Abe looked to be on his way to steam-rolling Sunabe as well, dropping the former champ twice with winging hooks in the opening moments, only to finish out the round firmly latched to Sunabe's back. Sunabe wasn't out of the fight however, rebounding with blistering punches midway through the second period, bloodying Abe's mouth.
“I didn't think Abe had such good striking going in, so I was surprised I got knocked down so quickly,” recalls Sunabe. “He attacked aggressively in the first, but became more fatigued in the second and third, so I believed that so long as I wasn't finished, I could come back.”
A resurgent Sunabe did just that, stonewalling Abe's takedown attempts to further lump him up on the feet. Sunabe landed an errant low blow in the third frame, but both men were still energized by the brawl. Before returning from the recovery period, the proud Sunabe shouted at Abe, “I will defend Pancrase!” to raucous applause. Abe answered the proclamation with a spirited growl, but soon found himself on the wrong end of a brutal Sunabe flurry. Sunabe dropped more punches on the bloody, supine Abe before referee Tomoki Matsumiya dove for the stop at 4:10 of the third round. The victory saw Sunabe also awarded a 30,000 yen “best bout” bonus, in addition to the 120-pound title.
Earning his second belt in the promotion, the 10-year veteran expressed pride to be one of the handful of Okinawan MMA fighters to rise to prominence.
“I both started watching MMA and doing it with Pancrase, so that's why I've had these opportunities. It's fate,” said Sunabe. “I fought in front of the Okinawan people when I was young as an amateur, but I'd love to come home a champion. I want to bring the belt back home to the Okinawan people in a Pancrase event.”
In yet more championship action, Sengoku veteran Shintaro Ishiwatari toppled bantamweight King of Pancrase Manabu Inoue to become the promotion's second 135-pound titlist.
Since his brief popularity as a viral video sensation with his 2008 slam victory over Kazuhiro Ito, Ishiwatari has developed into a punishing and flashy striker--a trait that gave the incumbent champion some trouble. Ishiwatari landed snapping low kicks and stiff punches to the face while a battered Inoue braved the punishment to force the challenger into corners for clinch boxing and takedown attempts in the first two frames.
The turning point came in the third however, when a big Ishiwatari right hand sent Inoue scrambling backward. Ishiwatari lunged to finish with punches and knees to the head as a dizzy Inoue dove for takedowns, eventually recovering when referee Yoshinori Umeki called a momentary stop to check a cut in his left eyebrow. The challenger sealed his victory with a pair of takedowns into the back mount before the bell. Judges Yuichi Yachi and Hirotaka Tomiyama gave him the bout--and the title--30-29 and 29-28, respectively. Only judge Hirokazu Takamoto saw the fight a 29-29 draw.
“I know that because I got the belt in only three fights, I might have irritated some [veteran fighters in Pancrase],” said a self-aware Ishiwatari after the fight. “So come and get me, then.”
Last but not least, Isao Kobayashi made quick work of Kazuki Tokudome in Pancrase's 2011 lightweight tournament final, punching his opponent out on the ropes. There appeared little semblance of a game plan from Kobayashi, who quickly charged his opponent with piston-punch flurries. Tokudome returned the barrage in kind.
“Many were saying that Tokudome was a better fighter, so I was determined to trade with him,” reasoned Kobayashi.
Tokudome momentarily took top position off of a successful takedown, but the bout quickly got back to the feet, where Kobayashi's machine-gun punches finally paid off in the final minute. A dizzy Tokudome drove for a takedown in defense, but ate more punches against the ropes after being stuffed. Having seen enough, referee Masato Fukuda jumped in for the save at the 4:14 mark.
With the win, Kobayashi took both a 35,000 yen tournament award as well as the 30,000 yen “Best KO” bonus. He looks forward to a future rematch with current lightweight King of Pancrase Koji Oishi.
“I fought my worst against Oishi [in April 2010]. I'm a different fighter from then, so I want a rematch. Oishi's bout this evening was boring. I think I can knock him out or submit him,” said Kobayashi.
Rising Pancrase featherweight prospect Jon Shores added a quality scalp to his now 9-0 undefeated streak, decisioning Tomonari Kanomata in a tense three-round affair. Though easily proving himself physically stronger by rag-dolling Kanomata around the ring while defending takedowns, Shores was cautious with his offense in the first two frames. Between tentative single exchanges, the Japanese fighter's lead left hook and jab gave Shores some trouble, opening a small cut over his nose in the second period. A clubbing overhand right for Shores almost put a dizzied Kanomata away in the third, but fatigue seemed to have set in for the American as he ground on the Sengoku vet with short punches from guard for the remainder of the round. For this last round surge, Shores walked away with 30-29 cards from judges Matsumiya, Oyabu, and Aramaki.
“This will only take one second. I want [interim champion] Takumi [Nakayama] for the title. Please Pancrase, set that up,” said Shores.
Almost a year to the date of their last encounter, lightweight King of Pancrase Koji Oishi and 2000 Sydney Games silver medalist Katsuhiko Nagata fought to yet another draw in a lackluster non-title affair. Nagata tagged Oishi with a rare punch and body kick before pressing him against the ropes, but had difficulty taking the champ down throughout the fight. Oishi similarly had sparse offense, spending more time clinch-wrestling with the Greco-Roman medalist. As such, judges Umeki, Matsumiya, and Aramaki saw the fight an unfulfilling 30-30 in the end.
At welterweight, Keiichiro Yamamiya surprised by netting his first knockout win since June 2009. An overzealous Shingo Suzuki was sent posterior-first to the canvas after charging into counterpunches from the retreating Yamamiya. Yamamiya then mashed on the dazed Suzuki with short punches before referee Umeki lunged for the save at 4:24 of the first.
Dispensing with the ground game, middleweights Ikkei Nagamura and Yoshihito Kuroki opted for a ten minute boxing match. Nagamura connected with frequent sharp jabs and hard right crosses to fatigue his opponent, ensuring that his chances of being tagged by Kuroki's lunging hooks grew smaller as the fight pressed on. Thus, Nagamura was eked out 20-19 cards from judges Ryogaku Wada and Yuichi Yachi, while judge Tomiyama saw it a 19-19 draw.
Kazuya Satomoto looked to be walking into a massacre with fellow lightweight Yoshiaki Takahashi as the Paraestra Hiroshima product marched straight into Takahashi's flurries. Though eating the punishment, he launched a surprise armbar attempt that appeared to almost end the fight. However, “Bancho” Takahashi soon escaped to steal Satomoto's back, whereupon he continued the assault with ground-and-pound until referee Fukuda called the stop at the 2:59 mark.
In a largely uneventful welterweight bout, Hiroki Nagaoka kept the pressure on Shigeaki Kusayanagi from half guard and against the ropes with takedown attempts to take narrow 20-19 cards from judges Yachi, Kosuge, and Taku Aramaki.
In the opening bouts, Yuki Yasunaga defeated Hiroyuki Kato with close-range punches and heavy takedown pressure to earn three 20-19 cards in their 125-pound bout, while at featherweight, Masakazu Takafuji punted Masaki Yanagisawa's head several times to get the 52-second TKO stop from referee Yachi.
Lastly, Keigo Hirayama caught Shogo Ohashi at 2:14 of the second period with a kimura in their lightweight bout, while at featherweight, Yoji Saito outworked Shiro Wakamatsu for 20-18 cards from all judges.