Astra Line-up Finalized; Yoshida to Face Pupil Nakamura

By Tony Loiseleur Mar 31, 2010
TOKYO -- Japanese entertainment management company J-Rock announced the final line-up of Astra on Thursday afternoon, tabbing Kazuhiro Nakamura as 1992 Olympic judo gold medalist Hidehiko Yoshida’s final MMA opponent on April 25 at the Nippon Budokan.

“New Year’s Eve 2009 was supposed to be my last pro fight, but so many things have happened since then,” said Yoshida of his decision victory over Satoshi Ishii on December 31’s K-1 Dynamite.

Both Yoshida and Nakamura made particular mention of the occupational hazards of professional prizefighting, despite their amicable relationship as teacher and student.

“For me, Nakamura is not an easy opponent, and I have somewhat difficult feelings about it in my heart. But, I can’t lose this fight. As ‘Kazu’ [Nakamura] said, we have to put our emotions behind us. We will fight each other earnestly, as professionals.”

Nakamura had originally mentioned hopes of being chosen as Yoshida’s opponent in February, when Astra was first officially announced to the press. While his light-hearted comments seemed to be in jest two months prior, Thursday’s announcement saw a completely different Nakamura -- both tearful and visibly shaken.

“Mr. Kokuho originally told me that I'm going to be fighting Denis Kang, but I wanted to fight Mr. Yoshida. I told Mr. Kokuho this, and it became a reality. Mr. Yoshida is the one I look up to -- not just as a MMA fighter, but ever since I started judo. I am very emotional now, but I will give my best to fight Mr. Yoshida in April,” said Nakamura, while wiping away tears.

“I just heard the news yesterday,” continued Nakamura. “I originally wanted to fight Mr. Yoshida, but was told that my opponent would be Denis Kang, so I’ve been preparing for him instead. But ever since Astra was announced, I’ve been thinking about Mr. Yoshida and me fighting. I’m wondering now if I really can bring myself to punch him full in the face, but it’s really complicated.”

As for Nakamura’s previously proposed opponent, Denis Kang, J-Rock president Takahiro Kokuho claimed that negotiations were ongoing with the Pride, Hero’s, and UFC veteran until a back injury forced him off the card.

“Unfortunately, he had a herniated disc according to the MRI results I received last week, and won't be able to fight in our event in April. It's an old injury, and if he has to have surgery, it may be difficult for him to return to MMA within the year,” said Kokuho.

This same injury forced Kang out of a main event showdown with Vernon White in March’s W-1’s Bad Blood card in Montreal.

Yoshida claims that he will train for the bout outside of his gym, likely with UFC veteran and Japanese MMA analyst and commentator, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, while Nakamura will continue training at Yoshida Dojo. Yoshida also stated that he would like to wear his judo gi for his last fight at the Nippon Budokan, despite it being a potential advantage for his student. Nakamura, on the other hand, claims that he will likely not be fighting in the gi, and will not need any cornermen, but rather “just someone to give me water.”

Elsewhere on the card will be Ryo Chonan, coming in on the heels of his decision win over Andrews Nakahara in Dream 13 over a week ago. Chonan will face South Korea’s Jung Hwan Cha, who last saw action in June 2008, submitting to a first-round rear-naked choke to Jae Suk Lim.

Unimpressed with both Cha’s inactivity and the trash-talk relayed in a written statement by the absent South Korean, Chonan remarked, “This Korean guy saying these things about me, really, who are you? I’m going to crush you.”

Chonan also stated that while he still feels the aches and pains of only having fought about a week ago, his appreciation and respect for Yoshida compelled him to participate in the Olympic judo medalist’s farewell event.

“This is going to be Yoshida’s last fight. If it were anyone else, I wouldn’t be fighting. I had a tough three rounds in Dream, had difficulty making weight for that fight, and my fists are still hurting now, so I’m not in the best condition. But, Mr. Yoshida really matters to me. I have to be there,” said Chonan.

Rounding out the eight-fight main card will be two lightweight affairs pitting UFC veteran and ZST standout Naoyuki Kotani against Sengoku and Bellator veteran Jorge Masvidal, and Shooto standout Ganjo Tentsuku against dynamic grappler and Dream veteran Daisuke Nakamura.

Sponsoring Astra will be DHC, a Japanese manufacturer best known for its cosmetics and supplement lines. The move is a logical extension of their sponsorship of Yoshida, who in 2008, was chosen to endorse their line of men’s toiletries.

J-Rock’s Kokuho also claimed that while he was still working toward making Astra available to international MMA fans, no concrete details could be given, as negotiations were still ongoing.

April 25
Nippon Budokan

Hidehiko Yoshida vs. Kazuhiro Nakamura
Ryo Chonan vs. Jung Hwan Cha
Daisuke Nakamura vs. Ganjo Tentsuku
Jorge Masvidal vs. Naoyuki Kotani
Enson Inoue vs. Antz Nansen
Michihiro Omigawa vs. Micah Miller
Che Mills vs. Yuya Shirai
Tatsunao Nagakura vs. Akihiko Mori
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