MAIN EVENT, Pacific Rim Bantamweight Championship, 5 Min x 3 Rounds
Hayato Ishii Defeated Kota Onojima (Decision, 30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
Hard work really paid off for Onojima, with his signature grit and determination he clawed his way to the pinnacle of the division. The Champion out hustled Nobuki Fujii last outing to take home the belt in a gruelling battle of persistence and cage control. For his first defence it was a case of “unfinished business” as he locked horns with Hayato Ishii.
Both fighters met in the Infinity League Tournament, clearly taking a round a piece the back and forth war was a unanimous draw. As he scored the most finishes, Ishii went on to emerge victorious on points and punch his ticket to Pacific Rim title contention.
After an encouraging start Ishii fell short in his bid for the belt against powerhouse Tatsuya Ando, succumbing to an arm triangle choke in the 2nd. Rebounding with his own 2nd round submission over former champion, “Fierce Fighting King” Keita Ishibashi, Ishii did not want to let the belt slip through his fingers a 2nd time.
The grudge match got underway as Ishii established his jab, effectively keeping the stocky, physical Onojima honest in closing the distance. The champion adapted, utilising low calf and thigh kicks to counter. The challenger matched the kicks, cutting low on the leg to disrupt the balance of his heavy set foe. Absorbing left and right hands, Onojima worked a knee tap to clinch against the fence. Ishii’s Judo base held strong however as the round came to a close.
In the 2nd round the Champion upped the tempo, throwing hook and low kick combinations before bulldozing Ishii to the fence. Typically Onojima’s strong suit, the challenger was matching him on the fence as they traded positions. After eating low kicks, Ishii attempted to turn the tables and lead the dance with takedowns of his own, briefly planting his adversary to the canvas.
The vital final round came down to a razor close battle of scrambles as both warriors understood the importance of asserting their authority. The action heated up with Fujii relying on jabs and crosses while Onojima leant on his looping hooks. As they traded blow for blow a crucial grappling exchange secured the round for the challenger. Leading with strikes, Ishii dropped under a swinging hook and scored a textbook double leg. Using his heavy hips, the Combat Workout Diamond gym’s top dog worked his way back to the feet only to have Ishii slickly take his back. While Onojima escaped, briefly reversed, and called forth the challenger to brawl, the back take secured Ishii the round, and ultimately the fight.
The newly minted Pacific Rim Bantamweight Champion Hayato Ishii was also awarded the Shooto MVP award. Overwhelmed he embraced with his coaches before taking to the mic to call out Bantamweight Champion Tatsuya Ando for a chance at redemption.
CO-MAIN EVENT, Strawweight, 5 min x 3 Rounds
Jo Arai Defeated Ryohei Kurosawa (TKO, Doctor Stoppage, 2R 2:12)
For the Co-main event, Jo Arai and Ryohei Kurosawa squared off in a collision of heavy hitters.
Kurosawa entered the match coming off a heart breaking submission loss to nemesis Junji Arai, failing in his bid for the interim title. A former Shooto Strawweight champion, Kurosawa possesses a high finishing rate and impressive record. Owning 14 wins, Kurosawa entered the match with only 3 losses, 2 of which were to the Interim Champion Ito. Losing is not something “Ken Asuka” has tasted often. Oozing confidence, Kurosawa looked to take out the number 1 contender and climb back into title contention.
In contrast to his opponent, Arai was once suffering a 9 fight skid and all but written off. Following his motto “Never Give Up“ Arai has since turned his career around emphatically, becoming a force to be reckoned with. Sitting on a 5 fight win streak and on the cusp of title contention, the top contender stepped into the cage to face an intimidating adversary.
As soon as the opening bell sounded Arai marched forward, showing no respect for Kurosawa’s firepower. Regarded as a precision striker, Kurosawa backed up under the pressure, unable to get the space and timing to set up his sniper strikes. Arai was unwavering in his resolve to turn the match into a firefight and it played to his advantage.
Kurosawa found success with right straights, tagging Arai coming in. He was on the back foot, however and, unable to find the sit down on his punches, Kurosawa was countered by explosive lefts and rights from Arai. Fighting like a man possessed, Arai steamrolled through his opponent, adding calf and body kicks to his arsenal the damage was mounting. Kurosawa simply could not stop the onslaught coming his way and resorted to takedown attempts that were shut down immediately.
