No stranger to a comeback, Kazushi Sakuraba (Pictures) has gotten his passport stamped again and landed in Parana, ready for another training camp with everyone's favorite cast of characters in Curitiba.
Sakuraba's fellow HERO'S star Hideo Tokoro (Pictures) was seemingly a shoo-in for fight night when the plans for K-1 and EliteXC's Dynamite!! developed, and now the deal is almost sealed on a fight with MMA's premier purveyor of pink. Meanwhile, a pair of 132-pound dust-ups is due to be announced for Shooto's star-studded BACK TO OUR ROOTS 3 in May, with definitive title implications in tow.
The month of May will also send a healthy Japanese contingent Down Under to meet a squad of Australia's finest in Warriors Realm, with a handful of notables on the bill. But first up, this weekend will serve up two shows back in Japan. Pancrase is prime for solid outing in Tokyo with some help from its Bodog brethren, international imports, and hopefully a spark for some starpower. Across the country, Smackgirl go to Osaka, with some of western Japan's most outstanding women set to showcase their skills for the hometown crowd.
Finally, Zuffa and UFC are embarking on their global conquest at a rapid rate. After upgrading their roster with several superstars, the Zuffa brass is now looking to upgrade their presence on television sets across Japan. The days of the Octagon on satellite stations are seemingly gone, but what prospects lay ahead for an ultimate upgrade for the UFC in Japan?
TAKUMI gets an eyeful in American return
Osaka native Takumi Nakayama (Pictures) recently revealed that he wanted to once again start fighting avidly both in Japan and in the United States, and although he got to step into the ring on American soil once again this past weekend, it was undoubtedly not the return Nakayama had envision.
In recent years, Nakayama racked up frequent flyer miles in between several appearances in Midwestern Shooto affiliate HOOKnSHOOT and King of the Cage, which saw him take the organization's 155-pound crown in Nov. 2004. However, having not competed stateside since losing his KOTC title to Mac Danzig (Pictures) in Oct. 2005, the 33-year-old journeyman made his return to American competition this past Saturday night at the No Limits-promoted Proving Grounds in Irvine, Calif. against Anthony McDavitt (Pictures).
The bout ended unceremoniously in a mere 83 seconds, after an accidental eye poke from McDavitt halted the action. Referee Jon Schorle asked Nakayama if he wanted to continue twice, and claimed he was given no response, and thus chose to call an end to the bout on the advice of the ringside physician, ruling it a No Contest, which then drew the ire and protest of Nakayama.
Nakayama should be in competition again in short order. In February, he notched a victory over Yoichi Fukumoto in the opening round of the CAGE FORCE 155-pound tournament. As a result, he will meet Eiji Mitsuoka (Pictures), who defeated Brian Cobb (Pictures) to advance in March, likely at CAGE FORCE's June 9 show at Differ Ariake in Tokyo, Japan.
Gonkaku rings in a new era
It was in the final weeks of March when Japanese fight fans mourned the loss to fightsport's preeminent periodical, Gong Kakutougi, following an executive scandal in their publisher's offices. Now, only a month later, the cornerstone of fight reading has already risen from its ashes, still glowing with embers.
In late February, scandal surrounded then-Nippon Sports Publishing Co., Ltd. president Daisuke Maeda. Maeda, a respected business manager who has held a multitude of high ranking corporate posts, was arrested and investigated for his role in the latest of criminal exploits of former Yamaguchi-gumi yakuza gang leader Yoshio Shimomura.
Maeda had served as the President and CEO of Advanced Technology and Systems Co., Ltd, or ADTX, a company specializing in the manufacturing and marketing of computer peripherals. Shimomura then purchased a controlling stake in the company from the ADTX president, before trying to sell the firm to the computer service company in late October.
The story's ripple effect logically shook up the state of Gong, as their publishing company became linked to the criminal allegations. While Daisaku Maeda was dismissed from his position, and Nippon Sports Publishing Co., Ltd. was cleared of any wrongdoing upon investigation, the scandal had been too much to shake for the company, which then suspended the publication of their popular titles, including Gong Kakutougi.
