HERO’S 154-lb. Tournament Kicks Off

By Jason Nowe and Stephen Martinez Jul 16, 2007
TOKYO, July 16 -- With anticipation and rumors swirling for the last two weeks, Fight Entertainment Group finally displayed their brand of mixed martial arts from within confines of the Yokohama Arena.

Perhaps even bigger than the stacked card of the 154-pound HERO'S tournament quarterfinals, was the speculation circulating amongst Japanese insiders and that current PRIDE lightweight champion, Takanori Gomi (Pictures) would take a page from Kazushi Sakuraba (Pictures)'s book and announce his defection to the HERO'S banner.

FEG Executive Producer Sadaharu Tanigawa further stirred the pot by saying that he would be making a big announcement on the day of the event, which would "change the flow of MMA in Japan."

But when HERO'S supervisor Akira Maeda (Pictures) entered the ring during halftime, it wasn't Takanori Gomi (Pictures) that was introduced, but rather Japanese pro wrestling icon and Pancrase founding father Masakatsu Funaki.

Funaki, who fought his retirement bout against Rickson Gracie at the Colosseum 2000 match just over seven years ago, announced that he would be making his return to MMA competition in the HERO'S ring next December. Although an opponent was not mentioned, the camera kept panning to former pro wrestler and Japanese MMA legend Kazushi Sakuraba (Pictures), who was in attendance as part of the commentary team.

While Takanori Gomi (Pictures)'s name was ever mentioned during the show, the PRIDE versus K-1 motif was certainly hyped in the main event as veteran Japanese icon Kiyoshi Tamura (Pictures) faced off against Taiei Kin (Pictures).

In the pre-fight video montage, Tamura was touted as coming from PRIDE and, in essence, being their representative. Kin, a Seido Kaikan karate disciple boasting an impressive kickboxing record, acted as the K-1 representative.

To say that this main event was a real letdown after a better than average show would be a major understatement. The entire opening 10-minute round followed by the second five-minute round followed the same basic pattern. Kin would fire a high kick; Tamura would block and counter with a takedown into guard; the referee would eventually stand them back up due to inactivity. Repeat.

Tamura looked clueless, lazy, or despondent (take your pick) on the ground. While in the guard after the takedowns, the U-File Camp fighter did nothing more than hold his opponent on the mat -- no punches, no attempts at a guard pass, nothing.

After the 15 minutes of regulation time, the decision came back as a draw and a extra five-minute overtime round was called. Both fighters picked it up in the first minute of the extra frame, but after a while the same pattern of the previous two rounds emerged. If anything it was Kin who was pushing the pace of the fight by tagging low kicks to the inside of Tamura's right leg and sprawling some of Tamura's shots.

After a failed flying armbar attempt in the closing moments of the third round, Tamura ended up on his back. From here he tied up Kin's hands until the final bell. The fight again went to the judges and Kin was announced the winner.

After all the hype of bringing Tamura into the fold, and the tremendous letdown of this fight, one has to wonder what K-1 is going to do with him? Can they build a match between him and HERO'S 2006 light heavyweight champion Yoshihiro Akiyama (Pictures)? Or Sakuraba, or perhaps even the returning Funaki? These questions will no doubt be answered within the coming months.

In the quarterfinals of this year's 154-pound tournament, K-1 HERO'S and UFC veteran Caol Uno (Pictures) squared off against Japanese wrestling prodigy Katsuhiko Nagata.

This marked Uno's third run for the HERO's Grand Prix. He was knocked out of the running in the 2005 semifinals due to a cut received in his bout against Norifumi Yamamoto (Pictures), and made it all the way to the finals of 2006, only to loss a hard fought decision to Gesias Calvancanti (Pictures).

This fight mostly played out on the feet and in the clinch. Uno had a slight edge in the striking department, utilizing excellent short punches and uppercuts in the clinch, as well as moving his head to avoid the blows that Nagata threw at him.

In the third, Nagata received a cut from a Uno's right hand that continued to bleed throughout the remaining time. Eventually the wrestling savvy Nagata got the takedown, only to see Uno quickly reverse all the way to the mount. Nagata bucked hard and got to his feet before Uno could unleash any serious damage, then the two fighters traded punches all the way to the final bell. The fight went to the judges and Uno took the unanimous victory.

K-1 Golden Boy Hideo Tokoro (Pictures) was looking for revenge in his match-up against Indian-Canadian fighter Kultar "Black Mamba" Gill. In their last meeting of the 2006 quarterfinals, Gill knocked out Tokoro with a hellacious knee just as the popular Japanese fighter was coming in for a single-leg takedown.

In the early moments of this one it looked like the same situation repeated itself, as Gill kicked just when Tokoro was coming in, but the Japanese fighter rolled and pulled off an impressive takedown, moving to an Achilles lock attempt in the process.