By the 2nd round “Ken Asuka” was bloodied and battered but not broken. Dodging and countering it was a valiant effort for the Paraestra Matsudo fighter but the writing was on the wall. Blasting continuous hooks, Arai gained momentum. Kurosawa, on the other hand, started to slow under the shellacking. The doctor stepped in to check cuts around the eyes and blood streaming from the nose of Kurosawa, waving off the fight at 2:12 of the 2nd round.
The Cinderella story continued for Arai, who surely is next in line to vie for the title held by One Championship top contender Hiroba Minowa. Avenging his loss to Minowa and seizing the undisputed Shooto Strawweight championship would provide the perfect fairytale ending to Arai’s story.
Bout 7, Bantamweight, 5 min x 3 Rounds
Nobuki Fujii Defeated Tsubasa Saito (Decision, 30-25, 30-26, 30-27)
A perennial top contender, Fujii most recently fell at the final hurdle to current Pacific RIm Champion Onojima in a highly competitive bout. While not the most explosive fighter, there is a good reason Fujii has remained top ranked throughout his career. He has the kind of skill and consistency that allows him to control the tempo without emptying the gas tank. With a reputation for derailing many top prospects’ trajectory, Fujii is known as “the fighter that fighters do not want to fight.”
If Fujii brings the finesse, his opponent Saito you could say delivers the brute strength. During his last fight, Saito had little trouble handling Tenjo “Guts” Takato, coming close to being the first fighter to finish the wily competitor. Out for revenge against Fujii, who out grappled him 3 years ago, Saito was expecting the fight to play out very differently.
In the opening stanza Saito swung for the home runs as Fujii closed the distance. Unwavering, the Alliance gym all-rounder stayed calm under fire and repeatedly set up single leg entries with strikes. Never letting Saito take a breath, Fujii finally clutched and rotated to sit Saito down on the canvas. Once the fight hit the ground Saito found himself in deep water. Effortlessly transitioning between positions, Fujii blended ground and pound with choke attempts, pummelling Saito until the bell.
By the 2nd round it was clear that shades of their first encounter had come back to haunt Saito. Despite landing thudding low kicks and solid uppercuts the Tsudanuma Dojo/ Fight Farm brawler could not stop Fujii advancing. Once locked onto a leg the takedown became inevitable as the gap in grappling ability became more and more apparent. Fujii wanted a finish and was smoothly working for the back while delivering considerable punishment. Saito, to his credit, endured and even returned to his feet, only to have an unphased Fujii dump him right back down again.
Knowing that a finish was required in the final stanza, Saito came out guns blazing with low kicks, hooks and uppercuts. However, his overzealousness created an opening for another seamless transition to the ground for the expert ground fighter. This time Saito was showing his frustration, allowing Fujii to break through his defence and take his back. Saito held tough, resolutely refusing to turn away from the strikes and present Fujii the choke. Yet in doing so the hardheaded fighter could not escape. The final moments of the fight gave Saito a huge chance at a comeback as they engaged on the feet. Risking everything, Fujii showed his spirit in throwing leather with Saito as neither took a backward step until the conclusion of the match.
Cementing his status as one of the divisions top the versatile Fujii fearlessly pushed through the power punching of heavy hitter Saito. As soon as the fight hit the canvas, the 3rd ranked top contender pulled away as his technique and grappling acumen took over. Saito is a survivor, showed considerable heart and made sure Fujii did not emerge unscathed despite the lopsided scorecards.
Bout 6, Infinity League 2022 Women’s Atomweight, 5 Mins x 2 Rounds
Chihiro Sawada Defeated Hisae Watanabe (TKO, GnP, 2R 0:29)
In a highly anticipated battle of 2 polar opposite fighters, the 24 year old decorated wrestler Chihiro Sawada faced off against one of the sport’s most feared strikers, KO Queen Hisae “Kuon” Watanabe.
