TOKYO –- Rule changes and the announced participation of Takanori Gomi and Rumina Sato highlighted the first press conference Tuesday for the upcoming Vale Tudo Japan 2009 on Oct. 30 at the JCB Hall. The event will be promoted by leading Shooto promoter Sustain.
The biggest news from the presser was the various rules especially crafted for VTJ ‘09, which was held last some ten years ago in Japan. Though the International Shooto Commission (ISC) will be on-hand to assist in the form of officials for refereeing and judging, ISC secretary general Toshiharu Suzuki asserted that VTJ ‘09 will not be considered an official Shooto event. However, there will be official Shooto bouts on the card alongside VTJ-specific fights.
Suzuki painted VTJ ‘09 as an opportunity to test out potential changes to the Shooto system in the near future. Shooto already took out its knockdown count last year.
“Recently, we’ve been thinking a lot about the rules, and are in the midst of deciding whether we want to keep the old rules or adhere more to international MMA,” said Suzuki. “By participating in VTJ ‘09, we can test out new things. Being a part of it will allow the commission to look at fights under different rules to know what we want to add and what we want to subtract from Shooto’s future.”
Most notable are the introduction of five-round fights and knees and stomps to the head of grounded opponents, smaller gloves, the prohibition of long spats, and the absence of predetermined weight classes.
“We’d also like to experiment how fighters perform under five-round fights,” said Suzuki, noting a more mainstream round structure versus the three eight-minute rounds of last decade’s VTJs.
Suzuki said Sustain and the fighters would decide which bouts would be fought with five rounds.
Likewise, as there are no pre-determined weight classes, Suzuki indicated that weight limits would be left up to fighters and Sustain to determine.
Regarding the departure from Shooto’s bulky official gloves to more mainstream MMA gloves, Suzuki claimed that the new design, if ready in time to use, would be scrutinized to see whether they would adversely affect fighter health and safety compared to Shooto’s current rules.
The previously rumored Takeshi Inoue-Alexandre Franca Nogueira bout was confirmed Tuesday, but with a slight twist, as the card’s first official five-round bout.
Inoue noted that while he has not yet seen any recent film on Nogueira, he is confident that “fighting my own fight will be the best defense to his guillotine. Knees on the ground will be allowed, and I’ve been working on them a lot.”
Inoue also accidentally confirmed five-round bouts as a forthcoming change to Shooto’s rules, despite Suzuki’s earlier comments, stating, “Next year, title fights will be five rounds, so this’ll be a good experiment for me.”
Also announced for Oct. 30 was Takanori Gomi.
While Gomi’s opponent has yet to be decided, Gomi himself suspects that he will face a non-Japanese fighter, investing in VTJ’s ongoing theme of “Japan versus the world,” and its function as a barometer of Japanese fighters in the world scene.
Asked what his plans after VTJ are and whether he’d return to Sengoku for their New Year’s event, Gomi instead pointed toward his new hobby of surfing, if not competing abroad.
“On New Year’s, I’ll probably be surfing in Okinawa,” he laughed. “It’s an honor to receive an offer to fight on a New Year’s show, and if there’s a challenger, I’d consider it. But year in year out, [I don’t want to] do the same thing. If I want to look for challenges, I’d like to look for them overseas.”
Lastly, Rumina Sato, was tabbed as another participant, but like Gomi, was without a confirmed opponent. In dropping his last bout to Lion Takeshi in a desperate bid for Shooto gold, Sato has adopted the ISC outlook in treating VTJ 09 as a chance to experiment at a lower weight of 137 pounds.
“I grappled at the UFC Fan Expo at around 135 pounds, and I felt very fresh, fast, and thought that I performed well. I’d like to fight someone who is the same weight as I am on fight day. I know it’s not feasible, but I’d like both of us to weigh in right before we step into the ring. That’d be my idea of ‘fair,’” said Sato.
In the spirit of previous VTJ’s, Sato looked abroad for his potential opponent.
“I don’t really have anyone in mind, but I’d like to see how I’d do against the best,” h said. “Probably guys in the WEC interest me the most because they’re known as the best guys in those weight classes now.”
Sustain promoter Kazuhiro Sakamoto confirmed endeavors to contact Zuffa in an attempt to acquire foreign competitors to face Gomi and Sato.
“It’s not an impossibility, since we’ve had some [UFC fighters] come to Shooto before. We’re negotiating now, but of course, it’s all hush-hush at the moment,” he said.
On the prospect of bringing UFC-level talent to Japan for Gomi in particular, Sakamoto replied, “I don’t want to rule that out, but this is quite possibly Gomi’s last fight in Japan. He hasn’t decided where he wants to go just yet, but we hope to give him a fight that everyone can remember him by, before he heads overseas.”