Manly Brings "MMA's OG Organization Stateside
Regrettably, most fight fans don't have the ability to head to the
subway station, hop aboard a train, and walk into Korakuen Hall. As
a result, Shooto Japan has long been available only to those
willing to open their wallets and drop 50 bones for a Region 2 DVD,
those who can successfully navigate the tape trading circuit, or
those faithfully combing Youtube.
In many ways, those pursuits have become the defacto barrier
between being a hardcore fight fan and a full-blown MMA zealot,
whose idea of a wild night somehow involves R.E.A.D. 2000
Jason Manly wants to change
Manly says his goal is to bring Shooto Japan stateside, and
Saturday night in Irvine, Calif., he will do just that with an
11-bout fight card, aptly titled "The Arrival, Ch. 1: This is
Shooto," which is set to feature some of Shooto Japan's brightest
It is a considerably ambitious venture for Manly, who has yet to
promote enough cards to make you use both hands to count. Yet, the
fight industry was somewhere the 28-year-old Californian says he
knew he always wanted to be.
"Odd as it sounds, I kinda started training with the intention of
getting to the fight business," chuckled Manly, whose constant
laughter and quipping quickly serves to contrast him from your
usual promoter stereotypes.
Manly's training led him to a 1-0 pro MMA mark, after notching a
submission win over Rob
Snyder at a Gladiator Challenge event in Nov. 2001. Moreover,
his training and love for MMA also crippled his other athletic
forte. Manly, who attended UC Berkley on a full track and field
scholarship, went from team MVP his freshman year, to battling
injuries over the rest of his collegiate career, a result of bumps
and bruises sustained in training which he was forced to conceal to
stay on the team and keep his scholarship.
"Yeah, MMA kinda killed my track career," said Manly, still
Manly jumped into the fight business, promoting events under the
Warriors Cup in Stockton, Calif. However, Manly's real promotional
dream was ignited after a friend offered him tickets to PRIDE's
first venture on American soil last October. After watching
(Pictures) dispatch Mark Coleman (Pictures), Manly, through a mutual
acquaintance, met with leading Shooto authority Kazuhiro Sakamoto, a former
Shooto world champion himself who now heads Sustain, the foremost
pro Shooto promoter in the world.
"We talked about doing shows, maybe working together, kinda
progressed from there," revealed Manly. "Then we started talking
about bringing out fighters, bringing out Shooto. I just thought
that the Shooto brand was so much more established, we might as
well do it under the Shooto banner."
Advertisers, sponsors and other collaborators had some trepidation
about Manly's international undertaking, which resulted in the
event having shifted from potential dates in June and July to
August. However, working with promotional group No Limits has
seemingly given Manly the necessary tools to go forward with his
pro Shooto venture.
"I know this is not one of those jumpin'-into-it-for-the-money
kinda deals. In the long run, I'm prayin' it's gonna pay off," said
Manly, without even a slight characteristic laugh. "But, I've got
great people to work with in No Limits and [No Limits owner] Karen
Santaniello. She's been instrumental."
Manly's card will be, for most, an introduction to a curious trio
of Japanese talent, as the event's four marquee bouts feature
(Pictures) taking on Gladiator
Challenge champ Brian Cobb
(Pictures); "Wicky Akiyo" Akiyo Nishiura (Pictures) squaring off with Joe Camacho (Pictures); and in the main event, highly
regarded 145-pounder Tenkei Fujimiya (Pictures) battling Bao Quach (Pictures).
"With Wicky, Shooto people see him as the next big thing," said the
28-year-old promoter. "I think the American fans will take to him.
That's the main thing with him: he's a wild and exciting guy. See,
myself … I couldn't be a fighter. I'm too nice. But Wicky's got a
mean streak in him. He comes to fight, and is looking forward to
"Tenkei is his teammate, and he's a top fighter at that weight," he
continued. "And we feel that's where we can make our mark in the
states with lighter weight guys. His fight with Bao is going to be
great. I don't see them waiting for the judges; I see someone
getting knocked out."
With Wicky and Fujimiya, Manly has brought in two former Shooto
rookie champions who will be Shooto mainstays for years to come.
They're heavy hitters, and crowd pleasers that have amassed a
fanbase amongst Shooto fans. What makes the trio a curious one is
the inclusion of Togashi, who will be making his second stateside
appearance, having submitted Darren Crisp (Pictures) in April on the Manly-promoted
Warrior's Cup card in Stockton.
The 26-year-old Togashi is a vastly underrated competitor, who has
faced an impressive line of opposition, including Mitsuhiro Ishida (Pictures), Joachim Hansen (Pictures), and Koutetsu Boku (Pictures). However, he has consistently
managed to fly under the radar, largely due to scaring off
potential opponents by giving elite fighters all they could handle,
but failing himself to gain crucial victories.
"I've trained with some of the best fighters in the world," stated
Manly. "So, when I train with a lot of these guys, so I can really
gauge them. Togashi is slick; he's real, real good."
