RIZIN FF has announced the debut of heavyweight legend Mirko Cro Cop as well as other pivotal first-round match-ups for their 16-man tournament at a press conference in Japan on Thursday.
Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic vs. Hyun Man Myung
MMA & kickboxing legend Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic (31-11-2, 1NC) will take on the ultra-aggressive Hyun Man Myung (3-2) who represents ROAD FC.
A veteran of 15+ years, Cro Cop has been on the winning side of some of the most brutal knockouts in MMA history. Known for his incredibly powerful head kick and most notably his lightning fast left head kick, Cro Cop coined the phrase “right leg, hospital; left leg, cemetery” to describe his kicking ability. Cro Cop returned to the UFC, after being away for a few years, in 2015. In his return bout, he got revenge on Gabriel Gonzaga with a nasty finish due to elbows in round three. He was expected to return to the octagon vs. Anthony Hamilton a few months later but ended up retiring instead after receiving notice from USADA about a potential anti-doping violation. And in July 2016 after getting released from his UFC contract, it was announced Filipovic would be returning to Japan and MMA under the RIZIN FF banner.
What ROAD FC’s Myung lacks in experience against a guy like Mirko Cro Cop, he makes up for in aggressiveness and power. Before losing to Mighty Mo via submission in his last fight, Myung won two-straight via KO in a combined 48-seconds.
Jiří “Denisa” Procházka vs. Mark “Rocky” Tanios
One of RIZIN’s brightest heavyweight prospects Jiří Procházka (17-3-1) will return to the ring looking to add yet another KO to his resume when he takes on the debuting Mark Tanios (6-1) of Lebanon.
Procházka garnered a lot of attention from fans due to his performances in RIZIN’s heavyweight grand-prix last year. In the quarter-finals and his first fight with the promotion, Procházka made a name for himself by defeating Japanese veteran and Olympic gold-medalist Satoshi Ishii via quick KO. In the semi-finals two days later he capped off an excellent fight with fellow prospect Vadim Nemkov with a TKO after Nemkov could not answer the bell for round two. That same night in the finals Procházka was KO’d by former Strikeforce champion ‘King Mo’ Muhammed Lawal. Procházka rebounded with a KO over heavyweight legend Kazuyuki Fujita a few months later this past April.
Coming from a stint in Strength & Honor Championship, Mark “Rocky” Tanios enters RIZIN FF riding a three-fight win streak. Though no big-name wins on his resume, Tanios was set to fight current streaking UFC heavyweight Francis N’gannou last year before Ngannou received a call-up to the UFC. Tanios has had a trilogy with Switzerland’s Luc Ngeleka, with Tanios winning the last two via decision after Ngeleka defeated him via KO last August. This was the bout where Tanios was originally planned to fight Ngannou.
Amir Aliakbari vs. João Almeida
Two of the biggest dark horses in the tournament, Ali Aliakbari (2-0) will look to bring his extensive wrestling pedigree to RIZIN FF when he takes on Jungle Fight heavyweight champion & KO artist; João Almeida (4-1).
Fighting out of AKA Thailand, Iran’s Aliakbari has some hype behind him heading into RIZIN’s GP. A Greco-Roman wrestler with multiple world championship wins to his name, Aliakbari won his first two MMA fights in a combined 75-seconds, both via first round KO. As the first Iranian world class wrestler to pursue a career in MMA, it is also worth mentioning that Aliakbari has a couple suspensions due to doping violations.
Jungle Fight heavyweight champion, 6’5 João Almeida is currently riding a four-fight win streak, with his last three bouts ending in the first round due to KO. Almeida picked up the vacant JF heavyweight title last weekend when he defeated the previously unbeaten Henrique Silva in under a minute.
Teodoras Aukštuolis vs. Szymon Bajor
24-year-old Lithuanian prospect Teodoras Aukštuolis (9-3) returns to the RIZIN FF ring to take on the debuting KSW and PLMMA veteran Szymon Bajor (15-6).
Aukštuolis opened eyes in the quarter-finals of RIZIN’s 2015 heavyweight grand-prix when he scored a faceplant KO vs. (then) Jungle Fight heavyweight champion Bruno Cappelozza. Two days later Aukštuolis lost a decision to King Mo in the semi-finals before returning to the ring this past April, defeating former Fedor Emelianenko opponent Jaideep Singh.
Bajor enters the tournament representing Poland and KSW coming off a decision win over Jędrzej Maćkowiak at KSW 34. It has been three years since Bajor has gone on any type of win streak and has since exchanged wins and losses the past few years.
“King” Karl Albrektsson vs. Valentin Moldavsky
RIZIN prospect Sweden’s “King” Karl Albrektsson (5-0) and Valentin Moldavsky (4-0) are set to face each other in one of the most interesting fights of the entire opening round.
Sweden’s Albrektsson debuted in RIZIN FF this past April riding a four-fight win/finish streak. In his debut, he looked impressive in defeating Vadim Nemkov by decision.
Member of ‘Team Fedor’, Moldavsky debuted for RIZIN FF on Day 1 of RIZIN’s 2015 GP back in December in a bout that would determine the official alternate in the tournament. He made quick work of Yuta Uchida, dominating and submitting Japan’s Uchida in under three minutes. In his last outing, he submitted Germany’s Daniel Dorrer in under a minute on EFN’s Emelianenko vs. Maldonado card this past June.