Now known as Gonkaku, a permutation of its former title, the magazine was picked up by publishing company East Press and burst back onto the scene April 23 with its inaugural issue, featuring Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures) on the cover. The mag will again hit newsstands monthly, being released on the 23rd of every month.
Sakuraba back to Brazil for second Chute Boxe camp
It was August 2005 when Kazushi Sakuraba (Pictures) made headlines by taking his training not just international, but into what would've once been considered hostile territory. The MMA icon's training camp in Curitiba, Brazil with the Chute Boxe Academy, alongside his former nemeses Wanderlei Silva (Pictures) and Antonio Schembri (Pictures), served as both a reminder of the sport's unique commingling of what is friend and what is foe, as well as a spark of interest for fans who were eager for a more appealing turn in Sakuraba's career.
And now, the Gracie Hunter is at it again.
Chute Boxe commander Rudimar Fedrigo has confirmed that Sakuraba landed in Brazil earlier this week and is set for another training camp at Chute Boxe. The camp will serve to prepare Sakuraba for his pending bout on June 2, where he scheduled to be apart of K-1 and EliteXC's joint effort at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
While no fight has been confirmed for Sakuraba, Fight Entertainment Group is pushing to promote a second installment of MMA's most epic clash, between he and Royce Gracie (Pictures).
Perhaps what is more interesting about Sakuraba's return to the Chute Boxe camp is the little known fact that they were actually in negotiations to fight one another for the fourth time earlier this month.
Some rumors suggested a clash between Wanderlei Silva (Pictures) and Igor Vovchanchyn (Pictures) would happen at Dream Stage Entertainment's final PRIDE offering in April 8, and were strengthened by the words of Nobuyuki Sakakibara, who stated that he hoped to arrange some surprises for DSE's final farewell as PRIDE promoters. However, the only unscheduled appearances on the card were Sakuraba and longtime rival Kiyoshi Tamura (Pictures), who addressed the fans and offered a sliver of hope for a much-awaited showdown between the two somewhere, sometime in the future.
Daisuke Sato recently said that the original plan was to have a fourth and final bout between Silva and Sakuraba at the event. The man responsible for PRIDE's much famed pre-fight video packages on the Japanese telecasts, Sato revealed that he had actually made the pre-fight vignette for the surprise bout, however it was discarded as negotiations for the bout fell apart at the last moment.
"Cinderella Boy" and "Showtime" square off almost set for USA Dynamite!!
And on the topic of K-1 and EliteXC's joint venture this coming June, expect to see a match-up between recent MMA returnee "Showtime" Javier Vazquez (Pictures) and HERO'S resident Cinderella boy Hideo Tokoro (Pictures).
The participation of Tokoro on the scheduled June 2 card is no surprise, as he is not only a highly active fighter who logged six fights in 2006 in addition to a bevy of high profile grappling matches, but also one of the biggest stars of the HERO'S brand. Tokoro headlined HERO'S first 2007 offering in March, easily disposing of kickboxing convert Kazuya Yasuhiro (Pictures) via first round submission.
Meanwhile, after three years of inactivity due to a plethora of knee injuries, Vazquez made his return to MMA this past Feb. at EliteXC's inaugural card, where the once highly touted prospect and former KOTC champion took a narrow split decision win over "Nasal" Adriano Pereira (Pictures).
Perhaps of some interest is the fact that Vasquez's breakout performance back in June of 2002 was a decision victory over Shooto legend Rumina Sato (Pictures), whose aggressive and unorthodox submission style has served as an influence for Tokoro, and other Japanese competitors.
The bout has not yet been officially announced by FEG And Pro Elite, and given Fight Entertainment Group's often whimsical style of booking, there may always be an unforeseen twist and turn in the matchmaking around the corner. However, both parties have indicated the match-up is a go, and should be officialized in the immediate future.
First class featherweight fights finish off BACK TO OUR ROOTS 3
Adding to an already outstanding line-up, two match-ups with heavy implications in the Shooto 132-pound division will round out the Sustain-promoted BACK TO OUR ROOTS 3 card May 18 at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo.
