Yoshiyuki Yoshida to UFC

By Jordan Breen Jan 11, 2008
Another Japanese prospect is set to cross the Pacific and land stateside.

In a tumultuous year for the Japanese MMA scene, Yoshiyuki Yoshida (Pictures) offered quite an unexpected bright spot. Now Yoshida's management has confirmed to Sherdog.com that the 170-pound Cage Force tournament champion has been offered a four-fight deal with Zuffa and the UFC.

Greatest Common Multiple based its 2007 schedule around its Cage Force tournaments at 155 and 170 pounds. In addition to putting on good fights and popularizing both the cage and the unified rules in Japan, GCM and its Worldwide Cage Network sister promotions made it a goal to foster and promote international talent who could one day make their way overseas, to the UFC, and shine. Moreover, it was suggested that the respective tournament winners would earn UFC deals.

In the 170-pound tournament, former Shooto world champion Akira Kikuchi (Pictures) seemed a lock to earn that Octagon opportunity. Instead, the fight community was forcefully introduced to Yoshida.

Although Yoshida's win over British prospect Dan Hardy (Pictures) in the tournament finale came via an unfulfilling disqualification due to a low kick that landed to the groin, the pupil of Shooto icon Noboru Asahi was sensational throughout 2007. Yoshida went 4-0 on the year, including brutal first-round stoppages of current provisional Pancrase king Katsuya Inoue (Pictures) and the aforementioned Kikuchi.

Perhaps embodying GCM's very goals with the Cage Force program, Yoshida has become noted for his cage savvy. While many fighters, especially Japanese fighters, have been slow to grasp some nuances of the unified rules and the cage, Yoshida flourished in the venue, showing the ability to use the fence to his advantage by controlling and pounding opponents, as well as utilizing devastating elbows.

Yoshida is set to sign the contract on Monday. His management believes that his first bout in the Octagon will likely be in April.

Akiyama Camp Protests Misaki's KO Kick

New Year's Eve always seems to spell turmoil for Yoshihiro Akiyama (Pictures).

After making his debut at K-1 Premium 2004 Dynamite, Akiyama was forced to withdraw from a bout with Royce Gracie (Pictures) for K-1's New Year's Eve offering in 2005 when he sustained a back injury in training. The 2006 edition of Dynamite was the site of his now-infamous greasing scandal against icon Kazushi Sakuraba (Pictures). Now controversy has arisen again on the heels of his loss to Kazuo Misaki (Pictures) at the Dec. 31 Yarennoka card.

Akiyama and his team have filed a protest with K-1 and HERO'S parent company Fight Entertainment Group, which co-sponsored the Yarennoka event with M-1 Global. Akiyama contends that the fight-ending kick delivered by Misaki was in fact illegal.

As he attempted to scramble to his feet after being knocked down by a Misaki left hook, Akiyama took a brutal lunging kick to the face. Following the bout, there was much heated debate among fans as to whether Akiyama's hands were still on the mat when he was struck.

According to the rules used for the Yarennoka card, if Akiyama's hands were still on the deck, Misaki's kick would've been illegal. Furthermore, if the strike were illegal, Akiyama's inability to continue would make him the victor by disqualification.

FEG President Sadaharu Tanigawa told the media that while he wasn't sure of the kick's illegality, he planned to review the fight tape and then make a ruling on the matter.

‘Kid' Turns Killer Bee to Krazy, Brings in Cage

Fully back into the MMA world after his amateur wrestling excursion and fresh off a brutal KO victory of Rani Yahya (Pictures) at K-1 Premium 2007 Dynamite on New Year's Eve, Norifumi Yamamoto (Pictures) is set to make some changes.

First and foremost, "Kid" Yamamoto is changing the name of his gym from "Killer Bee" to "Krazy Bee." Ironically, the bad boy of Japanese MMA told the Japanese media that since he was now teaching children and wanted to integrate a larger youth wrestling program into his gym, he felt the Killer Bee moniker was "too barbaric."

