Katsunori Kikuno hopes to move toward a title shot on May 29. | Daniel Herbertson/Sherdog.com
Deep lightweight champion Katsunori Kikuno will square off against crafty, submission-minded veteran Daisuke Nakamura on May 29 in a non-title bout at Dream’s “Fight for Japan.”
The matchup was officially announced Thursday by Dream Event Producer Keiichi Sasahara during a press conference at Deep Official Gym Impact in Tokyo. The show, which takes place at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, will play host to the quarter- and semifinals of Dream’s 2011 bantamweight grand prix.
Sasahara noted that the outcome of the Kikuno-Nakamura bout could aid in determining the next challenger for Dream lightweight champ Shinya Aoki -- also slated to participate in the event against an opponent to-be-determined -- and cited Kikuno as Dream’s No. 3 lightweight, behind Aoki and Tatsuya Kawajiri.
While Nakamura and Kikuno have not before met in the ring, the lightweights’ trainers are well-acquainted. Kiyoshi Tamura, leader of Nakamura’s home U-File Camp, and Kikuno’s teacher, UFC veteran Tsuyoshi “TK” Kosaka, engaged in two classic “shoot-style” matches under the Rings banner in the late-1990s. Tamura submitted Kosaka in the first meeting, while the pair fought to a 30-minute draw in their second encounter.
Now, the 29-year-old Kikuno will have a chance to both settle his mentor’s score by proxy and move closer to the title shot he has long desired. A Kyokushin karateka, Kikuno’s awkward-but-dangerous striking style has earned him eight knockout victories and an overall record of 14-3-2 since his 2005 professional debut.
The Kagoshima native entered Dream shortly after claiming Deep gold in 2009 and has since alternated wins and losses, knocking out Andre “Dida” Amado and Kuniyoshi Hironaka while falling to Eddie Alvarez and Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante. Kikuno last competed in October, when he defended his Deep belt in a hard-fought split decision against Nobuhiro Obiya.
Nakamura, 30, rebounded from a 1-3 run in 2009 to go a perfect 3-0 in 2010. A nine-year pro, the catch wrestling stylist most recently used his trademark flying armbar to submit Deep slugger Toshikazu Iseno in December. Nakamura’s 23-12 ledger includes wins over Hideo Tokoro, Yuri Ivlev and Ferrid Kheder.