After six months of anxiety, vacancy and speculation ... your "new PRIDE" may be here.
A new mixed martial arts company named World Victory Road Inc., issued a notice Thursday of a news conference at Tokyo's Prince Hotel on Oct. 15. The contact information on the release listed a cell phone number belonging to an employee of J-ROCK, the promotional group housing Hidehiko Yoshida (Pictures) and his stable of fighters.
A well-placed source has indicated to Sherdog.com that J-ROCK will be responsible for a majority of the upstart company's operations while former UFC-Japan head Akira Sakata is slated to be the top man in the promotion.
The notice also states that the news conference will be attended by Takao Yasuda, Naoya Kinoshita and Tomiaki Fukuda.
Yasuda, a wealthy sponsor of several pro boxers and MMA fighters, heads up Don Quijote, one of Japan's largest chain stores. The company boasts more than 130 stores in Japan as well as several in Hawaii. It is perhaps best known to MMA fans by its large blue penguin mascot, Donpen, which appears on Hidehiko Yoshida (Pictures)'s gis and in the infamous entrances of Kazuhiro Nakamura (Pictures).
Kinoshita is the president of the Kinoshita Group, a prominent Japanese construction corporation. The company specializes in custom-built homes, rental housing, apartment design, large-scale residential projects and building maintenance. Currently Kinoshita Group has more than 1,600 employees across five subsidiaries and other affiliated businesses in Japan, China and the United States.
Fukuda is the president of the Japanese Wrestling Association. He's also the vice president of International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles, known by the French acronym FILA, which sanctions all international amateur wrestling competition.
Fukuda is notable in the world of fight sports for his association with PRIDE and Combat Wrestling, which influenced the Japanese Wrestling Association to introduce "Pankration," a form of submission wrestling, into the canon of Japanese Wrestling Association events in 2005.
Most importantly the source revealed that the company will use former Olympic gold medal judoka and Japanese superstar Hidehiko Yoshida (Pictures) as its main draw and that prized free agent Takanori Gomi (Pictures) is likely to join the company as well.
Yoshida's participation is perhaps no surprise. He is the main star of J-ROCK who will be responsible for much of the company's muscle, and he is perhaps the most popular of all the PRIDE free agents in Japan. Although it has been speculated that Gomi may head to K-1 HERO'S, Gomi's agent Ken Imai, perhaps best known as Mirko "Cro Cop"
Filipovic's agent, has a strained relationship with parent company Fight Entertainment Group. Moreover, the source indicated Fukuda's relationship to World Victory Road is of particular influence, as he is seen as a mentor to Gomi and an extremely trustworthy figure.
The company is reportedly aiming for February 2008 for its first event, which may be confirmed at the Oct. 15 news conference.
Nakamura's Positive Pot Appeal Date Decided
On a mildly related note, J-ROCK-handled competitor Kazuhiro Nakamura (Pictures) will reportedly appeal his suspension issued by the California State Athletic Commission for testing positive for marijuana.
The 28-year-old Nakamura tested positive following his Sept. 22 UFC bout against Ryoto Machida (Pictures) in Anaheim, Calif. He was suspended for three months and $500. His appeal will be heard before the California State Athletic Commission on Oct. 31.
After the positive test was announced on Sept. 26, J-ROCK issued a news release to the Japanese media that said Nakamura was a man of character who teaches judo to children, and he had no incentive to use marijuana. Furthermore J-ROCK claimed that a post-fight CT scan in California led to a doctor's opinion that Nakamura had brain bleeding, but a follow-up CT scan and MRI in Japan suggested otherwise. Accordingly, J-ROCK said, Nakamura's urine sample had likely been mishandled, leading to a false positive.
GCM Elevate EX-eastern Bound
While there may be a new organization to combat the Octagon, Japan's premier cage-based organization has significantly bolstered its next card.
Japanese promoter Greatest Common Multiple has announced six more bouts for its Nov. 11 CAGE FORCE: EX-eastern bound card at Differ Arike in Tokyo. Originally it was thought that the card would not feature a considerable amount of notable talent. The event was hastily arranged in order to host the necessary Tomonari Kanomata (Pictures)-Artur Oumakhanov (Pictures) 154-pound tournament semifinal that was delayed due to Oumakhanov's KO loss in HERO'S, and the year's CAGE FORCE finale is Dec. 1.
However, GCM has announced several noteworthy bouts for the card, including the return of Keita "K-Taro" Nakamura. Nakamura, who hasn't competed since his April loss to Drew Fickett (Pictures) in the UFC, will return to action against Combat Wrestling national champion and ADCC veteran Takefumi Hanai (Pictures).
Hanai was crushed by former Pancrase champ Katsuya Inoue (Pictures) in CAGE FORCE last November. He was given the name "The Real Ashikan Judan," refuting Masakazu Imanari (Pictures)'s leglocking supremacy, after he won the 2005 Combat Wrestling Nationals, earning MVP and quickest submission honors by submitting all of his opponents with leglocks.
