Rizin chief Nobuyuki Sakakibara guarantees Kyoji Horiguchi will beat Darrion Caldwell


NEW YORK – Rizin executive Shingo Kashiwagi did most of the translating when CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara spoke to reporters at a media day for Bellator 222.

But there was one statement that needed no interpretation when Sakakibara was asked what would happen if Rizin bantamweight champion Kyoji Horiguchi bested Bellator bantamweight champ Darrion Caldwell a second time.

“I believe that Horiguchi is going to become busy, because he’s going to win,” Sakakibara said. “He has to keep two belts after tomorrow, because I guarantee Horiguchi will win.”

Chalk that up to the usual talk of a promoter on the pitch for his brand, and Horiguchi’s history with Caldwell. The Japanese vet tapped the American this past December with a guillotine choke, so Sakakibara has reason to be confident.

The Japanese promotion is trying to rebuild the sport in its primary marketplace after years of neglect following the end of Sakakibara’s PRIDE promotion. And there’s a little bit of that on the line when Horiguchi 27-2 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) and Caldwell (12-2 MMA, 9-1 BMMA) rematch on American soil. But mostly, it’s about a collaborative vision for success that isn’t based solely on one promotion.

“Initially, when we started in 2015, the whole idea was to have a federation, to not have fighters compete within one organization to determine who’s No. 1 within the organization, but to deliver what the fans want to see: Who’s No. 1 in the world,” Sakakibara said. “So that was the initial idea, so for us, we need to go out there take the risk.”

That means shipping talent overseas to work with Coker’s promotion, where a cage presents a new challenge to Rizin fighters used to working in a ring. Horiguchi, a onetime UFC flyweight title challenger, is no stranger to an octagon, so it won’t be such a shock. But Sakakibara admits he’s a little nervous about what might transpire.

“I think we have the same nerves as the fans,” he said. “A lot of fans would pick a side and cheer for fighters from their country.”

The main focus for Sakakibara is making MMA more of a global commodity. Although the UFC promotes shows around the world, it’s list of collaborations with other promoters can be counted on one hand. In general, it likes to control every decision about its business and talent.

Both Bellator and Rizin work under the industry leader’s long shadow. But rather than fight for market share to secure a stronger No. 2 spot, the two do it via their fighters. In doing so, they hope both promotions will benefit by sharing the audience.

“A lot of Japanese people will be introduced to DAZN because of this fight, and we believe Americans watching DAZN will be introduced to Rizin and Rizin fighters because of this cross-promotion,” Sakakibara said. “So definitely it’s beneficial for both parties and healthy for this industry.”

Eventually, Sakakibara said, there could be entire cards pitting Bellator fighters against those in Rizin. And if Caldwell pulls off the upset, he playfully suggested one possibility for a rubber match.

“Maybe we can take the middle and do something in Hawaii,” he said. “Maybe we can have a cage and ring set up, and draw from a hat which platform rules we do for the first round.”

Bellator has already set up a ring and a cage for a dual kickboxing and MMA show, so that doesn’t seem like such a stretch. The bigger reach is the two MMA competitors growing to the point where the UFC has to take notice.

Bellator 222 takes place Friday at Madison Square Garden. The main card streams on DAZN following prelims on MMA Junkie.

For more from Sakakibara, click on the video above.

For more on Bellator 222, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

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