Hey everyone, I came back from Vatican City yesterday, but I still had time to throw together some picks for Sengoku IX, an event that could be one of the best of the year, if I'm any judge of things.
So let's start. As always, lines given in decimal form, where the total return is based on the assumption that you put down 1.00. I.e., 1.55 means that you get a 0.55 in profit + your original 1.00.
Kazuyuki 'Ironhead' Fujita vs. Blagoi Ivanov
+World Combat Sambo champion in 2008, giving Fedor Emelianenko his first loss
+Extremely good upper body takedowns
+Hits with force
+Changes levels between striking/clinch well
+Experienced amateur MMA record
-No gi to aid takedowns
-May be trouble adjusting to lack of headgear
-Extremely young, at only 22 years old
+Hard to clinch-takedown
-Not a submission specialist
-Striking combinations very simple
Nice matchup, Fujita is on the way down, but Ivanov can only go up, being the World Combat Sambo champ in 2008. MMA isn't sambo, but the same basics are taught. A lot of the skills he learned in combat sambo - upper body takedowns, striking to set up the clinch, submissions, clinch-fighting - will transfer to MMA.
I see many sources stating that he has a 14-0-1 record in amateur MMA, but I'm not sure if that's verified.
One thing that will trouble him I'm guessing is the lack of a gi with wich to grab his opponents, and Fujita is an very good wrestler, and he will be hard to take down from the clinch - he's so broad he's naturally advantaged against upper body takedowns.
Nonetheless, Fujita has been getting worse and worse it seems, and he recently got KO'd by Travis Wiuff. While his striking may be better than Ivanov's, which is still unrefined as of now, I don't think it will be enough for him to win the fight.
I'll take Ivanov by submission; I don't think Fujita has much left to give to MMA, and Ivanov surely has motivation.
Ivanov enters at 1.74, and Fujita enters at 2.05. I'm still going with the Bulgarian.
Kazuo 'Grabaka Hitman' Misaki vs. Kazuhiro Nakamura
+Very elusive hit and move counterstriker
-Too content to win a decision
-Strategy of outpointing the opponent hardly ever varies
+Good ground control
+Very aggressive ground and pound
-Slow, and inaccurate standup
-Bad at closing distance to clinch
-Very bad defensive movement
-Striking combinations are almost non-existant
Even if he does put Misaki on his back, Misaki has been finished three times, and all times by men much more skilled than Nakamura. He has never been KO'd and has only been TKO'd when he broke his arm against Nate Marquardt. Only way Nakamura wins is by decision.
Tricky. Misaki is huge favourite at 1.40, but is a pretty safe bet, while Nakamura enters at 2.90. I'm going to go with Misaki and take the risk.
Mizuto Hirota vs. Satoru Kitaoka
+Light on his feet
+Excellent at rolling for leg locks while in guard
+Wicked killer instinct
-Limited ground and pound
-Never (T)KO'd anyone
Takanori Gomi (2008)
+Never been finished
+Good Muay Thai/kickboxing with nice combinations
-Boxing defense may have some room for improvement
-Wrestling is nothing much
-Grappling has never been good
Hirota getting in a position to fight for the Sengoku lightweight belt was pretty shocking in itself, but it'll be even harder to make a repeat upset.
Hirota burst onto the scene with a TKO over Ishida, something that hadn't been done to Ishida since Gomi in 2006. If it stayed standing, he'd likely do the same to Kitaoka, but it won't stay standing. Ishida didn't attempt a single takedown in that fight, and if he had, I'd bet on it going differently.
A grappler that's obsessed with taking the fight to the ground at all costs, regardless of whether they're on top or bottom is a difficult thing to deal with for anyone, and Kitaoka has it down to a tee.
All that said, Hirota is an extremely dangerous Muay Thai fighter who makes good use of punches, kicks, and the Muay Thai clinch, and has proven power behind his strikes. All it takes is a lapse and Kitaoka could suffer his first KO.