Also, the facility will be changing sites in favor of a new, larger venue in the Ota ward of Tokyo city. The new facility, tentatively set to open Feb. 1, will not only be more spacious but will also have a full cage for training.

With the growing influence of the cage worldwide and more Japanese fighters fighting internationally in caged MMA events, Yamamoto said that bringing a cage into the gym was necessary for fighters with an eye on competing overseas.

Kinoshita Shills for Sengoku

While the buildup to New Year's Eve saw discussion of its March 5 debut cool off, World Victory Road has began to put its Sengoku card back in the media spotlight.

WVR figurehead Naoya Kinoshita held a news conference earlier this week in Tokyo to shed more light on the relatively sparse details available in regards to the card at the Yoyogi National Stadium First Gymnasium. One of the more intriguing topics introduced during the presser was the aesthetics and atmosphere of the event.

Kinoshita said that the production of the Sengoku card would "closely resemble the Yarennoka card."

While Kinoshita's words were vague, speculation within the Japanese MMA community suggests that his comments reference World Victory Road looking to hire the same event production companies that handled the design of past PRIDE events, as well as the Dec. 31 Yarennoka show.

Kinoshita floated the names of Takanori Gomi (Pictures) and Kazuo Misaki (Pictures) as two fighters that WVR is interested in pursuing. However, at this point, there is little substance to those comments, which seemed largely geared toward bluster to the media.

Kinoshita also touched on the topic of terrestrial broadcasting, which so far has been the largest difficulty for the upstart WVR. With the highly paid and popular Hidehiko Yoshida (Pictures) as the anchor for the card, WVR's goal was to secure terrestrial broadcasting on one of Japan's six major networks. However, after reportedly being turned down by the networks, WVR was in a difficult position.

Kinoshita said that WVR had actually rejected one proposed television deal. Without having secured an agreement with one of the six major broadcasters, Kinoshita said that while it was not yet official, Sengoku could at least be available on several satellite channels.

Shooto Ready for 2008 Rookie Class

With 2007 already a distant memory, Shooto officials have finalized the list of competitors and the tournament brackets for the 2008 rookie tournament series.

The series began in 2002 as a way to foster and promote young talent in the pro Shooto ranks. Since 2002, the series has produced several Shooto world champions, including Tatsuya Kawajiri (Pictures), "Lion Takeshi" Takeshi Inoue (Pictures), Shinichi "BJ" Kojima and Akitoshi Hokazono (Pictures). Other former Shooto rookie champions include Hiroyuki Takaya (Pictures), Keita "K-Taro" Nakamura, Yasuhiro Urushitani (Pictures), Nobuhiro Obiya (Pictures), Takeya Mizaki, Tenkei Fujimiya (Pictures) and Yusuke Endo (Pictures).

The 115-pound tournament will feature nine entrants. In a quarterfinal qualifier, Takeshi Sato will take on Hiroyuki "Ron" Kondo. The winner will face Masatomi Yamagami in the first quarterfinal.

In the second quarterfinal, 2007 All Japan amateur champion Yusuke Sato will meet Tatsuya Yamamoto (Pictures). In the second half of the bracket, Teppei "Bull" Masuda meets Yoshitaka Aki, and Kazuyuki "Torii" Yoshida meets the free-swinging "Sarumaru" Junji Ito (Pictures).

The 123-pound bracket has seven participants. Fumihiro Kitahara has been seeded into the semifinals, where he will face the winner of the first quarterfinal between Shigeyasu Fujira and Hiroaki Iijima. In the other two quarterfinals, Jun Nagasoe meets Kentaro Watanabe, and Yosuke "Flying Monkey No. 2" Saruta takes on 2007 All Japan amateur Shooto champ Kota Funamoto, who beat him in the semifinals of the All Japans in September.

