2008 wound down stylishly for the world of MMA. Now 2009 has begun, and World Victory Road is here with another round to make sure fight freaks can avoid the always-nasty New Year's hangover.
Just four days after the annual installment of K-1 Dynamite went off in Saitama, the seventh edition of Sengoku will fill the Saitama Super Arena, as the upstart Japanese promotion will fill their first two thrones. Takanori Gomi looks to right his ship against submission stud Satoru Kitaoka with the lightweight crown at stake, and Kazuo Misaki looks to affirm his place amongst the middleweight elite against the surging Jorge Santiago.
Also par for the course on this wildcard weekend: judo soap operas, pituitary freaks, Korean disco connoisseurs and another ad hoc hip-hop video from the Mo’s queens.
Sengoku Lightweight Championship: Takanori Gomi vs. Satoru Kitaoka
From the launch of Sengoku, WVR were clear on how they would crown their first lightweight champion: eight talents would duke it out for the right to fight Takanori Gomi to crown the first lightweight to put the golden kabuto around his waist. And to their credit (or detriment), they stuck to their word. Come rain. Come shine. Come inexplicable split decision loss to random Russian.
Gomi and Kitaoka enter the bout from opposite directions. Since his New Year's Eve smashing of Mitsuhiro Ishida two years ago, Gomi has floundered between the Nick Diaz debacle, taking ho-hum victories over Duane "Bang" Ludwig and Seung Hwan Bang, and dropping a split decision, albeit a robbery of one, to Sergei Golyaev in November.
Meanwhile, Kitaoka is undefeated as a lightweight and has ripped over his last four opponents in his Sengoku tenure, including Eiji Mitsuoka and Kazunori Yokota on the same evening this past November to win Sengoku's lightweight tournament.
What makes this bout particularly compelling is that regardless of the victor, there will be dramatic combustion of a finish. Gomi has shown brutal show-closing ability with his hands, but he can be exploited against dynamic submission grapplers like Diaz and Aurelio. Meanwhile, Kitaoka may have one of the most dynamic, crushing submission games in MMA, with a lights-out guillotine and brutal leglocks. However, Kitaoka's impotent and immature striking game can reduce him to mere prey against a talented sprawl-and-brawler.
Kitaoka is a quintessential feast-or-famine fighter. Most of his training time is spent on honing his killer submission game, and it's obvious. The results are evident in the fact that he's been able to impressively polish off the likes of Carlos Condit, Kurt Pellegrino, Paul Daley and Eiji Mitsuoka, while looking awful against Katsuya Inoue, Daizo Ishige and Jason Palacios. If Kitaoka gets Gomi flat on his back, sound the red alert alarm.
History and stylistic considerations are on Gomi's side. While Gomi can be flaky and fallible as a fighter, one scenario in which he excels is when he can reduce his opponent to a desperate grappler. In his bout with Ishida, Gomi had no reason to respect Ishida's standup, and as a result, was able to be both defensively aware as a grappler, and offensively aggressive as a striker. Consequently, Ishida lasted only 74 seconds.
Despite the bumps along the road, WVR will get the champion they sought from day one and it shouldn't take long. Kitaoka will look for his takedown immediately and his predictability will make him target practice for Gomi. Look for MMA's foremost turnbuckle surfer to send Kitaoka back to Wonka's Factory in the first round, and get another belt for a muscular mantle. Whether or not Gomi can actually defend this one is another unnerving story.