Muira, Osawa Grace WEC Card Sunday

Muira, Osawa Grace WEC Card

By Jordan Breen Aug 1, 2008
For his sophomore stateside effort, Kenji Osawa (Pictures) plans on bringing heavy hands. However, he will also be bringing a heavy heart.

The charismatic Japanese bantamweight will meet former Boise State collegiate wrestler Scott Jorgensen (Pictures) on the undercard of Sunday's WEC card form The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, and will look to atone for a disappointing split draw against American Top Team upstart Chris Manuel (Pictures) in his WEC debut in March.

"His wrestling technique is superb, and he's always aggressive," Osawa told of Jorgensen. "It's not possible for me to say [if I'll finish him], but I always want to get the win however I can, if there's a chance."

For the 31-year-old, who has turned in only two wins in his last six bouts, that win was already crucial, especially given the superlative stage the WEC has become for sub-lightweight talent. However, following the untimely death of Wajyutsu mentor Ryusuke Moriyama in June, the fight has taken on a greater gravity for Osawa.

Moriyama did not create the Wajyutsu Keisyukai network, but he did found its biggest and most prestigious gym, Wajyutsu Keisyukai Tokyo. Moriyama served as the gym's chief technical instructor, and mentored many of the top Wajyutsu products. On June 6, Moriyama was in an underground car park when he was struck in the stomach by a rolling truck after a local office worker had parked on a slope without putting on the emergency break. The 46-year-old Moriyama died in hospital the following morning.

Although Osawa insists his training was the same as always, that simply can't be the case, as he wrapped up his training camp by attending a memorial service for Moriyama this past Sunday.

Although Moriyama's funeral was held in his hometown of Uki, Kumamoto on June 10, Sunday's memorial at the Tokyo Garden Palace Hotel brought several hundred people from all walks of martial arts, paying their respects to the man who in many ways was the heart and soul of Wajyutsu Keisyukai.

"Mr. Moriyama is a master; [he] taught me the attitude of MMA," Osawa explained. "In this fight, I'll never give up. That's for Mr. Moriyama."

Osawa's compatriot and training partner Hiroyuki Takaya (Pictures) was originally scheduled for action on the card, taking on Cub Swanson (Pictures) in a featherweight affair. However, Swanson was forced out of the bout with a broken hand, and Miletich product LC Davis (Pictures) was tabbed as his replacement.

Takaya will not yet get the chance to atone for his disappointing WEC debut in February where he was blitzed by Leonard Garcia (Pictures) in a mere seconds. A source close to the "Streetfight Bancho" revealed to that Takaya's management turned down the last-minute change in opponent, scrapping the bout from the card.

However, the Japanese fighter with the most eyes on him will be the largely unknown Hiromitsu Miura (Pictures), who will take marquee role in the main event as he challenges Carlos Condit (Pictures) for the WEC welterweight crown.

After beginning his career in unremarkable fashion, the 26-year-old Fukuoka native relocated to Jupiter, Fla., where he has spent the last year and a half training with Kurt Pellegrino (Pictures) and The Armory. The move has paid rich dividends, as Miura has won five of his last six, losing only his WEC debut to Jason "Mayhem" Miller. In March, Miura made his welterweight debut, crushing Blas Avena (Pictures) and knocking him out in the first frame, which earned him the right to challenge the consensus top-10 welterweight Condit.

10.0 rating is television tumult for Dream

Television ratings have again become touchy discussion for Fighting and Entertainment Group and Dream, as FEG exec Sadaharu Tanigawa has told Japanese MMA periodical Kami no Puroresu that continued ratings failures could spell the end for the upstart promotion.

Tanigawa's statement comes on the heels of Dream's second ratings failure, as the Tokyo Broadcasting System's primetime telecast promotion's July 21 lightweight grand prix finale mustered only a 10.0 rating. Worse yet, although the telecast drew a quarter hour peak of 13.7, the peak came for the Yoshihiro Akiyama (Pictures)-Katsuyori Shibata (Pictures) bout, meaning that viewers actually tuned out before the lightweight tournament finale and main event between Shinya Aoki (Pictures) and Joachim Hansen (Pictures).

"Dream 5's TV rating was only a 10.0. We can't say that's a success," Tanigawa told Kami no Puroresu. "If we can't raise the rating, Dream on TV will be done in September."

The event was Dream's second primetime telecast, the first being their March 15 debut offering. That telecast grabbed only an 8.9 percent rating average on TBS in primetime. TBS was fifth out of the six major Japanese networks during the time slot, besting only the perennial sixth-place finisher, TV Tokyo.

The week of the telecast was a thin lineup for sports on Japan's major networks. Although Dream was the second-ranked sports program, it was beaten soundly by the July 25 telecast of the Nagoya Grand Sumo tournament, which took a 14.6 rating on NHK. For further primetime comparitive purposes, the K-1 World Grand Prix card, broadcast on June 29 on Fuji TV, drew a 11.6 rating, while the telecast of the July 7 K-1 World MAX quarterfinals took a 12.4 rating on TBS.

