Shooto 2023 Opening Round, 4 Rookie Champions Crowned!

For their first venture into 2023, Shooto once again broadcast live from Korakuen Hall, a venue synonymous with combat sports. Their January 15th offering appears at first glance, a modest card to ease into the New Year. Shooto have elected not to put World Titles on the line, or feature some of the more recognized fighters in favour of nurturing and cultivating talent to sustain the divisions. 

There is, as expected from Japan’s oldest MMA org, no shortage of thrilling matches lined up, many with massive implications for future of divisions. For starters, 4 Rookie Champions will be crowned, a culmination of the tournaments from 2022. With a 20 year history, Rookie Tournaments have always been a reliable barometer of future breakout stars and contenders. 

The org continues to beckon and draw in new faces to bolster their roster, vie for title contention and spice up Shooto’s notoriously deep divisions. As the ebb and flow of competition gets underway keep a keen eye out for the next top prospect or potential title holder!

Match 9: Featherweight, 5 min 3R
Dericott Kento Yamamoto vs. Takuya Yamamoto

Perennial top ranker, Dericott Kento Yamamoto is a stalwart Shooto competitor who has seen it all. Having tasted the highs and lows of a volatile sport, Dericott has consistently remained relevant in a shark tank of a division. Fighting out of MMA Dojo Cobra Kai, the number 2 ranked contender has unseated some of the stacked division’s elite. Consistency has at times eluded the experienced Shooto veteran who will be determined to secure an impressive victory and silence doubters. Main Event – Match 9: Featherweight, 5 min 3R Dericott Kento Yamamoto vs. Takuya Yamamoto

Former Grachan Lightweight and Featherweight champion, Takuya Yamamoto vacated the titles to test himself in Shooto’s deep 145 lbs division. Carving out an impressive record, Yamamoto is regarded as a deadly striker with knockout power. While he has not faced the kind of opposition that his opponent has, the Paraestra Chiba heavy hitter will not be short on confidence. Expect Yamamoto to be firing on all cylinders as he looks to topple one of the divisions best and skyrocket into title contention!

Semi-final – Match 8: 63kg Contract, 5 min 3R
Kenji Kato Vs. Loibe de Oliveira Neto 

Loibe de Oliveira Neto makes his anticipated debut, jumping in at the deep end to square off against a Shooto mainstay Kenji “Enshu Bouncer” Kato. With wild and brutal striking in the vein of the Chute Boxe style, Neto fights out of Evolucao Thai, a gym brimming with fearsome fighters. Possessing bare knuckle boxing experience it would be easy to label Neto a pure striker, the Brazilian has, however an equal number of submission wins as T/KOs. Neto will almost certainly come out guns blazing from the get-go with grappling regulated to “plan B.”

“Enshu Bouncer” Kenji Kato has made it clear time and time again that he will not shy away from a firefight. With a reputation for not backing down, even when it would be wise to do so, the K.O Shooto Gym representative treads a fine line between victory and defeat with fights rarely going the distance. Kato’s fan friendly “do or die” approach combined with his opponents penchant for aggressive striking makes for an explosive and exhilarating match up. Expect fireworks and do not blink!

Match 7: Bantamweight, 5 min 3R
Yasuhiri Nojiri Vs. Shoji Saito

After a rocky start to his professional career, Shoji Saito now enjoys a 5 fight unbeaten streak. The fruits of his labour have earned Saito a shot at a ranked opponent and opportunity to take his career to the next level. A skilled kickboxer, Saito made a name for himself on the popular Abema TV program “Fighting Dreamers.” After falling short in the finals the Fight Farm member has developed into a fully fledged MMA fighter. Will Saito be content to fight his fight and set his rhythm or could we see another sensational highlight reel flying knee KO? 

Standing across from the “Fighting Dreamer” standout will be prolific finisher Yasuhiri Nojiri. The 8th ranked Bantamweight has a tendency to turn up the heat and go for the kill, relying on a solid chin and dynamite power. The Akasaki Dojo A-Spirit representative will have faith in his durability and be keen to fight fire with fire with Saito. A crucial match up with a coveted ranking spot on the line, both fighters desperately need the win. With such high stakes, tactics, pace and control could be the difference between a glorious win or crushing defeat. 

Match 6: Women’s Super Atomweight, 5 min 3R
Mina Kurobe vs. Ayaka Watanabe 

Once sitting on her throne as the inaugural Super Atomweight champion, Mina Kurobe has been tearing through the opposition en route to title contention. After dropping the title to Satomi “Sarami” Takano the Master Japan Tokyo all-rounder rebounded with back to back wins in 2022, a trend she will seek to continue. Kurobe is superb on the mat and unrelenting from top position. Against her debuting opponent the adept grappler will be out for blood and settle for nothing less than a finish.

