Kitaoka Headlines Pancrase's Karl Gotch Memorial

By: Stephen Martinez
Sep 4, 2007
This Wednesday perennial Japanese promoter Pancrase will hold the next chapter of its 2007 RISING TOUR, bringing together an interesting mix of homegrown talent pitted against fighters from France, Russia, Brazil and USA.

The Pancrasists and their opponents, who represent other promotions like bodogFIGHT and the IFL among others, will meet at the Mecca of fightsport in Japan, Korakuen Hall, to pay respect to the memory of the man known to the Japanese as "The God of Pro-Wrestling," Karl Gotch.

Gotch, who passed away in July, was instrumental in the development of MMA in Japan, including Pancrase. He headlined the first ever New Japan Pro Wrestling event in 1972 against Antonio Inoki, and would go on to become a trainer for New Japan. More importantly, Gotch's students included Akira Maeda (Pictures), Satoru Sayama, Nobuhiko Takada (Pictures) and Yoshiaki Fujiwara. Maeda founded the RINGS Network and now plays a role in K-1 HERO'S, Sayama founded Shooto, and Takada played a pivotal role in PRIDE. Fujiwara's two top students, Masakatsu Funaki (Pictures) and Minoru Suzuki (Pictures), broke away from pro-wrestling to found Pancrase in 1993.

It was on the advice of Gotch that Funaki and Suzuki broke away to create their "hybrid wrestling brainchild." Also inspired by Gotch was the very name "Pancrase," as well as the early rules used by the promotion from 1993 until 1999.

For the event's headliner, Pancrase originally intended to place Japanese sensation Satoru Kitaoka (Pictures) against Brazilian Top Team member Milton Viera, but the Brazilian was nixed from the bout when he was unable to secure a visa to compete in Japan.

As a replacement, Pancrase choose IFL fighter Jason Palacios (Pictures), who curiously enough competed for the league's Tokyo Sabres. Palacios, who holds an MMA record of 4-2-0, faces his toughest competition to date in Kitaoka, a crafty Pancrase and DEEP veteran who holds a record of 18-7-9.

Kitaoka's last victory, a submission win over "Pitbull" Fabricio Monteiro (Pictures) in DEEP, would have given him the opportunity to fight in the planned 2007 PRIDE Lightweight Grand Prix, which was scrapped when Zuffa purchased PRIDE from Dream Stage Entertainment.

Current Pancrase featherweight champion Yoshiro Maeda (Pictures) and French newcomer Johnny Frachey will lock horns in a non-title affair as the evening's semifinal bout. Maeda, whose last victory was a dominant decision over Cage Warriors featherweight champion Danny Batten (Pictures) in April, has labeled his bout with Frachey as the next installment of "Maeda's European Invasion" and says he plans on exposing the Frenchman to European MMA fans.

In a middleweight King of Pancrase title eliminator, Pancrase mainstay Izuru Takeuchi (Pictures) will take on newcomer and hot prospect Bryan Rafiq (Pictures), with the winner gaining a shot at current champ Yuichi Nakanishi (Pictures).

It was Takeuchi that Nakanishi defeated for the then-vacant title last Dec. in a bloody brawl, and Takeuchi has said he wants revenge. However, the 21-year-old Rafiq impressed the Japanese fans in his Pancrase debut in April, in which he took a page out of Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures)'s ground-and-pound instructional and annihilated Pancrase's eccentric resident showman Hikaru Sato (Pictures). The star student of UFC competitor Roan Carneiro (Pictures), Rafiq is seen by many as one of the best young up-and-comers in the division.

The card will also see Pancrase 'babyface' Ryo Kawamura (Pictures) return to action. Seen as one of Japan's best hopes in the higher weights, the young fighter suffered a devastating KO loss to Chute Boxe prospect Fabio Silva (Pictures) in May. Now, Kawamura will look to rebound against American Shark Tank product Jaime Fletcher (Pictures), who is also coming off the first loss of his young career.

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