Gill defended the technique and eventually took the back of his rolling opponent. From here Tokoro stood in an attempt to shake the Canadian fighter off, but Gill managed to hang on for quite a while until Tokoro finally twisted to the safety of the guard.

Once back on the mat, the Japanese fighter again went for another Achilles lock, but Gill defended well by throwing punches down and passing to side. From here, Gill began to pelt Tokoro with his right hand, using his long arms to get his punches through the ZST veteran's defenses. After snapping Tokoro's head back with a series of unanswered punches, the referee came in and stopped the fight at the 4:07 mark of the first.

After receiving a broken jaw in his four-second match against Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto in 2006, Japanese Olympic wrestler Kazuyuki Maeda came back strong with wins over Ian James Schaffa (Pictures) and Kultar Gill (Pictures). This time around he faced off against Brazilian jiu-jitsu prodigy Vitor "Shaolin" Ribeiro.

Miyata, well known for his wrestling prowess, must also have been working on his stand-up game recently -- he looked really good in the first round, circling the ring in both directions, slipping punches and connecting with hard low and high kicks.

While Miyata dominated on the feet, Ribeiro is at his most dangerous on the ground. Indeed the Cage Rage lightweight champion is a true mat wizard who can totally change the momentum of a fight in a blink of an eye.

This is in fact what happened in the second round, when Ribeiro finally brought the action to the mat. The Brazilian passed to the side, then moved over top this opponent to the other side, locking on a textbook arm-triangle in the process, forcing a tap at the 1:54 mark.

Ribeiro's jiu-jitsu is so polished and deceptive, that he's looking like one of the favorites to win the whole tournament this year.

Originally, Chute Boxe's Andre "Dida" Amade was to face off against 2006 HERO'S middleweight champion Gesias Calvancanti (Pictures), but the defending champ broke his hand in his recent K-1 MAX fight with Japanese kickboxing star Masato. As a result, ex-Spetsnaz and Sambo champion Artur Oumakhanov (Pictures) stepped in to take his place. The Russian fighter has been tearing up the Japanese MMA scene, going undefeated and earning his way to semifinals of the Cage Force lightweight tournament to be held this September.

This fight was changed to a non-tournament bout due to the fact that the defending champion gets an automatic bye to the second round of the tournament on Sept. 17. If however, Calvancanti doesn't heal up in time, the winner of this bout would take his place in September.

Oumakhanov has made a name for himself here in Japan for his incredible ability to slip punches and answer back with heavy bombs of his own. In the opening moments of his one, the SK Absolute Russia fighter slipped a big right hand from the lightning fast Amade, but only seconds later, the Brazilian tagged him with a hard overhand right.

This punch was the beginning of the end for Oumakhanov. As he scrambled to get back to his feet, Amade was on him, firing down punches, all of which were meeting their mark. Oumakhanov couldn't find his feet while "Dida" charged forward. After taking a series of unanswered punches, the referee came in and stopped the action early in the first round.

This loss is a big blow for the Russian, who has essentially cruised through all of the opponents he has faced so far in his career.

2006 heavyweight tournament finalist Melvin Manhoef (Pictures) ran over comedian-turned-fighter Bernard Ackah (Pictures) in their match-up. Ackah, who will forever be immortalized in the highlight reels for his vicious knockout of former NFL wide receiver Johnnie Morton (Pictures), came out off the bell, swinging wildly at his opponent.

Manhoef tied his opponent up in the clinch just long enough so as the referee would separate them, then he began to connect with bombs to the Ivory Coast fighter. Ackah survived a few, but after being knocked down by a right hand, he was finally put away for good by a jab-straight combination that sent him to the canvas at the 2:10 mark of the first.

The longest reigning champion of any fight promotion in any division, former Shooto lightweight champion Alexandre "Pequeno" Franca Nogueira, had a pretty slow first round with Shuichiro Katsumura (Pictures). The two fighters spent most of their time circling the ring. However, in the second round, the Brazilian's right hand found its mark, catching Katsumura on the chin and sending him to the mat, unconscious before he even hit the canvas. From here "Pequeno" mounted his hurt opponent and followed with a few punches until the referee stopped the action at the 1:55 mark.

In a continuation of the ever popular "Gracie versus Japanese pro-wrestling" feud, Ralek Gracie made his MMA debut against Masakatsu Funaki trained Katsuyori Shibata.

After a bit of jousting, Gracie got a Greco-Roman takedown all the way to the mount. The Brazilian fighter stayed low as his Japanese opponent threw his legs up in an effort to peel him off Tsuyoshi Kohsaka (Pictures) style. Eventually after a bit of ear boxing, Gracie transitioned to armbar, getting the referee stoppage at the 3:05 mark of the first.
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