No, seriously. I'll prove it to you.
Speaking of Gono, "DJ Gozma" will not be the only Japanese competitor making his Octagon debut, or dropping to 170 pounds, in November.
The Nov. 17 UFC at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., will also host the debut of reigning DEEP 181-pound champion Ryo Chonan (Pictures). Chonan will be dropping to the 170-pound division for the first time in his career. He will take on rising welterweight dynamo Thiago Alves (Pictures), a source close to the 23-year-old Brazilian told Sherdog.com.
Alves is fresh off of a destructive victory over another Japanese competitor, Kuniyoshi Hironaka (Pictures), at the Sept. 19 UFC Fight Night. Chonan, who spends the bulk of his training at Team Quest in Temecula, Calif., with former adversary Dan Henderson (Pictures), last saw action in June. In front of his hometown crowd in Yamagata, Japan, he took an easy victory over South Korean import Seo Do Wong.
Chonan's move to the welterweight division was much anticipated. After his loss to Paulo Filho (Pictures) in August 2006, DEEP president Shigeru Saeki said it would be in Chonan's best interest to drop a weight class to regain a competitive edge and avoid being outmuscled by larger, physical opponents.
Kato at the Playboy Mansion
The most high-profile event this weekend is undoubtedly Strikeforce's venture Saturday at the Playboy Mansion.
Most fighters could only dream of beating up someone with the bunnies around. While he is hardly representative of glamour or decadence, experienced Japanese fighter Tetsuji Kato (Pictures) finds himself in the main event, taking on undefeated Strikeforce 155-pound champion and rising star Gilbert Melendez (Pictures) in a non-title affair.
With a decade of pro MMA behind him, Kato's biggest moment came in March 2000, when he fought then-undefeated Shooto 168-pound world champion Hayato Sakurai (Pictures) to a hotly contested split decision.
In recent years Kato has spent time fostering the development of MMA in Saipan, where he runs the Trench Tech gym, an affiliate of longtime friend and mentor Enson Inoue's Purebred network. Kato has also fought sporadically in neighboring Guam, an area seen by many as an emerging MMA hotbed. His last competition, also in Guam, saw him knocked out by journeyman Joe Camacho (Pictures) in April.
For the 25-year-old Melendez, the bout will be his first MMA match of the year following Zuffa's tumultuous buyout of PRIDE. Melendez's most recent bout saw him victorious on New Year's Eve over standout Japanese lightweight Tatsuya Kawajiri (Pictures) via unanimous decision -- the biggest win of his young career.
While the bout will be an uphill battle for the 10-year veteran Kato, who has been cast as "the opponent" for Melendez, he has said he is extremely focused for the fight. In preparation he flew to San Diego early last week, where he has trained with grappling star and former MMA competitor Baret Yoshida at his SD Undisputed gym.
Strikeforce's Playboy Mansion show will be streamed live Saturday on Yahoo! Sports, beginning at midnight EST, 9 p.m. PST.
UFC May Rekindle Relationship with WOWOW
In the most recent issue of the Japanese combat sports periodical Gonkaku, Zuffa co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta said he hoped to ink a new deal with Japanese satellite channel WOWOW next year. He added that an agreement could be accomplished sooner rather than later.
While a deal is far from complete, this is good news for Japanese MMA fans. As of March 2007, WOWOW has just over 2.43 million subscriptions in Japan. After the channel's UFC 70 telecast in April, network executives had officially announced that they could not reach a contractual agreement with Zuffa to continue broadcasting UFC events.
Zuffa's relationship with WOWOW began five years ago with the April 2002 broadcast of UFC 36. However, the relationship was always considered a hindrance to the UFC's popularity in Japan because the events were broadcast on the hard-to-access private satellite pay station as opposed to the considerably more popular SKY PerfecTV! -- Japan's main provider of satellite television, which had broadcast PRIDE's live pay-per-views.
WOWOW's inability to reach a new agreement with Zuffa earlier this year likely correlated with Zuffa's acquisition of former PRIDE fighters such as Mirko Filipovic (Pictures), Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Pictures) and Quinton Jackson (Pictures), who are considerably popular among Japanese MMA fans.
