When the calendar turned over to 2007, the first story to emerge
from the Japanese fight scene was the enormous scandal involving
Kazushi Sakuraba(Pictures) and Yoshihiro Akiyama(Pictures). Moreover, through the
first two weeks of the new year, it seemed like the ONLY story that
However, in the last week, the new year has taken hold, and
finally, happenings are happening. If there is a prevailing motif
for the week's news, it is change and transformation, which has
twisted it's way through the stories of fighters, gyms and
Gym changes have marked January, as many fighters have began to
find new homes, including one of Shooto's world titlists. While
Shooto standouts are turning over new leaves in the dojo, the story
of one of Pancrase's heroes, Yuki
Kondo(Pictures), has taken another turn for the
If there is a citadel of fightsport in Japan, it is surely Korakuen
Hall. Nearly 50 years in the history of combat have been forged
inside Korakuen's walls. But, just around the block from the iconic
venue, plans are in motion for a new event hall that already has
fight fans buzzing. How will the fight community greet MEETS
One individual who is interested in MEETS PORT is DEEP boss and
PRIDE public relations officer Shigeru Saeki. But, that is not the
only new plan that the portly promoter is forging. Saeki has
revealed that he's interested in running something new and unique
this August, in a 10,000-plus-seat arena, much roomier than the
typical digs of DEEP. What does one of kakutougi's hardest working
men have in mind for the dog days of the Japanese summer?
Caol Uno(Pictures) made a big change six years ago
when he vacated his Shooto world title and crossed the Pacific in
hopes of becoming UFC champion. Now, talks have emerged that "Uno
Showten" is interested in stepping back into the Octagon with one
of the UFC's hottest emerging contenders. So, will it happen? And
when? And what does it mean for last year's HERO'S tournament
runner-up, with this year's HERO'S bracket not far off?
Pancrase is in a state of flux, with young up-and-comers attempting
to fortify themselves as the new stars in the organization where
the hybrid wrestlers once roamed. The Japanese media has already
paid some special attention to Yukio Sakaguchi, and now he's
scheduled to finally make his pro debut. Will the son of the
legendary pro wrestler Seiji Sakaguchi provide a spark of interest
for Pancrase over the course of their 2007 RISING TOUR?
And speaking of competitors emerging in Pancrase, stocky submission
stalwart Satoru Kitaoka(Pictures) has become a favorite of
the Pancrase faithful. Kitaoka is scheduled to step back into the
ring on Feb. 28, when the 2007 RISING TOUR stops at Korakuen Hall,
and may face a Brazilian looking for a chance to prove his
Finally, one of the biggest changes of 2006 was "KID" Norifumi Yamamoto(Pictures)’s decision to take a hiatus
from the ring in order to pursue his Olympic wrestling dream. While
he did make a brief return on New Year's Eve, "KID" has maintained
focus on qualifying for the 2008 Beijing Games. He can earn an
Olympic berth this weekend at the Emperor's Cup, where the Tokyo
Metropolitan Police are sending more than 30 officers and guards to
ensure to maintain the order amongst what is sure to be a raucous
pro-Yamamoto crowd at the Komazawa Gymnasium.
The gyms, they are a-changin'
The new year has brought with it a bevy of gym changes in Japan.
Most prominently, Shooto 123-pound world champion "BJ" Shinichi Kojima(Pictures) has officially transferred from
the Abe Ani Combat Club, to officially represent the Katsumura Dojo
alongside friend and training partner Shuichiro Katsumura(Pictures).
Kojima, the 2004 Shooto rookie tournament champion at 123, began
his training at Abe Ani Combat Club under longtime Shooto veteran
Hiroyuki Abe. It was Abe
who gave him the moniker "BJ" in honor of B.J. Penn(Pictures), referencing to Kojima's
natural prodigious talent. In recent months, Kojima has traveled
outside of AACC to train with the former Shooto competitor
Katsumura, who now is a regular in ZST.
However, despite the loss of Kojima, AACC will welcome a new face
to the team in 2007. Canadian Antonio Carvalho(Pictures) has made residence in Tokyo, and
has already spent time with "Abe Ani" both in the gym, and in
sightseeing around Tokyo. Carvalho, who states he is still at least
three months away from being healthy and ready to compete, plans to
continue to represent Shah Franco and Behring Jiu-Jitsu while
training at Abe Ani Combat Club.
Fractured fist is five months on the shelf for
2006 was a disappointing year for Pancrase hero Yuki Kondo(Pictures), and the early months of 2007
won't be much better.
Coming off of a lackluster split decision loss to Akihiro Gono(Pictures) on New Year's Eve, Yuki Kondo(Pictures) underwent surgery on Jan. 10 to
repair a fractured right hand. Kondo had a wire inserted into the
damaged hand, which will be removed in approximately two months
After the wire is surgically removed, the expected rehabilitation
time for the hand injury is approximately three months. All
together, Kondo is expected to miss five or six months of action,
making his return possible for May or June.
Meet MEETS PORT
Korakuen Hall has long been tabbed the Fight Mecca of Japan, and
with good reason. Opened in 1962, it was boxing world champions
like Yoshio Shirai and Fighting Harada who gave a pulse to Korakuen
Hall, igniting an interest in fightsport in a country with a rich
history of combat.
While Korakuen Hall began as primarily a boxing venue, professional
wrestling soon followed, as did kickboxing, and finally, mixed
martial arts. Today, nearly every night of the week, someone is
getting punched, kicked, suplexed or submitted inside Korakuen
However, plans have begun taking shape for a new venue, which many
fight promoters are already eyeing. Inside the confines of Tokyo
Dome City, where Korakuen Hall already resides, will be the home of
MEETS PORT is designed to be a multi-purpose facility in the Tokyo
Dome City entertainment complex. However, beyond the lush gardens
and street savvy ambiance of the design models, what has fight
promoters excited is the event hall, which has plans for 3,120
spectators, almost 1,000 more than Korakuen Hall. Moreover, despite
the extra seats, the design indicates that comparatively, most
seating will be as close to ringside as at Korakuen Hall.
DEEP boss Shigeru Saeki has already expressed an interest in
running shows at MEETS PORT when it opens in Spring 2008. DEEP
routinely sells out Korakuen Hall for it's bigger cards, and Saeki
would like to be able to fill another 1,000 or so into the stands
for the DEEP Impact series.
Saeki eyes big venue for summer
Despite being the architect behind DEEP, and playing an active role
in the public relations and matchmaking of PRIDE, Shigeru Saeki is
not quite content, it seems.
Word is that Saeki is very enthused to promote an event this
summer, separate from DEEP, at a larger arena. While DEEP typically
hosts its cards at the Fight Mecca Korakuen Hall, which holds just
over 2,000 spectators, Saeki wants to hold a larger scale card in a
10,000 plus seat venue likely in August.
Saeki hasn't revealed what fighters would be featured on such a
card, though given his access to the rosters of DEEP, the fighters
whose PRIDE participation he has facilitated, as well as his
interest in promoting South Korean and Brazilian talent, it’s
reasonable to predict a card may look like. While Saeki has been
tightlipped on details so far, he has assured that in discussion
with his associates, that they felt such a card as he has
envisioned would "absolutely succeed."