Pride held some of the most exciting and intriguing heavyweight matchups in MMA history from 1997 to 2007.

Today Rizin is bringing back fond memories of the Japanese MMA scene’s heyday and there will be a heavyweight bout on Saturday’s card. Roque Martinez is slated to collide with hometown favorite Hideki Sekine at the Hamamatsu Arena.

Martinez, who made his first trip to Japan in 2009, would like to honour the great heavyweights of the organization such as Fedor Emelianenko, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mirko Filipovic, Josh Barnett and Mark Hunt by doing his part in restoring the division’s old glory.

“I’m super excited to have Rizin as my home promotion. The events and production are amazing. I want to be the face of the heavyweight division and bring back the excitement that the heavyweight division used to be back in the good old Pride days. I am ready,” he stated.

The 33-year-old Guamanian hard-hitter is arguably one of the most consistently exciting athletes on the roster. He is an agile heavyweight with real knockout power—and this has always made him an overwhelming fan favorite,

“My goal is to put on exciting shows for the fans and be known as an exciting fighter. That’s what Japanese fans love,” Martinez said.


Slow start

Though his initial run on Japanese soil was unremarkable as he lost two straight fights, Martinez struck gold when he returned in 2017.

He defeated Indian kickboxer Jaideep Singh by way of unanimous to win the Deep heavyweight title. From there on, he became a regular fixture on the country’s local MMA circuit.

His title-winning performance in Deep served as his footstool to be noticed by Rizin, where he aced his first two assignments, submitting Jerome LeBanner in the first round of their October 2017 clash and then knocking out Kiyoshi Kuwabara nearly a year later.

Martinez’s winning streak earned him a date with ‘CroCop’ in September 2018, but he suffered a first-round stoppage loss at the hands of the Croatian legend.


Losing skid

Since his heartbreaking setback to CroCop, Martinez has gone 2-1, successfully defending the Deep heavyweight belt twice while dropping a split decision to Jake Heun at Rizin 16.

Martinez, who is coming off a second-round demolition of Seigo Mizuguchi at Deep 93 this past December, has not won a bout inside the five-rope Rizin ring for over two years.

He looks to arrest his losing spell in Rizin at the expense of Sekine, who also seeks to break into the winner’s column after losing three bouts in a row in ONE Championship.

Sekine challenged Brandon Vera for the ONE Championship heavyweight belt in a losing effort in 2016. The Japanese giant suffered two more knockout defeats to Alain Ngalani and Alexandre Machado.


Tough times

Martinez believes that he has a lot to gain by beating a fighter who is well known on the Japanese scene,

“I know Hideki Sekine has a big following in Japan, especially in pro wrestling. So beating him would definitely get more exposure for me on both the MMA side and also in the professional wrestling fan base,” he said.

Martinez did not have the perfect start in Japan, but if he beats Seikine at Rizin 21, he will put his name in the conversation when it comes to contenders vying for the promotion’s inaugural heavyweight title.

“I’ve been through so many trials and tribulations, especially some serious injuries that required surgeries. It was tough because they often get you to think whether or not MMA is worth pursuing.”

Martinez believes that having overcome adversity has made him a better fighter,

“However, those tough times have definitely made me stronger. It gave me motivation and really developed the character that I have today. In the end, I’m grateful for the hard times.”