Bellator President Scott Coker and RIZIN’s Nobuyuki Sakakibara’s relationship goes back to Coker’s days of working with K-1 in Japan.
The pair also co-promoted with each other while Coker was trying to get Strikeforce rolling into the behemoth it became for a brief time at the end of the 00’s and earlier this decade.
That relationship was reignited on December 31st, 2018, when Coker sent then-Bellator bantamweight champion Darrion Caldwell to square off against RIZIN’s Kyoji Horiguchi. Horiguchi choked out Caldwell in the third round and earn himself a second bout with Caldwell over the summer. Only this time, it was in the Bellator cage and for the gold.
Kyoji Horiguchi wins the Bellator bantamweight title by defeating Darrion Caldwell via decision. As a result, he must defend the belt in Bellator at least once a year, despite still being a Rizin fighter/champion.
— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) June 15, 2019
Horiguchi didn’t travel to America alone, though. With him came shoot boxing and RIZIN star, Rena Kubota. Horiguchi became a Bellator champion and Kubota was choked out by Lindsey Vandzandt.
In October 2019, Bellator would send Patricky “Pitbull” Friere to Japan to RIZIN to take part in the promotion’s Lightweight Grand Prix. Freie starched JMMA legend, Tatsuya Kawajiri in the first and moved on to the semi-finals that went down on New Year’s Eve 2019.
A couple of days before the big year-end show at the Saitama Super Arena, Bellator would host their own event in the historic stadium. They brought over the likes of Michael “Venom” Page, Michael Chandler and Fedor Emelianenko. RIZIN allowed Daron Cruickshank and Kana Wantanabe to fight in the American promotion’s cage that night.
Bellator's all-time sub leader ups his total to eight, as Goiti Yamauchi (25-4) snares Daron Cruickshank off of a spinning elbow, climbs and chokes the RIZIN rep in short order! The Japanese Brazilian boasts 21 finishes, 20 by sub (13 via RNC), and 18 in round one. #Bellator237 pic.twitter.com/b4nX2XeGEO
— Kyle Johnson (@VonPreux) December 29, 2019
At RIZIN 20, Freire would best Luis Gustavo before falling to Tofiq Musayev in the finals. Bellator standout Patricky Mix also made an appearance on the card and picked up a first-round submission over RIZIN competitor and former DEEP champion, Yuki Motoya.
While the future of the cross-promotion isn’t immediately known, it appears as though the two organizations will continue to swap talent going forward. There is nothing quite like seeing the best from different organizations duke it out for supremacy.
Congratulations to Bellator & RIZIN for being named our 2019 Cross-Promotion of the Year! We’re excited to see how the relationship continues to develop.