Old school fans of mixed martial arts will be delighted to learn that one of the most classic rivalries in the history of the sport will finally become a trilogy. A fight between Mirko Cro Cop and Wanderlei Silva in 2002 ended in a draw, and then a 2006 rematch saw Cro Cop knock Silva out with his patented head kick en route to winning the PRIDE Openweight Grand Prix. Now Wanderlei will have a chance to avenge that loss at Japanese promotion RIZIN’s New Year’s Eve event.
RIZIN is basically an attempt to recreate Japan’s MMA glory days with PRIDE, and is even run by former PRIDE head Nobuyuki Sakakibara. That part is somewhat problematic because it was Sakakibara’s connection to the Yakuza that ended up destroying the promotion in the end. But on the plus side, Sakakibara seems to be the only one with the rolodex and money in Japan to make fights like Wanderlei Silva vs Mirko Cro Cop 3 happen so … yay?
The third fight in the trilogy was announced after Mirko Cro Cop dispatched his opponent Hyun Man Myung in the opening round of RIZIN’s own Openweight tournament on Saturday night. Wanderlei Silva was granted a first round bye, partially due to his status and partially because he’s technically still suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for ducking a drug test back in May of 2014. Nevada initially tried to suspend the Brazilian fighter for life, but a judge threw that suspension out. Nevada came back with a three year ban (ending May 2017) which Wanderlei and RIZIN will apparently ignore on New Year’s Eve.
Wanderlei isn’t the only fighter in this match up under suspension. Mirko Cro Cop is also serving a two year suspension from USADA for voluntarily admitting he used HGH to rehab an injured shoulder. Japan has no commission, so it is up to individual promotions to decide if they’ll honor US agency suspensions. But both Mirko and Wanderlei could have a hard time getting re-licensed stateside once their suspensions are up.
Their troubles in America are Japan’s gain as RIZIN now has both superstar fighters back in rotation for the forseeable future. While the two are past their days at the very top of the rankings, a third fight between them should be fun. That seems to be RIZIN’s matchmaking plan: fun fights that generate interest amongst the fans. In this case they’ve definitely accomplished that goal.