Deep, ZST Partner Up

By Jordan Breen May 17, 2008
With major cards for each promotion in the upcoming days, Deep and ZST have announced a partnership that figures to add further solidarity to the Japanese MMA scene.

Deep big boss Shigeru Saeki, ZST public relations officer Joe Uehara, as well as promotional torchbearers Masakazu Imanari (Pictures) and Hideo Tokoro (Pictures) met with the media at Tokyo's Reversal Gym on Thursday to announce the alliance between the two promotions. The agreement will allow mainstay fighters from each promotion to compete in the other, and it will also unify the two promotions from different sides of the spectrum in the new Japanese landscape.

In order to understand the significance of the agreement, one must pay mind to the larger promotional affiliations of each promotion in the past.

ZST, a direct descendent of the Rings Fighting Network, served as a pathway for talent to Hero's under the supervision of Rings founder Akira Maeda (Pictures). This relationship saw the elevation of talents such as Tokoro, Remigijus Morkevicius (Pictures) and Kestutis Smirnovas (Pictures).

Meanwhile Deep acted as a smaller sister promotion to Pride. Saeki, while Deep's president, also served as a public relations officer for Pride and was responsible for much of the native talent competing in the Bushido brand.

Given this history, the relationship between Deep and ZST parallels the rise of Dream, which was founded when Hero's backer Fight Entertainment Group welcomed executives from former Pride parent company Dream Stage Entertainment. Saeki and Uehara both said that they hope the relationship between the two promotions can foster talent and funnel them toward Dream in the future.

Neither promoter was sure how inter-promotional bouts would work in terms of rules. Deep allows for soccer kicks and stomps in some instances while many of ZST's bouts still use traditional Rings rules, with no ground-and-pound to the head. However, both had ideas of fighters who they thought could benefit from the arrangement.

"Naoyuki Kotani (Pictures), Masanori Kanehara (Pictures) and Nobutatsu Suzuki (Pictures) are three fighters who have strong intentions," Uehara said.

Saeki said he thought Takeshi Yamazaki (Pictures) and Luiz could excel under ZST rules if given the opportunity. He also said he wanted to see Imanari back in ZST tag team action.

Imanari was one of the original four "ZST brothers" -- along with Tokoro, Kotani and Takumi Yano (Pictures) -- and helped make tag team bouts a ZST staple. After making his name in the promotion, though, Imanari left ZST under some measure of controversy after losing a highly controversial split decision to Jiro Wakabayashi in ZST's GT-F grappling tournament in March 2004. Imanari would then go on to make Deep his regular battlefield, then to become the promotion's first and only featherweight champion.

With ZST set to stage its next event on Sunday at Differ Ariake, and with Deep's title-laden lineup set for Monday at Korakuen Hall, the promotion's two stars also engaged in three minutes of standup sparring for the media.

Imanari will headline Deep's card, looking for revenge when he defends his featherweight title against Dokonjonosuke Mishima (Pictures). The two met in July 2003 in a lightweight contest, and Mishima punched out Imanari in the second round. Now Mishima will drop to featherweight for the first time in MMA action and try to become a double divisional champ in Deep.

Tokoro, although not the "true" main event, will be a part of ZST's most star-laden bout on Sunday. He'll team up with fellow ZST poster boy Naoyuki Kotani (Pictures) to take on the odd couple of Takumi Yano (Pictures) and Erikas Petraitis (Pictures), who have proved a successful tag team recently.

Tokoro and Petraitis have met in singles action three times in the past, with Tokoro taking wins in April 2004 and April 2005. In a seemingly foregone third bout, Petraitis upset the "Cinderella Boy," knocking Tokoro out with a wicked knee in February 2006. ZST's bill will also see quirky grappler Masayuki Okude (Pictures) take on Lithuanian import Maksim Nevolia.

In other action on the stacked Deep card, lightweight champion Kazunori Yokota (Pictures) will defend his lightweight crown against tough South Korean Pang Sung Hwan. Riki Fukuda (Pictures), Daijiro Matsui (Pictures), Yuichi Nakanishi (Pictures) and Yuya Shirai (Pictures) will draw their opponents lottery style on the evening to determine the semifinals and eventual finals of Deep's middleweight championship tournament.

