Ok, so welcome back for some more Japanese MMA craziness. Be warned, its another long one.
After the surprisingly awesome DREAM 10 show, I was stoked to see how the more `serious` Japanese promotion would handle affairs. I arrived just in time to Saitama Super Arena having ridden 6 hours on a bus to get there (Fightlinker style all the way!) to grab some food and settle into my seat for the pre-show shenanigans. I immediately noticed that the roof had been raised and the top tier of seating was available for Sengoku, where it had been blocked off for DREAM. More tickets, more interest perchance? It might have been me but there seemed to be a greater proportion of foreigners in the audience as well.
Like DREAM, Sengoku does not disappoint on the presentation front. A countdown appeared on the big screen as the lights went down, accompanied by a thundering heartbeat. The obligatory pyro flashed all over the place then, surprise, a motherfucking FOUNTAIN. In the arena. Whoever thought that one up (or, rather, worked out how to make it practical) deserves a medal. Gono`s zebra-print yukata and the flaming entrance gates also deserve honourable mentions. More awesome hype videos and the fighters` parade were greeted with almost religious zeal by the crowd. I really don`t want to flog a dead horse, bearing in mind what I wrote about DREAM but it probably bears repeating: Dana, you need to get your arse over here and see how to run a show. Seriously.
The crowds might be smaller than in Pride`s heyday but that just means that the chaff has been blown away. The hardcore fans are still around and the atmosphere was absolutely electric, somewhere between a crazy religious cult and a rock festival.
The fighters all stuck their fingers in their ears at the culmination of the parade and I thought it prudent to follow suit. Unfortunately, I don`t think most of the crowd realized what was going on and were promptly deafened by possibly the loudest indoor explosion I`ve ever heard. Perhaps this is why Japanese crowds are so quiet…its not reverential respect, they`re just all deafened by pyro and are struggling to hear anything at all.
At last (although, this was only 4:30 in the afternoon with a long night ahead) the fights could begin. KISS Nakao gave some excellent trash talk in his pre-fight video – he`s really grown into the faux-gay character and plays it well. The `Sexual Beast` t-shirts for him and his corner helped a lot too. The only interesting thing about Choi was the 10th Planet logo on his shirt (anyone else notice that) which gave me hope that this match might not be the borefest predicted by many. I was disappointed.
Both guys are strong wrestlers but KISS came out throwing bombs at a pudgy Choi. Eventually, KISS hit the takedown but got swept off and lost his back. In what would become a recurring theme for the match, Nakao retreated to the corner and let Choi dry-hump him while attempting a standing kimura.
The second round bore more fruit as Nakao turned up the tempo and landed some hefty shots. A big punch netted a takedown and allowed Nakao to knee the head of Choi who was visibly wilting by this point. Choi attempted to pull a crucifix off of a takedown by Nakao but lost the arm, allowing the Japanese fighter to execute a beautiful roll into side control where more knees connected with Choi`s rapidly swelling head. However, the scramble again led to Choi dry-bumming and reaching-around Nakao in the corner while KISS doggedly searched for this elusive kimura. I think we have seen the rebirth of “stand and pray.” Curse you Choi.
The third round again was all Nakao. He took Choi down at will and landed more vicious knees. Both guys were tired but I got the distinct impression that Choi had given up in the second round and KISS cruised to a unanimous decision victory.
The next fight was the first semi-final of the FW GP. I will come straight out and admit that, having trained at ALIVE, I am a massive Hioki fanboy so there`s no need to point that out to me. I shall try not to be biased but consider yourselves forewarned.
In the Promos, Hioki is all GSP-esque in a suit and respecting his opponent. Kanehara comes off as passionate and reckless. I like him but wonder how his purple belt will hold up against Hioki`s relentless ground attack.
Hioki is fired up as he enters the ring, moreso than I`ve previously seen him. Hopefully this will make him stick to his gameplan.
Kanehara steams out of the gate with some big winging shots which land but Hioki manages to take him down. Kanehara`s butterfly guard didn`t accomplish much and the Nagoyan is soon mounted and grinding away with GnP. Kanehara`s escape into Hioki`s guard is short-lived as Hioki fires back with a barrage of submission attempts from his back. I thought I saw a tap at one point but that might just be me. Hioki finishes the round mounted on Kanehara but can`t put him away in time.
Hioki looks tired at the start of the second but quickly takes Kanehara down. Its heartening to see Hatsu sticking to his gameplan. Some knees to the head lead Hioki into mount and another flurry of desperately defended submission attempts. I`m still amazed that Kanehara got out of that armbar…very well defended. Back on the feet, Hioki seems a little gunshy after eating a few hard shots but takes Kanehara`s back and attempts the RNC. However, his opponent has his chin in and again is saved by the bell.
