What’s that? You think that North American coverage of Japanese Mixed Martial Arts is lacking too? You say you don’t watch Japanese Mixed Martial Arts because it is too hard to keep up with all the fighters? Well as of today that is about to change! Welcome to the first ever edition of the Butoku Report. Every week I will bring you latest news, results, translated interviews and anything else of interest that is happening in the crazycrazy world of Japanese Mixed Martial Arts!
Yoshihiro Akiyama to UFC
The first piece of noteworthy news to discuss would be the UFC signing of K-1 and DREAM standout Yoshihiro Akiyama. At 12-1, Akiyama was certainly on his way to becoming one of the most popular stars the country had seen in a while. With wins over top contenders Denis Kang and Melvin Manhoef, Akiyama would have likely been the next contender for Gerard Mousasi’s Middleweight Championship. This is obviously a major blow to the DREAM organization and Japanese MMA as a whole as one of the few rising Japanese stars of the heavier weight classes has now gone to the UFC.
Many are seeing this event as the UFC’s first major attempt in a long time to capture the large Japanese Mixed Martial Art’s fan base. Since the beginning of PRIDE when they were able to sell out the Tokyo Dome, which holds nearly 100,000 people, the popularity of MMA in Japan has fluctuated, hitting a low over the last two to three years. However, with the emergence of DREAM and World Victory Road, the popularity has again begun to rise and it is obvious the UFC wants in on the action.
The thing that makes the Yoshihiro Akiyama signing so much different that other Japanese signings over the last few years, including Akihiro Gono and Kazuhiro Nakajima, is the fact Akiyama is very much prominent in modern day DREAM. When Gono and Nakajima were signed neither was fighting because of the death of PRIDE (R.I.P.) and therefore it only made sense for them to move to the UFC.
Another name the UFC has been trying to get their hands on is 2008 Beijing Olympic Games Judo Gold medalist Satoshi Ishii. He has been spotted at numerous recent UFC events and rumors have run rampant over the last few months about when he will make the leap. What makes this story even more interesting is that Ishii was recently spotted at a Japanese event sporting an M-1 Global Affliction t-shirt (http://www.sponichi.co.jp/battle/news/2009/02/04/KFullNormal20090204034_p.html). What do we make of this? Ishii has stated he wants his MMA career to start in the UFC but as the old expression goes ‘money talks’, so we will keep our eye on this developing story.
Takanori Gomi Interview
Former #1 World Lightweight recently had an interview with Sportsnavi to discuss his lackluster performance against Satoru Kitaoka. Here is a translated version:
—How have you been since your last fight with Satoru Kitaoka?
I though you wanted to asked me about that fight.
—Of course, it would be nice if you tell me about that.
As you saw, I couldn't do anything. I suppose fans who knew me since PRIDE considered that I looked like a totally different person. I don't even know why. I didn't feel any energy in the ring. After the fight, I felt like I was free. I thought I fulfilled my duty.
—Do you mean that you resigned from a representer of the top lightweight fighter?
I suppose so. I hadn't proven myself in the last few fights. I was training, yet everything was falling apart. I couldn't put together because my training wasn't enough. My skills went down in the last two years. I experienced a lot in the last two years. I quit Kiguchi dojo without thinking well, and started my gym. I felt responsibility to take care of my students, and I was passive about my fight. I was just waiting and see who I fought with.
—The title of the tournament was “road to Gomi”
I have no excuse about my performance and my loss. Kitaoka was entirely better than me. I I hope he becomes a great champion and defends his title.
—Kitaoka asked you a rematch in the ring.
I wonder if he still wants the rematch. He completely dominated me. I want him to move forward to bring more fans to Sengoku.
—Did you feel that you got weaker than before?
I admit that I hadn't had enough training. I didn't feel any energy and power. After Misaki's fight, I tried to concentrate and motivate myself. When arriving at the ring, I noticed that I wasn't even sweating and my intensity was getting lower. Right after the fight started, I responded to him well and cut his tackles. Though I was concerned about something, I though I should be fine if I took my time. I appreciated my fans support in that event. However, I was already exhausted mentally when I got there. “Road to Gomi” started half a year ago, but I felt like I was waiting for 10 years. It was extremely long and exhausting.
Takanori Gomi is clearly not in a good place right now. His disappointing performances in his last 2 fights have dropped him out of most top 10 world rankings and have many wondering about the former Pride Bushido Ace’s future. Can he return to prominence or will his inability to train like a world caliber athlete and concentrate on the fight game keep him from returning to form? Time will tell. At this point, it looks as though he will again take some time off before fighting another opponent.
DREAM 7 Quick and Detailed Results
Finally onto last night's first round of the DREAM featherweight Grand-Prix! I will post the quick results and then discuss the points of interest.
1. Bibiano Fernandez defeated Takafumi Otsuka via unanimous decision
2. Joe Warren defeated Chase Beebe by doctor stoppage at the end of the first round.
3. Abel Cullum defeated Akiyo Nishiura via unanimous decision.
4. Mitsuhiro Ishida defeated Daisuke Nakamura via unanimous decision.
5. Shinya Aoki defeated David Gardner via Submission (Rear Naked Choke) in the first round.
6. Tatsuya Kawajiri defeated Ross Ebanez via submission (Rear Naked Choke) in the first round.
7. Yoshiro Maeda defeated Micah Miller via unanimous decision.
8. Hiroyuki Takada defeated Jong Won Kim via TKO (punches) in the second round.
9. Masakazu Imanari defeated Atsushi Yamamoto via split decision.
King of the Cage Bantamweight champion Abel Cullum looked very good against Akiyo Nishiura able to take him down fairly easily and from there was able to put on a Jiu-Jitsu clinic however was unable to finish. Despite his 14-2 record there were many questions about him coming into this fight because of his lack of top-tier talent.
