TOKYO, Feb. 16 — Korakuen Hall, the place where legends are born, was once again host to another card put together by the Nagoya-based promoter DEEP under the watchful eye of founder, president and main matchmaker Shigeru Saeki.
To kick off the year, Mr. Saeki, as he’s know in Japan mixed martial arts circles, brought together four champions under the same roof with three of them placing titles on the line.
The main event saw former DEEP middleweight champion Ryuta Sakurai (Pictures) challenge reigning king Ryo Chonan (Pictures) in a rematch from a Feb. 2006 affair, when Sakurai lost the belt in an anti-climatic fight less than two minutes into the first round.
Chonan opened the match with a flying knee attempt that Sakurai caught before he slammed the champion hard onto the canvas. Sakurai tried to follow with punches from inside the guard but Chonan started to sink a triangle choke that made Sakurai change strategy.
Chonan continue to push the action from the bottom with the triangle, mixing in punches while trying to trap Sakurai’s arm.
After a few minutes of struggle, Sakurai escaped the triangle by power-bombing his way out. However, he couldn’t work anything else from the position so both fighters were restarted on their feet.
Sakurai charged forward with two left hooks, rocking Chonan back. The former DEEP champ at 183 pounds quickly clinched and pulled a beautiful judo throw to takedown and mount Chonan. Sakurai began to punch away at the man who took his title, but Chonan was quick to bridge and reverse position, where he landed bombs from the top.
The second and third round was more of the same. A tired Sakurai clinched Chonan along the ropes, scoring takedowns or tripping Chonan from inside the clinch. He secured mount position and landed shots here and there before Chonan would reverse by bridging and then land more effective shots from top.
It was a close match to score due to both fighters’ intensity but Chonan walked away victorious on his first title defense with a majority decision on the judges’ card.
Takanori Gomi (Pictures)’s pupil Nobuhiro Obiya (Pictures) put his DEEP lightweight title on the line against one of the hottest Japanese prospects at 155 pounds in Kazunori Yokota (Pictures) from Grabaka.
Obiya started aggressively, dismissing Yokota’s attempt to shake gloves and attacking with a 1-2 combo followed by a takedown. Yokota sprawled and ended up working from half-guard, however he couldn’t control from the top after Obiya scramble his way out. Yokota quickly followed by landing crisp shots over Obiya’s face.
The champion tried several times to engage Yokota with strikes while they stood, but the Grabaka fighter answered by landing and scoring with better punches, forcing Obiya to quickly change strategy and attempt more takedowns.
Yokota took the better position out of takedown scrambles, gaining mount position followed with punches or armlocks attempts. Obiya moved wildly and reversed his way out from the bottom. But he found himself trapped with Yokota in the clinch position, where the Grabaka judoka took advantage by scoring several throws and takedowns.
The rest of the fight played in similar fashion with a frustrated Obiya trying desperately to mount any kind of offense as Yokota ran a judo throw and takedown clinic on him.
With just a minute to go, Obiya, showing better stamina at the moment, scored a beautiful jumping knee to Yokota’s chin that upon impact sounded like Mark McGwire’s best home runs back in the day.
A visibly shaken Yokota withstood the damage and tried desperately to clinch for a takedown, but Obiya took his back looking for a choke. Yokota did not give in and one more time reversed position to end the match by landing punches from inside the guard.
In the end, Yokota’s better strikes paired with his judo skills were enough for the judges to award him a unanimous decision, making him the third DEEP lightweight champion.
The third and final title match of the night pitted Shooto warhorse and DEEP welterweight champion Jutaro Nakao (Pictures) against challenger Hidehiko Hasegawa (Pictures) from SK Absolute.
Hasegawa opened by locking up with Nakao against the ropes and looking for a takedown, however the Shooto veteran sprawled his way out. The challenger turned onto his back and began to set leglocks from the bottom. Nakao comfortably defended while landing a few strikes, mostly to Hasegawa’s body.
The beginning of the end for Nakao came in the second round when Hasegawa, once again rushing forward to meet the champion, dodged a front kick. Nakao slipped and Hasegawa worked work from the top, first kicking and punching, then later trying to pass guard.
Between the mix of strikes and guard-pass attempts, Hasegawa scored a stomp squarely on Nakao’s face, breaking the veteran’s nose and causing a significant amount of blood to stream from the champion.
The nasal fracture combined with considerable bleeding moved the referee to pause the fight and ask the doctor at ringside to check on Nakao. The doctor cleared the champ to continue with both fighters starting in the same position — Nakao on the bottom and Hasegawa on top.
When he wasn’t attempting to pass Nakao’s guard, Hasegawa was unrelenting and worked from the top with punches. The challenger made it to half-guard where he looked for armlocks or more punches on the champion’s already messy face.
The final minute of the third round gave Nakao the last chance to try and mount an effective offensive — and defend his title.
After a failed takedown, Nakao managed to secure Hasegawa’s back while working submissions. Hasegawa tried to escape by spinning into Nakao’s guard, but the veteran managed to secure mount and work for an armbar.
Once the armbar was set and with the crowd inside Korakuen Hall on its feet, Hasegawa pointed several times to the referee and his corner that he was fine. Just seconds away from tapping out, Hasegawa spun and escaped on top, only to get trapped with a heel hook.
Both fighters finished the match trading leglocks, but this was not enough for Nakao’s to salvage the win and the judges gave the nod to Hasegawa by majority decision, crowning the Sk Absolute fighter the new DEEP welterweight champion.