This is likely going to the ground if Hirota doesn't nail him in the opening minutes, and I fully expect the stretchy pants-ed magician to tap Hirota.
Kitaoka by heel hook, round one. I don't think the fact that Hirota hasn't been submitted will save him either.
But Kitaoka is at 1.20, while Hirota is at 4.00, and that is just too bad in terms of value to be bothered with. Hirota is an extremely live underdog.
Marlon Sandro vs. Michihiro Omigawa
+Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt
+Fast and violent punches
+Light enough on his feet for a grappler, and has a surprisingly good striking defense
+Good guard passes and transitions
-Top control could be improved
-Uncertain how well his Jiu Jitsu has translated to MMA
+Good boxing footwork
+Good clinch takedowns/trips
+Great ground and pound; knees and punches
+Never been subbed
-Never submitted an opponent in MMA
-Not really that threatening standing due to lack of power
-Not a versatile striker
Sandro has been getting better and better from what I've seen. The Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt has got surprising punching power and looks to be picking up striking very well. Added to that, he has good wrestling and won't hesitate to take this to the ground.
Judoka's don't often have the best takedown defense, particularly against lower body takedowns, and that is what Sandro prefers.
Some of Omigawa's best offense is when he's on top, and it may be a better place than standing for him, ironically, as Sandro does not appear to have translated his BJJ to MMA that well, with only three submission wins on his 14-0-0 record. But the undefeated Brazilian is still dangerous from any position.
Standing, I'll give footwork and defense to Omigawa, but power and speed to Sandro. More importantly, I think Sandro KO's him if it stays standing. Only place I see Sandro uncomfortable is on his back.
Sandro by submission, round two. Omigawa is a decent technical striker but he's not as good a one as DJ Taiki, and he lacks Taiki's awesome sprawl too.
Sandro enters at 1.40, and Omigawa enters at 2.95. Not the best value, but Sandro enters at 4.50 to win the whole tournament, which is good. Omigawa is at 5.00 for the GP.
+Great footwork, floats light on his feet
+Good boxing footwork
+Extremely good grappler
+Good takedown defense
+Never been finished
+Good clinch takedowns
-Not a hard hitter
+Powerful punches and kicks
+Good at toe to toe wars
-More a brawler than anything else
-Defense is not tight
It's pretty much recognised that Hioki is going to have a massive advantage in this bout no matter whether it stays standing or goes to the mat. Hioki has a huge advantage on the ground, and I wouldn't expect Kanehara to last to the end of the round if Hioki gets him on his back.
So Kanehara will obviously try to keep this on the feet, probably without much success. Even if he succeeds I don't see him beating Hioki in that regard.
Hioki by submission, Round 1.
Hioki enters at 1.12, while Kanehara enters at 6.25. No real value in Hioki, but Kanehara would just be throwing money away. Hioki is 1.50 to win the tournament, again not very good, while Kanehara is a fitting 18.00. It may be worth putting a tiny play on Kanehara, just incase he pulls out the luckiest of lucky punches.
Bonus Pick: Hatsu Hioki vs. Marlon Sandro
If Omigawa or Kanehara win ignore this. This has all the makings of an epic final, with the grappling of these two men being extremely close. Hikoi would be the more exciting grappler, with a drive to finish the fight, but Sandro is a more methodical grappler, content for decisions, but just as potent. I'd give Hioki a small advantage.
Striking, close again. Sandro would be naturally gifted with more speed and power in his strikes, but Hioki would be the faster more elusive striker. I'll give Sandro a slight edge here.
Hioki has never been finished by anyone, and Sandro has never been beaten.This may come down to who can get top control and outwork their opponent for a decision or late finish. Hioki has a great clinch takedowns, but Sandro is viciously persistent with double and single legs, and again it looks like a coin toss to me.
Sandro by extremely controversial split decision, becoming the first Sengoku featherweight champ.
Recap on odds to win GP outright
Field (any fighter not listed)