Do or Die for Kondo; Sengoku Approaches

By Jordan Breen May 16, 2008
After building quality cards the old-fashioned way -- with great international talent in compelling matchups -- World Victory Road's second Sengoku offering this Sunday at the Ariake Colosseum in Tokyo could stand on its own purely-paper merits.

However, for at least one of the card's Japanese fighters, the event represents a do-or-die fight in a long and decorated career.

Although Josh Barnett (Pictures) and Jeff Monson (Pictures) will be on the marquee for the evening, many eyes will be on Pancrase icon Yuki Kondo (Pictures)'s meeting with grappling superstar Roger Gracie (Pictures). The bout is Gracie's second in MMA, though he's already been pegged as a future superstar.

The 32-year-old Kondo is a veteran of 12 years and 75 fights. Once considered one of Japan's finest products, the longtime King of Pancrase has begun to show the wear and tear of a lengthy career. At 6-8-1 over his last 15 bouts, many critics have deemed him shot.

Kondo is also coming off a disappointing loss to Keiichiro Yamamiya (Pictures) three weeks ago, and the bout with the highly touted Gracie may be a last chance for him.

"My body is moving very well," Kondo said Thursday after briefly working out for the media at Pancrase's flagship P's Lab gym in Tokyo. "I'm looking forward to the fight and I'm confident that from now on I can perform with good motion in a fight."

Kondo, who figures to give up somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 pounds to Gracie, revealed that he would look to his trademark flying knee as his ultimate weapon.

"I want to aim, fly, strike and finish with the knee," he said.

Kondo explained that he had lost his sense of distance with his knees, which played out in his fight with Yamamiya.

"I feel I've got good at distance," said the Pancrase torchbearer. "In order to beat a fighter, you have to go inside. I was able to remember that."

It is not the first time Kondo has been faced with a grappling ace looking to break out in MMA. In May 2000, he viciously thumped BJJ legend Saulo Ribeiro (Pictures) in a mere 22 seconds, effectively derailing what was perceived to be a promising career for Ribeiro.

Although he shied away from guaranteeing a victory for his new wife, the recently married Kondo did say he planned on winning within the distance.

"I think I can knock him out within three five-minute rounds," he said.

Grabaka rep Yuki Sasaki (Pictures) flexed his game for the media on Tuesday in preparation for a second try at his bout with Jorge Santiago (Pictures).

A Sasaki-Santiago matchup was supposed to happen last November stateside as part of Strikeforce's 185-pound one-night tournament. Irregularities in his MRI and MRA exams removed Sasaki from the tournament, which Santiago went on to win in impressive fashion, waxing Sean Salmon (Pictures) and Trevor Prangley (Pictures).

Sasaki spent four minutes rolling with fellow Grabaka standout Kazuo Misaki (Pictures) on Tuesday, showing off armbars and a neck crank from scarf control. After the workout, he said that he had tried not to research his opponent and was instead concerned with working his own strengths without allowing Santiago to work his.

Sasaki's teammate also offered some insight.

"His striking and ground are excellent, and he knows more tricks than me," Misaki said of Sasaki. "His strength is top-notch. I think he'll be a top fighter if he can fight truly on the big stage."

Wajyutsu Keisyukai product Eiji Mitsuoka (Pictures) worked out Wednesday at the Wajyutsu home base in Tokyo before his upcoming clash with undefeated South Korean banger Kwang Hee Lee (Pictures). Mitsuoka trained alongside his WK senior Caol Uno (Pictures), who was fresh off his enormous win in the Dream lightweight tournament quarterfinals over Mitsuhiro Ishida (Pictures) last Sunday.

"He is a great fighter," Mitsuoka said of Lee. "He doesn't go down even when he gets punched. Taking one another's best punches for five minutes seems frightening, so I'll try to avoid striking if I can."

Although it may be his biggest fight to date and despite saying that he would love to face Sengoku's lightweight ace Takanori Gomi (Pictures), Mitsuoka was adamant that he was taking things one step at a time.

"All my work is special," said Mitsuoka, who hasn't fought since his November upset over Joachim Hansen (Pictures). "I want to win for the time being. The only thing I'm concentrating on is my upcoming fight."

Satoru Kitaoka (Pictures), one of Pancrase's proudest products, worked out for the media on Monday at Pancrase's Yokohama P's Lab gym. He was every bit his usual combative self.

In preparation for his bout with tough Aussie Ian James Schaffa (Pictures) in what will be his first lightweight competition, the stout Kitaoka made an example of a young Pancrase trainee whom he rolled with for the cameras. Kitaoka showed off an array of submissions, including his trademark guillotine choke and leglocks. He tapped his young charge nine times in three minutes.

Despite the maneuvers that have come to be his trademarks, Kitaoka promised not only that he would finish Schaffa by submission but also that the armbar was "speaking to him." He also emphasized that the quicker, the better because he needed time after his victory to get backstage and help training partner Ryo Kawamura (Pictures) prepare for his bout against Kevin Randleman (Pictures) later in the evening.

Kawamura, who will face the biggest test of his young career when he takes on "The Monster," opted for a more lighthearted media gathering for his bout. Rather than a trite workout at Pancrase's Tokyo gym, the American football aficionado met with journalists at the May 8 Tokyo premiere of "Rambo."

The young Pancrasist was overjoyed with meeting "Rambo" leading man Sylvester Stallone. Kawamura said he needed to add the hunting power of Rambo to his natural power in order to overcome the former Buckeye wrestling standout.

"I said at the press conference I wanted to 'hunt wild nature'," Kawamura explained of his bout with Randleman, who is affectionately known as "Donkey Kong" by the Japanese. "Randleman is a wild thing of nature, and with Rambo, I'll be able to hunt with that wildness."

Kawamura wasn't the only fighter to call upon theatrics. Firebrand Yoshihiro "Kiss" Nakao put on a humorous display of his own when he worked out for the media May 7.

Nakao assembled four training partners at the Omori Gold Gym, all of them donning masks made of cutouts of Nakao's opponent's face, Australian heavy hitter "Big" Jim York. Rather than seriously sparring, Nakao attacked his masked "York Army Corps" with playful spinning back kicks.

While the typically brash Nakao said he thought York was a "good opponent," his true fighting desires apparently reside elsewhere.

"The York fight, I'm aiming at only a total KO," Nakao said. "After I knock out York, I require a fight with [Kazuyuki] Fujita."

Despite talk of WVR creating titles later this year, Nakao's focus was singular.

"Although there could be beautiful opponents, and the belt would fit, I'm not concerned with others," he said. "I want to pursue Fujita."
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