Ishii Signs with Sengoku

By Jordan Breen Jun 1, 2009
It appears the Satoshi Ishii sweepstakes are finally over.

Ishii, the 2008 Beijing Games heavyweight judo gold medalist, announced Monday that he has signed a two-year contract with World Victory Road and will make his debut in the Sengkou ring later this year.

"My marriage partner is Japanese. I'm marrying Sengoku," Ishii joked to the press.

The 22-year-old Osaka native has been arguably MMA's most coveted free agent in recent months. Following his gold medal victory in Beijing last August, Ishii told the international sports media that he hoped to compete in MMA and face heavyweight ruler Fedor Emelianenko. Ishii's entrance into MMA sparked a nearly 10-month saga of speculation and negotiation regarding his debut, with suitors on both sides of the Pacific.

Japanese industry speculation originally pointed toward Ishii signing with WVR and Sengoku late last year, followed by reports that K-1 and Dream parent company Fighting and Entertainment Group had inked the judoka to a deal worth 500 million yen ($5.86 million USD) to be announced on New Year's Eve. Instead, in late December, Zuffa and the UFC entered into "exclusive negotiations" with Ishii's management group K-Dash in an attempt to corral the coveted grappler.

"I have finally made up my mind," Ishii told Nikkan Sports in December. "The UFC is where I want to fight."

Talks between K-Dash and Zuffa did not bring a contract to fruition, however, and Ishii even publicly stated that he might like to fight in Affliction. However, despite signing with Sengoku, Ishii insisted that he still has a healthy relationship with Zuffa and that he still has ambitions overseas.

"While training in Japan, Brazil and America, I talked to various people. None thought it would be good to have my first fight in the UFC," Ishii said Monday. "After I become a world champion, I will become famous in the United States and become Hollywood star."

A dollar figure was not disclosed for the two-year contract, which has no specific number of fights mandated over its course. There is a clause in the deal that would allow the Olympic champion to compete for other promotions outside of Japan.

WVR director Takahiro Kokuho announced that an early debut at Sengoku's Aug. 2 card at the Saitama Super Arena was possible for Ishii, who spent recent weeks in Belem, Brazil, in the camp of new light heavyweight king Lyoto Machida as he prepared for his bout with Rashad Evans. Kokuho stated that Ishii would debut by New Year's Eve at the very latest.

WVR is currently arranging an open press conference for Ishii on Thursday in Tokyo at an outdoor venue that can accommodate between 3,000-5,000 people. Ishii stated that following his media appearances, he hoped to continue his globetrotting-style of training by working on his striking in the Netherlands, alongside Fedor Emelianenko and his Red Devil compatriots.

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