Since its departure from WOWOW, Zuffa has been unable to secure a TV deal in Japan. Meanwhile many Japanese fans have lamented their inability to view marquee UFC main events such as Liddell-Jackson II, Couture-Gonzaga and Jackson-Henderson.
A Rookies' Gig at GIG West 8
Leading Shooto promoter Sustain will head back to Osaka on Saturday for the eighth installment of its GIG West series.
The Azalea Taisho Hall event was scheduled to be headlined by a Class-B 154-pound bout between fast-rising Hiroshima native Shinji Sasaki (Pictures) and Italian transplant Paolo Milano (Pictures), who trains out of Paraestra Tokyo under Yuki Nakai (Pictures). However, Sasaki sustained a dislocated left elbow in training earlier this week, nixing the bout from the card.
Kobe native "KODO" Junya Kudou (Pictures), who headlined the last GIG WEST event in April, will now headline against Yasuhiro Kanayama in a 132-pound rookie tournament semifinal.
Kudou has already fought three times in pro Shooto this year. He is coming off a tight draw against veteran Seiji Otsuka (Pictures) in a July non-tournament bout.
Kanayama, a former All Japan amateur champion at 143 pounds, has largely underperformed as a pro. He needed the luck of the lottery to advance to the semifinals after his draw with Nobuhiro Hayakawa at the last installment of GIG WEST. The winner of his bout against Kudou will meet Hiromasa Ougikubo (Pictures) in the final later this year. Ougikubo, who trains with Paraestra Matsudo, scored a dominant first-round submission over Kazuya Tamura (Pictures) on Sept. 22.
In other rookie tournament action, 123-pound favorites "UK" Suguru Inoue (Pictures) and Tatsuro Kamei will square off with a finals berth on the line.
Inoue is an experienced second-year veteran. He fought to a draw with last year's 123-pound rookie champion, Ryuichi Miki.
Kamei was last year's All Japan amateur champion at 123 pounds. In his pro debut in the rookie quarterfinal against Kenya Kato (Pictures), he won impressively via triangle choke. The winner of Inoue-Kamei will meet Kenji Hasoya (Pictures) in the tournament final later this year.
The third rookie semifinal will pit last year's 143-pound amateur champ, Toshihiko Yokoyama (Pictures), against Kazuhiro Ito.
Yokoyama got a rude welcome to pro Shooto in a non-tournament bout in June, when he was pulverized by Class-B up-and-comer Shintaro Ishiwatari (Pictures). Ito made quick work of his quarterfinal opponent, Takumi Ota (Pictures), armbarring him in a slick and quick 26 seconds in front of his hometown Hiroshima crowd in May. The winner of this match will advance to the 143-pound rookie final to face Tomonari Taniguchi, a Hayato Sakurai (Pictures) student.
The evening's other bouts match Toru Ishinaka and Class-B veteran Hirosumi Sugiura (Pictures), and 132-pound up-and-comers Teriyuki Matsumoto (Pictures) and Kousuke Eda (Pictures).
Pancrase Keeps Kansai Weekend Popping at Umeda
GIG West is only the beginning for Osakan MMA fans this weekend. Pancrase will bring the 2007 RISING TOUR back to Umeda Stella Hall on Sunday afternoon.
Like Shooto's GIG West offering, turmoil struck the card's main event. Colorful hometown favorite Daichi Fujiwara (Pictures) was scheduled to face French standout Emmanuel Fernandez (Pictures). However, the Frenchman withdrew from the bout due to personal reasons related to his family.
Thankfully, Pancrase regular Mitsuhisa Sunabe (Pictures) stepped in on a week's notice to challenge the Inagaki pupil. Sunabe's willingness to fight on such short notice may stem from the fact he was still in fighting shape after drawing earlier this month with striking specialist Koji Yoshimoto (Pictures).
