Fights and femmes: a blessed union.
Sept. 5 will see Pancrase head back for the next installment of the 2007 RISING TOUR at Korakuen Hall, but the card just grabbed a greater gravity as Izuru Takeuchi (Pictures) and Bryan Rafiq (Pictures) have ambitions of ascendance to the Pancrase throne.
Meanwhile, this Sunday will mark a big moment for pro Shooto as GIG heads to Sapporo, where the fighters of Hokkaido are looking to show how north Nihon's finest get down.
Also on deck? Ring girls.
After burning bright in the Japanese atmosphere in '06, MARS has struggled to maintain a high profile. This weekend, in the red light district of Tokyo, it will look for a spark during the selection of both ring girls and young amateur talents.
DEEP is getting in on the act too, as in two weeks time it will select the next round of ring girls for '08 as an ambitious tour around Japan kicks off to close out the year.
But those familiar with DEEP know that Shigeru Saeki can never have too much going on at once. DEEP's big boss is also beginning to piece together October's 32 Impact card, with talk of multiple PRIDE and HERO'S veterans, and revenge on the line.
Rafiq-Takeuchi bout becomes KOP eliminator
The stakes have risen for the next stop on Pancrase's 2007 RISING TOUR.
Pancrase authorities have confirmed to Sherdog.com that Sept. 5's bout between Izuru Takeuchi (Pictures) and Bryan Rafiq (Pictures) will in fact be a middleweight King of Pancrase title eliminator. The winner of the fight will earn the right to face reigning champion Yuichi Nakanishi (Pictures) in a bout likely to be scheduled for the latter stages of 2007.
Takeuchi challenged for the vacant title last Dec., and lost a bloody battle to the aforementioned Nakanishi by split decision. Since then, he has split bouts, losing to American Kyacey Uscola (Pictures) before beating hard luck Pancrase vet Daisuke Watanabe (Pictures) in April.
Rafiq, a 21-year-old star pupil of UFC competitor "Jucao" Roan Carneiro (Pictures), made a strong impression in his Pancrase debut, crushing eccentric fan favorite Hikaru Sato (Pictures) in April.
Meanwhile, the champion has not fought in the Pancrase ring since his upset of Takeuchi to capture the crown in Dec., but was submitted by journeyman Tim McKenzie (Pictures) this past weekend in Vancouver, British Columbia for the filming of the upcoming bodogFIGHT seasons.
Shooto's GIG heads north
While professional Shooto is certainly nothing foreign to the northern island of Hokkaido, the debut of Shooto's GIG NORTH series this Sunday in Sapporo does speak to the development of the sport in northern Japan.
Previously, Shooto efforts in Hokkaido centered around Battle Mix, a single annual event featuring a mixture of grappling, gloved karate, amateur and pro Shooto. Now, with the recent explosion of professional Shooto fighters from cities such as Sapporo, Hakodate, and Asahikawa, promoters have recognized the necessity to hold more frequent, and larger scale pro Shooto cards in Hokkaido.
Moreover, there exists a gross inequality in terms of Japan's local MMA distribution, perhaps something that goes undetected by many fans. While Tokyo is the stage for a great deal of high-profile mixed martial arts, other large cities like Yokohama, Nagoya, and Osaka are forced to settle largely for grassroots level promotions in between infrequent tours of larger promotions. Other large cities, such as Sapporo, Kobe, Kyoto, Fukuoka and Hiroshima are almost wholly ignored.
GIG NORTH Vol. 1 will be promoted and sponsored by TT era and the local Paraestra gym affiliates. The event will also move away from the ultra-chic, yet ultra-cramped KING XHMU nightclub in Sapporo, to the larger digs of Zepp Sapporo, which figures to hold just over 800 people for a fight card.
The main event will see the returns of 123-pounders Hiroaki Yoshioka (Pictures) and Takuya Mori (Pictures). A loser of his last four bouts, Yoshioka hasn't competed since May of 2005, while Mori hasn't fought since Nov. of last year, where he lost in the 2006 123-pound rookie tournament final to Ryuichi Miki. The bout figures to serve as a platform to advance the young, hometown fighter in Mori toward a Class A license over a longtime veteran, as more and more new blood pours into the Shooto bantamweight division.
