Japan’s tradition of big mixed martial arts (MMA) events on New Year’s Eve continued on Dec. 31, 2022, with Rizin 40: “Rizin vs. Bellator” in Tokyo. While combat sports aren’t as big in the country as they were during the PRIDE FC heyday, shows inside Saitama Super Arena are still pretty wild to attend. It’s something Khabib Nurmagomedov got to experience this year, and he clearly enjoyed the entire nine-hour spectacle from start to finish.
Nurmagomedov posted a picture of himself sitting ringside with Bellator President, Scott Coker, with the caption, “Japan, you guys are the best!” Following the event (which saw Bellator fighters go 5-0 against Rizin fighters), Coker shared what it was like watching the show alongside “The Eagle.”
“Khabib has never seen the production and the fans and he was freaking out,” Coker said at Rizin 40’s post-fight press conference. “He kept telling me, ‘This is unbelievable! I had no idea that something like this was happening in Japan.’”
“And I said, ‘You know, this is where it started, Khabib. This is where MMA and martial arts combat, it started here. And it grew out through the rest of the world, but there was a time when Japan had the best fighters in the world, the best production in the world, the best promotion in the world.’
“So, it was so ironic to be sitting with Khabib, who’s freaking out about the production and the staging and the pageantry,” Coker finished. “He was really impressed. And it was just weird because like I said, he wasn’t here when it was even bigger than it is today. I’m happy he was here, I think he was extremely excited and I think he’ll be talking about Japanese MMA and Rizin and this show for a long time.”
Nurmagomedov shared some pictures via social media and congratulated his teammate, Gadzhi Rabadanov, who defeated Koji Takeda in the first fight of the main card.
“Japan was very interesting,” Khabib wrote in Russian (translated by Google). “It was the first time I visited this country, it’s just a different world, I can’t describe it with words.”
“Congratulations Gadzhi Rabadanov. You closed the team’s year with your performance and managed to make it a resounding victory. This year is the most memorable for our team, we will remember it for a long time. It was amazing days in Japan.”
In addition to Rabadanov’s big NYE win, Khabib’s cousin, Usman Nurmagomedov, became Bellator’s Lightweight champion in November, beating Patricky “Pitbull” Freire at Bellator 288 to take the belt. We have no doubt Team Khabib members fighting for Bellator will continue to find success in 2023.
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