Koubousen Companion: News and Notes from Japan

Koubousen Companion

By Jordan Breen Feb 7, 2007
Now in the midst February, the Japanese fight scene is beginning to fire on all cylinders with a couple of big weeks ahead in the world of mixed martial arts. This week's news is a diverse grab bag, touching on everything from fashion to flyweights, from Tokyo to Okinawa.

Kazuhiro Nakamura (Pictures) has put in some hard work in spreading the sport of judo, and it hasn't gone unnoticed. Likewise, Caol Uno (Pictures) has worked hard in spreading his love of fashion, which has turned heads this week as he released the first two designs in his Nike-sponsored shoe collection. However, not all is nifty in Nike, as Yoshihiro Akiyama (Pictures)'s plummet from HERO'S to zeroes has continued, with public outrage over an advertising appearance.

Meanwhile, this weekend will see two Japanese standouts looking to make an impression on North American audiences. Hatsu Hioki (Pictures)'s TKO title win over Mark Hominick (Pictures) last May made him a combat hero in his native Nagoya. Now coming up on their rematch, Hioki worked on his balance, literally and figuratively, dedicating himself in the gym while taking some time for television appearances.

While Hioki's in Montreal, KILLER BEE Riki Fukuda (Pictures) will be in Mississippi to take on Seth Kleinbeck (Pictures) at EliteXC's inaugural card. Fukuda has been viewed as one of Japan's best hopes for a young star in the higher weight classes, and will have a great opportunity for exposure, with his bout being broadcast online free of charge. So, how has Fukuda prepared for his most high profile bout to date? Well, it starts in San Jose.

"ATCH Anarchy" may mean nothing to most MMA fans, but 114-pound Shooto stand-out Atsushi Takeuchi (Pictures) is now somewhat of a pint-sized pioneer. A crackling KO win for the micro-sized slugger has made him Shooto's first ever Class A competitor at 114-pounds. And, more importantly, Takeuchi and an emerging crop of young talent have given a flicker of hope to flyweights taking full flight in Shooto.

While ZST beefs up its next show at the familiar Differ Ariake with resident stars, Pancrase and HERO'S are planning something new. Despite Okinawa's rich history of combat, the southern most are of Japan has gotten virtually no play as a kakutougi venue. Pancrase, however, has decided that it’s time the paradisiacal prefecture got its due, and have aimed at April to introduce themselves to the Okinawan audience. Meanwhile, it's taken two years, but HERO'S are finally making their first stop in Nagoya, and will look to light up the Rainbow Hall with their first card of 2007.

Finally, leading Shooto promoter Sustain is making "BACK TO OUR ROOTS" a theme, rather than a one-night stand. Case in point? BACK TO OUR ROOTS II is set to go for March 16 at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo. As usual, there is quality on tap, especially in form of a 123-pound title rematch sure to stimulate any Shooto junkie.

Congrats to Kaz Nak

Congratulations are in order for Kazuhiro Nakamura (Pictures) for his work in furthering the sport of judo.

In addition to helping his head trainer Hidehiko Yoshida (Pictures) with his VIVA JUDO! clinics across Japan to further the sport of judo, Nakamura has excelled in his role as the head of Yoshida Dojo's branch in the Aoba ward of Yokohama. For his excellence in spreading the sport of judo, the Aoba-ku Gymnastics Association awarded him the Aoba-ku Sport Spreading Award.

"I'm very happy I can obtain such a wonderful award," said Nakamura, who is due to compete on PRIDE's Feb. 24 card in Las Vegas against Travis Wiuff (Pictures). "I want to continue to do my very best in the promotion and spreading of judo."

Nike nabs a mixed bag with Uno and Akiyama

Athletic apparel giant Nike has thrust two Japanese competitors into the spotlight this past week, with mixed results.

On the bright side, fighter-cum-fashionista Caol Uno (Pictures) has grabbed attention with the release of the Nike Court Force Low and Free Trail on Feb. 3. The shoes were designed by the former Shooto world champion as part of a collection series titled 10AC, an alphanumeric reversal of the name "Caol." While both the Court Force Low and the Free Trail feature a smooth, basic all-white design, the Court Force Low has drawn attention and acclaim for its characteristic woven tongue and toe cap.

