Sakakibara Speaks On The Record

By Jordan Breen Jul 12, 2007
To say it's a busy couple of days for Japanese MMA would be an understatement, and that goes for both in the domestic product and the exports.

One of Japan's top welterweight talents, Kuniyoshi Hironaka (Pictures), has announced his return to the octagon for a September bout sure to bring some sizzle to the 170-pound class. Meanwhile, longtime Pancrase mainstay Yoshiki Takahashi (Pictures) has just split with the home of the Hybrid Wrestlers, but he's set to land in New Jersey this weekend for his bout with Mark Burch (Pictures) in bodogFIGHT.

Takahashi isn't the only Pancrase standout making the trek, as Yuki Kondo (Pictures) is recovered and ready to add to his trophy case against Trevor Prangley (Pictures).

A quartet of females -- Megumi Yabushita (Pictures), Yoko Takahashi (Pictures), Sumie Sakai, and Taeko Nagamine -- are all set to flaunt their fight skills in Fatal Femmes Fighting this Saturday night.

The next few days also has big cards from Shooto and HERO'S in Japan, and while they'll get some high profile attention, it wouldn't be righteous to ignore Japan's quirkiest RINGS offshoot. ZST is back, with their rookies ready to roll in South Tokyo for the 12th installment of SWAT!

Finally, Nobuyuki Sakakibara sat down and spoke for the first time in over three months this past weekend. So, what did Sakakibara have to say? Well, more than you probably expected. The former DSE boss had an interesting alleged anecdote about the bodogFIGHT brass, and some less than flattering words for one Ed Fishman.

Sakakibara speaks stirringly in Kamipro sit-down

It was reported in this column two weeks ago that former Dream Stage Entertainment president Nobuyuki Sakakibara would make his first public appearance in three months on July 7, at a public talk show event sponsored by combat sports periodical Kami no Puroresu.

So, what's the deal with that?

It was expected that just over 100 people would turn up to Daikanyama Air for the event, titled "kamipro BOM-BA-YE Kamikaze". Instead, and despite a $25 ticket price, over 200 patrons showed up the Tokyo club to hear Sakakibara speak publicly for the first time since the now historic March 27 press conference in Roppongi Hills, Tokyo, which all but formalized Dream Stage Entertainment's split with the PRIDE Fighting Championships.

However, it was actually DEEP president and PRIDE public relations officer Shigeru Saeki who spoke first. Saeki spoke only briefly, touching on the topic of the reborn PRIDE. Saeki stated that in honesty, he didn't know what was happening in regards to management, and that he felt that the lack of information stemmed from new management not communicating with former employees and fighters.

Sakakibara spoke on a variety of topics, many of which addressed the final days of PRIDE. Among the most intriguing comments made by Sakakibara surrounded Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures) and bodogFIGHT, and Ed Fishman and Lorenzo Fertitta.

Sakakibara told the crowd that prior to PRIDE's stateside debut last October, bodogFIGHT had offered PRIDE heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures) $500,000 to walk away from his main event bout with Mark Coleman (Pictures). Sakakibara stated that Emelianenko told DSE officials about the offer, and as a reward for turning down bodog's offer, they doubled the champion's fight purse for the bout.

Furthermore, Sakakibara told the audience that he felt Zuffa and PRIDE FC Worldwide Holdings chief Lorenzo Fertitta was a man of character, who could be trusted with PRIDE's assets. More intriguingly, Sakakibara drew a stark contrast between Fertitta and former PRIDE USA president Ed Fishman, who Sakakibara disparaged as a fake, or an imposter in the fight game.

Also, Sakakibara stated that he was in the process of penning a book about his days with Dream Stage Entertainment and the inner workings of the PRIDE organization. The book is scheduled for release this coming October, and Sakakibara stated that he hoped editors would not shave off much of what he expects to be a very lengthy, detailed story.

Hironaka announces octagon return against Alves

One of Japan's top welterweights, Kuniyoshi Hironaka (Pictures), has confirmed his next bout in the UFC. The 31-year-old Hironaka revealed via his personal blog late last week that his next bout in the Octagon will pit him against "Pitbull" Thiago Alves (Pictures).

The bout will be a part of September 19's UFC Fight Night card at the Pearl Theater at the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas. The card, which will also reportedly feature a bout between lightweights Din Thomas (Pictures) and Spencer Fisher (Pictures), will serve as the lead-in to the season premiere of The Ultimate Fighter 6 on Spike TV. At this point, it is unclear whether Hironaka-Alves will be on the main card to be part of the live telecast.

Hironaka is coming off of a dominant decision win over Forrest Petz (Pictures) this past April, pushing his UFC mark to 1-1, with the loss coming from current divisional hotshot Jon Fitch (Pictures) last November. The bout will be Alves' first since his December knockout of Tony DeSouza (Pictures), after which he tested positive for prescribed diuretic Spironolactone. As a result, Alves received an eight-month suspension and $5,500 fine from the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

Freelance future for Takahashi after Pancrase split

At 38 years of age and after nearly 14 years in the sport, Yoshiki Takahashi (Pictures) is turning over a new leaf.

The Pancrase icon announced this past Monday, at the official P's LAB Gym in Tokyo, that he was officially leaving Pancrase. Takahashi, who fought on the first ever Pancrase card in Sept. 1993, stated that he was now officially a freelance fighter, with no ties to a particular organization or gym. Moreover, Takahashi has opted to fight under his birth name, Kazuo Takahashi, dropping the "Yoshiki" moniker that he adopted when he began his career.