"That fight is maybe the most interesting for me," he said of the
Cobb-Togashi bout. "I think Togashi will be more technical, but
Cobb will maybe be bigger and stronger. I'm interested to see where
that fight ends up."
Manly's goal of popularizing Shooto stateside is undoubtedly noble.
But it is a dream that has failed for others before.
Hawaii's Superbrawl (now ICON Sport) had a similar idea in the late
90s, which saw Shooto standouts such as Rumina Sato (Pictures), Mamoru Yamaguchi (Pictures), Takanori Gomi (Pictures), Ryota Matsune (Pictures), Akira Kikuchi (Pictures), Masanori Suda (Pictures) and Jutaro Nakao (Pictures) fight in Hawaii over the next few
years, while Hawaiian natives such as Stephen Palling (Pictures) and Ray Cooper (Pictures) became respected competitors in
Shooto Japan. Roughly six years ago, Jeff Osbourne, now of
bodogFIGHT, had a similar idea with his Indiana-based HOOKnSHOOT
promotion. HOOKnSHOOT's Evansville, Ind. became familiar territory
for Shooto Japan regulars such as Shikou Yamashita (Pictures), Juaro Nakao, Seichi Ikemoto (Pictures), Kohei Yasumi (Pictures) and Takumi Nakayama (Pictures).
What is now ICON Sport has long outgrown its Shooto ties, while
Hawaiian Shooto still exists in the form of small local affiliate
Punishment in Paradise. Meanwhile, HOOKnSHOOT still exists as a
Shooto Americas affiliate, but the Japanese imports are long gone,
and by and large, so is the promotion's relevance to Shooto on the
largest level. So, what makes this any different?
"The one thing that makes it different is that I go to church on
Sunday, and I'm prayin'," laughed Manly, a devoutly religious
"Really though, what makes this different is our relationship with
Shooto Japan," he continued. "What people think 'Shooto' is … it's
Sustain, the Japanese guys, the dragon logo. That's what we're
Though Manly admits that all the trappings of professional Shooto
won't be brought this time around, a cursory background check on
professional Shooto and oversight by the Armando Garcia-led
California State Athletic Commission would lead most to believe
this is a marriage of oil and water.
"We will be using the Shooto gloves. We thought we'd be able to do
it with the Shooto rules this time," revealed Manly. "Armando
Garcia was actually all for it, but we just didn't get it done in
time, so it won't be this time around."
The weight classes for this evening will be imperially altered so
to speak. Since Shooto's weight classes are rooted in the metric
system, the weight contracts for the evening will be rounding up to
fives and zeroes in pounds from the usual weights of 132, 143, 154,
168, 183 and so on and so forth. Shooto officials won't be a piece
of the puzzle either. Taro Wakabayashi, who has refereed hundreds
of amateur and professional Shooto bouts over his 13-plus years as
a Shooto official, was denied his license as a referee by the
"Yeah, his résumé looked pretty good, but he'll need to take a
refereeing course in September they said," Manly snickered.
Any hardship this card entails doesn't seem as though it will do
much to dampen his ambitions. A general "What's next?" sort of
question was all Manly needed to take off in a 100 meter style
"BJ [Kojima] wants to come out and fight for us," he said. "We want
to get Lion [Takeshi], [Ryota] Matsune, everyone. I want to do
[Shinya] Aoki against Nick
Diaz (Pictures) in Stockton."
Of course, there's at least one other name he has in mind.
"Rumina Sato (Pictures)," he proclaimed. "We're working
on getting him to come fight, but obviously, he's got a lot of
stuff going on."
The goal is to run an additional five shows at the No Limits Event
Center over the next year, with bimonthly events. While continuing
to showcase talent from Shooto Japan, the events will also serve
the purpose of crowning North American Shooto champions, under the
revamped regional structure of international professional
"We're gonna do this October and December before the year is even
out. We're gonna crown champions from 135 up to heavyweight in
tournament style. I know it's ambitious," Manly said, laughing once
again. "But I'm an MMA fan, so I approach all of the promotions,
and productions from that perspective, I feel this is what fans
want to see."
But with MMA in an unprecedented period of growth globally, with
dozens of promotions now wielding cable television and being
available on pay-per-view, it is hard to imagine why individuals
outside of MMA's rabid hardcore fanbase would care about an entity
whose product is still rooted so deeply in the heart of Tokyo, and
whose stateside excursions would only be a sliver to squint of the
much larger, more vivid picture.
"Why should people care about Shooto?" said Manly, echoing my
question. "Shooto is for the people. This is their organization. I
don't want to be a Shooto 'promoter'; I think of myself as a Shooto
'brand manager.' I'm just managing the brand and the sport here,
and doing whatever I can to make it grow."
But since that was such a straight, matter-of-fact answer, it would
not have suited Manly to end on such a note.
"Shooto is the OG MMA organization," he laughed. "And PRIDE ain't
ever comin' back, so this is the best you're gonna get."
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