Fedor Emelianenko earned another New Year's Eve win, dominating Satoshi Ishii. | Photo: Taro Irei
SAITAMA, Japan -- After earning a gold medal in judo at the 2008 Beijing Games, Satoshi Ishii boldly claimed that he would like to face then-heavyweight MMA ruler Fedor Emelianenko before he had even left the press scrum. Just over three years later, he got his wish. Unfortunately for Ishii, it lasted just 2:34.
Despite having spent his training camp at Reign MMA in the United States, the 25-year-old judoka was like a deer in headlights against the former Pride Fighting Championships heavyweight champion in the main event of Dream’s “Genki Desu Ka! New Year! 2011” at the Saitama Super Arena on Saturday. As Ishii's corner pleaded with him to put his jab out and circle to the right, Emelianenko put vicious combinations on the neophyte Japanese mixed martial artist.
A stiff left hand and an incomplete takedown attempt off of a caught kick were all Ishii had before eating a crushing right straight and hook that sent him straight backward like a freshly chopped tree. With Ishii crumpled against the ropes, referee Yuji Shimada stepped in for the stoppage as the stoic heavyweight great loomed above, showing no inclination to even follow up.
The stoppage could not have come at a more perfect time, as "The Last Emperor" knocked out Ishii just one minute shy of the stroke of midnight, punctuating an otherwise rough 2011 and saving event frontman Antonio Inoki's New Year's Eve countdown to close out the show.
“I felt that my striking has improved, and that, as a fighter, I have evolved. I owe my improvement to Alexander Michkov and my Dutch coaches,” Emelianenko said of his dominant striking performance.
“I feel that Ishii is one of the best fighters in Japan. If Ishii continues to train the way he does and continues on in MMA, I believe strongly that he will become a very good fighter,” he added.
Dream lightweight champion Shinya Aoki protected his crown from longtime training partner and friend Satoru Kitaoka, earning a unanimous decision with a yet another impressive display of dominant grappling.
True to form, Kitaoka's energy dwindled after the first round, though this was of course also due to fending off the champion's aggressive grappling offense. Both fighters traded submission attempts early as Kitaoka went for guillotines and Aoki latched on a close triangle-into-armbar combo. However, the champ pulled far ahead with repeated takedowns into half guard and back mount, where he smashed the challenger with short punches.
In addition to his usual ground savvy, Aoki was also able to show off some of the striking skills he recently acquired at Singapore's Evolve MMA. The "Tobikan Judan" made excellent use of the Thai plum and knees, bashing and bloodying Kitaoka's nose in the fourth stanza. This surprisingly devastating offense from the champion allowed him to capture Kitaoka's back to threaten with repeated rear-naked choke attempts. The challenger persevered, however, seemingly refusing to tap out to Aoki’s choke attempts, no matter how deep they were.
Though controlled and beaten from pillar to post for all of the fight, the stubborn Kitaoka put in the last word on the bout after stuffing an Aoki takedown to land knees to the top of the champion's head for the final 10 seconds. It was, however, no match for Aoki's overall dominance, as judges Gen Isono, Hikaru Adachi, and Matt Hume all had the fight for Aoki.
"I wasn't really able to finish Kitaoka, but I felt that I improved my striking under Namsaknoi [Yudthagarngamtorn] to become a more well-rounded mixed martial artist,” Aoki said after the bout. “Honestly, I think that a fight with Kitaoka is a great one, one that could only be done in Dream. But I also feel kind of sad, too."
Aoki, 28, is now 30-5 in his campaign and has won seven straight MMA contests since falling to Gilbert Melendez in his bid for the Strikeforce title in April 2010. The victory moved Aoki to 4-0 in 2011.
Ten pounds lighter, the “Lion Takeshi” Inoue that had a standout 2010 with three big knockout victories did not show up for the title fight against incumbent champion Hiroyuki Takaya, so much so that the normally reticent Japanese crowd booed Inoue toward the end of the championship rounds en route to losing a unanimous verdict.
The WEC and Strikeforce veteran pursued Inoue from the opening bell, walking him down and popping him in the face with pumping jabs and winging right hands. In addition to non-stop backpedaling and offering little counter-offense outside of single punches and low kicks, Lion conceded takedowns to the champion in most rounds just before the buzzer.
