Nakakura Crowned Champ; Sakurai Upset

By Tony Loiseleur and Stephen Martinez May 3, 2008
TOKYO -- More than 3,900 fans gathered Saturday to celebrate the first card of Shooto's 20th anniversary series at the newly opened JCB Hall, just a stone's throw from the time-honored Korakuen Hall in Japan's Tokyo Dome City complex.

While the evening proved to be a rough one for some of Japan's best, it was still an exciting night of fights.

Capping off the card was a welterweight showdown between two of Shooto's top 154-pounders in Takashi Nakakura (Pictures) and Ganjo Tentsuku (Pictures), who were vying for the title Tatsuya Kawajiri (Pictures) had recently vacated.

In a matchup that saw the savvy technician against the scrappy brawler, Tentsuku attempted to take the fight to Nakakura with powerful combinations intended to decapitate. Nakakura, however, played a smart counter game. He allowed Tentsuku to close in toward him while he unleashed with sharp jabs and low kicks, occasionally throwing in a push kick to keep Tentsuku from getting too close for comfort.

Though Nakakura was excellent in his efforts at keeping Tentsuku at bay, he could not keep up the defense for long.

Tentsuku, by the force of his forward momentum, often careened into his opponent, clinched with him and stuffed him into the corner. He then delivered body shots and dirty boxing hammerfists to Nakakura's face.

Nakakura did his best to counter with knees and dirty boxing of his own, but it was Tentsuku who controlled the clinches, forcing Nakakura to struggle his way back out.

With both men going tit for tat and neither backing down after three rounds, the judges appeared to be less impressed by Tentsuku's power shots than they were in the multitude of stinging jabs and low kicks he received from Nakakura. As such, all three judges ruled the bout in favor of Nakakura, 30-28, 30-29, 30-29.

David Baron (Pictures) surprisingly finished highly regarded Hayato Sakurai (Pictures) in the final seconds of the first round in their 168-pound bout.

Despite looking for all intents and purposes the more skilled fighter in the standup, Sakurai was unable to match Baron's skill set on the ground. After scoring clean punches and low kicks on the feet, it was a moment of carelessness that cost Sakurai the fight.

A sloppy attempt to take Baron down while on his haunches allowed the Frenchman to sink in the guillotine for the catch point. Unable to fight his way out, Sakurai submitted moments later, ending the bout at 4:50 in the first.

In what may have been the fight of the night, former Shooto 143-pound champion Akitoshi Tamura (Pictures) took out Shooto legend Rumina Sato (Pictures) in an exciting, back-and-forth war.

With Sato returning to his original style of reckless abandon, the "Shooto Charisma" got right in Tamura's face from the opening bell and looked for a knockout with winging punches. Despite eating a great deal of punishment, Tamura kept his cool and managed to turn the tables in every round, controlling the grappling portions that had Sato looking for unique ways to dispense with his young opponent.

One highlight was Sato's attempt to armbar Tamura by stretching his arm out under his chin while Tamura had captured his back. Using his chin as a breaking point for three such armbar attempts, Sato had the crowd's approval for his ingenuity in the face of danger.

Be that as it may, Tamura survived the assaults and even returned with some of his own reckless standup, which had Sato rocked throughout the fight. Battered and with his right eye swollen shut, Tamura dug deep and surprised Sato midway through the third, sealing his fate with a tight north-south clock choke and forcing the tap at the 2:37 mark.

Trenell "Savant" Young made his Japanese and Shooto debut Saturday, besting highly regarded 143-pounder "Lion" Takeshi Inoue (Pictures) in a two-round affair that wasn't without its own fair share of controversy.

While Lion controlled the center and landed hard low kicks and jabs, Young stuck to the outside, rib-roasting with hard rights and looking to decapitate with lunging left hooks and overhand rights. Inoue looked to be taking Young's powerful punches in stride, but the end came near when a missed knee in the second round saw the Japanese fighter slip. Immediately Young was able to capitalize and locked on a tight guillotine for the catch.

Knowingly or not, Lion then dove through the ropes, forcing the hold to be broken -- but not until Young had made sure that his opponent was out cold. Curiously, however, the fight was soon restarted after both fighters were pulled back into the ring.

For the remainder of the second round, Inoue and Young traded vicious combinations on the feet until the final bell. Given his overwhelmingly physical performance and the guillotine catch, all three judges ruled the bout 19-18 in favor of Young for the unanimous decision.

Yasuhiro Urushitani (Pictures) and Ryuichi Miki (Pictures) fought to a majority draw after three technical rounds.

In typical Urushitani fashion, the slick standup technician circled and landed innumerable jabs, along with low and body kicks. Miki, to his credit, returned with heavy power punches on the feet and spinning backhands that had Urushitani retreating in spots.

Urushitani would always return to take charge of the situation, though. With his superior skills, he once again dictated the pace of the fight and frustrated Miki, who fought to get clean shots on his elusive opponent. However, perhaps due to Urushitani's attacks doing little apparent damage to Miki, one judge ruled in favor of Miki (30-28), and the remaining two curiously ruled the bout a draw (29-29, 29-29) for the disappointing majority draw.

In yet another bout involving controversy and a Bodyshop Fitness Team fighter, Yusuke Endo (Pictures) defeated the visiting Vince Ortiz in the first round by questionable technical submission.

Ortiz almost took out Endo with a savage one-two that dropped him for the knockdown. Endo returned seconds later, however, with his own wild combo that returned the favor to Ortiz.

With both men essentially out on their feet, swinging at each other and missing by wide margins, it was no surprise that they eventually collided into the clinch and fell through the ropes. Halfway out of the ring and dangling on the ropes, Endo sank the rear-naked choke while the referees were attempting to pull both men in.

Whereas the referees were sure to separate Trenell "Savant" Young from his guillotine on Inoue later in the evening, a visibly puzzled Ortiz was forced to endure as Endo sank the choke deeper while referee Taro Wakabayashi pulled the fighters back into the ring. Wakabayashi called the catch once the two had been pulled back in, but it was all for naught, as the bout was called moments later. Ortiz had been choked unconscious, awarding Endo the technical submission at 3:31 in the first period.

David Baron (Pictures) wasn't the only winning Frenchman this evening. Haute Tension teammate Bendy Casimir (Pictures) put on a spirited effort against up-and-coming grappler Shinji Sasaki (Pictures), winning a very dominant unanimous decision after three rounds.

With the talk being that Sasaki would weather the extremely physical game of Casimir to catch him in the later rounds, Saturday's bout proved to be quite the contrary case. Casimir endured submission attempt after submission attempt, reversing position almost at will to take top and keep the Japanese grappler on the defensive while he dropped short strikes from above.

This in turn tired out Sasaki. With him wilting in the later rounds under Casimir's pressure, the judges saw fit to award Casimir the unanimous decision, 29-28, 30-29, 30-27.

In the lightweight prelim, Sakae Kasuya (Pictures) found the sleeping tiger in Hayate Usui (Pictures). He controlled the grappling and the standup portions until Usui had decided enough was enough and threw down, beating Kasuya up until the end of the second period to earn the majority decision victory (20-19, 19-19, 20-18).

In their flyweight prelim, Noboru Tahara (Pictures) stopped Katsuya Murofushi (Pictures) at 45 seconds into the second round after opening a cut over his left eye.
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