Fujiwara returned to action in May after sustaining a scary-looking back injury in the ring with Miki Shida (Pictures) last December. He took a unanimous decision over Yuichiro Shirai (Pictures).
One of Fujiwara's teammates and a fixture of Pancrase's Osaka excursions, Naoji Fujimoto (Pictures) will also see action. He squares off against Nobuhiro Yamaguchi, a Dokonjonosuke Mishima (Pictures) pupil.
Fujimoto last competed in April, fighting an uninspired draw with Tatsuya So (Pictures) in Okinawa. Yamaguchi suffered a minor upset in March, when kickboxing convert Tomoki Murayama knocked him out.
Undefeated former Shooto rookie champion turned sporadically competing journeyman Yu Shiori (Pictures) will also be on the bill. He makes his Pancrase debut against the also well-traveled Satoru Takadaya.
The 30-year-old Shiori made easy work of Yuta Nakamura (Pictures) in February, his only fight this year. Takadaya, who has fought in many of western Japan's grassroots shows such as RED ZONE and POWERGATE, hasn't competed since July's Neo-Blood Tournament Final in July, when Nao Yoshida (Pictures) dispatched him.
Osaka native Kiichi Kunimoto will also compete on the card against Yuta Nakamura (Pictures). Kunimoto is coming off a win in August over Tim Ager in Wisconsin's Freestyle Combat Challenge.
The Japanese fighter has spent additional time in America's dairy capital, training with Dave Strasser (Pictures)'s Freestyle Academy. In honor of his time spent working with the UFC veteran, Kunimoto has changed his ring name to "Kiichi Strasser."
154-Pound Tourney Tops Tribelate Bill
Even if most of the action is in Osaka, there's always still a little somethin' somethin' in Japan's capital.
Local club-themed promoter Tribelate will return on Sunday for its 14th card at the ever-mod Shinjuku FACE in Tokyo. Tribelate, which offers kickboxing and MMA co-features, will be hosting a one-night four-man tournament at 154 pounds.
In the first semifinal bout, ZST veteran Tsutomu Uehara will take on Yuzo Ishida. The second semifinal bout will pit Shooting Gym Hakkei's Hiroshi Takita against Yosuke Akahiro, a Kiyoshi Tamura (Pictures) student. The two winners will meet in the main event of the evening.
The other feature MMA bout will match GCM veteran and Scottish import Steward Fulton against longtime DEEP veteran "MAX" Makoto Miyazawa (Pictures). Miyazawa hasn't competed since July 2005, when he drew with Mitsuyoshi Sato (Pictures). In his most recent fight, Fulton was crushed in June 2005 by Aslan Dzeboev (Pictures).
New Pros Approved at All Japan Amateur Shooto Championships
While BACK TO OUR ROOTS 5 was the main Shooto attraction of the weekend, Sunday also brought a special event.
The 14th annual All Japan Amateur Shooto Championships took place in Odawara, culling the best Class-C Shooto talent from all over Japan. The day featured more than 100 competitors, both male and female, competing in one-day tournaments across 10 weight categories, with the prospect of pro Shooto promotions for the day's most outstanding competitors on the line.
Former All Japan amateur champions include Norifumi Yamamoto (Pictures), Hayato Sakurai (Pictures), Koutetsu Boku (Pictures), Akira Kikuchi (Pictures), Ryota Matsune (Pictures), Akitoshi Hokazono (Pictures), Kenji Osawa (Pictures), Takeya Mizugaki (Pictures), and Tomonari Kanomata (Pictures), among others. Almost every other Shooto standout you could think of, from Rumina Sato (Pictures) to Caol Uno (Pictures), likely placed at the event.
Philoctetes Niigata's Yusuke Sato, a student of former All Japan winner and pro Shooto veteran Jin Kazeta (Pictures), won the 115-pound division. In the 123-pound bracket, Kota Funamoto bested his Team Locks teammate Kibo Otsuka to win the division.
A product of Dokonjonosuke Mishima (Pictures)'s Cobra Kai, Keita Yoshida, won the 132-pound class. Yuta Nabekubo, the star pupil of Takayuki Ohkouchi (Pictures), captured the 143-pound tournament.
