Maybe the situation with Japanese MMA can best be described by its’ granddaddy, the national sport of judo. Last weekend, USA Judo put out a release stating that the former savior of JMMA, Olympic gold medalist Satoshi Ishii, is registered to compete for the stars and stripes.
USA Judo confirmed that Ishii is registered to fight in the open division at the Senior National Championships, scheduled to compete on Sunday, April 14, at the Virginia Beach Convention Center.
Ishii wore the U.S. flag on his gi as he dominated the open division at the Senior Nationals in 2011, and it was reported that Ishii said he wanted to earn his U.S. citizenship and compete for the USA. He has not since been on a team for USA Judo, the national governing body for the Olympic sport.
Ishii is a pretty strange fighter, by the looks of it. He first unveiled plans to compete for the US in the Olympics a couple years ago, after announcing his retirement from MMA when visa issues kept him out of a Strikeforce Challengers bout following Japan’s tsunami disaster. He returned just a few months later, going on to fight Paulo Filho and Fedor by the end of 2011.
Pursuing American citizenship should allow Ishii to finally make is move to the UFC, whom he nearly signed with before he had actually begun fighting. But if that’s the case, who could really blame him? Japan has long been a haven for Olympians looking to make the move to MMA but the level of competition just isn’t the same for a heavyweight trying to keep active.
Hidehiko Yoshida was the prototype for Olympic champions in MMA, but he was older than ideal for a debuting fighter. He won his gold medal in 1992, debuted in 2002 and was 40 years old when he beat a 23-year-old Ishii in 2009. Ishii is 26 now and there’s certainly still time for him to turn in a productive fight career. His next fight is supposed to be against Pedro Rizzo in May.
There’s a lot to be said for Japanese MMA when a gold medalist feels that immigrating to America is a necessary career move. We are simply in a different age of fighting now with zero prime heavyweight fights to be found overseas. It’s no secret that there’s nothing like the UFC, but Ishii competing as an American to make it in fighting is simply beyond the pale.