July in Japan
The struggles of Japanese MMA have been well-documented over recent months and years, so there is no need to rehash all of the negatives that have been associated with the Far East MMA scene recently.
Even through all the darkness, the Japanese MMA scene has come back to life a bit over the past few months, and July is no exception. The Japanese BW Grand Prix had a successful opening event, which set up the best possible final DREAM could have hoped for. With the two most well-known fighters in the field – Masakazu Imanari and Hideo Tokoro – ending up deciding the DREAM BW Grand Prix Champion, the promotion will maximize whatever interest is out there. However, the Grand Prix final is but a small taste of the action taking place in Japan over the course of the month. Continue reading to see what other Asian delicacies are on tap.
The rest of DREAM.17 is shaping up nicely as well, as there are two title fights already slated for the card. Gegard Mousasi and Hiroshi Izumi appear to be headlining the card in their Light Heavyweight title bout, but make no mistake, the best fight on this card is undoubtedly Hiroyuki Takaya facing off against Kazuyuki Miyata with the Featherweight title on the line. Despite coming off of a loss in his last outing (and bringing his record in North America to a stalwart 0-3), Takaya is still a borderline top-10 Featherweight, and always brings excitement. Miyata isn’t the brawler that Takaya is, but his striking has improved markedly from his career-changing beatdown at the hands of Kid Yamamoto, and he is still the Olympic-calibre wrestler he’s always been (see right: dumping Takeshi Inoue on his head twice in a row).
Even though Takaya has more effective defensive wrestling than Inoue, I see Miyata’s wrestling controlling this fight, much like he did against his previous foe. His skills in that department just open up so many other opportunities for him, and that is a big part of his striking becoming as effective as it is. While Takaya’s go-for-broke style and punching power definitely gives him a shot in this fight, I have to favour Miyata, and feel like he’ll be the the DREAM Featherweight Champion by the end of the night.
Also on the card we’ll be seeing Tatsuya Kawajiri looking to get back on track following his complete dismantling at the hands of Gilbert Melendez. He’ll be taking on former Shooto 154lb Champion, and victim of the style of fighting we see all too often in the UFC, Willamy Freire (that’s referencing his forgettable loss to Waylon Lowe in which Freire was essentially laid on for three rounds). The final fights that have been announced at this point are the 3rd place fight for the BW Grand Prix featuring Kenji Osawa and Keisuke Fujiwara, as well as a Heavyweight clash between Todd Duffee and Nick Gaston.
Two days after DREAM, Japan’s oldest and most storied MMA promotion will be putting on quite the card of their own. Like DREAM.17, Shootor’s Legacy 3 features two title fights, as well as a high-profile Bantamweight bout.
Kotetsu Boku and Kuniyoshi Hironaka do battle for the vacant 154lb Shooto belt in the main event, but once again the two fights further down the card are the ones I find more relevant and more intriguing. One of those bouts is the 123lb title bout between Yasuhiro Urushitani and Yuki Shojo. This is a rematch between the two men, but despite Urushitani coming in the champion, Shojo was the winner in their first contest, and remains the only fighter to ever finish the champion. Despite their previous result, I see Urushitani retaining his title and remaining one of the top Flyweights in the world. If nothing else, this fight at least shows that despite all the improvements that organizations like Tachi Palace have made in their 125lb class, and the recent announcement that the UFC will be adding Flyweights shortly, Shooto still remains one of the top organizations in the world for lighter weight fights.
The other bout on this card I look forward to, with both excitement and dread, is the 132lb clash between Masakatsu Ueda and Rumina Sato. Sato is one of my favorite fighters ever, but the “Moon Wolf” of this millennium is not the same as the one we were able to watch prior to 2000. He is still a very talented fighter, but also a very shopworn one after 42 fights, 7 of which have ended with him on the wrong side of a knockout. I’m excited for this fight because of the opportunity to watch one of my favorites fight again, but the dread comes in because he is going up against one of the top Bantamweights in the world in Ueda. Luckily, Ueda isn’t a fighter with explosive power in his strikes, so Sato’s usual avenue to defeat would be an unlikely one in this bout. It would be unwise to bet on Sato heading into this bout, and I wouldn’t do so. Still, I hope he finds a way to pull off the win and gets one final shot at the Shooto world title he’s been chasing his entire career.
The one other card worth mentioning during the month of July actually takes place a week before DREAM.17, and comes from an unlikely source, the Jewels promotion. 15th Ring features some of the top female talent in the world, and while I hardly profess to be an expert on the women’s side of the game it’s hard to argue with any card that features Yuka Tsuji, Mei Yamaguchi, Hitomi Akano and Roxanne Modafferi.
The Japanese MMA scene isn’t anywhere near what it was five years ago, but as long as promotions keep putting on the type of fights we’re going to be seeing in July, it’s impossible to ignore the sport in Japan. Plus, based on the history the sport has on the other side of the Pacific, and the emphasis on excitement (the biggest complaint other than judging about North American MMA right now), who would want to?