A very deep 132-pound tournament will feature a dozen fighters. Four have been seeded into the quarterfinals, with eight fighters slotted into quarterfinal qualifying bouts. Yuta Nezu has been seeded into the quarterfinals and will face the winner of Haruo Ochi and Masumi Tozawa. In the second quarterfinal, 2006 All Japan amateur champ Kousuke Eda (Pictures) will await the winner of Katsuya Toida (Pictures) pupil Tatsuya "Nakashi" Nakajima and Yuki "Isami Oni" Baba. In the second half of the bracket, Yoshihiko "Kagero" Oyama will face the winner of Jyoji Kawamata against Hirosuke Ito, and Yasuaki "AKI" Nagamoto will take on the winner of Syunsuke Nomura and Keita Yoshida.

After only six competitors last year, 2008's 143-pound tournament features a 13-man field. Three fighters have been seeded into the quarterfinals. On one side of the bracket, Takumi Ota (Pictures) will meet the winner of Makoto Akazawa and Takayoshi Ono, and former All Japan amateur champion Yasuhiro Kanayama (Pictures) will face the winner of Issei Tamura and Hiroaki Nakayama. On the other side, Naohiro Mizuno (Pictures) will take on the victor of the quarterfinal qualifier between Daiki Tsuchiya and Hidenori Nishino.

The other quarterfinal will pit two qualifier winners against each other, as former All Japan amateur champ Toshihiko "Yokosai" Yokoyama faces Atsushi "Mitsuru" Kobayashi, and Kenichiro Marui faces 154-pound 2007 All Japan amateur champion Hiroshige Tanaka, who is trimming down to 143 pounds.

Shooto's hallmark weight class of 154 pounds will feature a tournament with nine fighters. In a quarterfinal qualifier, former Deep 168-pound Future King Yukinari "Hibiki" Tamura will take on "Gypsy" Taro Kusano, with the winner advancing to face Hayato Sakurai (Pictures)'s student Kunio Nakajima (Pictures). In the other quarterfinals, Hiroshi Sugimoto faces Yasuaki Kishimoto, Junpei Konno meets Kiguchi wrestling standout Ikuo Usuda, and another Mach Sakurai product, Hiroshi "KG Kokoroto" Kuga, takes on former All Japan amateur champion Kazuya Satomoto.

After producing the most exciting bracket of 2007, the 168-pound leg of the rookie series features six competitors this year. 2007 All Japan amateur champion and prohibitive tournament favorite Takesuke Kume (Pictures) will meet the winner of the quarterfinal between Yoichiro Sato and Toru Ishinaka (Pictures). Takuya Sato (Pictures) awaits the winner of the quarterfinal between Naoki Hirayama and Kazushi Kochi.

In the final tournament at 183 pounds, another six fighters will compete. Makoto "Chomolangma 1/2" Maeda will take on the winner of the quarterfinal between Taijiro Iseki and Naoji Mikoshiba. 2007 rookie tournament runner-up Takaaki "C-BOY" Oban will face the winner of the quarterfinal between Nobuyasu Fujikawa and 2007 All Japan amateur champion Yusaku Tanaka.

The rookie tournaments will kick off at the Jan. 26 pro Shooto event at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, with the scheduled bouts being Kota Funamoto vs. Yosuke Saruta and Kazuyuki Yoshida vs. Junji Ito (Pictures).

Mamoru-Shoujou Set for Shooting Disco Clash

With the Jan. 26 card at Korakuen Hall beginning the year for pro Shooto, the Shooting Disco series will get started Feb. 23 at its familiar digs of Shinjuku FACE in Tokyo.

The club-themed Gutsman Shooto Dojo-promoted series began in June last year, offering quality pro Shooto cards blending both Class B talent and strong Class A matchups. The Feb. 23 installment figures to provide the best bout of the young event, as longtime Shooto 123-pound world champion Mamoru Yamaguchi (Pictures) will take on the streaking Yuki Shoujou (Pictures).

