WVR Sponsor Buys Stake in Pancrase; Sengoku Announces Tourney Bouts

By Jordan Breen Aug 29, 2008
A strong source in the Japanese MMA industry has confirmed to Sherdog.com that Don Quijote, the primary sponsor of World Victory Road's Sengoku, is now a controlling partner of Pancrase.

The Japanese powerhouse chain retailer is best known for their penguin mascot and sponsorship of Hidehiko Yoshida (Pictures) and Kazuhiro Nakamura (Pictures). Don Quijote’s chairman Takao Yasuda is also a powerful figure within the World Victory Road promotion.

After years of operating in the red, Don Quijote has bought out Pancrase's debt and now has a controlling stake in the promotion. With the change, former Pancrase leader Masami Ozaki has been replaced by former Pancrase director and matchmaker Yasushi Sakamoto.

Pancrase will still operate as a separate and autonomous promotion despite drawing a considerable chunk of their resources from the same pool of capital. However, the influence of new leadership was on display at the Aug. 27 Pancrase card. Not only was Yuki Kondo (Pictures)'s main event bout hyped around his participation in the Sengoku middleweight grand prix, but Venezuelan freestyle wrestler Maximo Blanco made his MMA debut on the event's undercard after being signed by Sengoku as a developmental prospect. Also, sitting quietly in the corner on turnbuckle pads was Donpen, the penguin mascot of Don Quijote.

Sengoku set two middleweight quarterfinals, Schultz-Masvidal

With his Wednesday victory over Ryuji Ohori (Pictures) at Korakuen Hall, Yuki Kondo (Pictures) has punched his ticket into the Sengoku middleweight grand prix on Sept. 28, where he will now take on Yuki Sasaki (Pictures).

After a slow start in the main event of the Aug. 27 installment of Pancrase's Shining Tour, the iconic Pancrasist parlayed a well-timed soccer kick into a stoppage via strikes in the second round. It was advertised by Sengoku parent company World Victory Road beforehand that if Kondo won the tune-up fight, he would be afforded a spot in the tournament.

Kondo's inclusion is one based largely on star power and recognition than recent accomplishment. The 33-year-old Kondo, who recently married a former Pancrase employee, has compiled a lackluster 7-9-1 record over the last four years, with several dismal performances. However, he now joins a tournament line-up featuring former foe Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos (Pictures), as well as Kazuhiro Nakamura (Pictures), who Kondo recently began cross-training with at the Yoshida Dojo in an effort to improve his grappling game.

Sasaki lost his promotional debut in May, where he was submitted by fellow tournament participant Jorge Santiago (Pictures), but was afforded the spot largely due to WVR’s desire to utilize multiple Japanese middleweights in the grand prix. Sasaki will now have a chance to rekindle the rivalry between Pancrase and Team Grabaka, a friendly feud that Kondo played a pivotal role in, having defeated Grabaka standouts Sanae Kikuta (Pictures), Akihiro Gono (Pictures), and Eiji Ishikawa (Pictures) in Pancrase.

WVR have also announced a middleweight tournament quarterfinal between reigning Shooto world 183-pound champion Siyar Bahadurzada (Pictures) and Evangelista Santos.

Both fighters last saw action on Sengoku’s debut offering in March. “Cyborg” destroyed former Olympic gold medal judoka Makoto Takimoto (Pictures), eventually submitting him with an Achilles lock in the first round, while Bahadurzada was choked out by Sengoku middleweight ace Kazuo Misaki (Pictures).

WVR have not yet announced opponents for Jorge Santiago (Pictures) and Kazuhiro Nakamura (Pictures), but WVR director Takahiro Kokuho revealed that the promotion would announce their respective quarterfinals early next week, with one mystery opponent being a South Korean and the other an American.

Much akin to the structure of their ongoing lightweight grand prix, the winner of the Sengoku middleweight tournament will meet Kazuo Misaki (Pictures) later this year to determine the first Sengoku middleweight champion.

WVR also announced a lightweight bout between Ryan Schultz (Pictures) and Jorge Masvidal (Pictures) for the Sept. 28 card.

Schultz, a favorite in the promotion’s lightweight grand prix, was viciously ousted in his opening round bout against Mizuto Hirota (Pictures) on Aug. 24 via second-round knockout. Masvidal saw his chance to participate in the tournament shattered in June when he was stopped by eventual grand prix participant Rodrigo Damm (Pictures).

Shoji retirement scrambles Pancrase plans

Despite Kondo earning his way into the Sengoku middleweight grand prix, the real story of Pancrase's latest stop on their Shining Tour actually came before the event, as their original main event was scrapped amidst spontaneous drama.

With former lightweight King of Pancrase Shoji Maruyama (Pictures) vacating his title in order to campaign as a featherweight, Pancrase made official a lightweight championship fight between Koji Oishi (Pictures) and Shinsuke Shoji (Pictures) for their Aug. 27 card. However, curious qualms on Shoji's side quickly began troubling the title fight.

In late July, just over four weeks away from the bout with Oishi, Shoji announced his departure from Krazy Bee, the team headed by Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto, where Shoji had trained for his entire pro career. Shoji told the Japanese media that he wanted to "test himself as an individual,” and although his departure came under no ill will, a source close to the fighter has told Sherdog.com that a factor in Shoji's decision to leave the gym was the recent allegations of marijuana use levied against Yamamoto by powerful tabloid Shukan Gendai.

Following Shoji's departure from Krazy Bee and his admission that he had only been running and doing weights to stay in shape with no real sparring, Pancrase officials offered Shoji the use of the Pancrase-run P's Lab gym in Tokyo for his training. Instead, Shoji called Pancrase executive Yasushi Sakamoto on Aug. 20 to announce he was withdrawing from the title fight and retiring.

