Takaya, Maeda Venture West to WEC

Takaya, Maeda Venture West

By Jordan Breen Feb 8, 2008
Japanese standouts have had mixed success stateside lately. Now two more touted Japanese representatives will look to make their mark in the cage.

The focal point of a busy midweek of MMA, the Feb. 13 WEC card at the Santa Ana Star Center in Albuquerque, N.M., will feature three title clashes in what may be the best lineup the company has fielded since Zuffa took the reigns in December 2006. The card will also see Hiroyuki Takaya (Pictures) and Yoshiro Maeda (Pictures) make their American debuts in bouts that promise to be all-action affairs.

Takaya, 30, began his career in pro Shooto at 143 pounds and was quickly tabbed as a future contender for then-champion Alexandre Franca Nogueira (Pictures). A December 2004 showdown with Jens Pulver (Pictures) -- who has also joined the WEC 145-pound ranks -- was seemingly set to determine the next challenger to the reign of "Pequeno."

However, Pulver pulled out of the bout to take a more lucrative New Year's Eve bout at 161 pounds with Takanori Gomi (Pictures). Takaya's replacement was a little-known Gilbert Melendez (Pictures), who pulled off a unanimous decision in his breakout performance. Following the loss, Takaya moved to 154 pounds for bigger paydays in K-1 HERO'S.

Since his return to the featherweight division, Takaya is 2-0. In September he crushed American import Jarrod Card (Pictures) in GCM's Cage Force, before coming out the victor in a sensational striking clash with Antonio Carvalho (Pictures) in November.

Takaya has had his heart set on fighting in the United States since dropping back down to featherweight. He has been especially interested in fighting WEC 145-pound kingpin Urijah Faber (Pictures).

In his WEC debut, though, the "Streetfight Bancho" will meet UFC veteran Leonard Garcia (Pictures), who figures to be a satisfactory opponent given Takaya's penchant for brawling.

Garcia is best known for his spirited effort in defeat against star prospect Roger Huerta (Pictures). The free-swinging "Bad Boy" last competed in September, dropping a unanimous decision to Cole Miller (Pictures) at 155 pounds. Following the defeat, Garcia opted to cut down to the more suitable 145-pound class and compete amongst Zuffa's featherweight crop in the WEC.

Maeda's WEC debut will also be his first fight in the 135-pound division. The Osaka native has spent the bulk of his career fighting at 141 pounds in Pancrase. He had a solid 2007 campaign, going 3-0-1 against reputable international opposition, including a dominating win over U.K. standout Danny Batten (Pictures) and a thrilling back-and-forth draw with hardnosed South Korean Jong Man Kim (Pictures).

In many respects, the upcoming WEC bout is make or break for the reigning Pancrase featherweight champion.

After starting his career 12-0, Maeda was thought to be one of Japan's future kings in the lower weight categories. Well-rounded, explosive and a good finisher, he seemed to be the full package.

However, several quick and crushing defeats in high-profile fights followed, including Pride losses to Charles Bennett (Pictures) and Joe Pearson (Pictures). Maeda has since taken on a reputation as a choke artist, one of many physically talented fighters who can't get over the proverbial hump.

Charlie Valencia (Pictures) is an ideal opponent for assessing whether the Pancrase poster boy has the mettle to compete in an internationally deepening 135-pound talent pool. A very solid veteran, Valencia was shocked last June by unknown upstart Brian Bowles (Pictures), who submitted him in the second round. Valencia bounced back in sensational fashion in December, though, destroying then-undefeated Ian McCall (Pictures) in just more than three minutes.

Osawa to WEC

Shooto contender Kenji Osawa (Pictures) will make his WEC debut on March 26, a source has confirmed to Sherdog.com.

The WEC's March offering is bound for the promotion's familiar digs at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, where Osawa will take on undefeated American Top Team product Chris Manuel (Pictures).

Osawa, 31, has split his last six bouts, albeit against sterling competition. He opened last year 0-2, dropping a majority decision to Marcos Galvao (Pictures) and a split decision to Australian-based Brazilian Daniel Lima (Pictures). However, the charismatic WK product ended the year with a win, taking a commanding decision over Nobuhiro "Punch" Yamauchi in December.

Manuel owns a 5-0-1 mark in MMA and has finished opponents in all five of his victories, albeit against anonymous competition. His best opposition has come in the form of Jarrod Card (Pictures), whom he drew with in his second pro bout in September 2006.

Smackgirl Starts '08 with Star-Powered ReMixes

After "starting over" last December, Smackgirl is ready to start 2008 with a double shot of ReMix on Feb. 14 at Korakuen Hall.

The promotion hosted landmark ReMix tournaments in 2000 and 2004. As has been tradition with the ReMix tournament, one of the fields will be an open-weight bracket while the other will focus on the 115-pound division, which Smackgirl executives feel is their deepest and most talented division.

The 115-pound tournament will see four quarterfinal bouts contested on the card, although the tournament has not been bracketed. The four winners who emerge on the Feb. 14 card will be paired against one another at the discretion of Smackgirl for the April 25 card, before the finale on July 26 at Korakuen Hall.

In the first quarterfinal, female superstar Megumi Fujii (Pictures) will take on BJJ black belt Cindy Hales (Pictures). The highly regarded Fujii had a sensational 2007, going 5-0 on the year with victories over fellow standouts and tournament competitors Lisa Ward (Pictures) and Kyoko Takabayashi (Pictures).

Hales, a Seattle-based BJJ black belt, holds victories over Smackgirl veterans Shawn Tamaribuchi (Pictures) and Cami Hostetler. Like Fujii, she has competed at the ADCC World Championships.

The aforementioned Takabayashi will compete in the second quarterfinal, taking on Nova Uniao product Michelli Tavares (Pictures). Takabayashi was defeated in her last outing in which she lasted against Megumi Fujii (Pictures) until the final bell, dropping her record to 8-2.

Tavares, who also has a loss to Fujii, was handed the second loss of her career in September when Smackgirl 115-pound champion Yuka Tsuji (Pictures) knocked her out. Tavares is the only woman to have beaten Tsuji, having submitted her in July 2003.

Lisa Ward (Pictures) bounced back from her August defeat to Fujii by dominating the much larger Megumi Yabushita (Pictures) en route to a unanimous decision in November. In the third quarterfinal, she'll meet the brawl-inclined Ayumi "Edge" Saito, who had her six-fight win streak snapped in her last bout, a decision loss to South Korean muay Thai champion Su Hi Ham (Pictures).

Ham will compete in the fourth quarterfinal. Although unsuccessful in her December bid for the Smackgirl 115-pound title against Yuka Tsuji (Pictures), she will take on upstart Saori Ishioka (Pictures), who is coming off a submission victory over Thricia Poovey on the same bill.

In the open-weight ReMix tournament, former Smackgirl 128-pound champion Hitomi Akano (Pictures) will fight former Smackgirl open-weight champion Megumi Yabushita (Pictures).

Both competitors need victories. Akano has dropped three of her last four, albeit against stellar competition in the form of Amanda Buckner (Pictures), Vanessa Porto (Pictures) and Takayo Hashi (Pictures). The pioneering Yabushita has lost four straight, with her last loss being a lopsided decision against the hulking Lana Stefanac (Pictures) in December.

Also in open-weight ReMix tournament action, the equally desperate Keiko "Tama Chan" Tamai, another loser of four straight, will take on pro wrestler and part-time MMA fighter Atsuko "Bullfight Sora" Emoto.
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