RIZIN FF, the combat sports federation headed by former PRIDE Fighting Championships boss Nobuyuki Sakakibara, announced at a press conference on Saturday that Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic (MMA: 31-11-1, 1 NC; Kickboxing: 23-8, 12 KO’s) will come out of retirement and return to Japan, where his legendary career was born, to compete in the 16-man, open weight “Grand Prix” tournament in Tokyo, starting on Sept. 25.
A former PRIDE and K-1 Grand Prix tournament champion, Filipovic earned his place as one of the greatest martial arts combatants in history with an elite set of striking skills that helped him earn the most first round finishes as well as the most head kick knockouts in PRIDE history.
It was also announced that 4 of the 16 Grand Prix participants, including superstar Wanderlei Silva (35-12-1, 1 NC) of Curitiba, Parana, Brazil, will receive a bye in the first stage, and automatically advance to the tournament’s second, or quarterfinal stage, which will take place on Thursday, Dec. 29, at a location to be announced.
Joining Sakakibara, Filipovic and Silva at the press conference were veteran warhorse Kazuyiki Fujita (15-11) of Funabashi, Chiba, Japan and former sumo wrestling champion turned MMA upstart Baruto Kaito (1-0) of Estonia, both of whom have been tabbed for battle in the first stage of the tournament.
The round of 16 match-ups will be announced at the end of the month.
In other, single-fight action on September 25, two striking sensations – Daron Cruickshank (17-8, 1 NC) and Andy Souwer (MMA: 1-0, Kickboxing: 159-19, 98 KO’s) – will collide in a lightweight affair.
Cruickshank of Wayne, Mich. is a 13-fight veteran of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, who made a successful RIZIN FF debut on April 17, scoring a first-round TKO with a series of kicks on a downed Shinji Sasaki.
A longtime kickboxing icon, Souwer of Den Bosch, Netherlands, is a two-time winner of the K-1 World Max tournament and a four-time Shootboxing world champion. On December 31, 2015, he made his long-awaited MMA rules debut at the inaugural RIZIN FF event in Saitama, Japan, decimating Yuichiro “Jienotsu” Nagashima by way of first round knockout with an onslaught of punches.
Unbeaten women’s light heavyweight and nine-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Gabi Garcia (2-0) and three-time junior Olympic wrestling medalist and undefeated flyweight MMA star Kanako Murata (3-0) of Ehime, Japan will each see action against an opponent to be announced soon.
Garcia of Porto Alege, Rio Grande Do Sul, Brazil made quick work of both of her MMA opponents to date, scoring a first-round TKO (punches) in her professional debut on Lei’d Tapa at the RIZIN FF promotional kick-off event on December 31, and submitting Anna Malyukova with an armbar in the second round of battle at the RIZIN FF affair on April 17.
Just 22-years-old, Murata made her professional MMA debut under the promotion of RIZIN FF on April 17, notching a unanimous decision over Natalia Denisova, and has since already competed twice more, defeating Maia Kahaunaele-Stevenson via third-round TKO (punches) and Ilona Wijmans by way of first-round TKO (punches), on June 4 and July 7, respectively.
Kizaemon Saiga (2-1) of Sakai, Osaka, Japan will take on fellow upstart Asen Yamamoto at a weight to be determined.
Women’s shoot boxing champion and unbeaten MMA competitor Rena Kubota (1-0) of Osaka, Japan will make her second start under MMA rules against an opponent to be announced.