Nippon Joho: The Lightweight Wars

By Stephen Martinez Jun 9, 2005
TOKYO — So here I was coming back from the grocery store close to my house along with my family when all of the sudden I spot a familiar face across the street coming my way. To my surprise it was no other than Takanori Gomi.

Gomi walked beside us and kept going on his way, so I told my girl “Look it’s Gomi” just to hear her quick reply.

“Where, where?” she asked.

“You didn’t see him,” I answered right away. “He just walked right beside you.”

During this back and forth with my girl I point her in the direction of Gomi, who at this point was walking away, lost between the masses in Japan.

It made me realize something — there you are, ex-SHOOTO welterweight champion, current PRIDE Bushido ace and top-10 world lightweight material but nobody sees you. Nobody stops you to take quick pictures with the cell-phone? No autographs or well wishes?

There must be something wrong here!

You handle a legend like Rumina Sato, knockout former UFC lightweight champion Jens Pulver and basically stop any Chute Boxe fighter in your weight division when other popular stars like Sakuraba and Yoshida fail? Yet, you still walk around and nobody but me says, “Look it’s Gomi!”

Looks like lightweights still don’t get the recognition they deserve — either here in Japan or throughout the rest of the world.

But I believe this is the year.

Yes, read me loud and clear because I see this coming for long time: THIS IS THE YEAR OF THE LIGHTWEIGHTS.

Finally the big guns in Japan are paying attention to the lighter weight classes. Dream Stage Entertainment and Maeda/K-1 are assembling the best names out there in the 185-, 170- and 155-division to perform in PRIDE Bushido and HERO’s. Just recently these two fight organizations announced their upcoming events and line-ups.

The HERO’s “middleweight” tournament first round, scheduled for July 6 in Yoyogi, Tokyo, looks like this:

Norifumi 'Kid' Yamamoto vs. Ian Schaffa
Kazuyki Miyata vs. Arslan Magomedov
Koji Yoshida vs. Royler Gracie
Hideo Tokoro vs. Alexandre “Pequeno” Nogueira
Caol Uno vs. TBA
Hiroyuki Takaya vs. TBA
Remijigus Morkevicus vs. TBA

Also announced were some fighters who will compete in super-fights: Peter Aerts, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Jerome Le Banner and Rodrigo Gracie.

Looks like Akira Maeda kept the promise of delivering exciting matches and big names — current SHOOTO lightweight champion Alexandre “Pequeno” Nogueira makes his debut in one of the big shows; current ZST Grand Prix champion and KO machine Remijigus Morkevicus; SHOOTO kickboxing prodigy Hiroyuki Takaya; ZST submission wizard Hideo Tokoro; and familiar names Royler Gracie, Kid Yamamoto and Caol Uno.

PRIDE would not be left behind. After May’s amazing Bushido 7 the DSE office is back with another list of big names scheduled to appear in Bushido 8 on July 17 at Nagoya City Rainbow Hall.

The list of fighters announced by DSE for July’s card includes Takanori Gomi, Ikuhisa Minowa, Ryo Chonan, Hayato "Mach" Sakurai, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Naoyuki Kotani, Kazuo Misaki, Masakazu Imanari, Jutaro Nakao, Joachim Hansen, Marcus Aurelio, Luiz Buscape and others.

We have Gomi, Minowa, Chonan, Sakurai and Kawajiri in back-to-back shows, along with Marcos Aurelio, Buscape, Misaki and Imanari coming back to Bushido. The biggest surprise is the inclusion of three new names — ZST ace Naoyuki Kotani, SHOOTO war horse and current DEEP welterweight champion Jutaro Nakao and Norwegian powerhouse Joachim Hansen, coming back to the ring after a total war, one of the best 2005 bout so far, against Caol Uno early this year — in the Bushido ranks, each of whom will debut in this show.

Now MMA doesn’t stop with PRIDE and HERO’s. All the Japanese promotions have a busy schedule with some interesting cards coming together now that summer is almost here.

Smack Girl continues with its middleweight and lightweight tournament as the upcoming June 28 Korauken Hall show (winner of Bracket B will face the winners from last April’s show in the finals in August).

Middleweight Tournament:
Erica Montoya vs. Kazue Matake
Michiko Oomukai vs. TBA

Lightweight Tournament:
Yumi Matsumoto

Before you start to scratch your head, yes there is a girl Japanese fighter named “15” and she wears a mask. The winner of the lightweight tournament will be decided the same day.

Lightweight Title Match:
Yuka Tsuji vs. TBA

The lightweight tournament winner gets the chance to challenge for the lightweight title this August.

Pancrase is coming back with another show on July 10 at the Yokohama Cultural Gymnasium.

As of today, the line-up looks like this:

Atsushi Yamamoto vs. Nobuyuki
Alex Roberts vs. Masahiro Yamagishi
Hikaru Sato vs. Seiji Ogura
Yoshiki Takahashi vs. Yuji Sakuragi
Kentaro Imaizumi vs. Hirotaka Miyakawa
Ryuta Noji vs. Elvis Sinosic

Sinosic is going up in weight to fight K-1 Japan veteran, heavyweight Ryuta Noji. It’s a strange decision from Sinosic, who several times told the press how many problems he had with bigger opponents in UFC.

Also there are strong rumors about Yuki Kondo will face Akihiro Gono for the Pancrase light heavyweight title in the main event of this show.

Talking about cage events, D.O.G. just finished the line-up for its second show, July 11 at Differ Ariake. An interesting mix of names from UFC veterans, Russian fighters and some up-and-comers from Japan will step inside the Japanese’s only cage show.

Hidetaka Monma vs. David Strasser
Taiyo Nakahara vs. Mike Thomas Brown
Yukiya Naito vs. Adachi Akihiko
Aslan Khamzatov vs. Stewart Fulton
Mitsuhiro Ishida vs. Eduardo Santos
Yushin Okami vs. Nick Thompson
Yuji Hoshino vs. Takuya Wada
Oleg Bazayev vs. Riki Fukuda
Eiji Mitsuoka vs. Nick Agallar

As always SHOOTO, the oldest MMA organization out there, doesn’t show any signs of slowing down with two upcoming shows in July.

July 3 at Fukiage Hall, Aichi (promoter ALIVE):

Hideki Kadowaki vs. Hatsu Hioki
Takeyasu Hirono vs. Keisuke Kurata
Daisuke “Amazon” Sugie vs. TBA
Hiroshi Umemura vs. Manabu Kanau
Takeyasu Hirono vs. Yasuhiro Akagi
John Veluri vs. Masashi Yozen
Akira Kibe vs. Hiroyuki Tanaka

July 30 at Kourakuen Hall, Tokyo (promoter Sustain):

Makoto Ishikawa vs. Katsuya Toida
Akitoshi Tamura vs. Fanjin Son
Homare Kuboyama vs. Setsu Iguchi
Tenkei Fujimiya vs. Daisuke Matsumoto
(More bouts to be determined)

The upcoming weeks are really hot in the Japanese scene with the lower weights out in full force.

Hopefully the next time I see Gomi or any other great lightweight out there walking around I will also get the chance to see a line of hot Japanese girls waiting to take pictures.
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