Ayaka Watanabe has her work cut out for her, drawing former champion Kurobe in her first Shooto outing. With solid Judo credentials Watanabe trains out of AACC gym, renowned for rapidly developing top tier female fighters. What Watanabe lacks in experience the debutant compensates with fighting spirit, she possesses heart in spades. With the pressure firmly on her opponent Watanabe has little to lose and can really go for broke and roll the dice. They say fortune favours the brave and should Watanabe score an monumental upset, she will be thrust into the spotlight, shaking up the division dramatically!

Match 5: 2022 Rookie of the Year: Flyweight Final, 5 min 2R (Extension 1R)
Kodai Sudo vs. Nakahiro Katayama

In the Flyweight Rookie Tournament finals, a showdown between 2 hustlers takes place. Kodai Sudo and Nakahiro Katayama carry strong fundamentals and have ground their way through the competition. Where they differ is Katayama has yet to experience the bitter taste of defeat. On a 4 fight win streak the Tribe Tokyo MMA fighter will be riding a wave of confidence. While not an underdog by any means, ExFight representative Sudo has also gone 2 for 2 in the tournament and cannot be counted out. In a closely contested back and forth well balanced affair an extension round to determine the winner would not be unexpected. In an intriguing battle of wills, both will try to enforce their style and methodically break their opponent.  

Match 4: 2022 Rookie of the Year: Welterweight Final, 5 min 2R (Extension 1R)
Rin “Kuato” Tanaka vs. Yuji Yannick Ephoeviga 

On paper this match-up would seem to be heavily skewed in favor of Ephoeviga. Stepping into the Shooto cage on the back of 2 professional and 2 Amateur victories Ephoeviga has yet to lose. Furthermore, the Tribe Tokyo prospect has fought some tough competition. With a single fight to his record, a loss, “Kuato” really has his back against the wall. The Paraestra fighter will have his fighting spirit tested, a competent fighter, Tanaka may just pull a rabbit out a hat for a shocker!

Match 3: 2022 Rookie of the Year: Featherweight Final, 5 min 2R (Extension 1R)
Tsubaki Asuka vs. Ryuya “Chan-Ryu” Iwamoto

“Chan-Ryu” may not be the most intimidating nickname but do not let that fool you. Iwamoto remains unblemished as a pro, with 5 wins and 4 consecutive finishes the MMA Z Gym fighter has crushed his opposition. Tsubaki, in contrast, has faced far stiffer competition, sharing the cage with some world class Martial Artists. Fighting out of Trident Gym, Tsubaki has the experience edge and will be eager to derail the hype and hand “Chan-Ryu” his first loss. 

Match 2: 2022 Rookie of the Year: Lightweight Final, 5 min 2R (Extension 1R)
Kento Azumi vs. Genta Fukami 

While short on experience both Lightweight tournament finalists have finishing instincts. Azumi sits a 1-1 with a decision loss and 2nd round TKO, the Alma Fight Gym Base fighter has notched up more fight time than Fukami. The Akasaka Dojo A-Spirit bomber got his debut win quickly, dismantling his foe with strikes inside of 90 seconds. In a bout that promises excitement, barrages of strikes will be thrown until someone hits the canvas. 

Match 1: Women’s 49kg contract, 5 min 2R 
Fumie Watanabe Vs. Sakura Tenten 

With the withdrawal of her opponent due to injury, Fumie Watanabe was crowned 2022 Women’s Strawweight rookie champion. Determined to compete, the Shooto GYM Kobe/Daido Juku stylist will clash with Sakura Tenten. Training at Mixed Martial Arts Gym Battle, Tenten debuted against a 33 fight veteran and, while showing potential, ultimately came out on the wrong side of a decision. Having the Strawweight Rookie title safe likely will not mean much for Watanabe who will surely be out to make a statement with a convincing victory. 

Opening Fight: 68kg contract, 5 min 2R 
Yoshi Inoue vs. Tesshin Isobe

The responsibility for kicking off the evening’s action falls on combatants whose records do not tell the full story. Isobe and Inoue each have over 5 years experience in MMA including an Amateur Shooto pedigree. Each has faced some high level opponents, and they have suffered because of it. Pitting Paraestra TB’s Inoue against Paraestra Matsudo’s Isobe seems an equitable way to get the crowd going!






About the Author

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

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