Everything in its Light Place

By Jordan Breen May 12, 2009
When I got into sports at 10, I thought I was a “fan” of the Minnesota Vikings and Colorado Avalanche. I realized in subsequent years -- as my interest in those specific teams waned -- that it really wasn’t any attachment to the abstract idea of “team” that I had but rather that I deeply enjoyed watching the offense Brian Billick had put together and the Avalanche’s blend of technical dominance, with both grit and flair.

Although the Bill Simmons era has made super-fandom tolerable in journalism, that mentality has always stuck with me. Since becoming a prizefighting geek, I’ve had the chance to watch, meet, interview and even train with many outstanding fighters, but I’ve never really formed any deep attachments that make me feel as if their success is paramount to me. Most of my desire to see any fighter win comes from whether or not I’ve bet on him or her, or whether or not I’ve said or written something that will make me look like a moron if he or she loses.

I’m also motivated by the fact that because of my sports “nerdiness,” I’m pathologically rational, fastidious and orderly. I’ve found now that I tend to gravitate toward any champion -- team or individual -- retaining titles, because I like the prestigious cleanliness of legacy and dynasty. I love a good upset now and again -- if I didn’t, covering mixed martial arts would have been a rather insane choice of interest -- but I feel the best about sports, and life itself, when I feel like everything is in its right place.

That’s why, despite some souring refereeing -- which I’ve already blogged about -- I so thoroughly enjoyed Shooto’s 20th Anniversary on Sunday.

Takanori Gomi turning in a vintage performance against Takashi Nakakura made me happy as an MMA observer. It wasn’t because I have any affinity for Gomi (in fact, it should be the contrary due to past difficulties in dealing with his management), but he’s a great lightweight fighter, and so for him to perform as one is righteous. Nakakura is an underrated and legitimate opponent, but Gomi dealt with him as an excellent fighter should deal with a very good fighter, showing the division between the two with a stern knockout.

It’s a tad too early to assume Gomi is going to return to the form he showed in 2005. However, I feel the world is a more just place when he actually shows up in shape and doesn’t turn in the sort of clunkers he’s turned in since bashing Mitsuhiro Ishida nearly two and a half years ago. Gomi is MMA’s most accomplished lightweight; even though I would, without hesitation, pick B.J. Penn to re-dummy him in a rematch, that doesn’t change the fact that, over his 10-year career, Gomi has done more within the boundaries of that weight class than anyone. If he’s going to take a backseat to the enormous amount of talent that’s filling up the lightweight division, domestically and internationally, so be it, but I’d rather he lose as a trained, prepared and motivated fighter than the compromised sort we’ve seen over the last two years.

Photo by Sherdog.com

Ishida had a rough weekend.
I’ve already discussed elsewhere how dismaying Taro Wakabayashi’s stoppage in the Mizuto Hirota-Ishida fight was at JCB Hall. I’ve spent column inches in the past bemoaning the negative impact of overly officious refereeing and the disruption it can have on fighters’ livelihoods. For those reasons, I feel less nauseated in this case.

If the e-mails I’ve received on the event are a representative sample, Ishida already has popular opinion on his side as far as the stoppage goes, and I doubt Dream and Strikeforce brass will erase him from their memories due to the loss. While he’ll have to suffer with an unjust loss on his ledger, his future prospects aren’t particularly compromised in the way that early stoppages in big shows often compromise. Meanwhile, Hirota’s win actually bodes very well for the immediate future of domestic MMA and ultimately may have a more pragmatic end.

Not only does Hirota get some well-deserved publicity, but his win makes Sengoku’s Aug. 2 show much better than before. That card is scheduled to feature lightweight champion Satoru Kitaoka’s first title defense, despite no clear top contender. After knocking off Leonardo Santos earlier this month, former Deep champ Kazunori Yokota looked like the potential choice, despite the fact that he met Kitaoka in Sengoku’s lightweight tournament last year and wasn’t terribly competitive.

Although Yokota beat Hirota to get into that tournament final, styles make fights, and Hirota is more interesting against Kitaoka. Yokota is savvy and well-rounded but lacks the major one-shot power Hirota has shown since he began to tape his hands 18 months ago. No, that’s not a joke. For Kitaoka, who’s still very hittable and has struggled against anyone who has kept him upright, Hirota is the more daunting task and, for fans, a much more compelling fight.

I was happy to see Kotetsu Boku not just beat Yutaka Ueda but stop him in the first frame. This is no attack on Ueda, but he’s 25 years old, has a career ahead of him and hopefully can learn from it. Boku is about to turn 32 and, despite cropping up in K-1 Max, Hero’s and Dream over the years, hasn’t been able to get quality purses with any regularity.

That sort of ill luck is commonplace in fight sports, but I’m more sympathetic to Boku for a variety of reasons. He’s been robbed of at least three wins in the last two years and change (Kenichiro Togashi, Artur Oumakhanov and Yusuke Endo). Secondly, he’s been physically shortchanged by the cosmos. With his accuracy and combination punching, he should be a highlight reel regular, but he’s always displayed an unfortunate lack of natural punching power that has undermined his style. Go watch him land a crisp 53-punch combination on Joachim Hansen, only to be hit with a massive Mortal Kombat uppercut from the Norseman that sent him flying across the ring.

On top of all that, he’s truly tried to become a better fighter on the floor in the last year and has made genuine progress. Boku is true to the game, always fun to watch, aesthetically and technically, and got shafted when the fight gods were giving out KO power. The fact that he got a first-round stoppage and the chance to maybe grab a bigger purse somewhere else makes me believe there’s justice.

Brazilian prospect Willamy Chiquerim choking out Endo also makes the future more interesting. A stud up-and-comer like Chiquerim deserved a take-notice win, and this one earns him a return ticket to Japan. If he had lost, it would have been easy for Shooto’s brass to leave him in Brazil to defend his South American Shooto title. Instead, he now provides an interesting face in an otherwise stagnant division where nearly every fighter has already fought one another with little appeal in rematches. When we get to see Shooto hold fast to its own ideology as an international sport, and we get the mixing of regional talent pools and see contenders emerge, I’m profoundly excited.

These four outcomes -- all in the lightweight division, incidentally – can’t totally assuage the constant chaos of MMA. However, events like this make me feel better about the sport and life, when they’re working like the tidy, rational machines they should be and so seldom are.
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