Fedor Emelianenko returned at Rizin FF on New Year’s Eve (well, depending on what part of the world you’re in), and did exactly what he was supposed to — made short work of Indian kickboxer and relative MMA newcomer Jaideep Singh. The Last Emperor (35-4, 1 NC) utilized his ground game to overwhelm Singh, who falls to 2-1 as a pro. Bellator’s King Mo, meanwhile, came out on top of the Rizin FF heavyweight tournament, winning all three of his fights, with two knockout victories surrounding a unanimous decision.

Other wins on the card (cards, actually) included names like Bob Sapp, Gabi Garcia, Brennan Ward, Kron Gracie, and Baruto Kaito — and that’s where the problems began.

As much as Pride always loved its freakshow fights, it still boasted the best roster of its era, at least for a time. Say what you will about how the company was run, but with names like Emelianenko, Mirko Cro-Cop, Alistair Overeem, Wanderlei Silva, Sakuraba, Mark Coleman, Ken Shamrock, the Nogueira brothers, and a host of others — well, even if you couldn’t take every fight seriously, it was impossible not to take Pride as a whole seriously. That’s exactly why the UFC took the approach they did with their biggest rival in the end. There was a time, after all, when Pride dominated.

The freakshow fights were spectacles within the card, not the point of the card. Rizin Fighting Federation? Well, the whole thing, while serving up a fun dose of nostalgia, was hard to take as anything but a sideshow. It is not, at least as it stands, the answer to the MMA problem in Japan.

Watching Bob Sapp and Akebono in a shootboxing match, rematching their K-1 bout from years earlier, wasn’t even entertaining in a freakshow way, it was downright embarrassing. So, to, was witnessing the MMA debut of Jiu-jitsu expert Gabi Garcia against pro wrestler Lei’D Tapa. The fight, which was contested basically entirely standing, saw some sloppy striking, Tapa tagging Garcia early, Garcia landing what could be considered the ugliest back fist in pro MMA to stun and drop Tapa, and then some ground and pound to mercifully put an end to the affair.

In short, it was ugly. While the heavyweight tournament provided some decent action, and puts a bit of a shine on King Mo, who needed a high profile coup like this, it’s clear Rizin has a lot of work to do. There simply isn’t the talent pool required to have quality fights on Rizin cards, but the freakshow route isn’t the answer either, given that most of the big names familiar to Japanese MMA fans are way past their prime (lets not get into how hard it was to watch Sakuraba take a beating from Shinya Aoki — it appeared even Aoki had reservations about what transpired).

Watching Fedor beat an inexperienced mixed martial artist while barely breaking a sweat? Why not just air video of him sparring?

Rizin, if it really wants to bring MMA back to the forefront in Japan, needs to utilize its partnership with other promotions to put on solid fights, and focus on growing some young, local fighters as well — rather than watching a couple of tired “names” from a bygone era gas halfway through the first round.

Nostalgia isn’t the cure to everything, after all. It’s nice now and then, but Pride 2.0 this was not.

About The Author

Senior Staff Writer

Covering the sport of MMA from Ontario, Canada, Jay Anderson has been writing for various publications covering sports, technology, and pop culture since 2001. Jay holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Guelph, and a Certificate in Leadership Skills from Humber College under the Ontario Management Development Program. When not slaving at the keyboard, he can be found in the company of his dog, a good book, or getting lost in the woods.