Shooto Commissioner Takes Control; Turmoil Continues

By Tony Loiseleur Aug 19, 2011
TOKYO -- Months after a restructuring in the wake of an internal money scandal, Shooto continues to find itself amidst turmoil, so much so that founder Satoru Sayama has charged Shooto Commissioner Noboru Urata with the task of restoring order at any cost. Infused with Sayama’s trust and authority, Urata has thus assumed full authority over the historic Japanese MMA entity, stripping the newly restructured and problematic Japan Shooto Association of its power and dissolving it.

“We were recently informed by Sayama-sensei and Commissioner Urata of their decision [to strip the JSA of authority],” International Shooto Commission Secretariat General Toshiharu Suzuki said in an address to Japanese media on Aug. 6. “We will not be discussing it further within the commission, nor will I be speaking with them about the subjects [Sayama and Urata] discuss. Rather, the two men at the top will have complete authority from now on. All persons involved with Shooto will accept this arrangement.”

The decision to strip the JSA of authority was finally made when representatives of the two internal warring factions gave interviews to respected Japanese combat sports magazine Gong Kakutogi.

“In Gong Kakutougi’s Sept. 2011 issue, both sides of the dispute boldly gave their accounts,” Suzuki told Sherdog.com in an exclusive interview. “From the very beginning of their interviews, all that was offered were unseemly self-justifications. Commissioner Urata read these embarrassing spectacles and was indignant over them. It was thus the reason behind the decision to dissolve the JSA. In my opinion, it’s not a case of ‘the old guard against new school,’ but rather an inept dispute between children at a rebellious age.”

In the Gong Kakutogi interviews, Tokyo Yellow Mans’ Noboru Asahi -- the originator of last year’s movement to oust longtime Shooto referee and alleged money-scandal perpetrator Taro Wakabayashi -- expounded on his desire to restructure Shooto’s amateur system. Chief among his proposed changes were alterations to round and time structure, the inclusion of full ground-and-pound and the ending of one-day amateur tournaments in an effort to closer adhere to the North American Unified Rules of MMA and lessen the steep learning curve for young Japanese fighters who may one day fight in the UFC.

Contrasting Asahi’s views were Paraestra Koiwa’s Takashi Ouchi, who expressed in his segment a belief that the amateur system should not be altered at the expense of amateur fighters simply for the sake of professionals. Ouchi contends that the current amateur system should remain in its current state, as it adequately caters to amateurs set to become professional fighters as well as journeymen amateurs who enjoy the amateur circuit but have no designs or potential to go pro.

In the fallout of last year’s money scandal, further turmoil between these two JSA members followed, ranging from the disagreements over the amateur system to the structure of the association itself, causing a rift within the association and the Shooto community. Due to his alleged commandeering of the Shooto News Blog to post reports that challenged an earlier June 20 announcement of Gutsman dojo head Naoki Sakurada’s appointment as the new JSA head and the official notice of Wakabayashi’s expulsion, Ouchi was also ousted from the JSA on June 24. As such, Asahi claimed in his interview that Ouchi’s opinions are invalid given his expulsion from the community. Ouchi, on the other hand, continues to appeal toward the community’s sense of propriety in preserving Shooto and its amateur system “as is,” in spite of his excommunication.

With neither party giving ground and hostilities continuing behind the scenes, Commissioner Urata has chosen now as the time to step in to restore order.

“I only came to this decision after recently emerging from hospital care, and [the trouble] forced me to reflect [upon what’s happening],” he said. “It is my hope that the fighters, coaches and everyone involved will similarly reflect upon what’s going on.”

It is important to note, however, that while Urata currently wields control over Shooto, the Shooto Commission will provide support rather than share authority with him.

“The International Shooto Commision itself will not resolve this confrontation. For however long the parties currently involved do not come to a resolution on their own, we can confirm that they will never hold a position or status within Shooto,” clarified Suzuki. “For the capable persons who may emerge that are either unconnected to or are able to resolve this confrontation, they will be the ones we will entrust the [future] Shooto Association to.”

Toward that end, Commissioner Urata looks to restart the Shooto Association from a clean slate. In the meantime, professional Shooto bouts will continue largely unaffected; events will be held as scheduled and will be continue to be administrated by pro Shooto promoters and the ISC. On top of this, however, Shooto’s vast nationwide amateur system -- the entity which has been the focus of the unrest -- will also continue to function but will fall primarily under ISC jurisdiction.

Though the operation of the various amateur tournaments were formerly handled by the recently ousted Wakabayashi and the JSA, future amateur events such as the upcoming Shooto Tohoku Amateur Tournament will be coordinated by dedicated ad hoc executive committees specific to their region, as chosen and given authority by Urata and the ISC. However, Suzuki claims that while the ISC will evaluate the personnel of these newly formed regional amateur committees to assess their candidacy as the next generation of the JSA board, their appointment remains a decision Urata alone will make.

“It’s possible that it may take three to five years to find these people,” said Suzuki, pointing to a long road of restructuring ahead. “The implication is that we will decide based on our evaluation and surveys for JSA board membership. The commission will assign those responsible for the upcoming amateur tournaments. Currently, Commissioner Urata holds the power [to appoint JSA board members].”

Typically, the JSA and the ISC have separate responsibilities and jurisdictions. However, given the ongoing turmoil and with no resolution in sight, Shooto has, by necessity, become more like other MMA promotions, with a hierarchy led by a primary decision-maker.

Suzuki details Shooto’s ideal form as a community of involved participants motivated toward a mutual goal. To maintain fair and impartial competition within the sport of Shooto, the ISC was founded in the late 1980s as an independent non-profit organization. Promoters, fighters, cornermen, referees, time keepers and any other party involved in the promotion and execution of official Shooto events have since been required to be licensed by the ISC.

“When the commission was founded, it held jurisdiction over amateur Shooto, as well, but with the increase in amateur events, it eventually became impossible for the ISC to handle it alone,” Suzuki said. “We therefore ceded control of amateur Shooto to the JSA. The association is comprised of representatives from official Shooto gyms, fighters, promoters and managers, all of whom also work together to make Shooto an income-generating venture. Its biggest goals are thus to increase the population within the sport [and] evolve the competitive level of its athletes, as well as expand its economic scope.

“Of course, the ISC and the JSA cannot directly intervene in each others’ decision-making processes, but both sides can offer opinions on how the other organization is run,” he added. “With that kind of mutual supervision and support, we believe it makes for a self-cleansing system.”

Toward the end of recreating this “self-cleansing” system and rehabilitating its community, Suzuki maintains that volunteers must step forward to take the reins of amateur Shooto’s many geographical regions, from which future JSA members will be evaluated and selected. Furthermore, Shooto’s informational network must be amended. Promptly after the expulsion of Ouchi from the JSA in June, a second competing Shooto news source headed by Ouchi emerged, muddling lines of communication within the community. It is the ISC’s hope to put an end to such confusion, however, while also employing the current power-stripped JSA board members -- all of whom are veteran Shootors and official Shooto gym leaders -- to assist in the smooth transition of delegating authority and promotional know-how to the newly formed regional amateur committees.

“Official Shooto gym representatives and those that use the name ‘Shooto’ in their activities have a duty and responsibility to improve and maintain the quality of Shooto,” said Suzuki, obliquely referring to its malcontented JSA members. “Even if they don’t hold power, there is much they can do to improve and maintain Shooto’s quality. Whether they hold an official position of authority or not, they should work for [Shooto].”

Go Yamamoto (skill-mma.blogspot.com) contributed to this report

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