However, on a less positive note, Nike Japan has been flooded with angry responses from Japanese viewers over their recent television ad featuring disgraced HERO'S 187-pound tournament winner Yoshihiro Akiyama (Pictures). The 60-second commercial spot, in which Akiyama appears alongside sport superstars such as Lebron James and Roger Federer, was filmed prior to Akiyama's Oil of Olay-oriented controversy stemming from his New Year's Eve fight with Kazushi Sakuraba (Pictures).

When Nike chose to proceed with the advertisements despite Akiyama's recent controversy, they were swamped with e-mails and telephone calls from viewers, many of whom claimed that not only was it improper for Akiyama to be showcased in an advertising campaign given his actions, but that by choosing him as a representative of mixed martial arts, Nike was denigrating the sport.

At the present time, Nike has stated no plans to pull the ads from television circulation.

Hioki in the studio, but on the ball for Hominick rematch

Many young Japanese fighters made prominent impressions on North American fans in 2006 — and Nagoyan Hatsu Hioki (Pictures) was most certainly one of them.

Coming off a disappointing draw with journeyman Bao Quach (Pictures) in front of his hometown audience in Feb. 2006, Hioki jumped on the opportunity to travel to Quebec in May to meet then-TKO 145-pound champion Mark Hominick (Pictures), who was coming off his shocking win over Yves Edwards (Pictures) in the UFC.

Hioki seized the opportunity, and dominated "The Machine,” sending him to sleep with a triangle choke at the end of the second frame in an eye-opening performance.

After bringing the TKO title back to Nagoya, Hioki followed up with two victories in front of his home crowd, taking out Hominick's former jiu-jitsu trainer Jeff Curran (Pictures) in August, and then quickly dispatching late replacement Byon Sho Kim in November. However, as TKO's Feb. 9 event title suggests, it has seemed inevitable that Hioki would mean Hominick again, this time in the newly instated TKO cage.

Leading up to this weekend's bout, Hioki has garnered a bit of public attention in his native Nagoya, appearing on a variety show hosted by television talent Kanpei Hazama on the Nagoya-based television network Chukyo Television. Hioki allowed Hazama and fellow guests to try on his TKO title belt, before showing off some pad work in the studio.

In more practical preparation for the bout, Hioki has continued to train under mentor Yoichi Suzuki at ALIVE Academy, while sharpening his stand-up skills as Boxing Team ZERO under Taketomi Nakajima. Hioki has also done a large amount of stability ball training with calisthenics, in order to increase the core strength and balance of his 5' 10" frame.

KILLER BEE Fukuda buzzes into AKA for Kleinbeck clash

Another Japanese talent will be in North American action this weekend, when KILLER BEE's Riki Fukuda (Pictures) squares off with "Doctor" Seth Kleinbeck (Pictures) on the undercard of EliteXC's debut event Feb. 10 at the Desoto County Civic Center in Southaven, Miss.

Considered one of Japan's best prospects in the higher weight classes, Fukuda will be making his mainland American debut, having already competed in Hawaii twice in his career. An understudy of his now-teammate and trainer "KID" Norifumi Yamamoto (Pictures) on the wrestling team at Yamanashi Institute University, Fukuda was a very strong collegiate grappler, taking a third place finish at the 2000 All Japan collegiate wrestling championships in the 187-pound Greco-Roman category, and a second place finish at the 2002 collegiate championships in the 211-pound freestyle category.

Fukuda has recently diversified his training, by preparing for his fight with Kleinbeck in San Jose, Calif. with American Kickboxing Academy. The choice is a fitting one, with Fukuda training alongside UFC 170-pound standouts Josh Koscheck (Pictures) and Jon Fitch (Pictures), whose developments as fighters have mirrored that of Fukuda, coming from a strong wrestling background.

Fukuda's bout with the Arkansas native Kleinbeck will be streamed live alongside the rest of the event's undercard bouts via EliteXC's official Web site: elitexc.com.
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