Akira Shoji will have his last bout April 23 against Kazuo Misaki. | Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog.com
One of the most recognizable fighters of the Pride era is finally ready to call it a career.
At Deep "52 Impact" on Friday in Tokyo, hard-luck veteran Akira Shoji announced he would fight once more before officially ending his professional fighting career. Shoji offered an open invitation to opponents, which was quickly accepted by former Pride grand prix champion Kazuo Misaki.
Misaki and Shoji will meet for the second time at Deep's "53 Impact" on April 23 at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo. Shoji and Misaki originally met in February 2006 at Deep's "23 Impact," where Misaki floored Shoji with brutal striking before eventually finishing the fight via guillotine in just 2:32. Shoji has not competed since the last-ever Pride event in April 2007, when he was knocked out by Gilbert Yvel in the first round.
Perhaps realizing their second encounter is one in which a win would be difficult, a somber but determined Shoji claimed, "This is my retirement fight, and I don't want my career to end with any regrets, so I want this fight to end in kaishaku."
By "kaishaku," Shoji refers to the Japanese ritual suicide, “seppuku,” in which the person committing suicide has a second individual assist in chopping off his head, provided he is unable to completely disembowel himself.
Falling in line with the drama, an intense Misaki said, "We fought in February 2006, and that fight made me who I am today. I want to show a fight with a samurai's soul. I will crush him."
Shoji, a former Chukyo University judo standout, started his MMA career in 1996 after joining Wajutsu Keishukai. The undersized Shoji went on to compete 23 times for Pride, where he developed a reputation for his gameness in challenging much larger and more talented foes, earning the nickname "Mr. Pride."
Shoji faced a "Who's Who" of MMA, including Igor Vovchanchyn, Mark Coleman, Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva, Mauricio Rua and even giant multiple-time K-1 World Grand Prix champion Semmy Schilt. The perpetual underdog also pulled off several upsets, taking wins over the likes of Guy Mezger and Alex Stiebling.
More recently, Shoji has served as a professional wrestler with Pride-linked professional wrestling organization Hustle, while also embarking on his career as an MMA official, regularly serving as a judge for both Dream and Deep in the last two years.