Jacare-Galesic, Manhoef-Mousasi Locked for Dream Semifinals

By Jordan Breen Aug 8, 2008
After an improbable finish to their lightweight grand prix last month, Dream parent company Fighting and Entertainment Group have paired up their middleweight final four for semifinals action.

The middleweight grand prix semifinals, set for Sept. 23 at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, will pit Brazilian jiu-jitsu all-star turned hot MMA prospect Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza against Croatian Zelg Galesic (Pictures), while Dutch-based Armenian Gegard Mousasi (Pictures) meets fellow Netherlander Melvin Manhoef (Pictures), with the two victors set to square off in the finale later that evening.

In June, Souza punched his ticket to the semifinals by taking a unanimous verdict over colorful cult hero Jason "Mayhem" Miller, while Galesic saw only 65 seconds of action before his rematch with Taiei Kin (Pictures) ended due to a dislocated elbow. Their first bout last October ended in only 36 seconds due to a cut. On the same bill, Mousasi successfully knocked off South Korean judo star Yoon Dong Sik with a unanimous nod, while Manhoef smashed MMA icon Kazushi Sakuraba (Pictures) in a brief but brutal 90 seconds.

While no reserve bout was announced for the middleweight finale, a source close to the promotion has told Sherdog.com that FEG are interested in a pairing of quarterfinalists Miller and Sik. However, the proposed bout is still in its most embryonic stages.

Also announced for the card, Japanese star Hideo Tokoro (Pictures) won't get his wish to take on Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto, but he will get to face his top pupil in Atsushi Yamamoto (Pictures).

Tokoro has turned in back-to-back impressive performances on consecutive Dream cards, first taking a unanimous decision over Darren Uyenoyama (Pictures) in a “fight of the year” candidate in June, then overcame a car accident in the days leading up to the fight to take a unanimous nod over Takeshi Yamazaki (Pictures) in July. Yamamoto hasn't seen action since January, where he dropped a well-contested unanimous decision to current Shooto world 132-pound champion Masakatsu Ueda (Pictures) in a Shooto world title eliminator.

Although the fight is to be contested as a "featherweight” bout, FEG have yet to officially determine a specific weight range for the division. It is expected that the weight contract will follow previous featherweight attractions for the promotion, and will be contested between 137 and 139 pounds.

Dream event producer Keiichi Sasahara also revealed that Yoshihiro Akiyama (Pictures), Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic and Hayato "Mach" Sakurai are all strong candidates to appear on the card.

K-1 founder Ishii free, industry shake-up imminent?

After fourteen months behind bars, the godfather of K-1, Kazuyoshi Ishii, is reportedly free from behind bars.

According to Japanese media reports, Ishii was released from Shizuoka Prison at 5:30 a.m. Thursday. Ishii, who was serving 22 months for tax evasion, was reportedly a model prisoner, and was thus released early on good behavior.

Ishii was arrested and indicted on charges of tax evasion in December 2002, in which the former K-1 boss was accused of concealing 900 million yen (approximately 7.8 million dollars) and evading up to 300 million yen in conjunction with Itoman Co. Ltd. Ishii was initially sentenced to 22 months in prison by the Tokyo District Court in 2004, but made the most of the appeal process in order to delay his prison sentence.

In November 2006, the Supreme Court of Japan halted Ishii's exhaustive appeals, handing down a peremptory decree, ensuring that Ishii would spend his 22-month sentence in prison. The sentence was markedly stiffer than usual for a tax evasion case in Japan: In 2005, only 156 people were guilty of tax evasion and only seven individuals were sentenced to prison time, with many guilty parties being given suspended sentences for a conviction between 15-16 months.

Citing health reasons, Ishii would not begin his prison sentence until June 11, 2007, one day after his 54th birthday.

The 55-year-old Ishii founded K-1 in 1993. He was honored as Black Belt Magazine's Man of the Year in January 2003, despite his indictment. Since his legal troubles, Sadaharu Tanigawa has assumed control of K-1’s parent company, Fighting and Entertainment Group, and has served as K-1's CEO and matchmaker.

Ishii's return to the Japanese MMA industry should pose interesting politics. A strong source within the Japanese MMA scene told Sherdog.com that while in prison, Ishii's sole business contact was notorious Japanese MMA figure Seiya Kawamata, an admitted intermediary between Japanese promoters and organized crime groups, and a central figure in the Shukan Gendai tabloid's now-infamous negative smear campaign against Pride parent company, Dream Stage Entertainment. The campaign is credited with leading to Pride's eventual downfall. Kawamata acted as Ishii's right-hand man during his indictment and imprisonment, overseeing Sadaharu Tanigawa and FEG at Ishii's request.

