RIZIN 44: Spike Carlyle Wants Career with Explosive Finishes, not “Eking Out Point-Fighting Decisions”

Lightweight Spike Carlyle is in a fortuitous position these days, living a dream — and the reality of that dream is even better than he imagined.

Even before Carlyle signed with the UFC in 2020, he had expressed an interest in fighting in Japan. Given Carlyle’s outsized personality and love of PRIDE growing up, that should really come as no surprise — but after his UFC stint came to an end, Carlyle worked his way to Bellator MMA and now RIZIN Fighting Federation, giving him the chance to live out that dream.

“I would say the reality is better than the dream,” Carlyle (14-5) told Cageside Press in an exclusive interview ahead of this weekend’s RIZIN 44, where he faces off with fellow UFC alum Yoshinori Horie. “It’s everything I hoped for, I love it. I love it here in Japan.”

There’s a lot to love, with Carlyle citing “the people, the culture, the martial arts scene, it’s amazing. It’s exactly where I want to be.” But having arrived in Japan just a few days back, Carlyle is in town on business, looking to get back in the win column against a tough foe in Horie.

Carlyle pointed out his opponent’s karate background. “I definitely know he’s going to probably fight very patiently and look to land those sniping blows,” he acknowledged. But there are other factors in this fight as well, which stem from the Japanese ruleset. A ruleset that includes knees to downed opponents, soccer kicks, and a ring instead of a cage.

As different as the rules might be, however, Carlyle has always fought with them in mind.

“It’s quite different, but I’ve always had Japan in my head, so I’ve always tried to tailor-make my style for the Japanese ruleset,” explained Carlyle, adding “I’m still learning and getting used to it, the takedowns against the ropes, the wrestling against the ropes, the grappling against the ropes, cutting off corners. That’s a lot different. I only have one fight as an amateur in a ring versus a cage, so that’s something that I’m continually making adjustments and learning on. But I actually prefer it, I like fighting in a ring versus a cage.”

Spike Carlyle made his way to RIZIN by way of Bellator MMA, with whom he signed in 2021 after a trio of wins on the regional circuit. The two promotions have fostered a close working relationship, which allowed Carlyle to make the jump.

“I think technically I still have a contract with Bellator, but I made it known to them that my sole desire right now is to be in Japan,” Carlyle said of his contractual situation. “Maybe in the future after I win the RIZIN belt, we can challenge the Bellator champion, but as of now I’m very content being here, so I’m solely in RIZIN at this moment.”

There’s a possibility Carlyle could even make the move over to Japan on a semi-permanent basis. “Yeah definitely. I could definitely see myself living out here at least three to six months out of the year,” he said when asked about moving to Japan. “I love Asia in general, I’ve spent some time in Thailand, I have a lot of amazing connections out there, and this is my fourth time in Japan now, third time as a fighter. I’m starting to develop a community and people I can trust, and a gym where I feel I can grow at and learn at and excel with.”

Spike Carlyle is that rare fighter able to live his dream; he’s also the rare fighter who has fully embraced the entertainment side of the sport. Well prior to his run in the big leagues, Carlyle was turning heads on the regional circuit with theatrical walkouts, for one.

“I was like 15 watching these fights in PRIDE like ‘that’s what I want to be when I grow up.’ The entertainment factor, everything, I’ve been doing walkouts since I was an amateur,” Carlyle recalled. “We’re putting on a show. I’m not just a fighter, I’m an entertainer. I’m going to give a spectacular spectacle to everyone.”

He does admit, however, that it’s difficult to find a balance at times. “Especially with how you fight. Are you fighting to win on the scorecards, or are you fighting to maybe risk it, go for a finish or do something that the crowd wants to see? So there’s definitely a balancing act there.” Carlyle, of course, wants to win at the end of the day, but added that “I want to do it in a fashion that is explosive, is exciting. I don’t want to have a career where I’m just eking out point-fighting decisions. That’s not a real fight, you’re just playing it more of a sport. A fight’s different. A fight, we’re trying to kill each other.”

Spike Carlyle faces Yoshinori Horie at RIZIN 44 on September 24, 2023 at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. Watch our full interview with Spike above!