Koubousen Companion: News And Notes From Japan

By Jordan Breen Sep 21, 2006
If there was a common thread to the Japanese mixed martial arts scene this week it would be: "What's next?"

Smackgirl has a new queen — but not without a little bit of brouhaha. DEEP made a commitment to showcasing more Brazilian talent, and will showcase another two Brazilians in October. Shooto has young amateurs with their eyes on pro licenses and young professionals with their eyes on titles. Meanwhile, Pancrase has an amateur star that could be a big-ticket draw in the near future.

For PRIDE and HERO's, the next hope is for television success: PRIDE's U.S. financier is thinking about reality television, and HERO'S hopes some star power can grab attention to their October 9 card.

Akano becomes Smackgirl queen amidst controversy

September 15 at Korakuen Hall, Abe Ani Combat Club's Hitomi Akano (Pictures) submitted American Molly Helsel (Pictures) to become the second Smackgirl 128-pound champion. Akano was tabbed as a Smackgirl star from her debut. A judo International Cup champion, Akano debuted in Smackgirl in January of 2005 and blazed through her opponents, taking the 128-pound Next Cinderella rookie tournament.

Akano's title win did not come without some controversy. Having faced standout competitors such as Megumi Yabushita (Pictures), Tara Larosa (Pictures), and Debi Purcell (Pictures), Smackgirl saw it time to give Akano a shot at the title owned by undefeated female star Laura D'Auguste.

D'Auguste rematched and defeated former Smackgirl open-weight champion Megumi Yabushita (Pictures) on August 18, and then was reportedly contacted by Smackgirl to defend her 128-pound title against Akano. D'Auguste reportedly told Smackgirl that she had an illness in the family and was unable to compete.

A Smackgirl executive then claimed the company had contacted D'Auguste, who won the title in August of 2005, multiple times over the last year in regards to defending her title without success. Smackgirl's executive committee announced they were stripping D'Auguste of her title. They then set up somewhat of a dubious match between the rising star Akano and Helsel, a solid yet unheralded competitor who had not previously competed in Smackgirl.

Despite skepticism of their handling of the situation, Smackgirl stated that if fans do wish to see the return of D'Auguste to Smackgirl, and she is willing to compete there again, that they would assure her the right of facing Akano to determine the rightful 128-pound queen of Smackgirl.

DEEP imports more Brazilian talent for October card

When it announced their October 10 card, DEEP had stated plans of importing more Brazilian talent. It has done so with the inclusion of Pancrase veteran Flavio Luiz Moura (Pictures) and Fabricio Monteiro (Pictures), who after weighing in an embarrassing eights pounds over the limit defeated an overwhelmingly outsized Hiroyuki Abe (Pictures) in July.

Moura will meet longtime PRIDE mainstay Daijiro Matsui (Pictures), who makes his second appearance in DEEP, having lost a majority decision to Ryo Chonan (Pictures) in January of 2004. Matsui is coming off of a loss to Pancrase champion Yuki Kondo (Pictures) at Pancrase's summer super card, where he was dominated from bell-to-bell by the champ. Like Matsui, Moura is coming off of a lost in his last fight to Leandro Silva in Brazil last month.

Fabricio Monteiro (Pictures) will face a tougher task, stepping into the ring with DEEP's welterweight champion Jutaro Nakao (Pictures) in a non-title bout. Monteiro's performance in his DEEP debut was dominating, however tainted by him coming into the bout overweight for a 154-pound fight against a fighter who usually competes at 143 pounds.

"Pitbull" will now have to silence his critics against the Japanese veteran, who showcased an unusual killer instinct in his August bout with Kousei Kubota (Pictures), stopping him with a brutal barrage of soccer kicks in the second round.

A November to remember for young Shooto stars?

On top of the Shooto return of TKO 145-pound champion and PRIDE Bushido veteran Hatsu Hioki (Pictures) on November 26 in Nagoya, leading Shooto promoter Sustain announced that its November 10 offering at Korakuen Hall would feature 2004 154-pound rookie champion Yusuke Endo (Pictures), 2005 132-pound rookie champion Takeya Mizugaki (Pictures), as well as a title match for the vacant 143-pound Pacific Rim title between veteran Katsuya Toida (Pictures) and 2005 143-pound rookie champion Tenkei Fujimiya (Pictures).