Both fighters are wary in the third – Hioki is keeping his distance, obviously confident that he`s ahead on the cards. He pulls a guillotine from the clinch but the dogged Kanehara pops out and Hioki is forced to work his guard again. He opts for a high rubber guard, stifling all offence from Kanehara. The final flurry before the bell won`t save the fight for his opponent and Hioki takes the unanimous decision.
Now, possibly the most contentious fight of the evening: Omigawa vs Sandro.
Omigawa comes out like the energizer bunny in a gi – Sandro is just ugly (which is fine, as it matches the ugly-ass Pancrase belt he has).
Both guys swing for the fences early on and I`m convinced that we have another Nick Denis moment in the making – Omigawa has good flurrying combos but he lacks the vicious power that Sandro undoubtedly has. However, Omigawa weathers the storm but can`t mount any meaningful offence – Sandro has obviously been working with some top level judoka and is doing an incredible job of shutting down Omigawa in the clinch. Suddenly, the lynchpin of Omigawa`s gameplan is gone and I`m confident that Sandro will win. Both are landing but Sandro`s causing more damage and shutting down his opponent completely. Is it wrong that I see shades of Wand in Sandro (Mini-Wand? Wandinho?) in the way that he waded into the pocket and threw hooks and then outmuscled his opponent to avoid the takedown?
The second round sees more big haymakers and not a lot else. Eventually Sandro decides to chance his arm on the ground and pulls guard straight into an arm-in guillotine from Omigawa`s clinch. It looks deep initially but Omigawa`s in no danger as the bell rings.
Sandro shoots in at the start of the third and is promptly stuffed. He grabs the plum and muscles Omigawa around but loses dominance. However, Sandro`s defence and control in the clinch against such a great judoka is brilliant to watch – Omigawa simply can`t take him down. Sandro finally abandons the wild caveman swinging for straight punches and the Japanese fighter eats several of them straight down the hole. After trying for it all the match, Omigawa finally nails an inside trip and plants Sandro on his back but its surely too little, too late as there are only 30 seconds left on the clock.
As the judges prepare their decision, I`m confident that Sandro has won. Both guys landed about the same amount, but Sandro hit him with much harder shots. Sandro had submission attempts and apart from the last 30 seconds, completely shut-out Omigawa`s judo in the clinch.
The judges come back with 30-29 Sandro and two verdicts of 30-30 (advantage Omigawa). I`m gobsmacked, as are the guys sitting next to me. I`m not going to cry “hometown decision” but something is up when one judge can definitively score the fight for one guy when the other two think it’s a draw but his opponent might have won.
Either way, close and entertaining fight.
And now, we get the largely irrelevant reserve bout for the tournament: Matt Jaggers vs Jung Chan Sung. I was finding it hard to be excited by this bout but it amused me that all I could think of when I saw Jagger`s entrance was that he looked like the nervous fresh meat taking his first prison shower. Sung, by contrast, looked relaxed despite coming out to what sounded like Alanis Morrissette Does Metal – truly, music from the bowels of Satan himself. I also didn`t know that there was a Korean Top Team now as well…
Jaggers tries to be flash with a traditional Thai long guard but Sung is having none of it and promptly smashes his face in. The American shoots to avoid more punishment but is stuffed and ends up on his back in guard. The fighters are eventually stood up and Jaggers gets warned for passivity and stalling. Sung wastes no time in swarming in again and nearly ends the fight, forcing another desperation shot from Jaggers. This time it works well and he makes it into Sung`s guard. The Korean demonstrated some tidy BJJ with a windmill sweep attempt that came oh-so-close and forces Jaggers to defend inside his guard.
In the second, Jaggers has worked out that he doesn`t want to stand with Sung so he shoots straight away. Unfortunately, LnP isn`t going to work out for him as he gets snared in a nice triangle that he made no real effort to defend. I was happy to hear the old-skool Yuji Shimada lines (even though it wasn`t him) echoing throughout the arena from the referee mic:
GIB AP? GIB AP? GIB AP!! STOPPU STOPPU!!
Sung is an interesting prospect – tidy jiu-jitsu, aggressive and powerful on the feet and workable wrestling too. Jaggers just seems to be another identikit American wrestler.