After a scheduled main event date at last weekend's GIG WEST 7 card in front of his hometown Osaka crowd fell through, 2004 Shooto featherweight rookie champion Koetsu Okazaki will return to the ring to face KILLER BEE's Atsushi Yamamoto (Pictures). Since returning from an 18-month hiatus following his rookie tournament victory, Okazaki has taken dominant wins over Hiroyuki Tanaka (Pictures) and So Tazawa (Pictures)s.
Meanwhile, after beginning his career in Pancrase, Yamamoto made the jump to Shooto to compete at 132 pounds, his more natural weight class. In his first pro Shooto outing this past Feb., Yamamoto handily took a decision over former rookie MVP Takeya Mizugaki (Pictures).
In a match-up of even bigger proportions, fan favorite Kenji Osawa (Pictures) will return to meet Brazilian standout "Louro" Marcos Galvao (Pictures). Both men are coming off dominant victories, with Osawa having completed a miraculous comeback with a KO-conclusion to put the first loss on the pro record of Takeya Mizugaki (Pictures) in a vicious stand-up affair, while Louro has knocked off both Shooto veteran Naoya Uematsu (Pictures), as well as having moved up to 145 pounds to knock off a very talented fighter in multiple time BJJ world champion Fredson Paixao (Pictures). However, what Osawa and Louro also share is that their last losses have come at the hands of current Shooto world featherweight champion Akitoshi Hokazono (Pictures), whose road to the title was paved with victories over the two.
The bout figures to serve as a title eliminator to determine the first challenger to Hokazono's crown. Shooto promoters and authorities were interested in organizing a title eliminator between Osawa, who Matsune defeated for the vacant title in July, and former Shooto world champion Ryota Matsune (Pictures), who vacated the title in February of 2006. However Matsune declined the fight offer. As a result, the winner of Osawa and Louro may very well earn an opportunity for revenge against the 132-pound kingpin in the coming months.
Japanese ready for the realm down under
With the Land Down Under already becoming a hotbed for MMA, when Australian premiere promotion Warriors Realm linked up with Greatest Common Multiple and the Worldwide Cage Network, it only served to intensify the emergence of Aussie MMA. Hot on the heels of a successful eighth installment in March, Warriors Realm returns to the Gold Coast May 12 with an Australia vs. Japan card.
Perhaps the most intriguing of the Australia vs. Japan match-ups is a fight between longtime Shooto veteran Katsuya Toida (Pictures) and Australian stand-out Adrian Pang (Pictures). Despite inconsistency over the past few years, Toida remains a viable competitor due to the fact that his losses have come largely at the hands of quality fighters, and that his highly unorthodox grappling makes him a factor in any bout.
Coming off of a very evenly matched draw with Tenkei Fujimiya (Pictures) for the then-vacant 143-pound Shooto Pacific Rim title this past November, Toida is a pre-fight favorite, though Pang looked considerably improved in his bout last November, when he submitted GCM regular Taiyo Nakahara (Pictures).
In a match-up of Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts and Shooto Japan veterans, Paraestra Hachioji leader "Gozo" Ayumu Shioda will make his international MMA debut against world ranked Shooto 132 pounder "Little Devil" Daniel Lima (Pictures). A replacement for "Hadairo" Tetsu Suzuki (Pictures), Shioda is coming off of a highlight reel KO loss to Yuki Shoujou (Pictures) in Shooto this past March. "Gozo" will be in deep against the Australian-based Brazilian, as he will be making the jump up in weight, though perhaps taking solace in the fact that Lima's last bout saw him dominated from bell-to-bell by Yasuhiro Urushitani (Pictures), who made the jump up to 135 pounds for the fight after regularly competing at 123 pounds in Shooto.
Yusaku Tsukkumo also figures to be in a tough spot as he takes on PRIDE Bushido veteran Hector Lombard (Pictures). The unspectacular Tsukkumo has the unfortunate distinction of being one of GCM management's fighters large enough to square off with an opponent such as Lombard, and while he'll bring a two-fight winning streak into his second Warriors Realm appearance it figures to be broken by the Cuban-born Olympian, who has already notched two dominant victories in 2007.
