An All-American wrestler at Oklahoma State University, Lawal claims he broke his hand when he missed Kawamura with a punch and struck the canvas. However, he remains optimistic he can recover quickly and hopes to return to action in May.
Lawal blamed a knee injury sustained during grappling training with Dean Lister for his decision to ride Kawamura, rather than sinking his hooks from behind. The 28-year-old remained unbeaten, as he went the distance for the first time in his career.
“I would have sunk my hooks in, but I only had one hook to sink because of my knee,” Lawal said. “I was off to the side because if I was behind him, he trains with [Satoru] Kitaoka, and he’s a leglock master -- along with [Masakazu] Imanari and Dean -- so I had to be smart. I saw him attempt a kneebar against Kevin Randleman. If he got [my left] leg, who knows what coulda happened. I had to play it smart and hope for him to pull guard or turn or something, but he didn’t do that. He’d crawl to the ropes and look to escape.”
Lawal expressed irritation at Kawamura’s strategy to hide against the ring posts when the fight hit the ground.
“It annoyed me a lot,” he said. “It was frustrating, and I guess whatever you gotta do, you do, ’cause this is combat. If we ever have a rematch, I’ll find a way to counteract that to where I can keep him in the middle of the ring, so I can pound or submit him.”
Hioki Repays Promotion’s Faith
Featherweight tournament favorite Hatsu Hioki -- who gave American Top Team’s Chris Manuel his first career loss with a first-round armbar -- remained humble and soft-spoken after he advanced in the grand prix.
“The fight went according to plan,” Hioki said. “My opponent was very strong with good defense, but it went well. I thought I’d be able to hold him down easily, but it was harder than it looked.”
When asked who he wanted to face next, Hioki indicated that he expected to meet a non-Japanese featherweight in the second round of the grand prix.
“I think that I don’t need to fight against a Japanese fighter in the next round unless the fans really want it,” he said, “so I expect to fight a foreigner.”
Japanese media pressed public relations director Takahiro Kokuho about the apparent risk Sengoku had taken in featuring Hioki so prominently on the event’s poster. Many wondered how the image of the tournament might have been affected had the Nagoya, Japan, native lost.
“I believe Hioki’s ranking, the fact that he’s the TKO champion and probably a future Shooto champion will make anyone realize that he’s a top fighter in the featherweight division,” Kokuho said. “That’s why we put him on the poster.”
Sandro Win, Omigawa Upset Highlight Grand Prix
Hioki was not the only grand prix fighter to impress.
Featherweight King of Pancrase Marlon Sandro came through with a commanding performance against Matt Jaggers, as he choked the King of the Cage veteran unconscious with a standing arm triangle.
Though Sandro was satisfied with the finish, he expressed dismay over not being able to flex his striking muscle.
“I couldn’t show you too much of my striking because my opponent wouldn’t fight me standing up,” he said. “He wouldn’t come forward. My corner told me to take him down instead, and so I listened to them and took him down.”
While Jaggers offered no admission, Kokuho disclosed that the American was suffering from a foot injury entering his bout with Sandro and decided to take painkillers rather than pull out of the tournament.
In a surprising development, the always tough Michihiro Omigawa defeated rising mixed martial arts star L.C. Davis and punched his ticket to the next round of the grand prix. Omigawa admitted that being labeled the underdog fueled him in the match.
“He was very aggressive, but I felt that if I believe in myself and not let him fight his fight, things would go well,” Omigawa said. “I heard that he was considered one of the favorites to win, but I think that worked in my favor. It gave me the pressure to perform better.”
As far as what’s next for Davis, the Miletich Fighting Systems product expressed an eagerness to tighten up his skills.
“I need to work on my ground skills, like getting out of mount,” he said. “This is my second fight in a row where I got put into the mount position and wasn’t able to get out correctly. I worked on it before the fight, and I still wasn’t able to do it. I definitely want to get better off my back and just stay calm and relaxed. I got a little nervous and amped up and just wasn’t able to stick to my gameplan.”
Meanwhile, Chan Sung Jung -- who shocked Shooto’s Shintaro Ishiwatari on the feet before sinking a fight-ending choke -- claimed he did not think much about his tournament opponent’s striking ability or whether or not he had any skills beyond it.
“I got hit with a few punches, but that was not because my opponent was a strong striker,” Jung said. “I think it was because I slipped a few times in the ring.”
Jung indicated a desire to avenge teammate Jong Man Kim’s first-round loss to Masanori Kanehara but was also impressed by King of the Cage Canada champion Nick Denis’ performance against Seiya Kawahara. When asked whether or not he would welcome a future bout with the self-proclaimed “zombie killer-in-training,” Jung responded with a laugh.
“He’s not going to use guns, is he?” he asked.
Denis likes the idea of facing “The Korean Zombie.”
“I guess that’d be great,” he said. “I didn’t know that [The Korean Zombie] was his nickname, but that’d be awesome.”
Finally, Nam Phan conceded Hideki Kadowaki’s proficient ground skills gave him cause for concern entering the tournament. Constant forward pressure was his solution and led to his first-round technical knockout.
“I knew that he’s a very good [grappler] because a few years ago, he tapped out my friend, Bao Quach, and he’s a super good black belt,” Phan said. “Kadowaki was able to get the ‘Kadowaki Special’ on him, so I knew that I had to watch out for his [submissions]. That was for you, Bao.”
“My opponent was strong, but this time, I fought at a weight class I wasn’t used to, so I ran out of stamina at the end. I’d like to fight next at [154 pounds], so that I can build a stronger body and be able to fight better.” -- Tetsuya Yamada after he lost his featherweight tournament bout to Ronnie Mann
“The featherweight favorite, Jong Man Kim, was defeated and is now no longer in the tournament. This is why there is no one left to fear in the tournament, because I felt he was the strongest one.” -- Featherweight grand prix entrant Chan Sung Jung
“Yeah, I’m not going to fight [at] 155 anymore -- I’m going to stay at 145 or 143. I was very stubborn because I like to eat, and so I worked at 155. But now, guys at 155 cut down from 185, so they’re really heavy for me. I always figured technique would win, but even if I have good technique, the weight wears me down. So I thought I’d give it a try at 145, and I’m doing alright.” -- Nam Phan discussing his plan to stay at featherweight
“I plan on getting, one, an aluminum bat [and], two, a rope ladder, so if I live in the second level of an apartment, that’d be my exit, in and out the window. And then I’d like to get chainmail. No zombie can bite through that. That’d be a good start for my bag.” -- Nick Denis detailing what he would put in a survival pack in order to prepare for a zombie apocalypse
“[Sengoku lightweight champion Satoru] Kitaoka said he’d like to fight in either May or June. [Mizuto] Hirota, who just defended his title in Cage Force recently, and Leonardo Santos are two candidates we’re currently considering.” -- Sengoku Public Relations Director Takahiro Kokuho