The surprises culminated when the lightweight championship changed hands in the main event, as Mizuto Hirota brutalized defending titleholder Satoru Kitaoka in the fourth round and took a technical knockout for the victory.
Kitaoka evaded Hirota’s big punches early and took the Cage Force champion to the canvas, where he worked his oppressive top game. However, Hirota resiliently persevered, as he popped his head out of guillotine attempts and scrambled to keep the fight standing. Hirota’s efforts to stifle Kitaoka’s grappling game were more effective in the second period, as the Gutsman representative stuffed takedowns and forced stand-ups. There, his punches and kicks marked up the defending champion. Despite Kitaoka’s best efforts to bang with Hirota -- an area in which Kitaoka showed improvement from previous fights -- it still proved difficult for him to reach the challenger with his wide, lunging punches.
Kitaoka reasserted control in the third round, as he took down Hirota and grinded on him with punches, rather than setting up submission attempts. By this time, the champion had grown quite tired after having so many of his takedowns and submission attempts rebuffed. The rapidly declining quality of his takedown attempts allowed Hirota to sprawl and land a barrage of knees to Kitaoka’s head and face. Bloodied and on auto pilot, Kitaoka tried to fight through the assault, but after repeated knees and punches, referee Kenichi Serizawa had seen enough and jumped in to call the bout at 2:50 of the fourth round.
“It was a great fight, wasn’t it?” Hirota said. “I’m really tired, but it was great. I hope you enjoyed it. This was a fight I just could not lose.”
In the most unexpected pairing for the featherweight grand prix final, Michihiro Omigawa -- who took a contentious decision over Marlon Sandro earlier in the evening -- met Masanori Kanehara -- who was eliminated earlier in the evening by Hatsu Hioki but continued when Hioki dropped out of the final at the doctor’s suggestion.
Kanehara rose to the occasion, as he quickly took the fight to Omigawa, jumped onto the judoka’s back and threatened with chokes and punches for the entire first round. Kanehara appeared to capture the second round, as well, as he took side mount and dropped lunging knees to Omigawa’s head. Omigawa rebounded in the third frame, when he shut down Kanehara’s takedown attempts, landed knees to the head and threatened with guillotines. However, it proved too little, too late.
Judges Gen Isono and Masanori Ohashi ruled the bout 29-28 for Kanehara, while Tomoki Matsumiya scored it 29-29, giving Omigawa his “must decision.” The split decision made Kanehara Sengoku’s first featherweight champion.
“I lost to Hioki in the semis, so I didn’t think I deserved to fight in the finals, but my teammates urged me to continue anyway,” Kanehara said. “I owe my success to all the people who have helped and supported me to get this far.”
Meanwhile, Strikeforce veteran Kazuo Misaki took a questionable technical submission in the first round of his middleweight contender eliminator bout against Kazuhiro Nakamura.
Nakamura charged forward and intended to land big punches on his way to securing the clinch. He landed a few punches and low kicks, along with two low blows, but Misaki gutted through the fouls and returned fire with kicks and crisp punches, eventually flooring the UFC veteran with a flying knee. A dazed Nakamura scrambled to take down Misaki, but the Grabaka Hitman locked up a guillotine choke in the process. Referee Yoshinori Umeki jumped in at the 3:03 mark, without waiting for a Nakamura tapout, and called the fight for Misaki.
There was nothing controversial about the finish to the Dan Hornbuckle-Akihiro Gono match.
Hornbuckle made good on his promise to spoil Gono’s homecoming, as he knocked the UFC and Pride Fighting Championships veteran out cold in the third round. The longer-limbed Hornbuckle won rounds one and two, as he landed grazing stomps and took mount at the end of the second period. In the third, Hornbuckle caught a Gono middle kick and countered immediately with a right high kick. Gono stiffened and fell into the ropes, out cold at 2:50, prompting Matsumiya to move in for the save.
Gono was stretchered out several minutes later, and post-event reports from the hospital claimed the Grabaka fighter had been diagnosed with a concussion, possible brain hemorrhaging and damage to his neck from landing awkwardly on the ropes. While Gono will be kept overnight for observation, he was reported to be alert and coherent.
Before he advanced to the featherweight grand prix final, Omigawa posted a controversial decision over Sandro, as he handed the featherweight King of Pancrase his first loss.
Sandro planted and landed huge punches on the UFC veteran, but Omigawa hung tough, eating the Brazilian’s best shots and lunging in to give some of his own. Sandro’s longer reach, power and greater volume of punches put him ahead on the cards in the minds of many. Still, Omigawa’s toughness and tenacity at lunging in for the attack, along with his trip attempts from the clinch, evened the fight on the scorecards of Serizawa and Kobayashi, who scored the semi-final a 30-30 draw. Their “must decision” went to Omigawa, while judge Ohashi ruled the bout 30-29 for Sandro.
Before he withdrew from the final, Hioki took a one-sided decision over Kanehara, as he bullied the ZST representative on the mat. Hioki took mount at will and dropped punches that softened Kanehara for eventual triangle and armbar attempts. To his credit, Kanehara stayed in the fight, scrambled out of danger and put up a marginally better fight in the third period, throwing wild punches on the feet and from inside Hioki’s guard. Judges Matsumiya, Isono and Ohashi sided with Hioki by 30-27, 29-27 and 29-28 scores.
According to Hioki, he could not continue in the tournament because of dizziness and a complete loss of strength in his limbs. It was suspected that he suffered a concussion, and, as a result, would be taken to the hospital for further evaluation.
Blagoi Ivanov def. Kazuyuki Fujita -- Split Decision
Eiji Mitsuoka def. Clay French -- Submission (Guillotine Choke) 1:50 R1
Chan Sung Jung def. Matt Jaggers -- Submission (Triangle Choke) 1:25 R2
Yoshihiro Nakao def. Mu Bae Choi -- Unanimous Decision
Ikuo Usuda def. Koji Ando -- Unanimous Decision
Shigeki Osawa def. Toru Harai -- TKO (Punches) 4:24 R1
Ryosuke Komori def. Takeshi Numajiri -- KO (Punch) 3:25 R1