At the first Shooting Disco card in June 2007, the afro-coifed Yamaguchi took a landslide decision over Yusei Shimokawa (Pictures). The win was Yamaguchi's first action since his October 2006 title loss, but now he is coming off a razor-thin decision loss to rival Yasuhiro Urushitani (Pictures) in September.

Shoujou had a sizzling 2007 campaign, going 3-0, including his upset submission victory in July over the highly regarded Masatoshi Abe (Pictures). He punctuated his year with a unanimous decision over savvy vet Junji Ikoma (Pictures) at the last Shooting Disco card in October.

While the aforementioned Urushitani would seem set for the next world title shot at 123 pounds against Shinichi "BJ" Kojima, the Mamoru-Shoujou matchup will still play a considerable role in sorting out a division that surged in 2007.

The uncompleted card is also slated to feature a bout between Akihiro Murayama (Pictures) and undefeated 2007 Shooto rookie champion Hiroki Sato (Pictures), as well as a clash of 123-pound rookie aces with 2006 champ Ryuichi Miki (Pictures) taking on 2007 upset king Kenji Hasoya (Pictures).

ClubDeep Starts Year with Future King Tournaments

The hangover of New Year's Eve is done with, and Japanese MMA is finally ready to get underway as ClubDeep returns to Tokyo on Monday. After an expansive touring schedule with its ClubDeep series in the latter stages of 2007, Deep is heading back to Shinjuku FACE with a twin bill.

The main bill will be headlined by the retirement bout of Dai Moriyama. Moriyama, who has competed sporadically in MMA with little success in the past few years, is perhaps better known for his pro wrestling exploits, especially in STYLE-E promotions. He hasn't competed in MMA since July 2004, when Shooto regular Akihiro Murayama (Pictures) dispatched him.

For his final MMA bout, Moriyama will face off against the lackluster pupil of Nobuhiko Takada (Pictures), Tomoyoshi Iwamiya (Pictures). Iwamiya, who sports a 2-6 record, is coming off a July loss to Rikuhei Fujii (Pictures) in Pancrase.

Perhaps the best bout on the main card is a pairing of once-beaten young lightweights, with Tsuyoshi Kohsaka (Pictures)'s pupil Yuki Ito (Pictures) taking on Hayato Sakurai (Pictures)'s student Hiroshi Nakano (Pictures). Each competed only once in 2007, with each taking wins in local ClubDeep Tokyo cards.

Also on the bill are three "megaton matches," Deep's promotional moniker for heavyweights, which will see Waka Arashi (Pictures) take on Kintaro Tsurukame, Yoshiyuki Nakanishi (Pictures) square off with Yoshiyuki Kato, and Tomoichiro Iwakami face Kendai Suketen.

However, the real attraction to the card is the four 2008 Future King tournaments. Regional qualifiers for the 2008 Deep rookie series, whose most notable former champion is Shinya Aoki (Pictures), were held over the last quarter of 2007 across Japan. Now all four tournaments will be completed on the Jan. 14 card.

The 143-pound division will feature Makoto Kamaya, Kota Ishibashi (Pictures), Masaki Yanigawa, Takuya Ogura, Seiji Akao, Makoto Akazawa, Tsubasa Akiyama and Tatsu Wada.

The 154-pound tournament will include Luiz, Kenta Okuyama, Yuya Osugi, Yusuke Suzuki, Kazumasa Otani and Seigo Inoue.

The 168-pound leg will see Yoshiki Ishida, Masahiro Ono, Junzo Tokuda, Roberto Lima Marcos, Tetsuya Yoshioka, Hidenobu Koike (Pictures) and Norimasa Iwasaki in action.

The 181-pound bracket will be contested between Ryuhei Arai, Masaya Dohi, Yoshiyume Chodo, Yuichi Kishino and Teruhiko Kubo.

Tournament brackets likely won't be revealed until the day of the event.
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