Pancrase 321 Preview, Sunday 30th, Studio Coast

Pancrase have pulled out all the stops for their first numbered series of the year. Hosted by Studio Coast, a venue familiar with fans of the org, Pancrase 321 takes place this Sunday, 30th . Action kicks off early, with 13 match main card commencing at 13:00 JST. If that was not enough JMMA entertainment, there will be 8 post-liminary Neo Blood Tournament bouts, with a 4 man 1 day tournament included.

The stellar main card will see the Featherweight King of Pancrase Championship crowned and the first round of the Flyweight 4 man tournament get underway. In addition the next Straw-weight challenger will be revealed, plus many crucial matches that will determine the fates of many of Japans best, and most loved, MMA fighters.


Main Event – Featherweight King of Pancrase Championship, 5 minutes x 5 rounds

Isao “ISAO” Kobayashi (Champion) vs Taichi Nakajima

Fighting out of the aptly named “Never Quit” gym, Isao “ISAO” Kobayashi defends his title for the 3rd time this coming Sunday. With his Judo background, Kobayashi is a master of tempo and distance control. Rarely expending energy he expertly manoeuvres opponents to the cage fence where he is at his best. Whether seizing or sweeping legs or unloading with flurries of punches and elbows the Champion is always active. As the rounds pass by and challengers are gasping for air “ISAO” is still fresh, and either dominating the fight or finishing. His approach rarely changes, it works exceptionally well and so far has been a tough puzzle to solve. With Akira Okada being the latest victim he also avenged his loss to Kyle Aguon and won the Interim Featherweight title from Nazareno Malegarie. Expect the same work rate from the champion from the beginning to the end, he will not slow down, and will look to drown his next challenger in the later rounds.

Consummate under-dog Taichi Nakajima has always been a perennial top contender, flying just under the radar. With flashes of brilliance and shocking upsets he has established himself as a top player yet consistently fallen short at clearing the final hurdle. A workhorse in the cage, Nakajima lacks some of the physical gifts of counterparts and compensates by working around opponents rather than going through them. In his contenders match with Yoshinori Horie, smooth lateral footwork and perfectly timed entries had the heavy hitting KO expert constantly second guessing. The Lotus Setagaya stand out flowed during the moments in between Horie’s sprints, tagging him with strikes to set up the clinch. Hard work paid off for Nakajima as he earned a split decision win and date with the Featherweight King. A specialist hitting angles, closing distance and transitioning to back control. From there he patiently shuts adversaries down and waits for mistakes. Against the champion he will have to push the pace and find positions of leverage, a direct confrontation likely not end well. The challenger has a mountain to climb but, with the belt constantly just out of reach throughout his career, this could be Nakajima’s time for a monumental upset!

Semifinal, 12th Match, Flyweight 4 Man Tournament, A Block, 5 Minutes x 3 Rounds

Toru Ogawa vs Kenji Yamanaka

Entering the tournament following a decision over Kenji Yamanaka, Toru Ogawa finds himself situated at 2nd place in the rankings. Rebounding from a successful surgery, Ogawa looks to be back on form. For a Flyweight he packs a punch and poses one of the bigger threats in the tournament. Belmishes on his resume include Interim Champion Shohei Masumizu and 2 losses to B bracket competitor Masatatsu “Shoryu” Ueda. The fearsome striker would love to get his hands on Ueda in the following round. To do so the Tribe Tokyo MMA trained participant must make a statement and eliminate another dangerous fighter from contention.

Taiki Akiba is a fighter with high level experience. Having faced, and been toppled by Interim Champion Shohei Masumizu Akiba joins 3 of the 4 participants. Spurned on by losses the freelance 21 fight veteran has risen from the ashes to deliver performances worthy of his 6th position in the rankings. While striking is his forte he is no slouch when the fight hits the canvas, something opponents will be sure to take into account. Following his decision victory over Tomohiro Adaniya, Akiba is a bit of a dark-horse in a wide open tournament.