I`d been looking forward to Clay French vs Eiji Mitsuoka but not for the reasons you might expect. I`d been irritated all night by a loud American (female type) sitting in front of me who insisted on talking loudly in that annoying nasal way that some do while offering her obnoxious “advice” and opinions on the fighters tactics. Just as a side-note (I`m not Shawn and I`m not drunk so I`m not about to completely go off the rails here): Guys, if you`re going to bring a chick to a fight, sit her down and make her watch some DVD`s first and talk her through what they are doing. This will prevent the people sitting near her from wanting to kick her in the ovaries so hard that they pop out of her mouth because she won`t just shut the fuck up with her dumb questions and “aww, they fell over again, come on fight properly” play-by-play commentary.
That said, it was still better than Bill Goldberg.
Anyway, this annoying bint had a hard-on for Clay French and I had the feeling that she wasn`t going to enjoy the outcome. It was sweet. Even his UFC `sports metal` (“Here Comes The Boom” indeed) entrance wouldn`t save him.
Both guys were cautious initially but once they clinched, Mitsuoka soon worked the trip. French (using all the boneheaded rasslin` powers that Matt Hughes had imparted to him) tried to power his way to his feet and Mitsuoka leaped into a flying guillotine. French had his defending arm neatly trapped by Mitsuoka`s leg (I initially thought that it was a flying triangle, the second coolest submission ever) and couldn`t escape. Once Mitsuoka rolled into mount with the choke cinched in tight, French tapped quickly.
The silence from in front of me was golden.
I was a bit disappointed with my first live Gono entrance although I was glad to see the spangly dresses and you`ve gotta love that suit.
Hornbuckle struck me as a jobber that they brought in to lose to Gono…how wrong one can be.
Gono just didn`t seem to be into the fight. I know he`s never a very serious guy but there was absolutely no sense of urgency. Hornbuckle ground away with strikes and Gono`s showboating saw him eat some strikes then get shoved unceremoniously to the mat – the first round ended with the Japanese fighter all marked up and definitely losing.
A flash of the old Gono was visible in the second round as he caught a kick and smashed Hornbuckle in the gut and then worked some good dirty boxing. However, a nice high double-leg by Honrbuckle turned the tables and Gono eschewed the lockdown in half-guard which cost him dearly as the American moved to mount and ground away with pressure and punches. Gono was getting tooled and he still didn`t seem to care.
The third round began and, although quite obviously on the road to losing the fight, Gono saw no need to press the action. He dropped his hands repeatedly and then, expecting a punch to follow his kick being caught, slipped his face right into the path of Hornbuckle`s shin. The wet smack reverberated around the arena as Gono was catapulted a good 2 yards back and landed awkwardly with his head through the ropes. My jaw hit the floor and as the seconds passed I was convinced I`d just seen a man get executed in the ring.
Annoying Bint in front started celebrating a Glorious Victory For Freedom ™ and I wanted to strangle her as Gono hadn`t moved for several minutes and was quite obviously seriously hurt. His eyes finally opened after a good 3 or 4 minutes and I noticed that although he wasn`t being intubated, they were being very careful with manipulating his neck. I was quite sad and a bit worried as he was stretchered off – conscious but obviously in pain. Have we seen the last of Gono? Hornbuckle, to his credit, looked genuinely upset and concerned and encouraged the crowd to pray for Gono before promising that he`ll be back. Classy, he`s got a new fan in me.
The inevitable intermission brought some shocking news – Hioki had not been cleared to fight by the ring doctors after displaying some worrying neurological signs, namely loss of power in his upper limbs. So, in an unforeseen (read: total bullshit) turn of events, the two guys who lost their semi-finals will fight in the final.
Sengoku then wheeled out their `Judo Top Team` for a nice bit of nationalistic pride and flag-waving. Satoshi Ishii stirred the crowd by announcing that he`ll fight soon against an unnamed (likely Korean or American – nothing like a healthy dose of racial superiority complex to boost ratings) opponent who will most likely be a journeyman can who will give Ishii fits on the feet regardless.
Yoshida then praised JTT saying that having such a great lot of juniors was unbelievable but if they had to fight then he`d not hold back, so they had better forget about the junior/senior relationship. Could an Ishii/Yoshida fight be in the works?
Back to the fights after a pleasurable micturition break and Ivanov`s video does a good job of hyping him as THAT DUDE WHO BEAT FEDOR IN SAMBO! Fujita`s video, by contrast, features him looking old, swinging heavy things around at the beach and compares him to a silverback gorilla. Fujita has Marco Ruas in his corner (which is a good thing). He also has a guy in a luchador mask (which is not).
