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TOKYO -- With its first two title bouts signed and all fighters reportedly making weight, Sengoku’s first offering for 2009 was cleared for takeoff during a pre-fight press conference Saturday at the Shinjuku Sun Plaza Hotel.
Despite lackluster performances in 2008, which included a surprising decision loss to Russian Sergey Golyaev in November, former Pride Fighting Championships lightweight titleholder Takanori Gomi will meet Satoru Kitaoka to determine Sengoku’s first 155-pound champion.
“It isn’t often one gets a chance at a belt,” Gomi said, “so I’m going to fight with all my power to have a performance I won’t regret.”
Touching briefly on his lackluster effort against Golyaev at Sengoku “Sixth Battle,” Gomi (29-4, 1 NC) was largely indifferent.
“The result of the last fight doesn’t matter,” Gomi said. “My opponent was decided from the [lightweight grand prix at the] last Sengoku. I’ve had a chance to look at [Kitaoka’s] past fights, so he’s not some Unknown Fighter who will be coming in from abroad.”
Kitaoka (23-8-9) -- who has won nine of his last 10 bouts -- has not had particularly kind words for Gomi since his decision loss to Golyaev two months ago. The 28-year-old shed some light on his personal feelings toward Gomi at the press conference.
“He looks strong, but I think I hate him; I don’t know why,” Kitaoka said. “After this fight, I don’t think I’ll ever talk to him ever again, no matter the result.”
A member of the Nippon Top Team grappling circle, Kitaoka mentioned a conversation he had with teammate Shinya Aoki regarding the former Pride champion.
Mo Lawal will take on Yukiya Naito.
“I told Aoki, from here on out, I’ll make it so that you won’t ever hear anything about Gomi anymore,” Kitaoka said.
Kitaoka, who has won four straight, has only been finished one time in 40 career bouts. However, his match with Gomi will mark the first time he will compete in a five-round fight.
“It’s going to be too long for me, but I don’t intend to let it go long,” Kitaoka said. “Gomi says he wants to show speed and strength. So I’m thinking, ‘Fine, let’s finish it fast.’ If I go as usual, this will be a quick fight.”
Given Gomi’s less-than-stellar performances over the past two years, Kitaoka did not seem particularly concerned his opponent’s downward trend would change for their lightweight title bout.
“I don’t care what kind of performance he’ll put up,” Kitaoka said. “I think I’ll finish him before he can even do anything. It’s not about him. This is my belt. I will never let him have it.”
Meanwhile, Kazuo Misaki will lock horns with American Top Team’s Jorge Santiago in the co-main event for the vacant Sengoku middleweight championship. Santiago won the promotion’s middleweight grand prix in November and has rattled off eight consecutive victories.
“Finally, I’ve got a title shot,” Santiago said. “I think I deserve it. Last year, I fought with all my heart and won all my fights, so it’s finally the time to bring my belt home.”
Misaki (21-8-2) will carry a three-fight winning streak into the match. The 32-year-old has not competed since September when he stopped UFC veteran Joe Riggs on second-round strikes inside the California-based Strikeforce promotion.
“Jorge Santiago is a well-balanced and skilled fighter, on the feet and on the ground,” Misaki said. “It is for this reason that I braved harsh training in order to put on a good fight for everyone.”
Misaki, faced with his first five-round fight, claimed he emphasized improving his stamina in advance of his showdown with Santiago.
“I trained to gain more stamina and to improve my speed,” Misaki said. “I’m not sure about getting better with the technical stuff, but as a person, I feel like I’ve grown and matured. The first time I saw the Sengoku belt, I really wanted it. It was the first time for me to feel something like that.”
Santiago also covets the title.
“It means everything,” he said. “That’s the reason why I fought so hard last year. I’ve fought through all kinds of injuries, and I think I’ve shown how much I want this belt. I didn’t stop since my last fight. The one thing I want the most in my life is the Sengoku belt.”
News & Notes
• Golyaev, the world’s ninth-ranked lightweight according to Sherdog.com, will meet the highly regarded Eiji Mitsuoka in what Sengoku frontman Takahiro Kokuho informally called a number one contender’s match. Mitsuoka (14-6-2), who holds a victory against Joachim Hansen, submitted to Kitaoka in the lightweight grand prix final;
• Undefeated heavyweight prospect Dave Herman will make his promotional debut against Pride veteran Mue Bae Choi. Herman (13-0), an athletic 6-foot-5 Indiana native, has finished all 13 of his opponents, 12 of them in the first round. The 38-year-old Choi (7-3) has won two of his past three fights;
• The heads of both Grabaka and Yoshida Dojo, Sanae Kikuta and Hidehiko Yoshida, will battle in a light heavyweight affair. “Since the day that this bout was decided, I’ve lost a lot of weight,” said Yoshida, who recently claimed he would not don a gi for the bout. “I feel very light and speedy.” Kikuta (27-6-3) has not lost a match since 2003. “This fight looks like Yoshida Dojo versus Grabaka, but I feel more like it’s just between him and me, as individual fighters. If he was just a normal judoka, I’d just take him down, but he’s a power fighter like me, so I expect it to be a little more difficult,” Kikuta said;
• EliteXC heavyweight champion Antonio Silva -- still under suspension by the California State Athletic Commission after a positive test for steroids -- will collide with Yoshihiro Nakao in a heavyweight bout. Silva (11-1) has won four in a row;
• Finally, Muhammed Lawal will face Yukiya Naito in a light heavyweight matchup. The charismatic Lawal (2-0) has impressed early on in his MMA career with wins against the Chute Boxe Academy’s Fabio Silva and UFC veteran Travis Wiuff.
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Sengoku “No Ran 2009”
Sunday, Jan. 4
Saitama Super Arena
Sengoku Lightweight Championship
Takanori Gomi (154) vs. Satoru Kitaoka (154)
Sengoku Middleweight Championship
Kazuo Misaki (183) vs. Jorge Santiago (181)
Hidehiko Yoshida (205) vs. Sanae Kikuta (202)
Antonio Silva (261) vs. Yoshihiro Nakao (226)
Sergey Golyaev (154) vs. Eiji Mitsuoka (154)
Dave Herman (243) vs. Mu Bae Choi (261)
Muhammed Lawal (205) vs. Yukiya Naito (202)
Seigo Inoue (154) vs. Maximo Blanco (154)
Hidetada Irie (204) vs. Minoru Kato (203)