115 Pounds: The Next Big (Little) Thing

By Chris Nelson Oct 17, 2010
As the day draws nearer when the flourishing flyweight division will be showcased under the bright lights of WEC, another weight class is gaining traction outside the U.S., one which could well be the next big thing -- despite being rather small.

In countries like Japan and Brazil, fighters who ply their trade at 115-pounds -- a weight class not even recognized under the current Unified Rules of MMA -- are beginning to find their spots. The division is so uncharted that it doesn’t even have an agreed-upon name: some call it “strawweight,” while others favor “pinweight,” or the more boxing-esque “junior flyweight.”

“The president of Shooto Japan asked me when I could start the 52 kilos [114 lbs.] division,” says Andre Pederneiras, head of the renowned Brazilian camp Nova Uniao and president of Shooto South America. “I told the president ‘at the next show,’ because here in Brazil, I can find a lot of great 52 kilos fighters.”

On Nov. 23, 2009, Shooto crowned its first-ever 114-pound world champion when tenacious muay Thai convert Rambaa “M-16” Somdet defeated Noboru “Shinpei” Tahara. On Sunday, Shooto’s Brazilian arm will start its search for a South American champion at the same weight with the launch of an eight-man, two-event grand prix.

Fighters weren’t hard to come by: Pederneiras was deluged with email applications after soliciting through various Portuguese-language MMA sites. The tournament is a tremendous opportunity for a number of Brazilians who have, to this point, been forced to take bouts above their natural weights just to find work.

One such fighter, Michael Willian Costa -- better known as “Maicon Willian” -- has previously competed Shooto Brazil at 123-pounds. His only losses have come by way of close decisions against Jussier “Formiga” da Silva and Alexandre Pantoja. Costa is a tough guy, as well as a talented grappler, but at 5’5”, he simply lacked the size and strength to hang with Brazil’s top flyweights.

“I think he has a great chance to be a champion at 52 kilos,” says Pederneiras of Costa, when asked who he favors to win the tournament.

The first two rounds of the title tourney will play out at Shooto Brazil 19 on Oct. 17 in Rio de Janeiro, with the champion being crowned at the promotion’s final show of the year on Dec. 11. Costa’s opponent in the opening round is the relatively unknown Pedro “Mascote.” In fact, the bulk of the tournament’s competitors are relative unknowns, but that’s oftentimes what tournaments are good for: building names.

“After we have a champion here in Brazil, the South American champion will probably challenge Mr. Rambaa,” Pederneiras forecasts. He should also have plenty of work for his newer, smaller fighters, as Shooto Brazil looks to hold eight shows in 2011, two more than in 2010.

While the 115-pound division lays its foundations in Asia and South America -- where the genetic codes can be better-suited to the slighter weights – it seems the addition of the class to major American promotions is likely still a long way away. But, you never know: after all, five years ago, the UFC had no use for 155-pounders.
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