Wrestling standout Joe Warren also put on a very impressive performance in his MMA debut against former WEC Bantamweight Champion Chase Beebe. Despite Beebe also having a background in wrestling, Warren was able to take him down at will numerous times throughout the fight. Beebe proved to have little to offer before having the fight stopped due to a cut. This marks Beebe’s third straight loss and drops his record to 12-4.
“The Endless Warrior” Mitsuhiro Ishida used his wrestling prowess and smooth ground and pound to dominate Pancrase stud Daisuke Nakamura throughout their fight. Despite Nakamura’s numerous kimura attempts, Ishida was able to stay calm under the pressure and use his wrestling to stay on top of a much taller Nakamura to dominate the fight.
Idiotic is the only word that can be used to describe Mike Gardner’s antics against Shinya Aoki. Almost immediately Aoki was able to get Gardner’s back and when the pace of the fight slowed down Gardner decided that it was time to show his courteous side and wave to the fans and shout “Hello, Japan!.” Aoki being the grappling magician he is took this opportunity to get his arm around Gardner’s neck and subsequently tap him out just less than six minutes into the fight. Aoki wasn’t given an opportunity to show off his supposed improved stand-up he got on his trip to Thailand however with the talent pool for the upcoming DREAM Welterweight Grand-Prix ever thickening its only a matter of time before we see what Aoki can do.
To no one's surprise, Kawajiri had little trouble putting away Ross Ebanez, showing he was in top form and is ready for anything DREAM might throw his way.
Micah Miller looked good in his losing effort to Yoshiro Maeda in a fight which I thought could have gone either way. His rubber guard looked fantastic and with improved striking Miller could be a threat in the featherweight division sooner rather than later.
Finally, onto the main event of the evening featuring the master of the leg lock (sorry Shamrock) Masakazu Imanari against the young up and comer out of Norifumi Yamamoto’s “Krazy Bee” gym Atsushi Yamamoto (no relation despite their almost identical appearance). Yamamoto gave Imanari all he could handle in this scrappy battle. Imanari was able to pull guard a couple times but nothing close to a submission ever took place. Yamamoto rocked Imanari in the first with a nice straight but was unable to finish. The judges gave the bout to Imanari via split decision, although I personally had Yamamoto pulling off the upset because of his top control and ability to out strike Imanari.
Mach Sakurai Interview
DREAM’s website recently had an interview with Welterweight Grand-Prix participant Hayoto “Mach” Sakurai talking about the upcoming tournament and the possibility of a rematch with Shinya Aoki.
—Tell me what you think about participating in the welterweight tournament.
I definitely do my best to win this tournament.
—If you win the tournament, you can instantly get an opportunity to fight for the title.
I was very irritated until this tournament was announced. I understand that Dream had hard time finding and negotiating fighters who fit me. I fought Japanese fighters for a while, so I'm excited to fight foreign fighters.
—Everybody is looking forward to seeing your great performance in this tournament.
I'm self-confidence that I have played the important role in this weight class for long time, so I don't want to lose in this 76 kg weight class.
—How do you describe about the welterweight?
You see both power and speed. This weight class is the most populated and high level, so fights are always exciting and fan to watch.
—What do you think about the Japanese welterweight fighters?
There are many good fighters including Shinya Aoki, Kuniyoshi HIronaka, Hideki Kadoma, Ryo Chonan and Akihiro Gono. Making one mistake will cause it to lose. That's why many fighters aim at perfection and try to be like GSP. I'm not sure if fans are interested in watching perfect fighters and fights. I entertain fans by making them surprise and exited in fights.
—Are you going to have a special plan for the tournament?
I usually don't have a fight plan, yet I guess I should this time.
—Aoki fights in the tournament. What do you think?
He has built up his experience and brush up his ground techniques since we fought in Shooto. I respect his challenging spirit, yet I think he underestimates the welterweight. In general, It's not easy to switch the weight class. I know the ability of fighters is beyond reason or logic. However, he fought in the lightweight two months ago and move up to the welterweight without preparing enough? It's insane and too optimistic.
—I think fans want to watch Mach vs Aoki.
Yeah? I will fight him if fans request. Honestly, I'm sorry for Aoki to say this, but I have like to waste my time fighting him now because he is the lightweight fighter. I'm here to be a champion in the welterweight. I don't want to be bothered by the lightweight fighter.
—Any message to your fans?
Since Dream started, I had been frustrated because my fights were announced and canceled repeatedly. I want to make advance in this tournament. I don't want to miss this great opportunity. As usual, I do my best.
Wrap It Up!
For those Shooto fans out there, don’t forget that No.1 flyweight and Bantamweight World Champion Shinichi “BJ” Kojima and Shooto Featherweight World Champion Masakatsu Ueda both have world title defenses coming up against Yuki Shoujou and So Tazawa respectively. Those fights will take place at Shooto “Tradition” 4 on March 20.
Also if there are any PRIDE fans left out there, don’t forget to check out Bushido 11 featuring the first round of the PRIDE FC Welterweight Grand-Prix which was released on March 3.
Thank you all for reading. Don’t forget to tune in next week when the article will feature a full preview of the upcoming Sengoku Featherweight Grand Prix as well as my predictions and anything else that may happen in the Japanese MMA world between now and then!
Oragato Mr. Roboto!