Bellator MMA will go head-to-head with the Rizin Fighting Federation in a monumental five-fight Co-Promotion event on New Year’s Eve. Top contenders and current champions from each promotion will face off against one another from the Saitama Super Arena in Japan. Current Bellator Featherweight Champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire (34-5) will be matched up against Jiu-Jitsu ace Klebar Koike (31-5, 27 Submissions) at 145 Pounds. Bellator superstar A.J. McKee (19-1) will face current Rizin Lightweight Champion Roberto De Souza (14-1) in the card’s Main Event. Also, Bellator veteran Juan Archuleta (26-4) will look to get back to his winning ways, and Japanese Superstar Kyoji Horiguchi (30-5) will make his return to the Rizin FF.
A.J. McKee (19-1) vs Roberto De Souza (14-1)
Former Bellator Featherweight Champion A.J. McKee will be moving up in weight to challenge himself against one of the best Jiu-Jitsu artists in the world at 155 pounds Roberto De Souza. De Souza is a former Jiu-Jitsu World Champion (2012,2014) who avenged the only loss of his career in his last fight against Johnny Case submitting him in the first round (Reverse Triangle Armbar). The current Rizin champion De Souza is on a five-fight winning streak and has never been to the judge’s scorecards in his career. McKee lost the first fight of his professional career this year in April to Patricio “Pitbull” and has since responded with a dominant performance against Spike Carlyle at Bellator 286.
As one of the most well-rounded fighters in MMA McKee has stated in interviews leading up to this fight that he will be comfortable wherever this fight takes place. McKee is a gifted athlete who will look to utilize his range and explosiveness on the feet. Although De Souza is an accomplished grappler, McKee has found success on the ground in his career as well with 7 submission victories.McKee will look to keep this fight standing where he should have a significant advantage. De Souza must take McKee to the ground if he wants to win this fight where he can use a plethora of submission attempts.
Bellator vs Rizin: Rules and Historical Significance
One of the many factors that may give the Bellator fighters trouble is that these fights will be in a Ring instead of a Cage. This could affect the movement early on of some fighters although it should not be a significant problem. Also, the rules for this event will include kicks to the head of a downed opponent and stomps on the ground. These are the traditional “Pride” Rules that have been displayed across many legendary mixed martial arts fights in Japan. In the United States fighters are not allowed to kick or knee a downed opponent, so this will be a first for many of the Bellator competitors.
This event is undoubtedly the biggest Co-Promotional event in MMA history. The people who run the Rizin FF are the former owners of the now-defunct Pride Fighting Championship (1997-2007). At one time Rizin President Nobuyuki Sakakibara ran the largest MMA promotion in the world, Selling Pride in 2007 to the UFC after a scandal took the company off national network television. Make no mistake with this fight card Sakakibara is looking to regain worldwide recognition to the Japanese MMA scene that was lost long ago. The Rizin FF will be challenging the unquestioned second-best martial arts promotion in the world in Bellator on Showtime this Saturday.
Bellator vs Rizin: Patricio “Pitbull’ Freire (34-5) vs Kleber Koike (31-5)
The Co-Main Event on New Year’s Eve will feature a Champion vs Champion matchup. Bellator Featherweight title holder Patricio “Pitbull” Freire will face Rizin Featherweight Champion Kleber Koike. “Pitbull” is coming off back-to-back wins against A.J. McKee and Adam Borics regaining his championship in the process earlier this year. Freire is now 9-1 in his last 10 fights and is truly in the prime of his career. The three-time champion “Pitbull” is one of the best fighters in Bellator’s history holding impressive victories over former champions A.J. McKee, Michael Chandler, and Juan Archuleta.
Koike is the former KSW Featherweight Champion in Poland and has faced top-level competition outside of the United States. In 2018 Koike was matched up against current Top 5 UFC Lightweight Matruez Gamrot. He came up short in a decision loss but showed heart in an entertaining contest. This will be a very intriguing fight between the aggressive power-punching “Pitbull” Freire and grappling specialist Kleber Koike. If the fight stay standing Freire should have an advantage. Koike will need to take this fight to the ground early because “Pitbull” is historically a fast starter known for coming out aggressively in round one. It will be interesting to see if Koike is physically strong enough to continually takedown Freire. Freire has some of the best takedown defense in MMA and should possess stylistic problems for his opponent.
Kyoji Horiguchi (30-5) vs Hiromasa Ougikubo (25-6)
Former Bellator and Rizin Bantamweight Champion Kyoji Horiguchi is set to make his return to his native country of Japan. Horiguchi is the most popular and successful Japanese fighter in the world currently and will have significant crowd support even though he is fighting for Bellator in this event. Horiguchi is coming off back-to-back losses to Sergio Pettis and Patchy Mix. Ougikubo won the Rizin Bantamweight Grand Prix in 2021, defeating Rizin star Kai Asakura in the final.
Hiromasa Ougikubo is a well-rounded fighter who has many submission victories on his record. Ougikubo will look to control Horiguchi on the ground much like Patchy Mix was able to do earlier this year. This will be an important fight in the career of Horiguchi who needs a victory to prove that he can still compete against the best in the world. Horiguchi is a true veteran of the sport who has competed for championships in Bellator, Rizin and the UFC.
Bellator vs Rizin: Juan Archuleta (26-4) vs Soo Chul Kim (18-6)
In what should be a fan friendly contest Former Bellator Bantamweight Champion Juan Archuleta (11 Ko’s) faces Rizin contender Soo Chul Kim (6 Ko’s). Archuleta stated earlier this week that it will be a “Dream” to fight in Japan at the Satiama Super Arena. Archuleta suffered the first knockout loss of his career in April to Raufeon Stots. After his loss in the Bellator Bantamweight Grand Prix Archuleta got back on track with a decision victory over Enrique Barzola.
Both fighters are known for their aggressive style and unrelenting pressure. It will be interesting to see how Archuleta’s game transfers over with the new ruleset. Archuleta could be even more dangerous now that he is allowed to kick/stomp a grounded opponent. Kim is four years younger than Archuleta and at 31 years old is in the prime of his career. Archuleta is an extremely durable fighter who has only been finished in just two of his 30 professional fights.
Gadzhi Rabadanov (18-4) vs Koji Takeda (15-3)
The first fight of the Bellator vs Rizin main card is between Lightweight Dagestani prospect Gadhi Rabadanov and Japan’s Koji Takeda. Rabadanov is riding a four-fight win streak into this contest and is 3-0 with Bellator. Takeda was submitted earlier this year by Bellator prospect Spike Carlye but has won two straight since that defeat. Takeda is 27 years old and will be fighting on a massive stage in his home country.
Rabadanov is a talented wrestler who utilizes his physical strength to dominate opponents on the ground. In Rabadanov’s last fight against Bobby King, he landed many takedowns and controlled the fight from start to finish. I could see a similar situation playing out in this fight. Takeda will need to keep this fight standing and utilize effective movement to keep his distance from Rabadanov. Rabadanov should have a significant strength advantage in this matchup and will look to take Takeda down early.
Fight fans can find this unbelievable Co-Promotion event live on SHOWTIME this Saturday on New Year’s Eve. (8pm EST)
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