Sengoku Notebook: Hioki Sheds ‘Ace’ Label

By Tony Loiseleur May 3, 2009
TOKYO -- Rising featherweight star Hatsu Hioki remained modest after he dominated Ronnie Mann in the main event at Sengoku “Eighth Battle” on Saturday at the Yoyogi National Stadium Second Gymnasium, as he shied away from his label of featherweight grand prix favorite.

“I think any fighter still remaining at this point in the tournament has strength enough to be labeled ‘the ace,’” Hioki said.

Mann (16-2-1), his five-fight winning streak now a thing of the past, spoke about his failed approach after being finished for the first time in his career.

“I thought he’d want to exchange from [seeing] his previous fights,” Mann said. “One of my gameplans was to be explosive standing up. In the beginning, I got in a few good shots. Once he felt the punches, I think that’s why he took it down. He didn’t want to stand up.”

Hioki (19-3-2) pointed out that Mann’s tactics worked to his advantage.

“I could see he was trying to step in and throw bombs, so I decided that if he’d step in, I would, too, and clinch up,” he said. “The takedown went as I’d hoped.”

Once on the ground, Hioki locked up a slow triangle that eventually forced Mann to surrender.

“I think Ronnie was trying to say he was giving up, but it wasn’t really loud, so the ref probably decided to give him the benefit of the doubt,” Hioki said. “I thought I could hear Ronnie saying, ‘Tap, tap.’ I consider myself pretty good at the triangle, so I thought I got it in pretty well.”

Surprising Semi-Finalist

UFC veteran Michihiro Omigawa notched another dominant win, as he dispatched Nam Phan (15-6) by way of first-round technical knockout. He entered the tournament winless in his previous four bouts.

“I just wanted to fight like I usually do in practice with my boxing and judo,” the soft-spoken Omigawa (6-7-1) said. “I just believed in my training, and I was able to perform. At this weight, I think that I can take anyone down. Trying to take Phan down, it wasn’t very difficult with my judo skills.”

In the second of four quarter-final fights, Masanori Kanehara won by unanimous decision over the previously unbeaten Chan Sung Jung and became the third Japanese fighter to reach the tournament’s final four.

“After I finished my fight, I couldn’t feel satisfied, but today, I am relieved in my victory,” Kanehara (13-5-5) said. “I haven’t seen any footage of my fight, so I still can’t say anything regarding my performance. However, I still think there is a lot that I’ve learned from it.”

The decision was viewed as controversial by some. Kanehara’s Korean opponent believed he at least deserved a draw in the highly competitive bout.

“I was hoping for it to be a draw so that we’d have to fight for another round,” Jung (6-1) said.

With Jung’s loss, Marlon Sandro remains the lone non-Japanese featherweight still alive in the grand prix.

Despite brutally eliminating King of the Cage Canada featherweight champion Nick Denis with a blistering 19-second TKO, the featherweight King of Pancrase expressed concern for his foe’s health.

“It was a great fight,” Sandro said. “I just hope that Denis wasn’t too hurt or had any serious damage.”

Denis (7-1) spoke candidly about the loss.

“It’s crazy because in most of his fights, I do see him throw uppercuts, but I was mostly concerned with wild hooks,” he said. “And sure enough, I remember thinking, ‘Oh s--t, the uppercut’s coming’ and then thinking, ‘This hurts.’ I don’t really remember much after that.”

Sandro (14-0), still undefeated, revealed that he was injured coming into the bout.

“I haven’t told anyone until now, but my right leg was hurt, so I wasn’t able to train grappling too much,” he said. “I concentrated training my stand-up for this fight. I hurt my right calf about a week ago while I was running. It still hurts now, and if I walk, I have a slight limp. Before the fight, I tried to walk normally so as not to let my opponent know.”

Looking ahead to semi-final matchups, Kanehara refused to volunteer to challenge Sandro, the last remaining foreign fighter. Instead, he threw down the gauntlet to his fellow countryman.

“I don’t really think I would want to fight against Marlon Sandro, since all three are all very tough,” Kanehara said. “I’m not thinking of who will be my opponent yet, but I prefer a Japanese fighter, which I think will make for an exciting fight. If I had my choice, I would pick Mr. Hioki.”

Omigawa, on the other hand, wanted a piece of all three of his fellow semi-finalists.

“All three are strong,” Omigawa said. “I want to fight Sandro. I want to fight Kanehara. I want to fight Hioki. If I could, I’d like to fight them all in turn and knock them out.”

World Victory Road Public Relations Director Takahiro Kokuho indicated final round matchups, scheduled for Sengoku’s Aug. 2 show, would likely be determined later this month; two of the fallen featherweights will be booked in a tournament reserve bout. In addition, Kokuho expects to announce another welterweight bout for the August card -- the winner of which will become another candidate for the welterweight grand prix -- as well as the challenger for lightweight champion Satoru Kitaoka.

Ribeiro, Nedkov Closing on ‘King Mo’

In a surprising revelation, Alexandre Ribeiro put away 13-year Pancrase veteran Keiichiro Yamamiya by third round knockout in a non-tournament affair.

“You guys all know my plan wasn’t to knock him out, but I’m ready to bring the fight wherever it goes,” Ribeiro said. “It’s like jiu-jitsu. Whatever the guy gives to me, I’ll take it.”

While Ribeiro (2-0) claimed he will not look for knockout finishes anytime soon, the outcome of future bouts depends on matchups. To that end, however, the Yamamiya (34-24-9) knockout signals that his stand-up training has paid off and that the Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion continues to acclimate to mixed martial arts.

“I wasn’t able to take him down so easily, but I showed the versatility that MMA requires, and I finished the fight with the knockout,” Ribeiro said. “I still feel funny about knocking people out, so I gotta be a little more prepared on my wrestling so I can take people down and show my skills. I know I owe the Japanese fans a little bit more submissions, but I’m an MMA fighter, so wherever the fight goes, I need to be ready.”

Meanwhile, Stanislav Nedkov finished his opponent in the third round, as he stopped prolific journeyman Travis Wiuff on strikes after he fouled the Minnesotan three times and earned two red cards. The Bulgarian claimed he only fouled Wiuff once.

“For people who were watching from the side,” Nedkov said, “I think that they’d seen that the first low blow hit lightly, and the second and the third hit him in the thigh, not the groin.”

Wiuff (54-13) did not see the low blows as contributing factors in the outcome.

“I’m not the type of person to make excuses,” Wiuff said. “I don’t think it’s the reason why I lost the fight. I dropped my left hand, and he hit me with the right hand. I don’t know that the low blows had anything to do with me losing.”

With their victories, Ribeiro and Nedkov (6-0) moved one step closer to a future bout with Muhammed Lawal for the promotion’s vacant light heavyweight championship. However, Kokuho expressed reservations about matching either man against “King Mo,” indicating that Ribeiro and Nedkov had more work to do before earning a shot at the title.
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