11th Match, Flyweight 4 Man Tournament, B Block, 5 Minutes x 3 Rounds

Masatatsu “Shoryu” Ueda vs Satoru “Sarutobi” Enomoto

While owning a well balanced skill set Masatatsu “Shoryu” Ueda’s grappling is probably his strongest asset. “Shoryu” makes an appearance just 5 months removed from a split decision victory over Kohei Sugiyama. The G-face Team Ogata Dojo member ascended the ranks, wracking up the victories until the level of competition reached a peak. Ueda fell to current interim champion Shohei Masumizu, diligently climbed back up the ladder only to be beaten by the champion again, this time in a title match. Hungrier than ever, the 3rd ranked fighter will be a favorite for the tournament. If he can keep it together and follow a tight game-plan the multi-faced fighter has excellent round awareness and control.

After sitting out 15 months due to injury Satoru “Sarutobi” Enomoto hopes to silence doubters by picking up his 6th consecutive victory. It has been some time since the Reversal Gym Kawaguchi REDIPS Flyweight cinched a decision over Yusuke Ogikubo. The layoff cost “Sarutobi” in the rankings, dropping to 7th position. Still poised in a position to take the title, he will need to get through a tricky match up. Leaning towards grappling in a similar vein as his opponent, Enomoto should provide a challenge for Ueda. While condition following surgery raises some questions, when the bell sounds all will be answered.

10th Match, Straw-weight next challenger bout, 5 minutes x 3 rounds

Ryo Hatta vs Yudai Miyazawa

Ryo Hatta has a reputation as a “do or die” fighter who lays everything on the line every fight. He takes risks and rolls the dice but, more often that not, the grappling wizard comes out on top. 13 of his 15 victories have come by way of submission. With excellent scrambles, wide submission arsenal and chain linking of attacks the Striple Ohana groundwork specialist enters hot on the heels of a 1st round Front Choke of Tatsuki Ozaki. Current number 1 contender, watch Hatta pull out all the stops once again as he showcases his grappling flair

3rd ranked Miyazawa in contrast, is a physical fighter with a penance for striking. Packing a lot of horsepower for his size the K-Place heavy hitter flattened Hiroaki Ijima to bounce back and go 4-1 of his last 5. A solid base and strong clinch, combined with his physical attributes, Miyazaya matches up well with his opponent. With a rendezvous with champion Daichi Kitakata on the horizon Miyazawa will want to test the chin of Hatta, while evading the constant slick submission attempts from his foe. This match has the right ingredients for fight of the night as neither fighter will want to squander the opportunity given to them.

9th Match, Lightweight, 5 minutes x 3 rounds

Koshi “Luxor” Matsumoto vs Akira Okada

After testing the waters at Featherweight, Akira Okada makes a return to Lightweight for a pivotal ”must win” fight if he hopes to reach title contention. The wrestling powerhouse capped his Featherweight run with a sensational come from behind TKO of Issei Tamura, earning him a number 4 spot in the rankings. Shifting back up a weight class will not hinder Okada, the Musashimurayama Saito Clinic/&MOSH representative has monstrous power at either weight. Whether switching levels for a single or double leg, or throwing bombs on the feet, the juggernaut plows through opponents. With the magnitude of the fight with regards to ranking and path to the belt, Okada will be ready to give a repeat performance of his last, sensational TKO.

Featherweight no. 4 collides with Lightweight no. 4 as Koshi Matsumoto steps up to defend his ranking and move a step closer to the belt. Supremely well rounded and an adept finisher on the feet or ground ex-Shooto LW Champion Matsumoto has been clawing his way up the rankings for another shot at current King, Takasuke Kume. Representing M Platic gym, “Luxor” went to war with Hiroto Ueseko in a fight of the night classic that swung back and forth. The technician took over the fight late, stealing a clear cut decision from the fierce Ueseko. With a chance at redemption with Kume around the corner Matsumoto will need to keep it clean and sharp on the feet, establish distance and avoid the surges. Okada is not the kind of opponent to take lightly!

