NAGOYA, Japan -- Former Pride Fighting Championships titleholder Wanderlei Silva on Sunday returns to the Land of the Rising Sun, albeit in a non-MMA capacity.
Paired with Kiyoshi Tamura, Silva will appear in a tag team grappling match opposite longtime rival Kazushi Sakuraba and Hideo Tokoro at Rizin Fighting Federation 1Rizin Fighting Federation 1 on Sunday at Nippon Gaishi Hall. Outside of the Jiri Prochaazka-Kazuyuki Fujita main event, there are a number of MMA fights of interest on the card: Daron Cruickshank vs. Shinji Sasaki, Vadim Nemkov vs. Karl Albrektsson, Kirill Sidelnikov vs. Chris Barnett, Yuki Motoya vs. Allan Nascimento and Yuta Watanabe vs. Hisaki Kato.
The fighters had plenty to say at the pre-fight press conference. Below is a sampling:
Wanderlei Silva: I’m glad to get back to Japan. I’m really fascinated to join up with former staff from Pride. I want MMA to be back on the big stage in Japan. It’s my home. [Nobuyuki] Sakakibara made events look like huge action movies [in Pride]. Young Brazilian fans have told me they wanted to see Pride, and they can find it here. This will be the second time I’ve participated in a grappling match. Sakuraba has a better chance at grappling than he did at striking, and I want to give him that chance. In his prime, Sakuraba was the best, like the current-day [Jon] Jones. Tokoro is a brave fighter because he’s the smallest. I have a lot of respect for Tamura. I hit him a lot in our fight, and he still didn’t give up. I think he has the heart of a lion. I’ve heard that Tamura hates Sakuraba and wants to soccer kick him. I want to finish both of them by guillotine. Sakuraba is unpredictable, and because of that, it’s difficult to prepare.
Kiyoshi Tamura: I had a head injury, so I’ve thought about using headgear, either from boxing or rugby. I want fans to be entertained. I wanted to compete because of Sakuraba. He made MMA major in Japan. Seven years ago, when I fought Sakuraba, he wanted a bareknuckle fight, and because of that, I had bad feelings at the time. Now, there are no bad feelings with him. Silva must be joking. I tried to imagine how we’d feel about each other after the match. We’ll see. I’m relaxed now. I worry about Silva having to fight for 15 minutes; I worry about that (laughs). I’m not aiming for a submission, but I may get it.
Hideo Tokoro: I don’t have to cut weight this time. I don’t normally train with fighters over 80 kilograms. I learned to train with Sakuraba as a smaller fighter. Sakuraba is 47, but I’m really surprised that he’s in such good condition. I’m looking forward to this as a fan, too. I want the submission. I want Rizin to be like Pride or K-1 Hero’s, where many fighters were admired.
Kazushi Sakuraba: I’m worried about the match. My opponents weigh a lot more. Tokoro might not want to tag me when he’s in the corner. This may be a grappling match, but power still matters. Silva may think I have an advantage in grappling, but weight matters. It’s easier for him to sprawl. We must be offensive against the bigger guys. I don’t know how I feel about these rules. I have no idea how well Silva grapples now. We trained together at Chute Boxe, but that was a long time ago.
Daron Cruickshank: Before I made it to the UFC, I competed in a lot of smaller organizations, some of which were not well-organized. Rizin did well by me. I didn’t watch the first two Rizin shows. I’m not the kind of guy who watches every single fight that happens. I’m not a fan; I’m a fighter. I’m excited about the rules and fighting in the ring. I’ve studied Sasaki’s fights, and my coach says I’m ready. If he didn’t prepare, he’s going to get the worst beatdown of his life. This will be “Fight of the Night.” Japanese fans are going to know my name.
Shinji Sasaki: Win or lose, I’ll fight the most exciting fight. He’s fought in a world-class organization. I train with a fighter who’s only had one Shooto fight. Compare that to his camp, and it’s a huge difference. I come from a regional gym, which is far different than the open gym in Tokyo. I want to show that a fighter from a regional gym can have exciting fights in Rizin, an organization people admire. I think regional fighters should watch my fight. I’ll do my best with what I can do. I can only learn from books. Now, my wife is teaching me striking and holds the mitts for me. Finally, I’ve got real striking technique.
Vadim Nemkov: I’m glad I’m back in Rizin. I felt good after my last fight. I feel like the Japanese audience is intelligent and made up of true MMA fans. I watched his fight on the Web. He has good striking and will be a good opponent. I made a mistake in the last fight I lost, but I learned a lot of good lessons in that tournament.
Kirill Sidelnikov: I’m back from a five-year absence. I’ll continue with my MMA career from now on. I did sambo because I wanted to do sambo at the time. Now, I’m back in MMA. I’m a better fighter now because of my experience in combat sambo. I think Chris has a good record.
Yuki Motoya: I’m in good condition. I trained well, as I lost my last time out. I’ve heard [Felipe] Efrain is the No. 2 guy at Chute Boxe and Nascimento is No. 1. Nascimento can attack from the bottom, so I’m prepared for that. Nascimento may have gotten his impression of me from Efrain, but I’m not the same fighter now. I lost that fight because I was weak. I want Rizin to become bigger and for myself to become a big-stage fighter.
Yuta Watanabe: I want to become a better fighter than my teacher. Kato is a strong striker. Rizin only has strong opponents, so I have to believe Kato is strong. I’ve trained to win, but I will give the fans what they want.
Hisaki Kato: Camp went very well. I didn’t have a problem with the weight cut. Rizin reminds me of Pride. This is Pride for me. I’ve lived in Nagoya for a long time. This is my home turf, so I wanted to participate. Yuta must cut a lot of weight. I think he has a tough chin, and I must be prepared for that. I had a handball career that was longer than my career in MMA. I have experience in judo from childhood. I ended my handball career to start MMA. Handball benefitted my MMA skills a lot. Handball players are compete athletes, with conditioning and core strength.