A trailblazer for Womens MMA in the early days, formidable Kickboxer Watanabe left a trail of opponents on the canvas. Coming out of retirement to spice up the Infinity League Tournament the 41 year olds participation was met with considerable interest and excitement. Returning under the alias “Kuon,” representing “Zero/ Eternity,” her Fresh start was on full display last outing. The savvy veteran veered away from her trademark destructive striking to secure a crisp armbar submission on a game Haruka Kato.
A member of the wrestling elite, Chihiro Sawada has shown maturity and growth in her 2 professional outings. The young prospect has learnt to string together textbook wrestling with ferocious ground and pound. With an ever-improving MMA game, Sawada displayed her proficiency as an all-rounder in victory over deadly striker “The Northern Striker” Miku Nakamura.
If Sawada was wary of Hisae’s finishing instincts it did not show. From the onset Sawada’s strong willpower and competitive spirit was on full display as the wrestler faced Watanabe head on. From a Watanabe check right hand and front kick, Sawada moved in to wrap her arms around the waist and complete a body lock takedown. From there she unleashed a barrage of punches and elbows. Given her size and stature, Sawada packs a lot of power in her ground strikes. Watanabe went time and time again to triangle and armbar attempts but her well-versed adversary was wise, maintaining perfect posture and defence. “Kuon” kicked off in a reversal attempt only to have the tenacious wrestler drive her back to the ground. Transitioning from ½ guard to Kesa-Gatame Scarf Hold and finally mount, The AACC hot prospect hammered away for a commanding 10-8 round.
Watanabe received no respite in the 2nd round as Sawada pounced from the get-go. Chaining together a takedown from a failed single leg she continued where she left off. Hammering away, Sawada poured on the pressure. Watanabe scrambled and was subsequently caught in a constrictive, fight ending Rear Naked Choke.
Watanabe had her game completely shut down, something that is sure to be a bitter pill to swallow for the veteran given her sensational last outing. With 4 points in the league, and the potential for more early finishes however, expect “Kuon” back hungrier than ever for the stoppage.
With the 3 point win Sawada tallies up her score to 5, taking the top position on the Infinity League leaderboard. Refining and perfecting her game, the takedown artist and talented grappler showcases her improvements every outing. While still early days it would appear that the sky’s the limit for Sawada, who now is firmly established as the top contender for the League and the Belt.
Bout 5, Women’s Strawweight, 5 min x 2 Rounds
Megumi Sugimoto vs. Yuki Sue cancelled due to doctor intervention before weigh-ins. Sue was pulled from the bout and hopefully makes a speedy and full recovery.
Bout 4, Strawweight, 5 min x 2 Rounds
Masatoshi Abe Defeated Takamasa “Skinny Zombie” Kiuchi ( Majority Decision, 20-18, 20-19, 19-19)
Once tearing through the opposition riding the crest of the wave, top contender Masatoshi Abe seemed destined for title contention. Plagued by persistent knee injuries and post surgery problems, the AACC hard-nosed veteran has sporadically returned to competition over the last 15 years. Early this year Abe relied on his signature durability, firepower and strong wrestling backbone to best the notoriously tough Atsushi Makigaya.
Standing opposite Abe when the cage shut was number 5 ranked fan favourite Kiuchi “Skinny Zombie” Takamasu. With a go for broke style combined with a multifaceted skill-set, Kiuchi is a consummate and eclectic finisher. While seeking the finish “Skinny Zombie” is prepared to roll the dice, something that has backfired on him in the past, though against top competition.
The fight proved to be not only a stylistic clash but a very difficult one to score. As the bout started Abe sought to land a counter straight from the southpaw stance. Kiuchi was content to trade long enough in order to shoot for the takedown, falling back for leg submissions as Abe defended. For some time the fighters were deadlocked, the AACC veteran stayed safe as “Skinny Zombie” waited for an opportunity to lock up an outside heelhook or achilles lock. As they faced each other they traded punches to legs and head, each waiting for the other to commit.
