Sengoku ‘Eleventh Battle’ Preview

Hioki vs. Omigawa

Nov 3, 2009
The Sengoku period in Japanese history was marked by social evolution, political drama straight out of “The West Wing” and more military conflict than a game of “Risk.” Basically, it was like living through a high school breakup every day for more than 100 years.

World Victory Road remains familiar with the feeling, but despite those Sisyphean difficulties, Sengoku “Eleventh Battle” has the green light this Saturday at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo. With intrigue to spare, it has something to offer even the most exacting of sporting palates, from Broadway-level pageantry and a collection of jiu-jitsu virtuosos like Hatsu Hioki and Satoru Kitaoka to gun-slinging strikers like Jorge Masvidal and Jorge Santiago.

Set your clocks to Japanese time, stock some Red Bulls and prepare for the inevitable post-show coma.

Hatsu Hioki vs. Michihiro Omigawa

The Breakdown: This match stars two Sengoku featherweight grand prix competitors. Hioki entered the tournament a favorite but was sidelined by injury. Omigawa made an improbable run to the final thanks to an improving repertoire that was overshadowed by preposterous judging that handed him a win over Marlon Sandro in the semi-finals. This was the bout that would have happened had Hioki not been injured, and he remains an overwhelming favorite to turn Omigawa into origami.

One of the sport’s most aggressive and aesthetically fluid grapplers, Hioki has proven dangerous in virtually any position. His striking has made significant improvements, although he does have the mind-numbing habit of going into K-1 mode. Omigawa needs to get inside on Hioki in order to stand any chance, as his down-in-the-trenches boxing style and Judo background will do him no good if he eats kicks or lets his compatriot score takedowns. Omigawa, however, can be every bit as unfocused as Hioki, and while that’s a mistake Hioki can afford, Omigawa cannot say the same.

Omigawa’s plodding style on the mats seems especially troubling and looks like a poor match for Hioki’s ADD approach. If Omigawa had the top control or defense to stall Hioki, this might be a different fight, but there may not be any featherweight who can do that to Hioki. Even if the former TKO champion does test out his Masato Kobayashi impersonation, Omigawa does not have the power to fully take advantage. Of course, Omigawa can always survive until the final bell and let the judges play favorites.

The X-Factor: This fight rests completely in Hioki’s hands. As long as he uses his jiu-jitsu, it would take nothing short of a Deus Ex Machina for Omigawa to win. However, one can never make that assumption about Hioki, who routinely gets himself in deep water trying to play kickboxer.

Omigawa may not be a kill-shot club member, but he has proven relentless on the feet and has the cardio to back it up. Reach will be a major disadvantage for him, but Hioki lacks the technical polish to fully employ his mantis frame. Watch the early going closely. If Hioki comes out flicking kicks, this match will be much closer than anyone expects.

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The Bottom Line: One has to make a lot of assumptions to convince anyone Omigawa has a real chance against Hioki; that’s the most compelling reason to believe he will be crying into his gi come Sunday morning. Some early misadventures on the feet for both men will give way to a textbook display for Hioki once the fight hits the ground. Omigawa will come to realize that being on the mat with him is akin to being cast as the token minority in a horror movie. Sooner or later, your number gets called.
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