Although Sakamoto asked Shoji to meet with him in person to discuss the situation, Shoji penned a letter to the Pancrase office, explaining that he was retiring due to "personal reasons,” including marriage. Although Pancrase officials attempted to salvage the main event, all of the fighters they had tabbed as potential replacements turned down the fight due to short notice.

"He is just selfish, much like a child," said Sakamoto of Shoji. "These days, many fighters only think of themselves. I heard his personal reasons, but he's the one who asked for the title match. His heart failed in the end."

The promotion still plans to have Oishi fight for the lightweight crown against a new opponent, hopefully as early as October.

Maeda meets Yahya in WEC, KO promised

Amidst turmoil for Pancrase champions, promotional poster boy and reigning featherweight King of Pancrase Yoshiro Maeda (Pictures) has been putting together a successful run abroad as a bantamweight in the WEC. The native Osakan will look to continue his streak on the undercard of the stacked forthcoming WEC card on Sept. 10 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Fla.

In opposition, Maeda will take on fellow former WEC title challenger and grappling all-star Rani Yahya (Pictures).

The 26-year-old Maeda impressed many new sets of eyes in June, when he waged a classic bantamweight war with WEC kingpin Miguel Torres (Pictures) in a “fight of the year” candidate. Halted after the third round due to a badly swollen right eye, Maeda suffered no serious damage to his right orbital bone and after receiving ophthalmological clearance last month, was able to quickly jump onto the top-to-bottom brilliant Sept. 10 WEC bill.

Yahya last saw action on New Year's Eve, where he was plowed by Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto on K-1's annual “Dynamite!!” card. His previous stateside appearance came last September, where after opening up a grappling clinic on then-WEC champion Chase Beebe (Pictures) in the first round, was outlasted by the tough-as-nails Chicago native who picked up the five-round decision.

"Examining himself after the last Torres fight, we think Yoshiro Maeda (Pictures) has become even stronger," the Pancrase Office said in a prepared statement. "Although Yahya is one of the best on the ground, Maeda has promised a KO victory. Before the fight reaches the floor, he will attack and finish the fight."

K-1's Ishii out of the clink, into the clutch

Just over three weeks since his release from prison, the godfather of K-1, Kazuyoshi Ishii is already back in business operations.

Ishii, the founder of K-1, was released from Shizuoka Prison on good behavior on Aug. 7 after serving 14 months of a 22-month sentence for tax evasion. Ishii, who was reportedly a model prisoner, was arrested and indicted on charges of tax evasion in December 2002, in which the former K-1 boss was accused of concealing 900 million yen (at the time, approximately 7.8 million USD) and evading up to 300 million yen in conjunction with Itoman Co. Ltd.

Ishii was initially sentenced to prison time by the Tokyo District Court in 2004, but made the most of the appeal process in order to delay his sentence. In November 2006, the Supreme Court of Japan halted Ishii's exhaustive appeals, handing down a peremptory decree, ensuring that Ishii would spend his 22-month sentence in prison.

Ishii has wasted little time getting back to business since his release. The K-1 founder has met extensively with Sadaharu Tanigawa, the president of K-1 and Dream parent company Fighting and Entertainment Group in recent weeks.

"We've been talking almost everyday to each other about the future of K-1 and what would be a good next step to take," said Tanigawa of their meetings.

While Tanigawa's statements may seem benign on their own, Sherdog.com has also learned from a source close to Ishii that he has had additional discussion with J-Rock president and World Victory Road executive Takahiro Kokuho. The source could not substantiate the content of the meetings, but did confirm that since his release, Ishii had met on multiple occasions with the Sengoku executive.

Although it is too early to speculate or attempt to divine business plans, it is necessary to recognize the allegiances Ishii holds. While in prison, Ishii's sole contact in the Japanese MMA world was the notorious Seiya Kawamata, an admitted intermediary between Japanese promoters and organized crime groups, and a central figure in the Shukan Gendai tabloid's now-infamous negative smear campaign against Pride parent company, Dream Stage Entertainment. Kawamata has also continued to work in relation with Kokuho and World Victory Road since the promotion's inception.

Furthermore, FEG's revamped MMA promotion, Dream, has brought on board several former Dream Stage Entertainment staff, including former DSE executive director Hiroyuki Kato and current Dream event producer Keiichi Sasahara. In addition to growing tensions over television ratings, the Dream promotion's operations have largely been carried out by the former DSE staffers with whom Ishii has a longstanding rocky relationship with.

Deep goes Kansai clubbing in Kyoto Saturday

In perpetual motion, Shigeru Saeki will bring Deep back to Kansai on Saturday for the latest edition of the touring clubDeep at the Terrsa Hall in Kyoto. The marquee bout of the evening will be a rematch between local Kyoto native Tomoyuki Fukami (Pictures) and heavy-hitting Takahiro Kajita (Pictures). The two met previously in Deep sister promotion Real Rhythm in July 2006, and fought to a draw. The once-beaten Fukami has choked out his last three opponents, whilst the KO-minded Kajita acquired a much needed win over veteran Komei Okada (Pictures) in August. In excess of thirteen fights, the card will feature MMA, kickboxing, grappling and even tae kwon do. The non-MMA portion will be highlighted by a strictly for-fun, four-minute exhibition match between Deep featherweight champion Dokonjonosuke Mishima (Pictures), and recently crowned welterweight ace Seichi Ikemoto (Pictures), who upset Hidehiko Hasegawa (Pictures) last month to earn the title.
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