The feature of this historic event was the first round of the Welterweight (83 kilogram and under) Grand Prix, with the second round heading to Nagoya in August, then returning to the Saitama Super Arena for the finals in November. So for the near future, it seems, Bushido’s fate will be tied to the monster stadium in Saitama.
The main event of tonight’s packed card pitted tough Grabaka striker Kazuo Misaki (Pictures) against the “New York Bad Ass” Phil Baroni (Pictures).
After a dominant victory over Akira Shoji (Pictures) in DEEP, Misaki was coming off a close decision loss to PRIDE welterweight champion Dan Henderson (Pictures). Anyone who saw this fight couldn’t help but be impressed by the guts and determination that Misaki showed.
Baroni, whose stock has risen since his first Bushido appearance with knockout victories over Japanese stars Ryo Chonan (Pictures) and Ikuhisa Minowa (Pictures), saw his championship dreams derailed at last year’s Welterweight Grand Prix with a revenge match loss to Minowa. Tonight was his second chance to be in the hunt of the division’s holy grail.
This one turned out to be a real stand-up war. Baroni came out swinging for the fences right off the opening bell and did a pretty good job of countering for the first half of the round. Misaki employed his classic strategy of moving around the ring and picking his shots. The Japanese fighter displayed great head movement, ducking and slipping his opponent’s punches while chopping away at Baroni’s legs with hard low kicks that slowed down the Hammer House fighter.
Misaki capitalized on his first of two excellent trip takedowns in the second round, attempting a Kimura from half guard before returning to side-control, from where he fired several knees to the head. Baroni managed to his feet and the stand-up war continued.
The Japanese fought a very smart fight, tagging Baroni from a distance and drawing the American to exert a lot of energy on punches that failed to connect. Having taken too many leg kicks, Baroni looked sluggish compared to Misaki in the throughout the second and final period, and when the fight went to the judges Misaki was ruled the victor.
When asked by Sherdog.com what was next for him, Baroni stated that he wasn’t sure, but that he would be back.
Denis Kang (Pictures) has been on quite a roll as of late with 11 straight victories, all but one coming from knockout or submission. On this evening he faced off against Chute Boxe fighter Murilo Rua (Pictures), who was coming off a loss to Paulo Filho (Pictures) at Bushido 10.
A good balance of stand-up and ground work was expected in this one, but it failed to materialize. Right off the bell both fighters came charging to the center of the ring. Kang put out a front kick and then connected with a big right hand. He followed up with a barrage of punches.
“Ninja” turned his back just before falling to the ground, where Kang followed and connected with some vicious shots, putting the lights out on the Chute Boxe fighter. The whole match only lasted 15 seconds.
Ninja was on the ground for a while and, even when helped to his feet, was still visibly shaken. When asked backstage if he was worried about trading strikes with a Chute Boxe fighter, Kang replied no. He further stated that “Ninja” usually throws wild hooking punches, but not much straight on, so his game plan was to use straight-line punching technique, which really paid off on his very first cross.
After berating Yoshida dojo fighter Makoto Takimoto (Pictures) at length during their press conference, and subsequently at a Japanese professional baseball game where he threw out the first pitch, Grabaka fighter Akihiro Gono (Pictures) faced off against Takimoto’s training partner, Sydney Olympic judo competitor Hector Lombard.
The straight shooting and comedic Gono, seemingly pulling a page out of Genki Sudo (Pictures)’s book, came to the ring with a white “Miami Vice” suit, sunglasses, a blond afro wig before he proceeded to perform a dance routine with his Grabaka stablemates before entering the ring.
Lombard, a Cuban national now living in Australia, came out like a hurricane off the opening bell, charging his opponent with a barrage of punches. Gono tried to back out of the way, but fell to the mat in the corner, only to have Lombard continue the assault.
For a few moments it looked like Lombard was going to take the victory right there, but the tough Pancrase veteran was able to weather the storm, get a reversal and bring the action down to the mat. From here the Cuban went for a heelhook attempt, but Gono escaped and took his opponent’s back. Failing to secure a choke, the action went back to the feet.
After spending all of his energy in the first two minutes of the match, Lombard seemed to be out of gas. Much like his teammate Kazuo Misaki (Pictures), Gono picked apart the Olympic competitor with his hands, most notably his right cross, which staggered Lombard opponent several times. Gono, the former All Japan Kickboxing heavyweight champion, also chopped away at Lombard’s legs, further slowing the strong Cuban down.
Lombard was basically out-boxed in this one. The fight went the distance and Gono walked away with the decision.
In his PRIDE debut, Red Devil International fighter Gegard Mousasi (Pictures) faced off against Sydney Olympic judo gold medalist and Yoshida dojo member Makoto Takimoto (Pictures).
Mousasi came out striking but was quickly tripped down to the white canvas. Takimoto then had a beautiful armbar attempt. To be honest I have no idea how Mousasi survived this one, I mean that technique was fully extended, but he managed to escape and take his opponent’s back.
With his hooks fully in, Mousasi rolled with Takimoto while the Japanese tried to escape. The Armenian-born Mousasi peppered Takimoto with punches to the sides of the head while looking for the choke.
The judo fighter continued to turtle and roll, but just couldn’t shake his opponent. Eventually the referee paused the bout for a doctor check on Takimoto’s swollen right eye. The doctors felt the injury was too serious to continue and called a halt to the bout at the 5:34 mark of the first round.
King of the Cage veteran Joey Villasenor (Pictures) made his PRIDE debut against Bushido “ace” Ryo Chonan (Pictures). This one didn’t disappoint and had a good mix of stand-up and ground work throughout. It was pretty even on the feet, with both guys displaying excellent boxing technique and connecting with hard shots. Chonan pulled a page out of Dan Henderson (Pictures)’s book with the tricky overhand right that looks like a takedown attempt when coming in.
In the last minute of the bout, Villasenor really turned on the strikes and finished up with a big head stomp on his downed opponent just seconds before the final bell. This was a really close fight, but in the end Chonan took the split decision.
As in his bout against Murilo Rua (Pictures) in Bushido 10, Paulo Filho (Pictures) was a takedown machine in his match-up against Gregory Bouchelaghem (Pictures). Once on the mat, the Brazilian Top Team fighter controlled all the positions, getting half-guard and taking mount on his French opponent, where he rained down a barrage of punches.
More of the same transpired in the second. Having to cover up to defend the punches coming down at him, Bouchelaghem couldn’t seem to get anything going and was merely reacting to the Brazilian’s attacks.
As good as he is at takedowns and ground control, Filho seems to have problems finishing his fights, with most of his victories coming by way of decision. Tonight was no different, and he took the well deserved win.
Murilo Bustamante (Pictures) and Amar Suloev (Pictures) put on a boxing clinic in their match-up. Not once did this fight go to the ground. Putting together combinations and slipping punches, both looked very crisp throughout their 15 minutes together.
This turned out to be more of a technical bout, which those with a keen eye would have appreciated. Suloev’s head movement and the way he guarded his chin with his lead shoulder was impressive. Rather than backing straight up, the Red Devil fighter moved laterally to avoid his Bustamante’s strikes.
The Brazilian veteran looked for the takedowns in this one, but Suloev displayed excellent takedown defense. In the second the Russian landed a hard bicycle punch that caught Bustamante off guard and sent him to the mat.
The fight continued to transpire on the feet right until the final bell, with Suloev taking the unanimous decision.