As if to further sour himself to the judges and the fans, Inoue only committed to engaging with Takaya when goaded by referee Yuji Shimada to be more active. The first warning saw Lion surge and drop Takaya to a knee with three successive right hands in the second period, while the next major warning earned him a yellow card in the fourth frame.
Meanwhile, Takaya changed his game little, snapping the challenger's head back with a steady stream of combination punches until just before the bell, when Inoue once again awoke to drop Takaya to a knee with a salvo of punches. It was far too little, too late as Hikaru Adachi, Matt Hume and Gen Isono naturally had the fight for Takaya, who defended his title successfully for the second time, having bested Kazuyuki Miyata by split decision in July.
"I couldn't get the knockout again today, so I apologize," said a curt Takaya, now 17-9-1 in his nine-year pro career. "I promise to get the KO next year, so please come out and see it."
One of Takaya’s training partners, perennial lightweight standout Tatsuya Kawajiri, made his presence felt in his second featherweight contest, controlling 2000 Sydney Games freestyle wrestling Olympian Kazuyuki Miyata before impressively tapping him out in the second round.
The 33-year-old “Crusher" took a dominant first frame after putting Miyata on his back with the double-leg, whereupon he methodically crept his way to mount to drop short punches and attempt arm-triangle chokes as Miyata clasped his hands to hold on and close the distance from bottom.
Not to be outdone, however, Miyata came out strong in the second, connecting with a knee-wobbling left hand followed by momentarily taking Kawajiri's back. The T-Blood gym boss soon extricated himself, however, and, after an uppercut into a takedown, quickly latched on the arm-triangle choke for the tap at 4:54.
As expected, Bellator 115-pound women's tournament finalist and perennial women's MMA pound-for-pound standout Megumi Fujii dispatched Venezuelan Spanish MMA product Karla Benitez in extremely quick fashion in the evening's sole women's MMA bout.
After missing her first takedown, Fujii dove to capture a leg and reverse her way into Benitez's guard. In short order, the Japanese submission dynamo transitioned to side control, where she slapped on the armbar to elicit the tap in just 75 seconds. Fujii’s real performance, though, came afterward.
A long-time crusader for women's MMA in her native Japan, a breathless Fujii took to the mic, telling the Saitama crowd, "Good evening, I'm Megumi Fujii, and I am 37 years old," to much disbelief and applause from the audience. "I've been doing judo since I was 3, and, finally, I'm able to fight at this stage thanks to all those who've supported women's MMA. Please, continue to support women's MMA."
Popular Japanese fixture Hayato Sakurai broke a four-fight losing streak by taking a handy decision over fellow UFC veteran Ryo Chonan, also avenging a 2003 cut stoppage loss to "The Piranha" in Deep.
The former Shooto 168-pound champion locked up the first two periods with relative ease, clipping Chonan first with a swiping left hand and using takedowns to secure top position in half-guard and side control, from which he dropped short punches and knees to the body. Sakurai slowed somewhat in the third, however, giving Chonan the opportunity at long last to unleash with big punches. However, it was not enough to convince judges Hikaru Adachi, Gen Isono, and Akira Shoji to change their minds, as all had it for "Mach."
"I finally won," said a relieved and smiling 36-year-old Sakurai. "I hadn't realize how much happy a win makes me until getting this one. Chonan is like a brother to me, but as a professional fighter, I'll fight anyone put in front of me, even if it's a family member or anything like that."
While cosplaying kickboxer Yuichiro Nagashima notched an impressive knockout victory over Dream lightweight champion Aoki in the MMA round of their special mixed rules last Dec. 31, "Jienotsu" was not able to make lightning strike twice, as former Deep lightweight champion Katsunori Kikuno shellacked him to a second-round stoppage in their mixed rules contest.
Both men slugged it out toe-to-toe in the opening round under K-1 rules to thrilling effect, dropping each other for the mandatory eight count with big right hands. While the following MMA round was not as explosive, it was still punishing as both fighters continued to land wild punches. The end came for a weary Nagashima when Kikuno took back mount. With Nagashima flattened out and not even blocking the punches, referee Yuji Shimada showed mercy by calling the stop at the 2:34 mark.