Shooto Sends Off Talented Kikuchi

By Jordan Breen Jan 25, 2008
Shooto fans will bid farewell Saturday to one of Japan's best talents in recent years.

The organization will hold a retirement ceremony at its Jan. 26 Korakuen Hall card for former Shooto world champion Akira Kikuchi (Pictures).

An All Japan amateur Shooto champion in 2001, Kikuchi quickly emerged as one of the best up-and-coming talents in the pro Shooto ranks. The biggest victory of his pro career came in his rematch with the highly regarded Jake Shields (Pictures) in December 2004. In that bout Kikuchi took a commanding and impressive decision to avenge the first loss of his pro career and to become the seventh world middleweight champion of pro Shooto.

Kikuchi lost his title in February 2006 to current star Shinya Aoki (Pictures) in what was Aoki's breakout performance. In a second hotly disputed match, Kikuchi failed to regain his title, dropping a split decision to Aoki the following February.

Last year Kikuchi was a prohibitive favorite in GCM's Cage Force 170-pound tournament. Many believed he would be bound for the UFC after an inevitable tournament win, but Kikuchi was upset in brutal fashion by eventual winner Yoshiyuki Yoshida (Pictures).

The 29-year-old Kikuchi has given no reason for retiring. He bows out with a career mark of 16-4.

Okami Returns to Octagon Against Tanner

Yushin Okami (Pictures), the Octagon's most successful Japanese fighter, will return to the UFC at the promotion's April 19 Canadian debut at the Bell Centre in Montreal. He'll take on former UFC middleweight champion turned fan favorite and eccentric, Evan Tanner (Pictures).

The 26-year-old Kanagawa native re-signed with Zuffa and the UFC in late November, following his unanimous decision over Jason MacDonald (Pictures) in October. A strong source confirmed to Sherdog.com that Okami had been informed in mid-December that a returning Tanner would be his likely opponent in early 2008.

The highly regarded Wajyutsu product has gone 5-1 since his UFC debut in August 2006. With a win over Tanner, Okami could emerge as the most likely 185-pound title contender in the UFC after March's anticipated showdown between Anderson Silva and Dan Henderson (Pictures).

Tanner, 36, hasn't competed since April 2006, when he notched a first-round submission over Justin Levens (Pictures). Anticipation for Tanner's return has been fueled by his eccentric, nomadic behavior, which he has documented in well-publicized online diary entries.

Hironaka to Meet Goulet in Montreal

Another Japanese competitor, Kuniyoshi Hironaka (Pictures), will also see his next action in the Montreal UFC, where he'll take on Quebec native Jonathan Goulet (Pictures).

The bout figures to serve as a must-win for both due to the mixed results in their UFC tenures.

Hironaka has gone 1-2 in his UFC stint. After a spirited albeit losing effort against a surging Jon Fitch (Pictures) in October 2006, he took a commanding unanimous decision over Forrest Petz (Pictures) last April, out-grappling the Ohio native every step of the way. However, in his last outing in September, Hironaka was destroyed on the feet by Thiago Alves (Pictures), who stopped the 31-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt in the second round.

Goulet's UFC efforts have been a definitive mixed bag, having gone 3-3 in the Octagon. After falling prey to the submission savvy of Dustin Hazelett (Pictures) in only 74 seconds in September, Goulet rebounded in December, dominating TUF 6 alum Paul Georgieff to pick up a first-round submission win of his own.

Imanari to Defend Against Silva

The Octagon isn't the only cage welcoming in Japanese talent. Masakazu Imanari (Pictures) will head back to England to defend his Cage Rage title against Jean Silva (Pictures) on March 8 at Wembley Arena in London.

Imanari, who also wears DEEP's featherweight title, won Cage Rage's 145-pound crown last February, when he flying armbarred then-champ Robbie Olivier (Pictures) only 27 seconds into the bout. This will be his first defense.

Since his title capture, MMA's crown prince of leglocks has won both of his outings. In August, he survived an early scare from heavy-handed South Korean Jong Man Kim (Pictures) to lock up a first-round armbar. In September, after a lengthy and bizarre encounter with Hiroyuki Abe, Imanari tallied another leglock with 28 ticks to go in the bout.

Silva and Imanari were originally scheduled to meet on Cage Rage's Sept. 22 bill at Wembley Arena. Imanari was forced to pull out of the bout, though, for undisclosed reasons. Instead, Silva fought veteran Chris Brennan, whom he handled and finished in the second round.

The bout will be Silva's first at 145 pounds in four years.

‘Deep' Brackets in '08

DEEP's 2008 lineup sure isn't short on tournaments.

With its 185-pound title vacated by Ryo Chonan (Pictures) in December while the "Piranha" pursues stateside ambitions, DEEP has finalized the eight-man field for its middleweight tournament.

The bracket, which begins Feb. 22 at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo and will play out over the first half of 2008, will feature Riki Fukuda (Pictures), Ryuta Sakurai (Pictures), Yuya Shirai (Pictures), Eiji Ishikawa (Pictures), Yuichi Nakanishi (Pictures), Daijiro Matsui (Pictures), Sojiro Orui (Pictures) and Young "RYO" Choi.

In addition to the 185-pound title tournament, DEEP boss Shigeru Saeki has announced the formation of a 99-pound female class. The first division champion will be crowned in a four-woman, one-night tournament on the Feb. 22 card.

Female star Satoko Shinashi (Pictures) will be the overwhelming favorite in the female bracket. She has competed her entire career as an undersized 106-pound competitor, including an August 2006 loss to Hisae Watanabe (Pictures) for the first Deep 106-pound female championship. Currently Shinashi is the reigning Smack Girl 106-pound champion.

Also in the tournament will be Fukuko Hamada, Kayo Nagayasu (Pictures) and SACHI.

Furthermore, Saeki revealed that with DEEP's realignment to the weight divisions prescribed by the unified rules, he plans on holding a tournament this coming summer to crown a 135-pound champion.

Maeda's New Event Coming in March

With HERO'S now behind him, Akira Maeda (Pictures) is set to unveil his new project: The Outsider.

Following reports of HERO'S parent company Fight Entertainment Group restructuring its MMA program for 2008, Akira Maeda (Pictures) has seemingly nixed his alliance with the company. This was likely exacerbated by FEG working with former Dream Stage Entertainment executives on Yarennoka, as Maeda's animosity toward DSE has been well documented. He holds the former PRIDE parent company responsible for the death of RINGS after it signed away top talent from Maeda's promotion.

Last September, Maeda held a sit-down dinner in Yokohama for fans during which he fielded questions about a potential Rings return and his future plans in MMA. This week Maeda unveiled The Outsider.

The Outsider will be held March 30 at Differ Ariake in Tokyo. The event, which may be tournament-based, will use HERO'S rules. Maeda is currently accepting applications for interested participants. In order to qualify, competitors must be between the ages of 16 and 35 years old and have three or fewer professional MMA bouts.

Hisae Gets Hitched

Congratulations are in order for female star Hisae Watanabe (Pictures), who was married during the New Year season.

The 27-year-old Watanabe recently wed comic book artist SP Nakatema, who is known for his MMA-related manga. By marrying, Watanabe joins rival Satoko Shinashi (Pictures), who was married late last year.

Japanese MMA's foremost glamour girl is set for action on Deep's Feb. 22 offering at Korakuen Hall, where she will meet a streaking Yasuko Tamada (Pictures), winner of four in a row in the rings of Smack Girl, Shooto and ZST.
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