Both guys come in windmilling and the crowd roars its approval. After a few minutes of hard swings, I wonder when Fujita is going to shoot. Eventually, Ivanov decides for him by hitting “Ironhead” rather hard several times in succession and dazing him briefly. Fujita goes into wrestling autopilot and saves himself by grabbing a leg. Fujita is obviously better on the ground, smothering Ivanov and hitting some beautiful guard passes, including one straight from open standing to side control. Ivanov is doing nothing from the bottom except stalling which earns him a warning. The bout returns to the feet and both giants throw more haymakers as the bell rings. They both look exhausted.
Big bombs from Fujita net him the knee-on-belly for a brief flurry in the second but Ivanov escapes neatly and they are stood up. Both men are gassed and just wing lazy hooks at each other for the remaining time but perk up in the last minute for a nice little hockey-fight punch up in the last minute.
Fujita seems to be getting a bit desperate – he`s eating the harder shots and his face is all swollen to hell. He keeps working for a leg but can`t quite get the takedown. He`s cut on the forehead and then shoots back in for another takedown but Ivanov blatantly clings to the ropes then steps out. Finally, Fujita drags Ivanov down and works an arm-triangle but Ivanov reverts to stalling him out and the fight ends. Fujita had the control, Ivanov did more damage. Who won? Another typically haphazard scorecard gives us the answer: 30-28 Fujita, 30-27 Ivanov, 30-30 Advantage Ivanov. If I were at all cynical I`d say that it was in Sengoku`s interest to have Ivanov win rather than old, busted-up Fujita. But that might just be me.
The headline fights are just beginning – if you`re getting tired reading this, imagine how long it took to watch!
Misaki gets a few hisses from the crowd during his video, explaining his recent little run-in with the law. He is very subdued during his entrance – bowing deeply to all the crowd, his shorts noticeably bereft of sponsors.
I`ve never liked Nakamura (in fact, I seem to have an inexplicable dislike of all Yoshida Dojo fighters, much like I can`t stand MFS products) ever since I saw him trying to pull off his gi at the start of the match and getting punched repeatedly for his troubles. If you`re going to be flash, do it properly.
Misaki is all about the flash and he shows it well. He`s light on his feet, fast and landing well. Nakamura`s boxing has certainly improved but he still needs to tuck his elbows in and keep his hands up. A low blow by Nakamura stops the fight for a few minutes (American woman in front: “But he`s got a cup on! That can`t hurt!” Me: *crosses my legs in mutual agony*). As soon as the fight restarts, he does it again. Is the “Cup Cheick” now becoming a recognized tactic?
However, the Anti-Mirko playbook will do Nakamura no good as Misaki smashes him in the face and pounces on him. The judoka scrambles but ends up snagged in a butterfly guillotine. Misaki methodically closes his guard and Nakamura goes out.
I read on Sherdog that apparently this was a dubious stoppage. But from where I was sitting, and from the big screen, Nakamura was limp and unresponsive. He sure as hell looked like he had gone to sleep – no controversy there I think.
Misaki is still quiet in victory, almost apologetic before leaving the ring quickly.
Two fights to go and even I was flagging a bit by this point…but they promised to both be barnburners so that`s ok, I guess.
Now the match that was in reality the third-place playoff had become the final, I was rooting for Omigawa as at least he had won his decision and it would set up an obvious match with Hioki in the future. That and Omigawa had a fairytale run going – the complete underdog in all his fights yet he`d kept on winning. Thus, my hatred of Yoshida Dojo went to one side in the hope that someone who got completely tooled in the semifinal wouldn`t end up winning anyway.
Omigawa looked severely busted up, especially his left eye which seemed to be on the verge of being closed. Kanehara still looked quite fresh – Hioki`s game isn`t to smash you up like Sandro`s is.
I was so distracted by how stupendously ugly the belt was that I didn`t notice the fight starting. Omigawa`s early slip led to Kanehara taking his back and locking in the body triangle. For three minutes, Omigawa repeatedly stood up with Kanehara clinging to his back and stared quizzically at the referee. No offence of note was accomplished by either until Omigawa escaped the back into guard and promptly looked for a guillotine which transitioned into a sweet straight-armlock that looked to be on the money. Unfortunately, the bell rang before it could end the fight, to howls of disappointment from the crowd. Draw for that round – Kanehara had position, Omigawa nearly finished him.
Omigawa`s eye is getting worse and its not helped by the vicious knees that he eats in the second. His sprawl was reversed by Kanehara and from there the punishment began. Eventually Omigawa regains his guard and keeps hunting for that guillotine but Kanehara sneaks through to mount and lands more effective Gnp. Omigawa is reduced to tangling him up before standing. Definitely Kanehara`s round but he looks completely fucked – can Omigawa steal it?