Former Shooto world champion and head Shooting Gym Yokohama trainer Kenji Kawaguchi (Pictures) -- the man responsible for fighters such as Mamoru Yamaguchi (Pictures), Takeshi Inoue (Pictures), Tenkei Fujimiya (Pictures) and "Wicky Akiyo" Nishiura -- saw another one of his pupils shine, as Hiroshige Tanaka won the 154-pound division. In the 168-pound category, Academia Az's Naoki Hirayama took top honors.
Shooting Gym Kobe slugger Yusaku Tanaka won the 183-pound division. Team Banana's Nobuyasu Fujikawa won the 201-pound division, and Cobra Kai's Tanaka Tetsuro took the 220-pound class.
In the sole female category, noted grappler Yasuko Mogi of Strapple took the 115-pound division.
Yuta Nabekubo and Hiroshige Tanaka were singled out by one Shooto official, who told Sherdog.com that their talents would make them strong pros very quickly. Team Locks teammates Kota Funamoto and Kibo Otsuka were also tabbed as particularly outstanding competitors.
In total the International Shooto Commission has blessed 38 of this year's competitors for professional Class-B Shooto promotion. In 2005, 31 competitors were awarded pro Shooto promotions at the All Japan, and 39 of last year's competitors were offered promotions.
While typically new pros do not debut until their rookie tournament bouts begin early in the following year, some promoted fighters may compete in pro Shooto as soon as the Dec. 8 card at Shinjuku FACE promoted by Sustain.
The following fighters have been selected for professional Shooto promotion by the International Shooto Commission:
Flyweight Division (115 pounds)
Yusuke Sato (Philoctetes Niigata)
Kazuyuki Yoshida (Paraestra Fukushima)
Mikishin Yamagami (STF MMA Dojo)
Yoshitaka Aki (Andreious)
Go Sato (Paraestra Fukushima)
Bantamweight (123 pounds)
Kota Funamoto (Team Locks)
Kibo Otsuka (Team Locks)
Yosuke Saruta (Purebred Kawaguchi REDIPS)
Seiho Fujita (T-Pleasure)
Featherweight (132 pounds)
Keita Yoshida (Cobra Kai MMA DOjo)
Tatsuya Nakajima (Wajyutsu Keisyukai Toikatsu Dojo)
Haruo Ochi (Paraestra Ehime)
Hirosuke Ito (ALIVE)
Joji Kawamata (Team 5456)
Syunsuke Nomura (Paraestra Hiroshima)
Lightweight (143 pounds)
Yuta Nabekubo (ACIU!)
Yuki Baba (Pictures) (Rodeo Style)
Mitsuru Kobayashi (Paraestra Sapporo)
Takayoshi Ono (Gonzu Gym)
Hiroaki Nakayama (Paraestra Hiroshima)
Daiki Tsuchiya (Roots)
Kenichiro Marui (Academia Az)
Makoto Akazawa (Burst)
Hiroshi Shimizu (Shooting Gym Osaka)
Welterweight (154 pounds)
Hiroshige Tanaka (Shooting Gym Yokohama)
Issei Tamura (Killer Bee)
Tsuneo Kimura (Shooting Gym Osaka)
Taro Kusano (Shooting Gym Osaka)
Hiroyoshi Kuka (Mach Dojo)
Middleweight (168 pounds)
Naoki Hirayama (Academia Az)
Yoichiro Sato (Gracie Barra Tokyo)
Norihiro Shimizu (Shooting Gym Osaka)
Kenta Suzuki (Purebred Omiya)
Kazushi Kochi (Wajyutsu Keisyukai Tokyo)
Junpei Konno (Rodeo Style)
Yukinari Tamura (Pictures) (Paraestra Osaka)
Light Heavyweight (183 pounds)
Yusaku Tanaka (Shooting Gym Kobe)
Naoji Mikoshiba (Paraestra Tokyo)
Cruiserweight (201 pounds)
Nobuyasu Fujiwara (Team Banana)