A member of the shoot-style Fujiwara-gumi in the early 1990's, led by pro-wrestling legend and shoot-style pioneer Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Takahashi was a founding member of Pancrase, alongside Masakatsu Funaki, Minoru Suzuki (Pictures) and Takaku Fuke. He was also the first ever heavyweight King of Pancrase, defeating Shamoji Fujii (Pictures) for the vacant title in Dec. 2001.

Furthermore, Takahashi said it was his goal to compete until the year 2013. The year, in which Takahashi would turn 44, would mark his 20th year in MMA competition, making him the first competitor of the modern MMA era able to make such a claim.

Takahashi, Kondo set for Bodog bouts

And speaking of Takahashi, the former heavyweight King of Pancrase is headed to New Jersey for this Saturday's bodogFIGHT pay-per-view, where he has a bit of a score to settle with Mark Burch (Pictures).

The bout, which will be Takahashi's second fight in the mainland United States, was originally scheduled to be against undefeated bodog veteran "Buffalohead" Josh Curran. However, Curran was forced off of the card due to undisclosed reasons, which allowed for a rematch between Takahashi and Burch to take place.

Takahashi and Burch squared off during bodogFIGHT's Costa Rica Combat tapings, with their fight being aired on the third season of the show. After starting fast out of the gate, Takahashi suffered an errant and unintentional finger to the eye from Burch partway through the first round. Takahashi deemed unfit to continue by referee Troy Waugh, thereby making the bout a No Contest.

Another Pancrase standout, Yuki Kondo (Pictures), will make his return from injury, as well.

Kondo underwent surgery on Jan. 10 to repair a fractured right hand, suffered in his lackluster split decision loss to Akihiro Gono (Pictures) on New Year's Eve. A wire inserted into the damaged hand was removed in mid-May and Kondo now states he's full recovered for his bout with Prangley this weekend.

It was thought that Kondo, who still reigns as Pancrase's 199-pound champion, would excel after dropping to 183-pound category in PRIDE Bushido, after spending his career facing larger competitors at 205 pounds above. However, Kondo's weight drop has seen him go 0-2 in the division, dropping fights to Phil Baroni (Pictures) and the aforementioned Gono.

The bout with Prangley, in which Kondo has stated he feels his experience will make the difference, will not only be his third fight in the weight class, but his third fight stateside, having defeated "Cafe" Alexandre Dantas (Pictures) in Louisiana in Sept. 2000 and lost a June 2001 bout to Vladimir Matyushenko (Pictures) in New Jersey, where he will return this Saturday night.

Japanese female foursome set to fight in FFF

Female MMA has made great strides in '07, and Japanese competitors have taken notice, with some of Nihon's top female fighters coming stateside. That trend will be on display again this Saturday, when Fatal Femmes Fighting hits the Crystal Casino in Compton, Calif.

The main event of the second FFF Championship card will see green Japanese competitor Taeko Nagamine take a brave step up in competition against FFF champion and pound-for-pound female standout Lisa Ward (Pictures).

Ward was originally slated to rematch durable female veteran Misaki Takimoto (Pictures), however an undisclosed injury forced Takimoto from the card, prompting her relatively inexperienced teammate to step into the stateside bout.

Tokyo born, Philadelphia-based Sumie Sakai will make her return to the cage. Sakai, a standout female pro-wrestler, made her jump into the MMA world late last year. Coming off of a loss to American Top Team's Jessica Aguilar, the high-flying Sakai will take on 1-0 Jessica Pene (Pictures), who made a successful debut in the FFF last Feb.

Also, the undercard will see female MMA pioneers in action. Former Smackgirl open-weight champion Megumi Yabushita (Pictures) and current Smackgirl open-weight champion Yoko Takahashi (Pictures) are both scheduled to square off against yet-to-be-determined opponents.

ZST rookies return for SWAT! 12

SWAT! is back.

In what is becoming a very regular series of events, Japan's proudest RINGS-offshoot ZST will put on their 12th card in their SWAT! series, which is designed to cultivate the best of ZST's young, rookie talent.

The Sunday event at the Gold Gym South Tokyo Annex will be the fourth SWAT! card of the year, with no less than three more to follow in 2007.

The main event of the 14-bout card will see the finale of the 2007 ZST 143-pound Genesis League. Vying for featherweight supremacy among ZST up-and-comers, Toshikazu Shimizu will take on Jin Akimoto (Pictures)-pupil Emerson Azuma (Pictures). The card will also feature SWAT! regulars Hiroshi Nakamura, Shin Katayama (Pictures), Yuichiro Yajima (Pictures), Kenichi Ito and Toshihiro Shimizu (Pictures) in action.

PRIDE's Toyonaga ties the knot

Lastly, congratulations are in order for Minoru Toyonaga (Pictures), as the former fighter and PRIDE referee got married this past weekend.

The 39-year-old Toyonaga began his career in shoot-style pro-wrestling organization Kingdom in 1997, and compiled a 2-4 MMA record in the late 1990's, training out of the Takada Dojo.

In 2000, a CAT scan revealed a brain tumor, which effectively ended Toyonaga's career. After his close call in the cranium department, Toyonaga became a referee, making his officiating debut at PRIDE 16 in September 2001.
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