Jussier da Silva (right) will battle Ian McCall at TPF 8. | Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog.com
1. Jussier da Silva (9-0)
In his high-pressure stateside debut, Da Silva aced his assignment, liberally taking the back of WEC veteran Danny Martinez en route to a tidy unanimous decision win under the Tachi Palace Fights banner. Next up for “Formiga” is a bout with another WEC alum, Ian McCall, at Tachi Palace Fights 8 in February. A victory there could set him up for a shot at the promotion’s flyweight champion, Ulysses Gomez.
2. Yasuhiro Urushitani (18-4-6)
It was a non-title fight, but in his Nov. 19 appearance against a tough Takuya Mori, Urushitani looked every bit the top 123-pounder in professional Shooto. Urushitani brutally bashed Mori in the first round, earning his first knockout in the Shooto ring in his decade-long career.
3. Mamoru Yamaguchi (25-5-3)
It seems like Shooto’s afroed ace has decided he likes fighting in America: after besting Greg Guzman in Highland, Calif. last August, Mamoru will return to action in the Golden State this spring. The former two-division Shooto world champ will step in for Alexis Vila to face John Dodson at Tachi Palace Fights 9 on May 5 in Lemoore, Calif.
4. Yuki Shojo (10-5-2)
One of the flyweight division’s most exciting commodities, Shojo will return to action for the first time in nearly a year on March 12. At “Shootor's Legacy 2” in Tokyo, he’ll take on former 114-pound title challenger Noboru “Shinpei” Tahara in what promises to be an entertaining tilt.
5. Ryuichi Miki (10-4-3)
A third bout with Yasuhiro Urushitani was the chance of a lifetime for Miki, who had the opportunity to vie for the Shooto 123-pound world title. However, as in the pair’s first two encounters, it was Urushitani who walked out the victor and remained champion on May 30.
6. Kiyotaka Shimizu (7-3-2)
The flyweight “King of Pancrase” played a minor role in Japan’s New Year’s season festivities. Shimizu was a last-minute addition to the Sengoku Raiden Championship “Soul of Fight” card on Dec. 30, as he defeated Ichiro Sugita by split decision in a one-round, five-minute “jacket rules” bout. Real opposition for the Pancrase champion will likely come in February or March.
7. Alexis Vila (8-0)
Vila was scheduled for the biggest fight of his career against Greg Jackson product John Dodson at Tachi Palace Fights 9 in May. However, Vila opted out of the fight, and will instead take a considerably less challenging bout in against Lewis McKenzie in Miami on Feb. 12.
8. Fumihiro Kitahara (9-2-1)
Kitahara’s first bout against a true A-level flyweight did not go as he had hoped. The 2008 Shooto rookie champion took on former two-division Shooto world titleholder Mamoru Yamaguchi, who needed just over two minutes to put his shin on Kitahara’s head, leaving him flat on the mat.
9. Mitsuhisa Sunabe (13-6-4)
Sunabe was unsuccessful in his bid to regain his flyweight “King of Pancrase” title on Dec. 5 against rival Kiyotaka Shimizu, as the pair battled to a split draw. However, the bout’s lack of resolution and high level of excitement has paved the way for a fourth clash between Sunabe and Shimizu later this year.
10. John Dodson (11-5)
Dodson has seen his opponent for Tachi Palace Fights 9 change, but the swap may actually be a step up for “The Magician.” Originally set to face Alexis Vila, the Olympic bronze medal wrestler’s withdrawal from the fight has paved the way for Dodson to instead take on former two-division Shooto world champion Mamoru Yamaguchi on May 5 in what should be an action-packed affair.
Other contenders: Louis Gaudinot, Ulysses Gomez, Darrell Montague, Alexandre Pantoja, Masaaki Sugawara.