Endo and Mizugaki are both coming off of impressive showings at the July 21 Korakuen Hall card. Endo quickly submitted former Strike Force ISKA MMA champion Clayton Guida (Pictures), while Takeya Mizugaki (Pictures) went back-and-forth with former Shooto 132-pound world champion Ryota Matsune (Pictures) to a hotly competitive draw.

The card will give both men an opportunity to shine again, and for Endo it may be an opportunity to prove his worth in the eyes of other promoters, with a possible future in PRIDE, HERO's, or even the UFC, as they continue to eye young Japanese talent.

The opportunity for Fujimiya is particularly interesting. The 26-year-old Shooting Gym Yokohama product has stated in the past that with teammate and friend "Lion" Takeshi Inoue (Pictures) reigning as Shooto world 143-pound champion he would focus his efforts on becoming Pacific Rim champion.

Originally, the vacant Pacific Rim championship was to be decided this past February between Toida and Hatsu Hioki (Pictures) at GIG CENTRAL Vol. 9 in Nagoya. That match was nixed, as Toida sustained a neck injury that put him on the shelf for two months, and since then Hioki has busied himself elsewhere.

With Hioki returning to the Shooto ring, and now seemingly not in contention for the Pacific Rim title, it may not be a slight but rather a good sign for the Nagoya native. Since his last appearance in Shooto, Hioki dominated both UFC veteran Mark Hominick (Pictures) for the TKO title and Jeff Curran (Pictures), who holds a win under Shooto-sanctioning over 143-pound title contender Antonio Carvalho (Pictures).

It is possible that Shooto officials recognize Hioki as a greater talent due to his pursuits outside of Shooto, and may now line up an opponent for him at the November 26 Nagoya card to boost him in the Shooto world rankings, possibly setting up a future fight between two of Shooto's brightest young stars in Hioki and champion "Lion" Inoue.

Amateur aces aim for pro Shooto at 13th All-Japans

On September 24, 113 amateur Shooto competitors, male and female across nine weight classes, will put on their gloves, headgear, shin guards, and spend a full day battling it out in the ring at the 13th annual All Japan Amateur Shooto Championships.

The All Japan Championships are typically held each September, bringing together the best and brightest young fighters from the Class C amateur Shooto scene. Fighters compete through their weight-class tournament brackets, with winners and standout performers earning Class B professional Shooto licenses. The majority of competitors qualify through performing well in and/or winning their regional tournaments over the course of the year.

Noteworthy former All Japan amateur Shooto champions include K-1 HERO's superstar Norifumi Yamamoto (Pictures) (2000); his KILLER BEE teammates former Shooto Pacific Rim 154-pound champion Koutetsu Boku (Pictures) (2001) and former Shooto world 167-pound champion Akira Kikuchi (Pictures) (2001); former Shooto world 132-pound champion Ryota Matsune (Pictures) (2000); current Shooto world 132-pound champion Akitoshi Hokazono (Pictures) (2001); and former Shooto 167-pound world champion and present PRIDE Bushido star Hayato Sakurai (Pictures) (1996).

Other notables who have placed at the All Japans include Shooto icon Rumina Sato (Pictures) (runner-up in 1994); former Shooto 154-pound champ, UFC veteran and current HERO'S star Caol Uno (Pictures) (runner-up in 1996); HERO's regular Hiroyuki Takaya (Pictures) (runner-up in 2002); soon-to-be UFC fighter Kuniyoshi Hironaka (Pictures) (runner-up in 2001)’ Shooto 123-pound title contender Shinichi Kojima (Pictures) (runner-up in 2003)’ Shooto Pacific Rim 143-pound title contender Tenkei Fujimiya (Pictures) (runner-up in 2003)’ TKO 145-pound champion and PRIDE Bushido veteran Hatsu Hioki (Pictures) (third place in 2001); current Shooto 154-pound Pacific Rim champion and PRIDE Bushido star Mitsuhiro Ishida (Pictures) (third place in 2000); and current Shooto 143-pound world champion "Lion" Takeshi Inoue (Pictures) (third place in 2002).