In a 145-pound affair that will likely offer some potent displays on the feet, certified slugger Fanjin Son (Pictures) will take on kickboxing convert Koji Yoshimoto (Pictures). It will be the first action of the year for Son, who had his June bout with Hideki Kadowaki (Pictures) cancelled after he sustained a broken rib in training. Yoshimoto fought to a competitive draw with veteran Mitsuhisa Sunabe (Pictures) last month.
The bout is also somewhat of a Shooto versus Pancrase match, as Son has competed his entire career in Shooto while all of Yoshimoto's MMA bouts have come under the Pancrase banner. Both men have kickboxing experience, having competed in promotions such as All Japan Kickboxing Federation, New Japan Kickboxing Federation and RISE.
Also, 2006 Shooto 154-pound rookie champion Yoshihiro Koyama (Pictures) will return to action against Yasuyoshi Kanehara (Pictures). The bout would seem to be a showcase of sorts for Koyama. He has drawn the praise of many of Japan's top fighters, such as Tatsuya Kawajiri (Pictures), Hayato Sakurai (Pictures), Mitsuhiro Ishida (Pictures) and Ryota Matsune (Pictures), who say he is one of the nation's best young fighters.
Kanehara, 0-4-1, has been matched tough and is typically game, but he figures to play the role of "opponent" for the powerful Koyama. In his most recent fight, Kanehara was slickly submitted in June by Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone.
In other added bouts, Masahiro Toryu (Pictures) will take on Keitaro Maeda (Pictures); Naoki Miyamoto will face Yoshiaki Fujiwara; and Daisuke Hoshino will meet Yasutomo Tanaka.
DEEP Makes Impact in Osaka, NYE in Saitama?
It's been a busy year for DEEP, and Shigeru Saeki is looking to punctuate it in a big way.
Saeki revealed earlier this week that DEEP will return to Osaka on Dec. 22 for DEEP Protect Impact at Umeda Stella Hall. The event, which will be held in conjunction with sponsor Protect, provides a quick turn-around for the promotion in heading back to Osaka for a major card. Until July's DEEP 30 Impact, the last time DEEP had been to Osaka for an Impact card was for 14 Impact in April 2004.
The card will also feature local favorites Seichi Ikemoto (Pictures) and Pancrase 141-pound champion Yoshiro Maeda (Pictures) as well as DEEP 106-pound queen Miku Matsumoto (Pictures) and Ryuichi Murata (Pictures). Maeda stated that it was his wish to face a ranked Shooto competitor on the card, providing the opportunity for a rare Shooto versus Pancrase match-up.
Perhaps more importantly, Saeki announced that the event would be aired on tape delay on Television Osaka, the local Osaka affiliate station of the TV Tokyo network. Currently DEEP represents an interesting case in the Japanese kakutougi industry, due to its sustainability and product quality despite the fact its only television exposure is on the relatively hard-to-access, premium satellite channel Samurai TV.
Promotions of comparable stature, Shooto and Pancrase, both have television deals outside of Samurai TV. Shooto airs on J-Sports, Japan's answer to ESPN, and Pancrase airs on Sky A Sports, which is affiliated with major broadcasting network TV Asahi.
Saeki also said he planned on "spending New Year's Eve in Saitama." The perceived implication of the statement is that Saeki is trying to put together a New Year's Eve card at the Saitama Super Arena, formerly the home of PRIDE, where Saeki served as a talent and PR director. Yet, it is unknown how these plans will be affected by the forthcoming unveiling of World Victory Road Inc. It was thought Saeki's project would be supported by J-ROCK, which is now apparently a power player in the World Victory Road venture.
DEEP Goes Clubbing in Kansai
However, first things first for DEEP in Osaka, and that means clubDEEP in Osaka this Saturday at Azalea Taisho Hall.
The feature bout seems calculated for excitement, pitting Hiroshiman heavy hitter Yasushi Kitazaki (Pictures) against Osakan journeyman Ken Hamamura (Pictures), who is also known for his banging ability.
Hamamura picked up a pair of wins in DEEP in July, besting YABU at DEEP 30 Impact in Osaka and smashing South Korean Dong Ho Han two weeks later at the second annual CMA Festival in Tokyo. On the aforementioned 30 Impact card, Kitazaki saw his last action when he quickly submitted local grassroots regular Hiroshi "Goodman" Tanaka in the first round to avenge the first loss of his career.
Hamamura's teammate Tomoyuki Fukami (Pictures) will take on Marlon Meideiros in the evening's co-feature. Fukami, a regular of DEEP's Osaka events, also found victory at 30 Impact in July, running over Henrik "Wolverine" Kakiuchi. Meideiros, a Brazilian training out of Hiroshi Umemura (Pictures)'s Nex Sports in Nagoya, last competed in his adopted home at clubDEEP in Nagoya, submitting Takayuki Muramatsu.
