TOKYO, March 5 -- World Victory Road, the first promotion to throw its hat in the vacuum left by the collapse of Pride, drew a near sell-out crowd of 15,523 spectators that filled the Yoyogi Number One Olympic stadium Wednesday to take in the debut of the new Sengoku series.
In the headline match, dubbed as catch wrestling versus judo, former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett (Pictures) squared off against Olympic judo gold medalist and Japanese hero Hidehiko Yoshida (Pictures).
Barnett had warned Yoshida in his pre-bout video package. "Practice your breakfall," he said, "cause I'm gonna throw you."
Indeed, that is exactly what Barnett proceeded to do. Just seconds into the bout, the American fighter got behind his opponent and pulled off a huge suplex reminiscent of the Randleman-Fedor slam at a Pride event in 2004.
Yoshida survived the impact of the tremendous suplex, but it was quite obvious he didn't want to go through it again. Barnett continued to try to slam his opponent whenever he got behind him, but the judoka wisely fell to the mat each time, nullifying Barnett's leverage to complete the technique.
Yoshida's best chance at ending the fight came midway into the first round. As Barnett looked to suplex him, the Japanese fighter sank to the mat to counter the technique and caught the American in an extremely slick transition into a rolling armbar.
Barnett was stuck in the perilous position for some time. Eventually he resorted to going after Yoshida's ankle with his other hand to escape from the pressure.
Yoshida also tagged his foe with some hard shots on the feet, but Barnett's size and smothering ground control started to give him the advantage. By the end of the second round, the judoka looked exhausted. In the third he looked absolutely gassed, and his only defense was to roll on the mat whenever Barnett had him in trouble. Barnett finally sealed the deal, locking Yoshida in a kneebar and eventually transitioning to a heel hook for the tapout.
At his post-fight news conference, Barnett said his opponent had a hard jaw and was a very strong fighter. He had hoped to display more catch wrestling but said Yoshida forced him to veer away from his game plan and do more ground-and-pound than he wanted to. When asked if he'd prefer to fight recently announced WVR additions Kevin Randleman (Pictures) or Roger Gracie (Pictures), Barnett stated that fighting Randleman would be like fighting a friend, and he'd prefer to take on Gracie.
Duane Ludwig (Pictures) had said he was excited to be competing against the best in the world in Takanori Gomi (Pictures), but unfortunately for him and for fans, the fight was cut short before it could really develop.
Both fighters started out with sporadic jousting while circling the ring. Gomi, shifting his stance between orthodox and southpaw throughout, eventually caught his opponent with a good left hand that knocked him to the mat momentarily. However, Gomi couldn't capitalize on the advantage before Ludwig got back to his feet.
Ludwig, while relatively unfazed by the punch, began to bleed heavily from a cut opened by the impact. The fighter was directed to the doctor, and it was determined that the cut was too severe to continue, giving Gomi the TKO at the 2:28 mark of the first.
Gomi apologized to fans afterward and said he definitely wanted to fight Ludwig again.
Afghan-born fighter Siyar Bahadurzada (Pictures) climbed the ranks of Shooto Europe to take Shooto's light heavyweight title last July. For his Sengoku debut, the Golden Glory member squared off against Pride middleweight grand prix champion Kazuo Misaki (Pictures).
Bahadurzada looked good on his feet in this one, catching his Grabaka-trained opponent with a good punch early. But Misaki, fresh off a controversial no contest against Yoshihiro Akiyama (Pictures), weathered the storm well and eventually took the action to the mat, where he had a good kimura attempt.
The second round saw Misaki continuing to move laterally to avoid his opponent's punches. Bahadurzada got to his feet quickly after being tossed and went for a single-leg takedown of his own. He ended up trapped in a guillotine, though.
Sensing his chance, Misaki tightened up the technique, forcing Bahadurzada to tap at 2:02.
Iron-jawed pro wrestler Kazuyuki Fujita (Pictures) and heavyweight K-1 kickboxer Peter Graham had got into a heated melee at the news conference the day before the event, and the emotions were still simmering as the two fighters had an intense staredown and jaw-jacking session in the center of the ring before the fight.
Yet Graham, a well-decorated kickboxer making his MMA debut, didn't have the mat experience to take on Fujita. He avoided the Japanese fighter's first two takedown attempts, but he fell victim to the third.
Fujita then maintained ground control, taking both side and mount before submitting the Australian fighter with a north-south choke at 1:23 of the first round.
Chute Boxe's Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos displayed vicious striking in his bout against Olympic judo gold medalist Makoto Takimoto (Pictures), tagging the Yoshida dojo fighter with low kicks to the legs and body.
Takimoto, who seems to have an incredible propensity for absorbing punishment and remaining relatively unaffected, weathered the storm. In fact, he slipped most of the heavy leather that Santos threw at him. The judoka also tied up his opponent's arms in the guard, preventing Santos from firing down ground punches.
The end came, however, after the Brazilian fell back for a leg submission. Takimoto defended for a while, but eventually Santos found a heel hook and forced the Japanese fighter to tap at 4:51 of the first round.
Pancraseism's Ryo Kawamura (Pictures) displayed his striking prowess by tagging Antonio Braga Neto with some hard-charging punches. But just as impressive as Kawamura's standup was Neto's takedowns and ground control. Every time Neto got into trouble on his feet, he would go for a takedown and pin Kawamura to the mat. Unfortunately for the Brazilian, he couldn't finish off his adversary while down there before Kawamura struggled back to his feet.
This scenario played out for three rounds. By the end it was obvious that Kawamura inflicted more damage on the feet than Neto did on the ground, and the judges awarded him with a unanimous decision.
Deep veteran Fabricio Monteiro (Pictures) scored all the takedowns and dominated on the mat against Nick Thompson (Pictures). The Brazilian fighter took side and mount positions and made armbar, leg and ankle lock attempts. Thompson looked sharper on his feet, throwing and landing a greater percentage of punches and low kicks.
The judges must have been more impressed by Thompson's standup than the onslaught unleashed by Monteiro on the ground, as they awarded the American fighter a highly questionable unanimous decision.