Also on the card, DEEP regular Tomohiko Hori will square off with touted Aussie teen Jacob Sidic (Pictures). Hori will largely serve to gauge the ability of the 18-year-old Australian, who was succinctly victimized in only eight seconds by a far more experienced Tomonari Kanomata (Pictures) in CAGE FORCE this past Feb. Sidic, who has spent time training at Wajyutsu Keisyukai RJW in Japan, is viewed as perhaps Australia's foremost prospect, and as a solid but wholly unspectacular opponent, Hori figures to serve as a valuable test for the young fighter.
Pancrase set to raise up RISING TOUR Friday in Tokyo
In a weekend which will be relatively tame by the standards set by the sport over the course of the past month, the next stop on the 2007 RISING TOUR will be the focal point this Friday when Pancrase returns to the Korakuen Hall in Tokyo.
The main event is a highly compelling bout, especially for avid followers of the featherweight division globally. In a non-title affair, Pancrase's 141-pound champion Yoshiro Maeda (Pictures) will take on arguably the United Kingdom's class of the division in Cage Warrior's 145-pound titlist Danny Batten.
Though Maeda has been scheduled for competition since the card was announced weeks ago, Batten was only corralled as his opponent in the past week after inking a three-fight deal with Pancrase.
Despite a definitive advantage in preparation, the bout is by no means an easy affair for Maeda. Since emerging as one of Pancrase's brightest young stars in 2003 and 2004, Maeda has suffered setbacks against competition ranging from underdog to unspectacular to downright dubious. Whereas Maeda is only six months removed from his sub-60 second humiliation against Joe Pearson (Pictures) in PRIDE Bushido, Batten is undefeated in his last seven, with decisive victories over solid competition in Damacio Page (Pictures) and Augusto Frota (Pictures).
The match is intriguing not only as a mingling of the two international talent pools, but also because it may offer evidence as to whether Batten is world class as opposed to regional class talent, and as to how snake bitten Maeda is in marquee match-ups.
The undercard will feature a prominent influence via Pancrase's relationship with bodogFIGHT. SK Absolute teammates Takuya Wada (Pictures) and Izuru Takeuchi (Pictures), both of whom will be featured on bodogFIGHT's third season in the coming weeks, will be in action. Wada will meet ADCC Japan Trials runner-up Sotaro Yamada (Pictures), a close friend and training partner of Shinya Aoki (Pictures), while Takeuchi, who unsuccessfully challenged for the Pancrase middleweight title in December, meets a softer touch in minimally dangerous veteran Daisuke Watanabe (Pictures).
The undercard also features Bryan Rafiq, a member of Roan Carneiro (Pictures)'s sect of the Brazilian Top Team, who is competing as a bodogFIGHT representative. Runner-up in MARS' 183-pound tournament last year, Rafiq is a highly skilled prospect -- and just turned 21 years old earlier this week. He'll meet opposition in the form of Hikaru Sato (Pictures), Pancrase's resident oddball and more or less a poor man's Ikuhisa Minowa (Pictures).
Sato, who typically practices for the fight media in a French maid's outfit and cat ears alongside other costumed training partners, is actually riding a three-fight winning streak after his majority decision win over Rikuhei Fujii (Pictures) this past Feb.
The card will also feature hyped Pancrase amateur Yukio Sakaguchi, who makes his pro debut against South Korea's Choi Hyung Suk. The 33-year-old Sakaguchi is the son of former Olympic judoka and famous pro-wrestler Seiji Sakaguchi. The elder Sakaguchi rose to fame in the pro-wrestling world in the 1970s, often teaming up with the legendary Antonio Inoki, and is viewed as a legendary puroresu figure himself.
Sakaguchi's debut has been slated for several Pancrase cards in the last five months, but injuries continuously pushed the dates back. While Sakaguchi likely has little true potential to be an elite fighter, his stature as the son of Seiji Sakaguchi has already drawn national sports media attention, and given his obvious crossover appeal as a result, Pancrase undoubtedly has a keen interest in seeing him succeed. A successful debut fight for Sakaguchi would give Pancrase the opportunity to continue to build him as a fighter, making him a potential key player in the success of Pancrase's 2007 tour.