The event will also determine the finals of this year's 154-pound rookie tournament. Paraestra Sapporo fighters "Aroi" Michiyuki Ishibashi (Pictures) and "Aniki" Hidekazu Asakura (Pictures) will look to punch tickets to the finals against Yutaka Ueda and Hiroshi Shiba respectively. It will be an uphill battle for the native Sapporans, who figure to be underdogs to Ueda and Shiba, each turning in very impressive performances in the last year both in and out of Shooto.
In a 115-pound rookie semifinal, savvy striker Tatsuya Yamamoto (Pictures) will take on Hiroyuki Ikeda (Pictures). The Hokkaido native Yamamoto is a prohibitive favorite, based on the sharp technical striking prowess he displayed in his dominant victory over former All Japan amateur Shooto champion Katsuya Murofushi (Pictures) in March. The fight's victor will meet the winner of a yet-to-be-scheduled semifinal between Noboru Tahara and Tomohiko Yoshida later this year.
Amateurs and ring girls signs of life on MARS?
Amidst a low-key, lackluster year, fledgling Japanese promotion MARS is looking to invigorate its product by snagging some talent both in and out of the ring.
This Sunday at Club Heights in Kabukicho -- the infamous red-light district of Tokyo -- MARS will promote a joint bill in which they will hold their first ever amateur competition. While MARS' head office has not specified the format of the competition, they have stated that a series of fights will be held to select a crop of talented young fighters who will begin plying their professional trade quickly in MARS.
However, before their amateur bouts get underway, the afternoon will begin with MARS' ring girl auditions. MARS has openly called for females looking to begin a career in film, television or print modeling to participate in the auditions, which will consist of solely an in-ring swimsuit contest.
MARS also confirmed that its next professional MMA card will take place Oct. 21, also at Club Heights in Kabukicho, abandoning their familiar digs of Shinjuku FACE.
DEEP goes clubbing for ring Girls
MARS isn't the only promotion looking for ring girls, either.
DEEP's ring girl search is an annual event, and the Shigeru Saeki-led promotion will look for their new crop of ring girls for 2008 at their Club DEEP Tokyo card on Sept. 15. Applications from both amateur and professional models and talents ages 16-28 will be accepted through Sept. 10, and then selected models will be profiled online where fans can vote for their favorite femmes. The most popular females will then audition in front of the crowd at Shinjuku FACE on Sept. 15, and DEEP's executive will choose the top three or four entrants to be the next DEEP ring girls.
As for the Club DEEP event itself, the two feature bouts on the card will pit Ryuta Sakurai (Pictures) pupil Ryuhei Sato (Pictures) against longtime journeyman and veteran Kousei Kubota (Pictures), who is coming off of a much-needed win in July over Doo Won Seo at the second annual CMA Festival, while another of Sakurai's students, Kosuto Umeda (Pictures), will take on dangerous striker Takahiro Kajita, who looks to rebound from his recent loss in MARS to South Korean star prospect Un Sik Song.
Furthermore, DEEP scheduled several Club DEEP cards for the rest of the year, which will see them tour all over Japan. Sept. 23, DEEP will head to Yamaguchi, while Oct. 13 will bring Club DEEP to Osaka. The next week on Oct. 21, the promotion will head to Hamamatsu, and on Oct. 28, Club DEEP will take place in Sendai. The Dec. 9 edition of Club DEEP is tentatively scheduled to take place in Kanazawa, but is currently without a venue.
DEEP teases October's "Impact"
Three Club DEEP cards in Oct. figure to make Shigeru Saeki as busy a promoter as you'll find, but DEEP's full-bodied boss has also revealed that DEEP 32 Impact will take place on Oct. 9 at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo.
After DEEP'S 31st Impact on Aug. 5 featured a total of four DEEP champions, Saeki and the DEEP office are in the planning stages of another strong card. Sources close to the promotion have told Sherdog.com that while names could not be released at this time, they have officially decided on four matches, and it is expected that the card will feature five or six PRIDE and HERO'S veterans.
It has also been teased that the card may feature several rematches of bouts which have taken place on prior DEEP cards, and that at least one "strong international fighter" has been signed to compete on the card.