The MMA world got a dose of excitement this week when RIZIN and Bellator announced a cross-promotion fight between two of the sport’s youngest and brightest talents. Headed to Japan is Bellator bantamweight champion Darrion Caldwell, who will fight RIZIN bantamweight grand prix champion Kyoji Horiguchi. The winner will become RIZIN’s official bantamweight champion.
RIZIN 14 takes place New Year’s Eve at Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo, Japan, and it will be a night full of crossover fights as the main event is a special rules bout between legendary boxer Floyd Mayweather and kickboxing superstar Tenshin Nasukawa. Safe to say this is going to be a special night for RIZIN and a special treat for MMA fans as the Horiguchi vs. Caldwell fight is a terrific matchup between two of the best lighter-weight fighters in the sport.
This is not the first time RIZIN and Bellator have traded talent — Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal competed in RIZIN’s heavyweight grand prix a few years ago, and ended up winning it — but it’s the first time Bellator has allowed one of its champions to fight in another promotion, and that’s significant. Unlike the UFC, who have been notoriously stingy on allowing their talent compete in other organizations (Chuck Liddell fighting Alistair Overeem in PRIDE over 15 years ago is a rare exception), Bellator seems more willing to let its fighters have other opportunities to compete outside the Bellator cage, and RIZIN is the perfect partner. Like its predecessors PRIDE and DREAM, RIZIN puts on a tremendous New Year’s Eve show that MMA fans around the world always look forward to, and this Horiguchi vs. Caldwell fight is a great opportunity for both promotions to showcase their young talent on a big stage. The fact Mayweather is competing at this event means a ton of eyeballs will be on RIZIN 14, and that is a good thing for Caldwell and Bellator.
Unless something disastrous happens, this Caldwell and Horiguchi fight is hopefully a sign of things to come for Bellator and RIZIN to have even more cross-promotion fights. Imagine seeing Fedor Emelianenko back in RIZIN at some point in some nostalgic freak show fights? That would be a lot of fun. Or how about Bellator featherweight champion Patricio “Pitbull,” who has pretty much cleaned up the entire 145lbs weight class in Bellator. Maybe there’s some fun fights for him over in Japan. And on the other hand, maybe there are some fighters in RIZIN who would like to come over to Bellator and try their hand in that promotion. Having more options and platforms for the fighters to compete in is only a good thing, and it’s nice to see Bellator and RIZIN open to this.
Having said that, while I do believe RIZIN and Bellator will continue to collaborate in the future, I’m not sure if this means anything for the UFC’s stance as far as crossover fights go. The UFC recently did trade Demetrious Johnson to ONE Championship for Ben Askren and the UFC also inked a partnership deal with M-1 Global, but at this point there’s no been inclination the UFC is open to crossover bouts. The closest thing we ever got to that was when the UFC loaned Ed Herman to Strikeforce to fight Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, but the difference there was Zuffa owned both those promotions at the time. Hardcore MMA fans have always hoped the UFC would let its fighters compete in Bellator and vice versa, but we’ve never had that happen up to this point. Maybe the UFC is more open to this sort of thing than in the past, but at the very least we know RIZIN and Bellator are open to cross-promotion bouts, and that’s definitely exciting to think about.
Horiguchi vs. Caldwell is a tremendous fight and on a card that also features a crossover sport bout between Mayweather and Nasukawa, this is sure to be a huge night in the combat sports world. The UFC may still be the leader in MMA but there are other promotions around the world holding great fights that deserve attention too. Maybe the UFC is still stubborn about crossover fights but it’s good to know Bellator and RIZIN are open to it. Because at the end of the day this sport is all about the fighters and giving these amazing athletes more opportunities to compete can only be a good thing.