Murata Captures Spirit MC Heavyweight Grand Prix

By John Lee and Joo-Young Jung Oct 15, 2007
SEOUL, South Korea, Oct. 14 -- Ryuichi Murata (Pictures), star pupil of the Yoshida dojo, claimed the Spirit MC Heavyweight Grand Prix belt with a TKO victory over Jong Gyu Choi at 3:34 of the third round Sunday in front of roughly 1,000 fans at Jang Choong Stadium.

Both fighters won their respective brackets earlier in the evening with emphatic submissions. Choi, who trains out of John Frankl Jujitsu, looked the fresher of the two at the outset while Murata came out mottled with bruises on his face.

However, Murata prevailed by using his judo prowess to take down Choi with a headlock hip toss at will throughout the fight.

Choi's demise was foreshadowed early in the first round. Murata used his bread-and-butter hip toss to take him down and trap Choi's left arm between his legs. Then Murata rained down what looked to be over 100 hammerfists over a span of three minutes. The home advantage had ruled out the possibility of an early stoppage.

Standing, Murata's incendiary hands eventually overwhelmed a leaden Choi, who looked like a zombie after three rounds with rivulets of blood streaming down the front and side of his face. With his hands at his sides, the moribund Choi made a rote motion of bowing as if ceding defeat at the scintillating barrage of hooks by Murata. Choi lay poleaxed after the fight and had to be carried out of the ring on a stretcher.

Murata's win automatically set up a unification bout between him and reigning Spirit MC heavyweight champion Denis Kang (Pictures).

"Along with Fedor [Emelianenko], Denis Kang (Pictures) is one of my heroes," Murata said through an interpreter. "It would be an honor and privilege to face him. I will enjoy the fight but will also try my best to win."

The fight will be a bit of an outlandish "heavyweight" showdown. Both Kang and Murata are natural middleweights. But at least they will be competing on a level playing field, although Murata looks to be the underdog on paper.

Murata seemed a little shaky in his semifinal bout with Gil Myoung Chun, who stepped in to replace an injured Jae Young Kim, a favorite to win the Grand Prix. Murata came out at a blistering pace, but Chun slowed him down by peppering him with low kicks and using his reach advantage in the early seconds of the first to drop Murata with a heavy right.

However, the beginning of the end came when Chun taunted Murata by throwing his hands in the air a la Nick Diaz (Pictures). With a wicked glint in his eye, an indignant Murata rushed in with a flurry of punches and forcibly rebuffed Chun to the ropes. Chun keeled over at the momentum, and Murata landed on top and immediately latched on a high key lock.

Pressing down with his entire upper body, Murata violently hyper-extended Chun's elbow backward so that in one face-cringing moment it actually touched the mat. The referee let the hold continue for a good 30 seconds, before Chun tapped at 3:29 of the first round.

Jong Gyu Choi, who has a victory over referee Herb Dean (Pictures) and went the distance in defeat against Denis Kang (Pictures), triumphed in his semifinal match against Guam brawler Kelvin Fitial with an armbar 2:03 into the first round.

It was like déjà vu watching this match play out. Choi executed the exact same strategy he used in his quarterfinal contest against Dool Hee Lee. He weathered the initial burst of heavy strikes unfurled by Fitial -- whose arsenal includes a downward flicking right that my sister also likes to throw -- clinched and took down Fitial, moved to top mount, went for a high key lock on Fitial's left arm, and as Fitial looked to sweep, transitioned into a textbook armbar.

The undercard bouts exuded amateur night vibes, functioning more to introduce new faces and talent. Sandwiched between two major FEG events -- the K-1 Fields Final 16 on Sep. 29 and the HERO'S event on Oct. 28 -- it seems Spirit MC felt it would behoove the promotion if it sidestepped the marketing machine that is K-1, which also carries significant clout in Korea.

The matches that elicited the loudest cheers were those that featured fighters from "Go! Super-Korean," a TUF-like reality show in Korea, including lightweight sensation Gyoung Ho Kang against Duk Young Jang and a heavyweight meeting between Chang Sup Lee and Tae Hwa Lee.

Gyoung Ho Kang's claim to fame came on the TV show, when he emerged at the top of his respective weight category. He made an impressive professional debut Sunday against Jang, who trains with John Frankl and is widely considered the best lightweight ground specialist in Korea, stopping him with a surprising triangle choke at 2:45 of the first round.

At only 19, Kang is a well-rounded, explosive fighter and has a bright future in MMA. Plus it doesn't hurt that he is popular with the ladies.

Chang Sup Lee, a taekwondo instructor, squared off against Tae Hwa Lee as part of the heavyweight showdown for the TV show. At 5-foot-6 and 209 pounds, Chang Sup Lee is a carbon copy of Bobby Lee, the Asian actor on "Mad TV."

Instead of breaking into a comic shtick, though, CS Lee stuffed takedowns well and was efficient with low kicks and looping hooks against his much taller opponent en route to a unanimous decision after two rounds.

Rising Spirit MC middleweight -- more accurately welterweight -- star, the 6-foot-2 Yoon Young Kim used his rangy reach and superior ground skills to outpoint Sang Il Ahn for a unanimous decision. The fight had ended prematurely due to two inadvertent low blows by Ahn.

Kim was scheduled to face Ross "Da Boss" Ebanez at a previous Spirit MC event, but Ebanez was forced to pull out with an injury. Kim is a highly regarded, prospective welterweight with exceptional ground skills. Look out for him in the future.

Seemingly out to prove that you can never have enough of a good thing, Spirit MC also included an amateur lightweight eight-man tournament. Nam Sun Kim, an office worker by day and fighter by night, grinded out a decision in the finals over Seung Hwan Kim with superior positioning and ground control.
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