In non-title affairs, welterweight champ Hidehiko Hasegawa (Pictures) will meet Hiroki Nagaoka (Pictures), and 99-pound female queen Satoko Shinashi (Pictures) will give up 20 pounds to female pro-wrestling convert Mai Ichii.

Grapplingman Hosts Best Hiroshima Shooto Yet

To the west, Hiroshima-based Shooto promoter Grapplingman will continue its larger 2008 schedule on Sunday with its annual May Grapplingman card at the Hiroshima Industrial Hall, which may be its best lineup to date.

The card will feature seven pro Shooto fights -- a stark change from Hiroshiman cards of the past. Many Hiroshima Shooto events have featured fewer pro fights and many more amateur Shooto and grappling bouts.

The main event for the bill will pit one of Hiroshima's best fighters in Kenichiro Togashi (Pictures) against last year's Shooto 154-pound rookie champion, Yutaka Ueda. The super-slick Togashi hasn't fought since being pummeled in a TKO loss to Brian Cobb (Pictures) last August in his stateside debut. Ueda, a winner of five straight, is coming off a commanding decision over Takahiro Kajita (Pictures) in Nagoya in March.

Another of last year's rookie champions, Kazuhiro Ito (Pictures) will look to avenge a loss in his November 2006 pro debut to Daisuke Matsumoto. Ito last saw action in February, when he was immortalized on YouTube after Shintaro Ishiwatari (Pictures) slammed him face-first into unconsciousness in jaw-dropping, highlight-reel fashion. Matsumoto's last bout ended unceremoniously last June, when he was stopped on account of a broken nose after only 57 seconds against Sakae Kasuya (Pictures).

Also scheduled for action on the bill, local favorite Takeshi Okada (Pictures) will take on career no-hoper Katsuhisa Akasaki (Pictures); Tatsuro Kamei (Pictures) will face Jun Nagasoe; Takumi Ota (Pictures) and Makoto Akazawa will do battle in a 143-pound rookie quarterfinal; Teppei Masuda and Yoshitaka Aki will square off in a 115-pound rookie quarterfinal; and Shunsuke Nomura will meet Keita Yoshida in a 132-pound opening-round rookie bout.

Salute and So Long to Shida

Amidst a year of high-profile retirements in Japan, one of the circuit's most underappreciated has decided to hang up his gloves.

2008 has already bore witness to the retirements of former Shooto world champions Akira Kikuchi (Pictures) and Akitoshi Hokazono (Pictures). Now Pancrase mainstay Miki Shida (Pictures) has announced his retirement from active MMA competition.

The 34-year-old Shida compiled a 13-5-2 record over a career that spanned just less than six years. Despite a relatively short pro career, he earned a reputation as a tough and rock-solid competitor. The majority of his losses came to some of the featherweight division's finest, including two defeats to Pancrase king Yoshiro Maeda (Pictures) and a loss to the ultra-talented Ivan Menjivar (Pictures). In his last bout, Shida was dispatched in brutal fashion by undefeated Brazilian prospect Marlon Sandro (Pictures) in March.

Shida, who will continue to train at Pancrase's main Tokyo P's Lab gym, will be honored in a retirement ceremony at Pancrase's June 1 card at Korakuen Hall.

Wada Loses a Win

Takuya Wada (Pictures) claimed Pancrase's provisional welterweight championship on April 27, taking a unanimous decision over Jason Palacios (Pictures). However, Pancrase has announced that Wada's October 2007 victory over Hyung Kwang Kim (Pictures) will be changed to a no contest.

During the Wada-Kim bout, an accidental head butt opened up a fight-ending gash on Kim's head just 1:40 into the second round. Wada was originally awarded the victory after officials had gone to the cards and returned with a technical majority decision in the SK Absolute member's favor.

Because the bout was scheduled for three five-minute rounds, Pancrase has since explained that not enough time had passed to warrant a technical decision. As a result, the bout has been retroactively declared a no contest.
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