Koubousen Companion: News and Notes From Japan

HERO'S talks up U.S.

By Jordan Breen Mar 14, 2007
Smackgirl queens Tsuji and Buckner tabbed for championship clashes

Hot on the heels of an outstanding doubleheader at Shinjuku FACE this past weekend, Smackgirl executives revealed some more details of the schedule for the first half of 2007, shedding some light on the Smackgirl championship title picture.

Next month will see Smackgirl head west to Osaka, where Azalea Taisho Hall will play host to their April 28 card. Fittingly, Osaka native Yuka Tsuji (Pictures) will be the evening's main eventer, defending her Smackgirl 115-pound title against a yet-to-be-named opponent. While no potential candidates have been named, it is the hope of Smackgirl officials that they will be able to find a top-flight foreign competitor to contest Tsuji.

Tsuji's last title defense came in June, where she squared off with rival WINDY Tomomi. The match-up garnered considerable attention in the Japanese fight media for a female MMA contest, perhaps due in part unique Winner Take All stipulations of the fight, which resulted in Tsuji walking away with both fight purses after choking Tomomi unconscious in the first round.

While Amanda Buckner (Pictures) will have a rendezvous in Russia next month as part of bodogFight's "Clash of the Nations" card in St. Petersburg, Russia, she is expected to make the first defense of her Smackgirl open-weight title on May 19, when Smackgirl hosts another day-night doubleheader at Shinjuku FACE. Though no challenger has been formally determined, it is thought that female fight pioneer Yoko Takahashi (Pictures) is the leading candidate in the minds of the Smackgirl authorities.

Run-of-the-mill ratings for HERO'S

Japan's Video Research Ltd. reported earlier this week that the same-day telecast of the March 12 HERO'S card in Nagoya, aired on the Tokyo Broadcasting System from 9 p.m. to 10:54 p.m. drew a 12.1 rating. The highest rated fight of the telecast was the bout between Kazushi Sakuraba (Pictures) and Yurij Kiselov, which drew a 16.6 rating.

The rating is not a particularly strong one, though it is not weak, either. Strong one hour telecasts in the 9 p.m. to 9:54 p.m. timeslot, such as "Beat" Takeshi Kitano's weekly TV Tackle and drama Tokyo Tower: Mom, Me and Sometimes Dad both drew 13.8 and 14.2 ratings, respectively. However, it bested some of the HERO'S ratings from 2006, including the 9.3 garnered by the Aug. 5, 2006 telecast and the 11.8 garnered by the March 15, 2006 telecast. The May 3, 2006 card drew a 14.5, while the Oct. 9, 2006 card featuring the finales of the HERO'S tournaments, drew a 14.6.

The downside to the rating, however, is that it is the second lowest rating that the Tokyo Broadcasting System has recorded this year in the 9 p.m. to 10:54 p.m. time slot on Monday nights, besting only the Jan. 22 edition of Golden Monday's 9.9 rating. It is also considerably lower than the strong 16.4 drawn by the Feb. 5 K-1 MAX Japan Grand Prix telecast, which aired in the same timeslot.

Akiyama's slippery scandal spawns HERO'S rule reform

Unbeknownst to most, this past HERO'S card did have some changes in effect in terms of rules and protocol. HERO'S rule director Gen Isono has revealed a host of new legislation for HERO'S competition in the wake of the Yoshihiro Akiyama (Pictures) controversy, with rule changes involving gloves, greasing, and a variety of other aspects that came into play during the Akiyama scandal.

Fighters in HERO'S are now no longer permitted to tape their hands in their dressing rooms. Fighters must now go to the executive office in the arena, and tape their hands in front of an official. Moreover, fighters will be given their gloves just before they make their entrance to the ring by an attending official. Following a bout, fighters must remove their gloves and hand-wraps in front of an official.

Also, no fighters are permitted to use creams, Vaseline, or lubricants of any kind on the day before, or day of a fight. Officials and referees have now been carefully instructed to search fighters more diligently for these kinds of lubricants before fights begin.

No less than 12 officials will be employed for surveillance backstage during events. Locker rooms and warm-up areas will be among the closest monitored, as officials seek to ensure there are no areas in which fighters can't be watched.

Fouls of this nature will now be of considerably greater consequence. If a foul of these kinds is discovered prior to a fight, the offending competitor will forfeit half of his purse money, as opposed to 10 percent previously. If the infringement is discovered after a bout has transpired, the guilty party will be immediately disqualified, rendering his opponent the winner, and will have his entire fight purse withheld. Moreover, fighters who are deemed to be negligent in their actions will be suspended for three to six months from competition, while those deemed to be malicious will be suspended for six months or longer.

In the ring, while officials were previously instructed to let action continue to flow even if an attacking fighter in top position had driven a fighter on his back between the ropes and onto the apron, officials are now instructed to immediately pull them back into the ring to fight away from the ropes.

"Although we had left some of this up to fighters' good will before, from now on, events will be managed in strict accordance," said Isono.

HERO's hype for American endeavor accelerates

Of course, coming off of its event in Nagoya, the week's hot topic has again become K-1 and HERO'S backer Fight Entertainment Group stating plans to enter the American market in the coming months, to offer opposition to Zuffa and the UFC.

Last month, Japanese sports media picked up the comments of both FEG producer Sadaharu Tanigawa and HERO'S executive Akira Maeda (Pictures), both of whom indicated that they're serious about promoting HERO'S in America. Maeda said that he had already began planning the card's participants, while Tanigawa boasted the promotional motto of "Stop the UFC," stating that FEG has a global strategy and want to run four events in the United States per year, in an effort to slow the momentum of the UFC.

The early world was that FEG wanted to run a pay-per-view event stateside in May, or June from Las Vegas. Former NCAA wrestling champion and pro-wrestling superstar Brock Lesnar (Pictures) and MMA pioneer Royce Gracie (Pictures) would be the headliners for the bill, and talk was that FEG was interested in matching Lesnar against super-sized ssireum king Hong Man Choi, who made his MMA debut this past New Year's Eve, quickly thrashing variety show entertainer-cum-fighter Bobby Ologun (Pictures) in less than 20 seconds.

The media bravado continued this weekend in Nagoya, as Tanigawa revealed that he plans to hold a press conference in California later this month, where he will reveal the extent of the American plans for HERO'S. Tanigawa also said that the press conference would serve to upset UFC boss Dana White.

A proposed event now seems more likely for mid-June, and FEG and HERO'S officials have begun mentioning California as a planned destination for an American event. HERO'S executive Akira Maeda (Pictures) has said that he already has a host of American fighters in mind for the event, and that he plans to use "Mighty" Mo Siligia and Melvin Manhoef (Pictures), as well.

Despite a new wave of talk surrounding FEG's American HERO'S endeavor, it is crucial to recognize the role of promotional bluster in the Japanese sports media, especially coming from Fight Entertainment Group.

This kind of talk is nothing new: in August, Tanigawa stated that Brock Lesnar (Pictures) would debut in February and headline HERO'S first card in the United States. We are now in March, and yet the American HERO'S card still exists only in the hype Tanigawa continues to generate in the press. However, we will get a good idea of how serious FEG are about their American event, with Tanigawa's insistence that he will announce his plans in the next two weeks or so.
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