Also on the bill, YABU will face Toru Eto, and Nobuyoshi Takahara takes on Taiki Yonashiro. The Kansai representatives for DEEP's next Future King Tournament series will be decided, in addition to four kickboxing bouts in conjunction with Osakan promoter Next Level.
With cards in Tokyo and Yamaguchi last month, this will be the third clubDEEP event in four weeks. The clubDEEP tour will continue on with events in Hamamatsu on Oct. 21, Sendai on Oct. 28 and a Dec. 9 event in Kanazawa.
MARS Lands at FACE
Also on slate for Saturday, MARS will make its return to Shinjuku FACE in Tokyo. As per usual, the card will be a hybrid event featuring both MMA and kickboxing and several bouts under MARS' new "Blast Bout" banner, which features stand-up kickboxing affairs with MMA gloves.
The event will feature an MMA main event between South Korean Do Hyung Kim (Pictures) and Hiroyuki Nozawa (Pictures). Neither man has competed since December, when Nozawa was punched out in Pancrase by Koji Oishi (Pictures), and Kim won the MARS 154-pound tournament, defeating Akihiko Mori (Pictures) and Atsuhiro Tsuboi (Pictures). The bout was supposed to lead to a potential fight in BodogFIGHT before Bodog and MARS severed ties.
Also in MMA action, Takanori Onda (Pictures) will take on Brazilian import Eduardo Majorino; South Korea's Parky will take on another Brazilian, William Animal; and in the evening's main card opener, Brazilian Samuel Perigoso will meet Brazilian-Japanese fighter Anderson Sato.
Heavyweight KOP, Kondo Return Set for Sunday
The biggest card in Nihon this weekend will come courtesy of Pancrase, as the promotion continues the 2007 Rising Tour at Differ Ariake in Tokyo on Sunday afternoon.
The main event is a Pancrase heavyweight title clash, pitting champion Assuerio Silva (Pictures) against former champion Kestutis "Tiger" Arbocius. Arbocius won the vacant title in August 2006 by defeating upstart Hawaiian Poai Suganuma (Pictures), but he was unable to make his mandatory title defense against Tatsuya Mizuno (Pictures) in May.
As a result, Silva, who had recently departed from the UFC, stepped into a title bout with the aforementioned Mizuno and dominated en route to a second-round stoppage to earn the vacant crown.
However, the "real" main event, at least for the Pancrase faithful, will see the return of hybrid wrestling icon Yuki Kondo (Pictures) against full-contact karateka Yuji Sakuragi (Pictures).
Perhaps Pancrase's most well-known modern export and still-reigning light heavyweight champion, Kondo's recent struggles have been well documented. He is 4-7-1 in the past three years, including a very unsuccessful run in PRIDE. After spending the first half of 2007 recovering from hand surgery, Kondo faced Trevor Prangley (Pictures) in BodogFIGHT for the promotion's 185-pound title. In a lackluster performance, the Pancrase king was defeated due to a doctor stoppage after 10 minutes.
Sakuragi, who competed in a one-night vale tudo tournament in Russia earlier this year, most recently dropped an unimpressive decision to journeyman Katsuhisa Fujii (Pictures) at DEEP's Glove event in July.
In other notable action, 141-pounders Manabu Inoue (Pictures) and Jin Suk Jung will do battle; veteran Takuya Wada (Pictures) takes on Hyun Kwan Kim; the ever-eccentric Hikaru Sato (Pictures) faces Kiichi Hirayama; and resident Pancrase brawler Kenji Arai (Pictures) meets Kiichi Hirayama.
Murata Sets Sights on Spirit Crown
Not all the Japanese action will take place in Japan this weekend.
Ryuichi Murata (Pictures) has the opportunity to make waves in South Korea. The Hidehiko Yoshida (Pictures) pupil is one of the final four in Spirit MC's Heavyweight Grand Prix, which will conclude Sunday at the Jang Chung Gymnasium in Seoul.
Having quickly knocked out Dong Woo Shin in his August quarterfinal, Murata will now take on Jae Young Kim in his semifinal bout in the tournament. Kim also made quick work of his August opponent, running roughshod over Gil Myung Chun in just 73 seconds.
The winner of the fight will take on the winner of the first semifinal bout between Jung Kyu Choi and Kelvin Fitial.
The Grand Prix champion will earn the right to face recent K-1 HERO'S signee Denis Kang (Pictures), who is scheduled to compete in South Korea at the HERO'S Seoul card on Oct. 28 for the Spirit MC heavyweight title.
Princess of Sambo Becomes a Queen
Finally, congratulations are in order for female star Satoko Shinashi (Pictures), who was recently married.
Despite recent wedding festivities, the 30-year-old reigning Smack Girl 106-pound champion showed no sign of distraction in her Oct. 9 return bout against SACHI in DEEP. In an exciting bout, Shinashi swept SACHI and submitted her with a tight straight armbar from the mount for the victory.
After the bout Shinashi told the crowd at Korakuen Hall of her recent marriage. She said that matrimony would not interfere with her career and that she would continue to fight into the foreseeable future.