Kansai queens set for Smackgirl showcases in Osaka
Pancrase is not the only card lined up for this weekend. After last weekend's Shooto card at Azeria Taisho Hall, Smackgirl will fill up the venue and give Kansai fans another fight card this Saturday in Osaka.
None too surprisingly, western Japan's foremost female Yuka Tsuji (Pictures) is the main event attraction of the evening. While her Smackgirl 115-pound title will not be on the line, Tsuji will take on New Mexico native and KOTC veteran Thricia Poovey. Tsuji, who hasn't fought since her high profile winner-take-all grudge match with WINDY Tomomi last June, is an overwhelming favorite against the pedestrian Poovey, who has had lukewarm results against nondescript competition, and will more than likely put on a dominant showing for her hometown crowd in Osaka.
Ayumi Saito, better known as "Edge," is a teammate of Tsuji's at MMA Angura and another Osaka native in the ring Saturday. Riding a four-fight winning streak over the course of the last year, the hard-punching Edge will square off with Thailand's Kanitta Choosuk, an influential female fighter pushing the development of MMA in Thailand.
While Edge holds a considerable advantage over Choosuk, Choosuk is by no means a stereotypical Thai fighter competing in MMA, having cut her teeth largely as a grappler in her native Thailand. The bout is part of Smackgirl's Killer Queen tournament, and the winner will advance to May 19's card at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo to face either Mai, or Eri Kaneya (Pictures). While unconfirmed, it is thought that the Killer Queen tournament winner will be the next to challenge Smackgirl champion Satoko Shinashi (Pictures) for her 106-pound title.
Also in action will be former Smackgirl open-weight champion and female fighting pioneer Megumi Yabushita (Pictures), in an unthreatening bout against novice Benkei. With a soft choice in opponent, it is clear Yabushita is slowly working her way back into contention, following a four-fight losing streak that followed her from late 2005 and throughout 2006.
After a majority decision win this past March in Shooto over Mizuho Sato (Pictures), who also holds a win over Benkei, this bout figures to serve as a tune-up for Yabushita before she seeks to avenge any of her losses to the likes of Amanda Buckner (Pictures), Laura D'Auguste and Roxanne Modafferi (Pictures).
Zuffa walks On WOWOW, shopping for small screen suitors
While UFC 70 will likely be remembered for a host of other reasons, it also marked the end of Zuffa's relationship with Japanese satellite channel WOWOW.
Anxieties arose in Japanese fans last week when WOWOW's May schedule did not feature a date for UFC 71. The worst of these suspicions were confirmed following the Japanese telecast of UFC 70, when the channel's executives officially announced that they could not reach a contractual agreement with Zuffa to continue broadcasting UFC events on WOWOW.
Zuffa's relationship with WOWOW began five years ago, with the April 2002 broadcast of UFC 36. However, it was always considered a hindrance to the UFC's popularity in Japan that their event were broadcast on the hard-to-access WOWOW -- a private satellite pay station in Japan -- as opposed to the considerably more popular SKYPerfecTV!, Japan's main provider of satellite television.
WOWOW's inability to come to terms with Zuffa likely directly correlates to the company's acquisition of fighters such as Mirko Filipovic (Pictures) and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Pictures), definitive stars of the sport in Japan, in addition to an ever-growing Japanese presence on UFC cards. With a greater starpower in the Japanese market, the broadcasting rights of UFC telecasts are driven up considerably, and, in the minds of Zuffa, out of WOWOW's price range.
It would be the ideal outcome for Zuffa to acquire a network broadcasting deal with one of Japan's six major broadcasters. Rumors persist about talks between Zuffa and Nippon TV, and it is perhaps worthy to mention that the UFC did previously have a show similar to UFC Unleashed's current format two years ago on TV Tokyo, the smallest of the six major networks, but one of the six nonetheless.
However, a more likely outcome in the future, at least the interim, would be the UFC simply moving over to SKYPerfecTV!, which has broadcast PRIDE pay-per-views in the past.