No Holds Barred: Tadashi Tanaka on Rizin Fighting Federation

On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman once again spoke with our long-time colleague and friend, the Japanese mixed martial arts and puroresu (Japanese pro wrestling) journalist Tadashi Tanaka of (

He covered the inaugural press conference held October 8 introducing the newest Japanese MMA promotion, Rizin Fighting Federation (

We spoke with Tadashi Tanaka by Skype Monday.

The head of Rizin is someone well-known in the combat sports world: Nobuyuki Sakakibara. Sakakibara had formerly headed the Pride Fighting Championships, which from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s had been the largest and most important MMA promotion in the world. But after a scandal linking the organization to the Yakuza, the Japanese mob, Pride telecasts were dropped by the influential Fuji TV, the promotion soon folded, and Sakakibara left the combat sports world.

Now Rizin seeks to take the place of Pride, and is adopting many of the methods which made Pride so popular, including Pride rules, using a ring instead of a cage, and signing an international group of star fighters such as Fedor Emelianenko, Kazushi Sakuraba, Shinya Aoki, and Gabi Garcia, who will make her MMA debut. In addition, Rizin is actually trying to create a federation, and will be working directly with other major promotions including Bellator in the U.S., Jungle Fight in Brazil, BAMMA in the U.K., KSW in Poland, Road FC in Korea, and Bushido in Lithuania.

Rizin's first show, the Rizin Fighting World Grand-Prix 2015, will actually be a three-day extravaganza scheduled for the week of New Year's Eve. Sakuraba will fight Aoki on December 29, there will be a fan expo December 30, and the main card featuring Fedor against an opponent to be announced will be December 31.

Already Spike TV in the U.S. had announced that it will televise fights from this card, likely on tape-delay because of the time difference between the U.S. and Japan. But major news has also come out in Japan, as once again Fuji TV will be televising fights from this card as well.

"The most important thing is, Fuji TV backs this new promotion. That's the biggest news," said Tadashi Tanaka. In Japan, Fuji TV is one of only five major networks which broadcast free, terrestrial TV, with everything else being "tiny," he said.

Fuji TV's involvement is of particular note because it was articles by Tadashi Tanaka and others in the Japanese publication Shukan Gendai that publicly exposed the Pride-Yakuza connections and eventually led to Fuji TV dropping Pride.

The question arises as to the nature of the backers of this new promotion. And Tadashi Tanaka believes that this new organization "is very clean."

He explained that in Japan, "The Yakuza is essentially dead." The government has had a major crackdown on it, and the gangs themselves are splintering. Thus, Fuji TV and various sponsors feel safe in backing this new venture, he said.

Even so, that is no guarantee that it will all work and fans will buy tickets to live events and watch it on TV. "We don't know the success," he said, and will have to wait and see how Rizin does.

We also discussed this new federation, which he characterized as in essence an "anti-UFC alliance." Fans in Japan and many other parts of the world prefer MMA in a ring rather than a cage, he said, and also are not that concerned about who will be Fedor's opponent because they mainly want to see him fight again.

Expect more announcements soon about the involvement with Rizin of others, including K-1 founder Kazuyoshi Ishii, he said.

We also discussed the "totally bogus" rumors that Rizin is backed by "oil money", possible opponents for Fedor including Masakatsu Funaki, the New Year's Eve tradition in Japan of televising major combat sports events, and much, much more.

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