8th Match, Featherweight, 5 minutes x 3 rounds

Tokitaka Nakanishi vs Ryo Asami

Ryo Asami cut his teeth fighting for the Rings organization, where he went on to become “the Outsider” 70kg Champion. Representing the Rings gym, the grappler has chipped away steadily throughout his career and is hitting his stride. He most recently tapped out Yusaku Hayashi with a front choke to go 2-0 under the Pancrase banner. Where his limit is for the Judo/ Sambo grappler remains to be seen. Another win this Sunday will likely see his 14th spot in the rankings increase dramatically.

Ranked 8 points higher than Asami at no.6 ,Tokitaka Nakanishi is a former Shooto Rookie champion and very adept on the mat. The strong grappler is on a 4 fight win streak after securing a decision over Hiroshige Tanaka. Fighting out of Ishitsuna MMA, Nakanishi has the kind of submission acumen to challenge Asami.  The excellent match up should be a treat for grappling connoisseurs.

7th Match, Welterweight, 5 minutes x 3 rounds

Yuki “Yukisora” Kondo vs Yoshinori Suzuki

For the 108th time, on the 25th anniversary of his debut, MMA legend Yuki “Yukisora” Kondo will leave it all in the cage once again. Having gone toe to toe with a compilation of the MMA worlds very best, time has certainly taken it’s toll on the pioneer. What has never faded or waned is his heart and passion. The Pancrase Ism Yokohama warrior is coming off a loss to Yutaka Kobayashi in a fight where he had his moments but could not find the key to victory. Regardless of result or opponent, “Yukisora’s” fighting spirit is always a pleasure to watch.

Yoshinori Suzuki represents the kind of fighter Kondo can be competitive against. Suzuki has been stuck between a rock and a hard place many tines in his career. Matched up with many of the top tier fighters in the division the K-Place representatives record does not adequately reflect his ability. An accomplished fighter coming off a well deserved victory over Akihiko Sugai, Suzuki gets an evenly match bout against a MMA legend, expect him to make the most of it!

6th Match, Featherweight, 5 minutes x 3 rounds

Issei Tamura vs. Taiki Nakata

Once the King of the Featherweight Division the Issei Tamura finds himself with his back against the wall. He last fought at Pancrase 319, losing a lost a heartbreaking contest to Akira Okada. On the cusp of a TKO victory, the explosive wrestler landed dynamite hooks that had his opponent reeling in the first round. Unable to seal the deal, Akira scored a come from behind win, unloading with his own firepower to KO the IJC fighter. With his number 5 spot in jeopardy, Tamura may forgo going for broke in favor of leaning on his wreslting roots.

Relative newcomer, Taiki Nakata is coming off a sensational TKO stoppage at “Shooto Road to One”. Unleashing punches and elbows he sent durable veteran Tatsuhiko Iwamoto to the canvas. In doing so the fighter from Wajutsu Keishuke Hearts gym sent a strong message to the division, he ismore than just a grappler and he is just getting started. Against Tamura, Nakata has been thrown in at the deep end, however, he has little to lose and a lot to gain in going all out. Win or lose expect a bright future for this talented fighter.

5th Match, Bantamweight, 5 minutes x 3 rounds

Masahide Hiraoka vs. Rui Imura

Rui Imura emerged as one to watch in the deep Bantamweight division when he claimed the 2020 Neo Blood tournament. Not only did he win, the Nexense warrior finished every opponent to go 4-0 and pick up MVP along the way. The sky seems to be the limit for the 11th ranked fighter and a win Sunday will send him further up the rankings to title contention.

Standing in Imura’s way will be 2019 Neo Blood Tournament winner Masahide Hiraoka. A sharp combination took out the intimidating striker Sho Sekihara last outing, opening up a nasty cut for a doctor stoppage. Sitting at number 6 in the rankings expect the Krazy Bee fighter to come out guns blazing with a point to prove, securing his ranking and derailing the hyped, unbeaten fighters run.

4th Match, Strawweight, 5 minutes x 3 rounds.

