Shinichi Kojima scratched out a win in his comeback bout Saturday. | File photo: Stephen Martinez
TOKYO -- After nearly two years away from the ring, former Shooto 123-pound world champion Shinichi “BJ” Kojima returned Saturday to take a hard-fought split decision over Wajutsu Keishukai banger Masaaki Sugawara in the co-main event of Shooto Gig Tokyo 7 at Shinjuku Face.
“I got injured training with a friend before this bout, but I won’t throw him under the bus tonight by naming him,” Kojima joked afterward, making light of his storied history of injuries. His last major affliction was a torn ACL in his right leg, which resulted in Kojima returning his Shooto title in March 2010 due to his inability to defend within the mandatory defense period.
Despite the long layoff, 32-year-old Kojima seemed to have little ring rust against Sugawara. His opponent made clear from the opening bell that he preferred to stand and the gifted grappler indulged Sugawara by trading punches tit-for-tat throughout the fight. While Sugawara stalked from center ring, Kojima circled on the outside, scoring sharp counterpunches and low kicks to narrowly take the first stanza.
The second frame saw Sugawara throwing more volume, which allowed him to score on the backpedaling southpaw Kojima. Though BJ continued connecting with counters and low kicks, it was clear that the longer he stayed away from his grappling strengths, the striking tide would slowly turn in Sugawara’s favor. Sugawara further discouraged ground fighting by pancaking Kojima’s double-leg takedown attempts.
“I wanted to go for takedowns as the opportunities arose, but Sugawara’s takedown defense reflexes were very strong,” admitted the former champ, post-fight. “Also, I was thinking too much about going for them, even though I probably should have tried for more takedowns. I need to stop thinking too much during my fights and just react reflexively.”
While a wearier BJ still found success with his chopping, trip-inducing low kicks, he was clearly outstruck by the fresher and more stubborn Sugawara in the final round. In between absorbing punches, BJ shot for three more futile takedowns, as much to slow the pace as to win the round. Sugawara defended well, however, arguably taking the final frame for himself.
Although judge Hiroyuki Kanno scored the bout 30-28 in favor of Sugawara, his final round rally seemed too little, too late for the remaining officials. Judges Tadashi Yokoyama and Toshiharu Suzuki saw it 29-28 for Kojima, giving him his first victory in just over two years. Kojima’s last action came in July 2009, when he lost to Jussier “Formiga” da Silva, who notched himself a victory at Tachi Palace Fights 10 Friday evening over another former Shooto 123-pound champion, Mamoru Yamaguchi.
Though Kojima admitted to thirsting for other big fights, he expressed a particular desire to rematch da Silva after his victory over Yamaguchi.
“Since I lost to him, I have no right to request where we rematch, but I’d like to face him again, not just for myself, but for Yamaguchi as well, whom I respect a great deal,” said Kojima.
In the night’s main event, Katsuya Toida took the dubious honors of being the first opponent finished by 2008 Shooto rookie tournament champion and MVP Issei Tamura.
Easily evading Toida’s opening left hooks, the former 143-pound Pacific Rim title contender took the fight to the floor, where he latched himself onto Toida’s back. Tamura proceeded to drill the side of Toida’s head with brutal left hands until the grappling savant went flat and limp under the assault. Referee Suzuki stepped in to call the stop at 1:23 of the first.
Afterward, a smiling Tamura teased the crowd, saying, “I was actually quite relaxed tonight,” prompting good-natured hecklers to shout back that he “had to be lying.”
Tamura was more reflective backstage, stating to Sherdog.com, “I think I got lucky. My training has evolved, so I shouldn’t be fighting like how I did against [Pacific Rim champion] Taiki Tsuchiya. At Krazy Bee, we focus our pro training on working distance for takedowns and punching, which is what made the difference this time.”
Tamura wasn’t the only victorious rookie champ that evening, as it took only 60 seconds for Yosuke “Flying Monkey No.2” Saruta to put Akinobu Watanabe away. After scrambling out from under Watanabe’s opening barrage of punches, the 2009 rookie champ at 123 pounds took his back and sank three rear-naked choke attempts to get three separate “catch” calls from referee Suzuki. On the third try, Watanabe’s attempts at prying Saruta’s hands away gave way to tapping.
In the main card’s sole 2011 rookie tournament bout, Michinori Tanaka submitted Takuya Ogura, putting his fellow 123-pounder away at 3:09 of the first round. Tanaka opened the fight with a flurry, but Ogura evaded the strikes and stole his man’s back. Tanaka eventually reversed his way into Ogura’s guard, but was himself reversed soon after when he attempted to pass. Without missing a beat, Tanaka threw up his legs and locked in a triangle choke for the tap.
From the opening moments of their 123-pound contest, Takeshi Saito was all over Yasutaka Ishigami, hitting single-leg takedowns and scrambling for rear-waistlocks when his opponent bounded back to his feet. The second period looked to be a repeat of this pattern, though an Ishigami armbar attempt changed things, resulting in a Saito slam to escape. The back of Ishigami’s head bounced off the canvas, leaving him limp as Saito lunged to finish with punches. Referee Suzuki dove for the save at the 0:43 mark of round two.
Kensuke Nakamura’s tenacity won him a close decision over Yoshinori Suzuki; his winging punches and takedowns saw him scoring in both realms, though Suzuki kept his cool to land hard counter shots and score reversals. Suzuki’s more conservative approach seemed to be turning the tide in the latter half of the second frame, but his inability to stay on top after reversals and defend against Nakamura’s big punches cost him on the cards. Judges Kanno and Suzuki had the bout 20-19 and 19-18 for Nakamura, respectively, while judge Yokoyama turned in a 19-19 card.
Tatsuro Kamei’s reserved explosions of blistering punches served him well against a slightly pudgy Keiji Koizumi. Kamei stuffed his opponent into corners, where he pressed and exploded with staccato strikes before taking him down. From top position, Kamei was similarly conservative with his brutal punches, earning 20-18 cards across the board after two frames.
Beginning rounds with spinning back-kicks and backfists, Keita Ishibashi unsubtly convinced opponent Kenichiro Marui to pursue a ground battle. Marui did just that with takedowns, grinding Ishibashi down and gutting through kimura, heel hook and kneebar attempts to earn 20-18 cards from judges Yokoyama, Kanno, and Suzuki.
Yamato Okada stuck to the center to throw sharp counterpunches as a pink-haired and pink shorts-clad Takahito Tomozawa circled, throwing kicks high and low. Tomozawa shot for the occasional takedown, but was largely rebuffed, further tipping the scales in favor of Okada on judges Kanno and Suzuki’s 20-18 cards. Judge Yokoyama ruled it a 19-19 draw.
In the evening’s preliminary bouts, Yuya Onodera made quick work of Kazuya Tanaka, locking up a brabo choke at 1:33 of the opening round; Kotaro Hagiwara and Masahiro Yokoyama battered each other in the clinch with knees en route to a majority decision for Hagiwara; and Shota Kondo submitted Noriyuki Takei with a guillotine 3:43 into the second period, after opening a gaping gash over his opponent’s left eye.