In the 2nd round Kiuchi made it no secret that he wanted the fight on the ground. Abe had stung him a few times on the feet and “Skinny Zombie” likely felt that he could submit the battle tested veteran. Abe’s takedown defence was on point, forcing Kiuchi to sit back and work his open guard. As the Wajutsu Keishukai Gods submission specialist scored a back take, Abe drew upon his experience and instincts to lean back and maintain arm control. A little help from his corner did not go amiss either as they instructed “left” and “right” to signal which elbow to launch to do damage! A bewildered Kiuchi bailed on the position to create a scramble, finishing strong with some hammerfists and back control.
Judges were torn between the submission attempts by “Skinny Zombie” and the damage Abe created, even from a defensive posture. In a diverse range of scores, the judges leant towards Abe, who thwarted takedowns, maintained a solid base and unloaded powerful strikes to edge out a majority decision.
The decision was a crushing one for Kiuchi, who had a lot to lose in taking the match. On the flipside, the victory comes as a huge win for the 45 year old Abe who will surely enter the rankings. How much the storied warrior has left to give remains to be seen. One thing is certain though, Abe will find a lot of support as he continues his journey.
Bout 3, Bantamweight, 5 min x 2 Rounds
Akira Enomoto Defeated Tenjo “Guts” Takato (Decision 20-18, 20-18, 20-18)
Akira Enomoto endured a 2 year injury layoff after dislocating elbow during a furious exchange with Daiki “Lightyear” Tsubota. For his return match he drew a staple of the Shooto scene.
Always entertaining, and known for winning fans more so than matches, Tenjo “Guts” Takato was in desperate need of a win. His last loss to Naoki Ueda capped a 6 fight losing streak. In spite of his record Takato has held his own against some of the division’s best and has yet to be stopped.
Enomoto proved more efficient and effective in the opening round, landing combinations and finding a home for a huge overhand right. “Guts” was undeterred, mixing up low kicks with jabs and 1-2s he constantly pressed forward, activity was on his side.
In the 2nd round the kicks kept coming from Enomoto, answered by left hands from Takato. Trying to bait and counter with the right hand, Enomoto utilised a lot of feints, throwing his arms out to get a reaction. Guts continued to be the busier fighter but he was absorbing damage from the Reversal Gym Tokyo Standout who had more starch on his shots. A failed takedown from Takato and he resorted to pulling guard, attempting an armbar that was easily defended. Enomoto shut down a final single to double leg takedown attempt as the fight came to a close.
Still yet to be stopped, Takato was, as is often the case, always in the fight yet unable to muster up enough to turn the tables on opponents. Enomoto was not flashy but did what was needed in his first appearance following injury layoff.
Bout 2, Flyweight, 5 min x 2 Rounds
Yo Otake Defeated Kodai Sudo (KO, Left Straight, 1R 0:53)
The much anticipated debut from “Fighting Dreamers” reality show’s Kodai Sudo did not go to plan. Known for his aggressive style Sudo got off to a promising start. Trading in the pocket the Exfight debutant fired heavy hands and chopping low kicks to drive Otake back. Under fire the Hagane
Sudo took flight early in the 2nd, launching a flying knee to the chin that turned out to be the beginning of the end. A perfectly timed straight left hand landed flush, turning Sudo’s lights out before he hit the canvas and leaving him out cold for a worrying amount of time.
The brutal KO from Otake marked his return to the win column while retaining his 100% T/KO record. For Sudo emerging from “Fighting Dreamers” brings expectation and anticipation that can be a burden as much as a blessing.
Opening match, Bantamweight, 5 min x 2 Rounds
Ryuon Iju vs. Haruki Kawakita Ended in a Draw (19-19, 19-19, 19-19)
Kawakita controlled the real estate for much of the opening frame as Iju circled the perimeter. Both exchanged thudding shots, Kawakita focused more on kicks, Iju hands. In the final minute of the fight, the Paraestra Koiwa fighter cinched Kawakita’s back and defended a Kimura attempt by throwing him to the canvas.
As the 2nd round commenced, Iju was again backed against the cage under pressure. They exchanged calf kicks, Kawakita following up with accurate straight rights and left hooks. The round and fight is again close. The impact from Kawakita appeared more substantial, which, combined with a final bodylock takedown won the round for the Tribe Tokyo MMA participant.
Both fighters had their moments in an evenly matched opening bout. With a round a piece the match was fittingly ruled a draw.