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Rizin returns with tournament with Cro Cop, Wanderlei Silva and stars from glory days

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

A unique cast of characters including former MMA and kickboxing legends, giants and current Japanese amateur wrestling stars will head the return of the Rizin Fighting Federation with four shows between now and the end of the year.

The shows will be built around a 16-man heavyweight Grand Prix tournament, which starts on Sept. 25 at the Saitama Super Arena. It continues with the quarterfinals on Dec. 29, and the semifinals and finals on New Year's Eve.

The Fuji Network, which has a long history of New Year's Eve fighting shows, will be backing the promotion of the events which include legends from the glory days of the Pride Fighting Championships including Mirko Cro Cop (31-11-2) and Wanderlei Silva (35-12-1) in the tournament.

Cro Cop and Silva will get first-round byes, meaning they will not have tournament matches on Sept. 25, but be bracketed into the quarterfinals on Dec. 29.

A press conference was held on Saturday in Tokyo, with Cro Cop, 41, among the stars appearing. Cro Cop had announced his retirement in November after saying he could no longer train due to shoulder problems. He admitted use of human growth hormone when given a surprise drug test by USADA. Cro Cop said he used it to rehab the shoulder so he could fight Anthony Hamilton on UFC's show on Nov. 28 in Seoul, South Korea. He then announced his retirement, but was suspended at the time for two years under the UFC's new testing policy.

Japanese MMA is not regulated, nor are there drug tests for steroids and other PEDs, so fighters suspended in countries like the U.S., Canada and Brazil can compete.

"I was chasing Pokemon's and somehow ended up in Japan," said Cro Cop, who was the most popular foreign fighter in Japan during the Pride heyday from 2001 to 2006. "I kept chasing them and bumped into Sakakibara-san in Roppongi. He bought me a suit and shoes, and that  is why I sit here right now."

Silva (35-12-1), 40, was also a UFC fighter, but released after a falling out with the organization. He had been suspended for life by the Nevada Athletic Commission after disappearing when asked to give a random drug test. The suspension was later cut to three years, and expires in May. He's expected to fight with Bellator next year.

The only first-round tournament match announced was Baruto (1-0) vs. Kazuyuki Fujita (15-11), who both appeared at the press conference.

Baruto, real name Kaido Hoovelson, 31, defeated kickboxing legend Peter Aerts by taking him down and pounding on him to win a decision on New Year's Eve. He's a 6-foot-6 1/2 inch, 375-pound former sumo star in Japan, who moves remarkably well given his size. The native of Estonia retired from sumo due to injury in 2013 but was a major recognizable figure in Japanese culture.

Fujita, who turns 46 in October, was an amateur wrestling champion in Japan who almost made the 1992 Olympic team. He then went into pro wrestling. When Pride was drawing a largely pro wrestling fan base, Fujita was brought into the organization as the protege of pro wrestling legend Antonio Inoki. His wrestling ability and vaunted iron head made him a well remembered figure in the Pride glory days, most remembered for two losses to Cro Cop and a win over Olympic gold medal winning wrestler Karam Gaber of Egypt.

In recent years, he has mostly been working as a pro wrestler living off his reputation from the Pride days. In MMA, he's lost five fights in a row, with his last victory coming in 2008.

A number of other announcements were made regarding the Sept. 25 event.

Former UFC lightweight Daron Cruickshank (17-8, 1 no contest) faces Andy Souwer (1-0), a kickboxing legend from Holland. Souwer gained fame in Japan during the Masato-era of lightweight kickboxing, and has a 159-19 record with 98 knockouts as a kickboxer. He started fighting in Japan in 2002 in the sport of shoot boxing, similar to San Shou, where boxing and wrestling techniques are legal, but there are no submissions or ground work. After being a champion in that sport, he was one of the signature stars when K-1 opened up its lightweight division from 2005 to 2009, including winning the Grand Prix tournament in 2005 and 2007.

Asen Yamamoto, 19 (0-1), a Japanese Olympic hopeful in wrestling, returns to face Kizaemon Saiga (2-1). Yamamoto is from Japan's most famous wrestling family, with his grandfather, Ikuei Yamamoto being a former Olympian and coach, and his mother and aunt (Miyu and Seiko Yamamoto) both being multiple-time world champions. He is also the nephew of UFC fighter Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto), and at one point, his stepfather was early MMA star Enson Inoue.

Saiga, 27, gained some notoriety as a high school kickboxing champion and fought on major shows in that sport during its heyday. He's also well known because his wife is a major celebrity in Japan.

Kron Gracie (2-0), the son of Rickson Gracie, who beat Yamamoto on New Year's Eve, will face Hideo Tokoro (33-28-2), who is one of the most entertaining ground fighters in the sport.

Gabrielle "Gabi" Garcia (2-0), the ridiculously muscular 6-foot-2, 215 pound Brazilian jiu jitsu champion, will return on the show. Garcia had defeated pro wrestler Lei'd Tapa in her debut on New Year's Eve.

Also announced for the show is Kanako Murata (3-0), a highly-decorated woman wrestler in Japan.