Both men seem to have decided that its do or die and come out swinging – that`s the spirit chaps! They both land well and Omigawa tries an o-soto-gari but can`t quite get it so tries for the guillotine then eventually flops back and slaps on a heelhook. Unfortunately, its too late in the match and Kanehara slithers out and both stand and throw down again. Omigawa takes the action to the floor again and gets side control, landing hard knees before taking the mount and unloading with frenzied GnP. Kanehara gives up his back under the onslaught and then escapes as both men swing wildly before the bell.
The decision is close. I had it 29-28 Omigawa (first round to Omigawa due to him actually mounting effective offence as opposed to dominant position but nothing attained). One judge effectively agreed with me (29-29, Advantage Omigawa) but the other two called it 29-28 Kanehara, giving him the split decision victory.
Such is the way of tournaments I guess. They don`t show who is best, just who is toughest and willing to dig deep. Respect to both these guys as they both fought their hearts out but I`m a little disappointed – I`ve certainly got no interest in Hioki fighting either of these guys now that Omigawa didn`t win the final (but a match with Sandro would be epic).
Then finally, the lightweight championship. Striker vs Grappler – smothering grind against 1 punch KO power. The stereotypical matchup and one that never ceases to entertain as the one essential variable – the Striker`s takedown defence – has the ability to make it go either way.
Kitaoka laid out his stall right from the start with a beautiful takedown. Not in the Lashley/Lesnar “wow, he piled right through him” way but in a technically, picture-perfect way. Go and watch the video. Hirota didn`t even touch him before he was on the mat but he stuns everyone by showing a good scramble and getting back up again. This match suddenly could be very interesting. Kitaoka keeps hold of a leg and plops Hirota back down in the corner and works a nasty guillotine/neck crank, keeping it on as Hirota stands. After a timestop, Kitaoka barrels right back in and works the GnP in the corner. It’s a very `UFC` gameplan from Kitaoka and it seems to be working. He throws some sweet headstomps then another guillotine attempt. Hirota suddenly remembers his strengths and fires back hard, dazing Kitaoka before shooting in with a takedown of his own! He could have stolen the round…or not.
Hirota begins to take control in round two as Kitaoka tries to box with him. Although Kitaoka`s striking is improved, this is a rather ill-advised battle and the rangier striker lights him up. Again, Hirota shows great takedown defence and Kitaoka is forced to pull guard but Hirota simply worms his way out and stands up, throwing a nice flying knee to end the round.
Kitaoka`s constant takedown attempts are wearing him out and Hirota still looks fresh. The percentage of successful shots continues to fall and Hirota is growing visibly more confident. Eventually, Kitaoka`s persistence pays off as he muscles in a messy double leg and works the grind n` pound from half-guard. Hirota shows his own jiu-jitsu in regaining butterfly guard but earns a headstomp for his trouble. Back in half-guard, Hirota is given a yellow card for stalling (ironic, considering Kitaoka`s gameplan) and they are restood. Again, a visibly flagging Kitaoka is lit up and dazed before the bell.
Hirota along with the crowd can smell blood in the water. Kitaoka resolutely sticks to his plan but his shots are getting lazy and he`s punished each time he shoots. He tries pulling guard but can`t drag Hirota down. A half-hearted shot allows Hirota to open up with some knees to the head – Kitaoka is dazed but escapes…unfortunately, like Fujita, he is now on autopilot so he tries another crap shot with disastrous consequences – more knees to the head and finally the referee has seen enough. A new lightweight champion is crowned and the striker has beaten the grappler.
Some final thoughts for those of you hardcore enough to read this far (I appreciate it, I really do):
Sengoku was a lot of fun. However, I actually enjoyed DREAM more for some bizarre reason. Both had their good points: higher standard of fighters in Sengoku, more fun and exciting matches in DREAM – however, this is of course just basing my opinion on the two shows I happened to attend, rather than the whole oeuvre. The OTT retarded spectacle of Japanese MMA shows was as awesome as ever and I`m sad that I`ll be leaving soon.
We`ve got a pair of decent prospects in Ivanov and Sung. Hioki and Sandro both need to be in the WEC. Misaki looked on form and focused, as did Hirota. And hopefully we`ll see Omigawa and Kanehara fight more in Sengoku against quality opposition because regardless of how the tournament turned out, both these guys have tons of heart and always have exciting fights. And really, that`s what its all about.