Bellator 222: While Guaranteeing Horiguchi Win Over Caldwell, RIZIN’s Nobuyuki Sakakibara Floats Hawaii As Trilogy Fight Possibility


RIZIN President Nobuyuki Sakakibara expects cross-promotional efforts to continue, and has an idea for where a rubber match between Kyoji Horiguchi and Darrion Caldwell could take place.

New York, NY — One of the most interesting aspects to Bellator 222 this Friday is the cross-promotional rematch between Kyoji Horiguchi and Darrion Caldwell. The bantamweight pair first met at RIZIN 14 on New Year’s Eve, where Horiguchi won RIZIN’s inaugural bantamweight title via submission.

However, the talent exchange didn’t stop there. Planned from the start was a second fight with Bellator champ Caldwell defending his own title against Horiguchi. That has the Japanese fighter returning Friday, with a second title in his sights.

It’s a unique concept, even between promotions that have worked together in the past. On Wednesday at the Bellator 222 media day, RIZIN FF President Nobuyuki Sakakibara, discussed how this particular strategy came about.

“Initially when we stared in 2015, the whole idea was to have a federation,” he said (via translator), “to not have fighters compete with one organization to determine the number one within the organization, but to deliver what fans want to see: who is number one in the world. So that was the initial idea. So for us, we need the challenge, we need to go out there and take the risk, and don’t fear the risks of sending a champion over to fight a champion.”

“That was the idea.” Sakakibara, who once upon a time also ran the legendary PRIDE, then took the idea “to longtime friend Scott Coker, and that’s how everything got started.”

It will be interesting to see if the trend continues. MMA has really only awoken to the idea of dual champions in recent years. Cross-promotional champions? That might as well have come from outer space.

And it cannot be easy, as a promoter, waiting to see how your fighter fares in another company. So how about those nerves? Sakakibara sees it similar to what fans go through.

“I think we have the same nerves as the fans,” he explained. “A lot of fans will definitely take a side, and obviously cheer for their nation, their country. But as a promoter, there’s definitely a lot of things that go through your mind when your fighters are fighting.”

Ultimately, though, “I think whatever the fans want, is what the promoters should deliver.”

Later, he would add that “I do believe that cross-promoting is a fantastic thing for the sport, and for both sides.” And thanks to this particular event, “a lot of Japanese people will be introduced to Bellator through DAZN, because of this fight, and we do believe that a lot of Americans and people watching DAZN will be introduced to RIZN and RIZIN fighters because of this cross-promotion.”

The idea is to continue with cross-promotion, or brand coordination, if you prefer. Which might lead to something along the lines of a full card of RIZIN fighters versus Bellator fighters, the RIZIN president suggested. Only time will tell.

In the meantime, Nobuyuki Sakakibara made one prediction, no translator required.

“[Horiguchi will] have to keep two belts, day after tomorrow. Because I guarantee Horiguchi will win.”

If he does not, however, Caldwell and Horiguchi would be tied at one fight a piece. Setting up a rubber match in their trilogy. As to where that might take place, RIZIN’s head honcho suggested that “maybe we can take the middle and do something in Hawaii. Maybe we can have both cage and ring setup, and we can draw from a hat to see which platform rules we do for the first round.”

Meanwhile, as another Asian powerhouse, ONE Championship, has announced that it will open U.S. offices, Cageside Press asked Sakakibara about RIZIN having more of a presence stateside.

“The United States created MMA, Japan made it bigger, and the United States made it into a complete sport,” he answered. “America is an essential market for the sport. Obviously, being a promoter, we would like to come into this market. It’s something very important. However we can’t just do it as a one-off just to say that we did it. If we’re going to come in, we have to strategize, and we have to find the right partner, and be ready for us to come into the United States market. But that is definitely one of the goals that we have.”

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