japan, because that only helps the Japanese fans, it only helps grow and educate the Japanese fans with combat sports content. Right now, we’re the only ones doing big events, and there’s nothing to compare it with. We always believe that healthy competition is necessary in every market, so I really do want the Japanese fans to be able to experience different kind of promotions and different kind of productions and atmospheres while staying in Japan. We think it’s a really good thing, actually.”