Furthermore, FEG's revamped MMA promotion, Dream, has brought on board several former Dream Stage Entertainment staff, including former DSE executive director Hiroyuki Kato and current Dream event producer Keiichi Sasahara. The Dream program, which has struggled to garner ratings on network television, may be facing further difficulty with the return of Ishii, who is on longstanding poor business terms with DSE and their former staff.

"Kid" goes under the knife, out for the year

A much-needed healing process can now begin for Japanese MMA's bad boy Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto, who underwent successful surgery this past Monday for a torn ACL and a nagging wrist injury.

The 31-year-old Yamamoto was forced to withdraw from a scheduled July 21 bout with Urijah Faber (Pictures) pupil Joseph Benavidez (Pictures) on the fifth Dream card in Osaka just three days before their bout due to a right knee injury. While throwing a flying knee in training, Yamamoto said that he came down awkwardly on his right knee and heard a pop. The Japanese superstar was eventually diagnosed with a torn right ACL and was expected to spend four to six months on the shelf.

Initially, it was thought that the ACL tear was a partial tear, and Yamamoto hoped he could avoid going under the knife. Two further assessments revealed a full tear of Yamamoto's right ACL, making surgery a necessity.

Yamamoto made the best of a bad situation, as he also took the opportunity to have a persisting injury in his left wrist repaired.

The wrist injury, which Yamamoto kept secret, was reportedly sustained last September in preparation for his bout with Bibiano Fernandes (Pictures). Yamamoto says that the lingering pain in his wrist prevented him from throwing power punches with his left hand in his subsequent bouts.

Yamamoto is not expected to make his return to the ring until next year. This timetable would rule out Yamamoto's participation on the biggest night of the year for Japanese combat sports, New Year's Eve, where Yamamoto has been a popular fixture in past years. This forthcoming Dec. 31 will mark the first time in four years that Yamamoto hasn't fought on New Year's Eve, a streak that began with the 2004 K-1 rules bout against star kickboxer Masato, which vaulted Yamamoto to superstar status in Japan.

Niimi to vie for P-Rim crown October in Nagoya

Shooto will crown a new and perhaps more purposeful Pacific Rim champion come October.

Standout Shooto gym and regional Shooto promoter Alive have announced that the 16th edition of their Gig Central series on Oct. 26 will crown professional Shooto's first 168-pound Pacific Rim champion, when hometown favorite Yoshitaro Niimi (Pictures) meets Australian import Xavier Lucas at the Tokai TV Telepia Hall in Nagoya.

Since their inception in 2005, Shooto's Pacific Rim titles have played a notoriously fruitless purpose, with the titles often being won by world-ranked fighters who quickly vacate their titles in order to challenge for Shooto world titles. To date, no Pacific Rim champion has defended their title. However, the lack of activity within the top ranks of Shooto's 168-pound Class A division would seem to provide a useful instance for the Pacific Rim title.

Niimi, undefeated in his last five fights, took an easy submission victory over Jun Kato in local Nagoyan promotion Heat last month. Lucas suffered the first defeat of his career, albeit outside of Shooto sanctioning, when he was halted by fellow Aussie welterweight prospect Shane Nix in May.

Powergate kickoff doubleheader Sunday in Kyoto

Though it will be a quiet weekend for Japanese MMA, grassroots Kansai promotion Powergate will begin the first leg of back-to-back weekend cards this Sunday, as they bring their brand of "western Japan rhythm and blues fighting" to the KBS Hall in Kyoto.

Sunday's card will showcase the first half of their "2 Days Daybrake" event, the second of which will take place the following Sunday, Aug. 17, at the Azalea Taisho Hall in Osaka.

The seven-fight card will be headlined by the promotion's usual marquee man, Hiroki "Goodman" Tanaka, who will take on heavy-hitting Toshinari Takashima (Pictures) in the 183-pound main event. The two met previously last August, with Tanaka taking a razor-thin three-round decision over Takashima.

The undercard will largely feature debuting local talent, but will be anchored by promotional regulars Yusuke Hoshiko and Kosaburo Muramatsu, who will meet in a 154-pound contest.
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