Several months ago, a new Japanese promotion used a live Bellator MMA show as their outlet to announce their ambitious plans for their upstart organization. Headed by former Pride FC boss Nobuyuki Sakakibara, Rizin Fighting Federation boasted their first big signing: returning legend Fedor Emelianenko.
Since then, the mysterious promotion has demanded attention, even if only in the form of curiosity. They held a press conference on October 8 and announced that they would team up with several other notable promotions to create the “future of fighting.”
One of those organizations is Polish standout promotion Konfrontacja Sztuk Walki(KSW).
According to co-founder Martin Lewandowski, the negotiation process began a year ago and progressed gradually after a secretive first meeting.
“I was approached by the Japanese team – Mr Sakakibara – about a year ago,” Lewandowski told BloodyElbow.com in London. “They gave me a call and said that they wanted to come and see my show and they wanted to talk about cooperation. They were top secret – very secretive – they wouldn’t say why they were coming. I wanted to know if it was business or leisure. Were they in Krakow for a holiday already or were they coming just for me and my promotion?”
“In the end, I found out that they were coming with a business offer. It has been a year since we spoke for the first time. They came back in the middle of the year to Poland for business, since the first one was more like a general overview. They talked about their idea and what they planned to do.”
Following their first meeting, things became clearer for KSW. Rizin was keen to collaborate with a multitude of MMA promotions to create Grand Prix tournament structure that will determine the best fighters in the world.
“Right now, we are waiting for the contract. The whole idea is that they want to do a sort of championship between the organizations and different promotions. They wanted to approach some fighters but they want to do that through the promoter. That means promoters are dealing with promoters. They [Rizin] don’t go into the details with each fighter. They deal with the Japanese fighters and all that.
“They are planning six big shows and want KSW fighters on every show. The first one will be held at the end of this year. There will be a tournament divided into two shows but it won’t just be the tournaments during the two shows. There are single fights but the major attraction would be the tournament.”
While KSW is happy to cooperate with Rizin’s tournament structure, Lewandowski does not plan on sending the promotion’s champions to enter the tournament. Although he hopes to reap the benefits of expanding into a new market, he does not believe he needs to send over his champions to ensure that newfound attention.
“What I can tell you for sure is that our champions will not be fighting in those tournaments,” Lewandowski explained. “I told them for that it is useless for me. It is not the big money I would send a fighter for and, from my point of view, this is more about attracting Japanese audience to the KSW market and to really build something huge that can unite many promotions. I think it is a good option for the MMA world and the fighters understand such an idea. I support it.”
While Rizin has managed to attract media attention to their press conference and proposed plans for a Grand Prix event, they remain shrouded in mystery, which makes it difficult for outlets to gauge their seriousness. However, while their PR division could be improved, Lewandowski believes that Sakakibara’s involvement emphasizes their seriousness with this endeavor.
“[Sakakibara] is such a big name that I don’t think that he is going to be involved in something small. It will be a Pride FC style event. That’s why they go to the Saitama [Super Arena]. I was in Japan during the New Year’s Eve period before. They don’t celebrate like we do – fireworks or getting drunk or something – they believe that the best way to celebrate the coming new year is to go for a nice event. In their culture, the 31st of December is a great day to go out. So this is probably what [Rizin] will count on.
“I think it is going to be big. They have been planning this probably for years, especially since it has been a while since they started approaching promoters. I think three months ago they told me that the event was going to be named Samurai Grand Prix. So, I think it still changes. The idea is still not finalized.”
Given that Rizin’s idea to collaborate with multiple international promotions is an ambitious one, Lewandowski made it clear that there would be difficult to homogenize the rule set for all those involved.
“It is really hard. I tried to work with Bellator on different business levels, with World Series of Fighting, and with the UFC. But the UFC cut me off and said that they don’t want to work with me. Even with M-1 Global, it is hard to complete the business. For example, with Jungle Fights in Brazil – I have nothing against them – -but I think their show is on a completely different level [than KSW], so if their promoter is ok with sending their champion to the Japanese promotion because it raises his reputation and image. For me, not that I’m saying they are worse, but it doesn’t make business sense.
“So it is hard to make the same rules for everyone. I think that is what they are struggling with right now. It is hard to put everything in one box.”
Once KSW’s collaboration with Rizin became public knowledge on Oct. 8, rumours began to swirl that Polish strongman Mariusz Pudzianowski could potentially be the opponent selected for Fedor Emelianenko’s comeback fight. Lewandowski denied the rumours for the NYE fight but seemed open to the potential bout somewhere down the line.
“I could consider it,” said Lewandowski. “There is nothing on the table because we were talking to Mr. Sakakibara about the tournament only. Pudzianowski wasn’t really an option. He is not such a big name in Japan. He is a big name in the USA but in Japan they could probably sell him as the World’s Strongest Man since they know how to do that. But I don’t think that this is an option for this year. I know Rizin has a different opponent for Fedor for NYE so maybe in the future.
“Fedor is a very different fighter than Mariusz. Fedor is very well known in Japan and that is why they hired him. But if you see most of the single fight, they are more likely to be Japanese fighters. The tournament is going to be international and the single fights are more based on the Japanese market; not 100 percent of them, but most.”