Meanwhile, TBS scored big with the July 30 world championship boxing doubleheader featuring Japanese flyweight world champions Takefumi Sakata and Daisuke Naito. While Sakata's title defense against Hiroyuki Hisataka enjoyed a solid quarter hour peak of 19.9, the popular Naito's tenth-round KO victory over Tomonobu Shimizu peaked with a whopping 31.7.

Ratings are particularly crucial, as FEG' did away with Hero's in favor of Dream in an attempt to rejuvenate their MMA product on television. Although FEG planned seven events, New Year's Eve not included, for 2008, their deal with TBS included only four primetime telecasts. Tanigawa's comments now place paramount importance on Dream's next primetime TBS broadcast for their Sept. 23 middleweight grand prix finale at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.

UFC set for Japanese satellite return on WOWOW

The UFC are finally set to return to Japanese airwaves, as Zuffa have inked a new deal with Japanese satellite channel WOWOW.

The UFC has been without a strong presence in Japan since May of last year, when Japanese fans were shocked to find that WOWOW's schedule did not have a date for UFC 71, headlined by the rematch between Quinton Jackson (Pictures) and Chuck Liddell (Pictures). Following the Japanese telecast of UFC 70, WOWOW executives officially announced that they could not reach a contractual agreement with Zuffa to continue broadcasting UFC events on WOWOW.

Zuffa's relationship with WOWOW began over six years ago with the April 2002 broadcast of UFC 36. However, the relationship was considered a hindrance to the UFC's popularity in Japan because the events were broadcast on the less popular, private satellite pay station as opposed to the considerably more popular SKY PerfecTV! -- Japan's main provider of satellite television, which had broadcast Pride's live pay-per-views.

WOWOW's inability to come to terms with Zuffa in 2007 was largely the result of Zuffa's high hopes following their buyout of Pride, and the addition of several fighters such as Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Pictures) and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, all of whom are popular in Japan. With greater star power in the Japanese market, Zuffa felt the broadcasting rights of UFC telecasts were worth more. However, after Zuffa's enormous struggles in dealing with Japanese television executives last year, Zuffa boss Lorenzo Fertitta told MMA magazine Gong Kakutogi last November that he hoped to finalize a new deal with WOWOW, which currently has approximately 2.44 million subscriptions in Japan.

The deal is not a major inroads in Japan, which would likely be impossible in a downtime for the Japanese MMA market, but is perhaps comparable to the function of HDNet broadcasting Dream events and other international promotions in North America, catering to a select cadre of hardcore fans.

WOWOW will begin a multiweek "UFC is Back!" promotion, showing fights from UFC 71 to the present to "catch up" Japanese viewers. The series begins on Aug. 4, with the airing of the rematch between Chuck Liddell (Pictures) and Quinton Jackson (Pictures), the third bout between Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Pictures) and Heath Herring (Pictures), and Rich Franklin (Pictures) against Yushin Okami (Pictures). The series will run to Sept. 29, leading up to WOWOW's Oct. 19 telecast of Oct. 18's card in Birmingham, England, headlined by Michael Bisping (Pictures) against Chris Leben (Pictures).

"Kid" ripped by Gendai ganja allegations

Shukan Gendai is at it again.

Adding insult to injury for Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto, who will now spend four to six months on the shelf due to a torn ACL, the bad boy of Japanese MMA has been the subject of a recent tabloid attack from Shukan Gendai, the infamous tabloid best known for their investigative pieces on Pride and its parent company Dream Stage Entertainment, and their alleged connections to organized crime. The articles served as the impetus for Pride losing their network television deal with the Fuji Television Network, and could be seen as the trigger for the downfall of the promotion.

In the Aug. 2 issue of the magazine, released July 19, just two days before Dream's July 21 card in Osaka on which Yamamoto was originally scheduled to compete, a feature story claimed that the 31-year-old firebrand is an active marijuana user, often attending "marijuana parties.”

According to the article, Harajuku police department conducted a surprise search of a condominium in Shibuya, Tokyo on Jan. 30 following complaints from neighbors of loud reggae music and a suspicious smell. Although the two-hour search uncovered no incriminating evidence, there was speculation that some of the product was flushed down the toilet as the inspecting officer entered the premises.

Shukan Gendai published comments from two unnamed participants at these "marijuana parties,” which were allegedly hosted by Japanese actor Yosuke Kubozuka, which indicated that Yamamoto and his wife Tamotsu Mari were regulars at these parties, and that the pair even smoked around their children. Although such allegations may not seem particularly damaging from a Western perspective, marijuana is extremely socially stigmatized in Japan. Under Japan's Cannabis Control Law, simple possession of marijuana alone can result in a five-year prison sentence.

Yamamoto responded, simply saying that the comments were fueled by jealous adversaries. However, some Japanese MMA insiders speculated that Yamamoto's reported knee injury may have been overstated in its recovery time, or even entirely fabricated, in order to remove him from the spotlight before the article hit newsstands. The impact of the allegations and potential damage to Yamamoto's reputation will only be fully realized if Gendai publish more investigative articles on the topic, much as they did with the full series of articles that so injuriously harmed Pride.