Yasuhiro Urushitani (left) and Yuki Shojo rematch on July 18. | Photo: Taro Irei/Sherdog.com
1. 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. On July 18, the 34-year-old Wajutsu Keishukai product will look to defend his Shooto belt and avenge his only loss of the past six years when he takes on Yuki Shojo.
2. Mamoru Yamaguchi (25-5-3)
Though not against the opponent he originally expected, former two-division Shooto ace Yamaguchi continued his stateside run at Tachi Palace Fights 9 on May 6. The afroed one started slow but finished strong, flooring Kevin Dunsmoor, a replacement for John Dodson, with second-round strikes in the clinch. Next up for Mamoru: another trip to the TPF cage, this time against Shooto South America champ Jussier da Silva.
3. Ian McCall (9-2)
Beginning with his February upset of Jussier da Silva, and continuing with his blistering May performance against previously unbeaten Dustin Ortiz, McCall has moved from relative unknown to one of the world’s top 125-pounders in only a matter of months. “Uncle Creepy” will have a chance to further solidify that reputation when he tangles with Tachi Palace Fights flyweight champ Darrell Montague in an Aug. 5 title bout.
4. Jussier da Silva (9-1)
Formerly the world’s top-ranked 125-pounder, “Formiga” in February fell for the first time in his career to the unheralded Ian McCall. It may not take long for da Silva to climb back up the charts, however, as the Brazilian will take on dangerous flyweight stalwart Mamoru Yamaguchi under the Tachi Palace Fights banner on Aug. 5.
5. Yuki Shojo (11-5-2)
One of Shooto’s premier 123-pounders, Shojo returned from a 13-month hiatus on April 29 and went straight back to his winning ways, notching a unanimous verdict over Noboru Tahara. The X-One Gym representative will attempt to capture his division’s Shooto world title on July 18 when he meets reigning champ Yasuhiro Urushitani, whom Shojo submitted in 2008.
6. Darrell Montague (9-1)
Montague dominated Ulysses Gomez in February to claim the Tachi Palace Fights flyweight title, leaving the 23-year-old “Mongoose” as the ruler of MMA’s deepest 125-pound division. With no shortage of contenders waiting in the wings, Montague will look to make his first title defense against the surging Ian McCall in a scheduled five-round Aug. 5 affair.
7. Kiyotaka Shimizu (9-3-2)
It may not have been pretty, but flyweight King of Pancrase Shimizu once again got the job done against rival Mitsuhisa Sunabe on June 5. Facing Sunabe for the fourth time, Shimizu’s relentless takedown attack and mashing top game saw him retain his title with a majority decision, moving him ahead in the series at 2-1-1.
8. Alexis Vila (9-0)
In front of a pro-Cuban crowd on Feb. 12 in Miami, Vila smashed out his ninth career win, putting away Lewis McKenzie in the second round under the Mixed Fighting Alliance banner. The Olympic freestyle wrestling bronze medalist will reportedly take part in the 14th season of “The Ultimate Fighter” as a bantamweight.
9. John Dodson (11-5)
The Greg Jackson-trained “Magician” was set for his biggest fight in years, a showdown with Mamoru Yamaguchi in Tachi Palace Fights, when an even bigger opportunity came along. Dodson reportedly pulled out of the May 6 bout to take part in the 14th season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” on which he is expected to compete at 135 pounds.
10. 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 a little more than two minutes to put his shin on Kitahara’s head, leaving him flat on the mat.
Other contenders: Louis Gaudinot, Ulysses Gomez, Alexandre Pantoja, Mitsuhisa Sunabe, Ryosuke Tanuma.