Tokyo — Today, BELLATOR MMA and RIZIN Fighting Federation jointly confirmed four of the five matchups planned for their collaborative co-promotion, set to pit five BELLATOR superstars against five of RIZIN’s greatest fighters in a first-ever five-on-five main card showdown.
The next frontier of this unique partnership will take place at the Saitama Super Arena on Saturday, December 31, a significant date in Japanese MMA history, when BELLATOR and RIZIN go head-to-head in a main card that airs exclusively in the U.K on BBC iPlayer at 12 a.m. GMT.
In the marquee New Year’s Eve matchup this year, BELLATOR pound-for-pound No. 3 talent AJ “Mercenary” McKee (19-1) will challenge reigning RIZIN lightweight champion Roberto “Satoshi” de Souza (14-1), in only his second appearance as a lightweight. McKee’s exciting striking style is a perfect match for the reigning RIZIN titleist, who has won five straight fights and defended his championship twice by submission.
“Thank you, Japan, for welcoming me. Thanks to Scott Coker for bringing me as the A-side. Thank you to RIZIN; thank you to the fans. Since I was a kid watching K-1, GLORY, it was always a childhood dream to come here and fight,” said former BELLATOR Featherweight World Champion McKee. “Being here now, in this moment, it’s phenomenal. I’m looking forward to going out there, giving the fans what they’re looking forward to: a great show, action-packed. For me, just being here in this present moment is unbelievable and surreal. I’m looking forward to going out there and putting on a great show for you, and hopefully, you enjoy it.”
“Everybody here probably knows that I’ve wanted to face a BELLATOR fighter, and now I’m getting this opportunity. I am extremely happy about this opportunity, and I will promise I will fight for Japan and fight for RIZIN. I appreciate everybody’s support; thank you very much,” added RIZIN Lightweight Champion Roberto de Souza.
BELLATOR Featherweight World Champion Patricio Pitbull (34-5) will bring his talents to Japan to face RIZIN featherweight champion Kleber Koike (30-5-1), who just captured the RIZIN title during RIZIN 39 on Oct. 23. While neither fighter’s title will be on the line, this champion versus champion bout will mark another milestone in BELLATOR and RIZIN’s industry-leading trend of co-promotion and provide fans with the answer to the age-old question of which champion reigns supreme.
“When I was a child, I was watching ‘Minotauro’ Nogueira, Wanderlei Silva, ‘Shogun.’ I had that dream: I want to fight there in Japan. So, today its happened. I’m very happy to be here. I’m going to represent my country, but I love this country,” BELLATOR Featherweight World Champion Patricio Pitbull stated.
“Thank you very much for this opportunity. Thank you BELLATOR for giving me the chance to fight such a performance. I’m a little nervous right now, but I will promise to put on a good fight and not disappoint you all. I’ll do everything I can to put on a good fight. RIZIN fans, I appreciate your support,” said RIZIN Featherweight champion Kleber Koike.
Fresh off a dominant unanimous decision victory over Enrique Barzola, former BELLATOR bantamweight champion Juan “The Spaniard” Archuleta (26-4) joins Pitbull, McKee, and Horiguchi as BELLATOR ambassadors, facing ROAD FC featherweight titlist Soo Chul Kim (18-6-1) in a high-octane bantamweight bout.
“Thank you for the honor to be able to represent BELLATOR; thank you for the opportunity to come to such a wonderful and sacred land to fight,” said former BELLATOR World Bantamweight Champion Juan Archuleta. “I truly appreciate it. Since I was a kid, I’ve always been fascinated with martial arts. It’s been in my blood. I’m here to represent traditional martial arts. I’m here to give back to the Japanese martial arts and put on a show with this man right here. All of you guys are going to be in awe of the performance we put on. I said, ‘One day, I’m going to do that in Japan.’ And here I am today.”
“I’m very honored to be able to represent RIZIN. Thank you, Sakakibara, thank you Scott Coker. I am extremely excited to represent RIZIN, and I will fight hard. In my previous fight in RIZIN, my wife promised that she would buy me a Nintendo Switch if I won. I won the fight, and she did not buy it. So, this time I would like to secure the win for sure and get my Nintendo Switch from my wife,” shared Kim.
Former BELLATOR and RIZIN bantamweight champion Kyoji Horiguchi (30-5) returns to action in his native Japan on the card representing BELLATOR, when he faces RIZIN Japan Grand Prix 2021 Bantamweight tournament champion Hiromasa Ougikubo (25-6-2) in an anticipated trilogy matchup taking place in the flyweight division.
“I feel like I’ve betrayed the RIZIN fans, and I’m very sorry for that, but I stand here today on the BELLATOR side. My opponent will be Hiromasa Ougikubo. This is going to be our third fight, and I’ll make sure he’ll never want to fight me ever again,” said former BELLATOR Bantamweight World Champion and inaugural RIZIN Bantamweight Champion Kyoji Horiguchi.
“I admit I respect what Horiguchi has done; he’s fought tough opponents and he’s had significant accomplishments. However, I’ve fought him twice, and he’s hit me so many times that I hate his guts. I need to repay my debt in this next fight, and I will promise that I will return all that favor to him,” replied Hiromasa Ougikubo.
“Japan is one of my favorite places to visit. I learned the fight business here for many years,” said BELLATOR President Scott Coker. “I got to see all the great fights in PRIDE, K-1. I had a chance to work with Sakakibara back then; we were sharing fighters as early as 2006. When we started working together, we did some fighter exchange, but around 2018, I’ll never forget this interview I did with ESPN. They said: ‘What do you think about RIZIN?’ I said look, ‘Give them a couple of years, and they’re going to have some great fighters there.’
“Fast-forward seven years later from the beginning of RIZIN, now they’re ready. Now they’re ready to move forward and be on the worldwide stage. I feel like their fighters have been known in Japan but not outside in the world. We’re going to put on some amazing matchups, matchups that the fans really want to see, and I feel like it’s going to be an All-Star team. It’s the BELLATOR All-Star Team vs. the RIZIN All-Star Team. This is something that the world wants to see. He said, ‘I want you to bring your best fighters in these weight classes. I want the best fighters you have.’ So, that’s what we did. Every fighter we’re bringing is either a world champion in BELLATOR or a former world champion in BELLATOR, and we’re ready to fight the RIZIN All-Star Team on December 31,” Coker concluded.
“As Scott Coker mentioned earlier, BELLATOR has committed to bringing the best fighters BELLATOR has, so we have committed to bringing our All-Star team to face the best of BELLATOR,” RIZIN Fighting Federation President Nobuyuki Sakakibara stated. “This will be the first time in the history of MMA that two promotions will fully go at it with their best guys, and for the spectators and for the fans, you get to choose who to root for. MMA is an individual sport, but if you want to support Team RIZIN or if you want to support Team BELLATOR, we want to introduce a new way of enjoying mixed martial arts.
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BELLATOR MMA VS. RIZIN MAIN CARD
Saturday, Dec. 31 – 8 p.m. ET /12 a.m. GMT on SHOWTIME in the US and BBC iPlayer in the UK
Saitama Super Arena – Saitama, Japan
Featherweight Main Event: Patricio Pitbull (34-5) vs. Kleber Koike (30-5-1)
Lightweight Co-Main Event: AJ McKee (19-1) vs. Roberto de Souza (14-1)
Bantamweight Bout: Juan Archuleta (26-4) vs. Soo Chul Kim (18-6-1)
Flyweight Bout: Kyoji Horiguchi (30-5) vs. Hiromasa Ougikubo (25-6-2)
*Card subject to change