Toshiya Takashima vs Ryosuke Noda

Enjoying a 4 fight string of victories, Ryosuke Noda stumbled last outing, getting floored by a Takamasu “Skinny Zombie” Kiuchi left hook. The defeat may have been a wake up call for the undefeated Alliance gym fighter. After a year and a half absence, Noda will relish the chance to get back to his winning ways, facing an opponent he already holds a TKO over.

Sporting a 5-3-1 record Toshiya Takashima is coming off a huge win over Yuta Miyazawa in his last outing. The Rear Naked Choke victory over the hot prospect earned the Reversal Gym Shinjuku Me,We fighter his 5th place in the rankings. Avenging his loss and with his ranking on the line, Takashima will be fired up and ready for a war.

3rd Match, Bantamweight, 5 minutes x 3 rounds

Toshinori “Tsune” Tsunemura vs Koji “Onigami” Kanda

Adept and well-versed in all areas of MMA Toshinori “TSUNE” Tsunemura has faced a “who’s who” of Pancrase’s top bantamweights and has a record to prove it. Although currently on a 3 fight slide the Reversal Gym Shinjuku Me,We representative is a very capable fighter, only falling short at the higher levels. The durable all rounder is coming off a razor thin split decision loss to Rizin bound Takeshi Kasugai. This Sunday will give “Tsune” the perfect opportunity to right the ship and get his career back on track.

In a similar manner to his adversary, Koji “Onigami” Kanda is also known for versatile fight game. The Cave gym fighter steps into the cage fight night on the back of a majority decision win over Ryota Miyoshi. Having not faced the kind of competition as “Tsune”, the gritty Kanda will need to dig deep and bring out his best to pull off the upset win. This could be a gruelling war of attrition in a “who wants it more” battle of willpower, conditioning and persistence.

2nd Match, Bantamweight, 5 minutes x 3 rounds

Joji Hirata vs Keita Fukushima

Unbeaten since debut, Keita Fukushima is riding a 6 fight win streak. 4 consecutive finishes have led the dangerous K-Place striker to the Pancrase cage once again to shake up the division. Supremely confident after blitzing prospect Tatsuya Karasawa last outing, Fukushima will settle for nothing less than another brutal T/KO.

Joji Hirata’s fight style is, in many ways, the antithesis of his opponents. Fighting out of Mixed Martial Arts Yagura, Hirata has gone the distance in the majority of his matches. The flip-side of his style is he has never been finished in his 4 losses. A high percentage game spearheaded by some solid grappling makes Hirata a tough challenge for any fighter. His 3 fight unbeaten streak came to an end last fight when he ran into Hidekazu Fukushima. With a tenancy to be very dominant in his decision wins, the grappler will look to subdue his brash adversary and bring him back down to earth.

Opening Match, Flyweight, 5 minutes x 3 rounds

Raika “Fujin” Emiko vs Nori Date

Kicking off the action will be an intriguing bout between 2 contrasting fighters. At 48 Raika is more than double the age of her opponent and, with 34 professional boxing bouts, 19 MMA bouts and kickboxing experience, the 3rd ranked “Fujin” has a significant edge in fight experience. Out-hustled in grappling department by veteran Takayo Hashi snapped a 2 fight win streak for the Right Thing Academy elite boxer. Expect Raika to make a statement as she tries to score a stoppage early.

Nori Date is a product of the unorthodox Team Date, adopting the gyms name as is customary. At first glance it the contest may seem a mismatch, however, there is more to Nori Date than her 3-4 record implies. Training from the age of 12 and fighting from 14, the Team Date member has extensive amateur and pro kickboxing experience. Of her 3 wins, 2 have come by T/KO, including a highlight reel head kick. Coming off a hotly contested split decision to Mariya Suzuki, Nori returns to the cage after an 18 month absence. Facing a huge step up in competition, and her first 3R x 5M bout it will be a trial by fire for Nori Date!




About the Author

Peter Leghorn
Writer and photographer sharing my passion for Martial Arts. instagram: peter_mmajapan

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