The All Japans have taken on somewhat of a greater significance in recent years, as Shooto's institution of the yearly Class B rookie tournaments have provided an appropriate next step for young fighters after gaining their professional Shooto licenses. Last year, 31 of the competitors from the All Japan Amateur Shooto Championships were promoted to professional Shooto. Twenty-five of those 31 participated in this year's ongoing rookie tournament series.

Of the seven Shooto rookie tournament champions in 2005, three of them (Yusei Shimokawa (Pictures), Takeya Mizugaki (Pictures) and Mizuto Hirota (Pictures)) were All Japan Amateur Shooto champions. Three others (Kenichi Takeda, Tenkei Fujimiya (Pictures), and Masashi Yozen (Pictures)) were runners-up at the All Japans. As a result, it isn't hard to tell that some future Shooto aces will be on display this Sunday.

PRIDE to try reality show?

Buzz has been circulating regarding a possible PRIDE reality show in the near future. American entrepreneur and entertainment producer Ed Fishman, a financial backer for PRIDE's October 21 Las Vegas venture, has told Japanese magazine Kami no Puroresu, also known as Kamipro, that he wants to plan a PRIDE reality show on American television, likely in similar fashion the UFC's The Ultimate Fighter.

Fishman founded Players Club International, and is often cited as creating the modern gambling tournament. Fishman organized the world's first blackjack tournament in 1978, and created the ideas of comps for slot machine players. In addition to experience as a television producer, Fishman also has a hand in the rights to the development of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Inc. in the United Kingdom, as part of the Chesire and Kent Ltd., which is jointly owned by himself, Haven Burke, and Dick Clark.

No details or logistics for a PRIDE reality show have been rumored, but the promotion in the Japanese media of Fishman as PRIDE's American investor is worthy of note as the October 21 card at the Thomas and Mack Center approaches.

Ken Kaneko (Pictures): ratings HERO?

Inside the Ana Hotel Tokyo this past Tuesday, Fight Entertainment Group president Sadaharu Tanigawa announced that Japanese actor Ken Kaneko (Pictures) would make his second endeavor into mixed martial arts, this time inside the HERO's ring.

Kaneko, the actor best known for his role in Japanese film legend "Beat Takeshi" Takeshi Kitano's acclaimed 1996 film “Kids Return,” made his MMA debut in PRIDE this past New Year's Eve when he was defeated by PRIDE regular Charles Bennett (Pictures) by armbar submission in the first round. Kaneko told the media that his desire to fight hasn't waned since that, and that's he continued to train over the course of the year.

It was revealed that Kaneko had discussed wanting to further his fighting career with his longtime friend Kunio Kiyohara, who is the head producer of Japan's Fuji Television, the network which previously aired PRIDE in Japanese television. Kiyohara suggested to Kaneko that he should try K-1, and more specifically HERO's, since Kaneko was interested in competing under mixed martial arts rules.

For his participation at the October 9 HERO's card, featuring the 154-pound and 187-pound tournament finales, Kaneko said he would train five or six days per week. Grappling training would take place with fight icon Kazushi Sakuraba (Pictures), while striking work would come under the supervision K-1 MAX superstar Masato. Kaneko also said he would visit a variety of Shooto-based gyms to help him work on his overall MMA game.

FEG is no stranger to putting celebrities in the ring and the participation of Kaneko is clearly a bid for ratings. HERO’s March card, headlined by Hideo Tokoro (Pictures), grabbed an 11.8 percent rating for the full telecast, while the May card headlined by Norifumi Yamamoto (Pictures) netted a 14.5 percent rating.

However, according to Japan's Video Research Ltd., the August card headlined by Kazushi Sakuraba (Pictures) was a considerable disappointment, only garnering a 9.3 percent rating on the Tokyo Broadcasting System. Nippon TV’s The Strongest Student, a competition among school students that drew a 16.4 percent rating, dominated the timeslot.

Reports on New Year's Eve 2005 ratings stated that the Ken Kaneko (Pictures)-Charles Bennett (Pictures) bout on PRIDE's card, broadcast on Fuji Television, grabbed a 27.7 percent rating, making it the highest rated fight of any bout on either K-1's or PRIDE's respective New Year's Eve cards. FEG and the Tokyo Broadcasting System will now attempt to cash in on Kaneko's star power when he steps into the ring at the Yokohama Arena on October 9, or perhaps more appropriately, on the broadcast following.
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