Shooto’s Best 143-Pounders on Display

Yamamoto vs. Okazaki

By Jordan Breen May 17, 2007
Atsushi Yamamoto (Pictures) (KILLER BEE) vs. Koetsu Okazaki (Cobra Kai MMA Dojo)

Throughout 2005 and on into 2006, Shooto's 132-pound class was seemingly dead in its tracks. With then-champion Ryota Matsune (Pictures) on the shelf for a lengthy amount of time with a nagging knee injury, and little in the way of meaningful contenders, the division was almost a non-factor in the plans of Shooto promoters.

However, with the belt now around the waist of Akitoshi Hokazono (Pictures), Shooto's featherweight division has come together in the last year with an infusion of quality talent, and Atsushi Yamamoto (Pictures)'s and Koetsu Okazaki's decisions to pursue professional Shooto are a bit part of that.

After competing against larger opponents in Pancrase's 141-pound weight class, the 26-year-old Yamamoto, who is lean and in shape in the high 130s weight range, decided that heading down a division would be best. So far, he's been right. In his first bout at 135-pounds, Yamamoto took a handy decision over So Tazawa (Pictures), before cutting to 132-pounds for his pro Shooto debut, meeting 2005 rookie MVP Takeya Mizugaki (Pictures).

While Yamamoto entered the bout against the highly touted Mizugaki as an underdog, he didn't look a single bit the part. Mizugaki, known as a physically overwhelming fighter with the ability to ragdoll his opponents, was throughly outclassed in the grappling department by Yamamoto, who was able to defend this submission attempts while maintaining position, and shutting down Mizugaki's attempts to scramble back to his feet.

Up until one year ago, it seemed Koetsu Okazaki would be yet another in a long line of promising young Shooto fighters who despite considerable potential, don't zealously pursue a fighting career and fade out of competition. After winning the 2004 Shooto rookie tournament in 2004, Okazaki fell off the face of the earth for 18 months, before returning with back-to-back wins over Hiroyuki Tanaka (Pictures) and So Tazawa (Pictures) in front of his hometown Osaka crowd, earning his Class A Shooto license, and firmly planting himself both in the minds of Shooto fans while intensifying 132-pound class.

Both fighters are fairly well-rounded. Yamamoto, like all KILLER BEE fighters, enjoys standing up and banging with his opponents, which Okazaki is not opposed to either. The larger striking arsenal belongs to Yamamoto, who has worked hard to improve his stand-up. While he is not a KO threat, Yamamoto has good leg kicks and throws a decent lead hook, which can allow him to dictate pace and tempo on the feet. Okazaki, on the other hand, is more of a flailing puncher, and while he has some power in his right hand, he seldom engages in any heavy leather-slinging without adequate provocation.

Barring a sudden and surprising KO, this bout will be won and lost on the mat. Okazaki is a good wrestler, with a solid shot, good trips from the body-lock, and possesses skills off a scramble to take the back. Once securing solid position, he can threaten with submissions attempts while maintaining his position. This is the largest part of Okazaki's game, and the simple fact is that it doesn't clash well with Yamamoto.

Yamamoto possesses a big edge in the wrestling department, as not only was he an All Japan collegiate runner-up while wrestling at Yamanashi Gakuin University, but he's been able to adapt his wrestling to MMA competition. He has superb takedowns, and decent ground-and-pound and submissions. However, as he showed against Mizugaki, perhaps his best skill is keeping his opponents floored once he gets them there. Okazaki has not shown himself to be a threatening guard player, and Yamamoto's wrestling will put him there. Since virtually all of his offense is predicated on securing the top position, he won't the too many opportunities to do anything in the bout.

While Yamamoto is susceptible to being KO'd, and Okazaki has a bit of power, he is no serious sprawl-and-brawl threat. After testing the waters in the stand-up, Yamamoto's ability to finish takedowns and maintain position will nullify Okazaki's offense from that point on. Expect a unanimous decision win for the KILLER BEE competitor, who will take another big jump in the Shooto rankings with the win.
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