Masakazu Imanari (file photo) has turned his focus toward Dream. | Photo: Taro Irei/Sherdog.com
Masakazu Imanari, who on Saturday advanced to the finals of Dream’s 2011 Japan bantamweight grand prix, has relinquished the 137-pound title which he held in Japanese indie promotion Deep since 2008.
Deep President Shigeru Saeki announced Imanari’s decision Tuesday during a news conference at Deep Official Gym Impact in Tokyo. Also present were Hiroshi Nakamura and Takafumi Otsuka, who will vie for the now-vacant bantamweight belt at Deep “54 Impact” on June 24.
Once the promotion’s featherweight ace, Imanari became Deep’s inaugural bantamweight champion in August 2008 with a 29-second heel-hooking of Hiroshi Umemura. The 35-year-old leglock master had gone 5-0 in Deep with two title defenses until dropping unanimous decision to Nakamura in a February non-title bout.
Imanari bested both Zst champion Keisuke Fujiwara and WEC veteran Kenji Osawa at Saturday’s Dream “Fight for Japan,” booking his passage to the tournament final against Hideo Tokoro. Regardless of the outcome of their July 16 bout, both Imanari and Tokoro are expected to advance to Dream’s planned 2011 world bantamweight grand prix in the fall.
Otsuka also entered Dream’s tournament Saturday, but was eliminated in the opening round by Osawa in a narrow split decision. The 24-year-old has lost four of his last five starts, including split verdicts against Kazuyuki Miyata and Koichiro Matsumoto, the latter of which cost Otsuka his Deep featherweight strap.
Nakamura, 30, spent the first four years of his career campaigning in Shooto, departing the ranks of the long-running Japanese organization in early-2009 and entering the Deep ring in February 2010. Despite being punched out by Isao Terada in his promotional debut -- his first loss since 2006 -- Nakamura subsequently ran off back-to-back wins over Tomohiko Hori and Tatsumitsu Wada before topping Imanari.