Main Event – Match 8: World Featherweight Championship 5 min 5 R
Keisuke “Sasake” Sasu defeated Takeo Iida by KO (Spinning Back Elbow 1:49 R2)
The division’s number 1, Takeo Iida earned the right to vie for the belt after winning 4 straight. The Champion, Keisuke “Sasake” Sasu makes his first defence, locking horns for the 3rd time against Iida. The unfinished business from their 2016 draw would be resolved in a brutally violent fashion.
Iida vowed to show his striking and, with hands by his side, baited Sasuke to engage as the championship main event got underway. With pin-point accuracy Iida tagged the champion with jabs and straights, disrupting Sasuke’s rhythm. The champion spent a large part of the round falling short and getting caught mid combination. Content to fight with his back to the fence Iida countered “Sasuke’s” attempts to close distance, snapping out lead hooks, jabs and straights. Doubling up the jabs and crosses and slipping in kicks, Sasu was finding his rhythm as the round closed.
In the 2nd round the Challenger continued to keep his lands low, relying on head movement and speed to find the target on the feet. Left hook, right hand and kicks the weapons of choice. Turning up the tempo, “Sasuke” increased the volume and intensity, swarming his adversary, hustling him to the canvas. Iida went to the “Kimura trap” to stand and threaten enough to force separation. Blending in body shots, hooks and step-in elbows the champion kept the challenger guessing. “Sasuke” unleashed a vicious, picture perfect spinning back elbow and the impact was devastating. Caught clean Iida’s body was rigid as he hit the ground out cold. 2 follow ups blows in the heat of the moment left the challenger unresponsive for some time. Taken out on a stretcher Iida will hopefully make a full recovery.
“Sasuke”, once known as a physical hustler, has continued to evolve into a consummate, well-versed MMA fighter capable of highlight reel submissions and knockouts. Still on the ascent it remains to be seen who will be next to face the Featherweight champion who has teased he may be destined to return overseas.
Semi-final – Match 7: Flyweight 5M 3R
Jo Arai defeated Yuto Sekiguchi by Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Jo Arai failed to achieve his 9th consecutive finish but it was not for lack of trying. In the opening stanza Arai stalked, unloading with the heavy artillery while showing no respect to Yuto Sekiguchi’s power. On the defensive Sekiguchi kept angling and circling, trying to alleviate the impact and catch the hotshot KO artist on the way in. Arai positively oozed confidence as he unfalteringly marched forward throwing destructive strikes with authority. With an opponent backpedalling, Arai opted for leg kicks and body shots to open up the head. Sekiguchi had success with jabs and straights and briefly scored a late takedown as the round ended.
In the 2nd round Sekiguchi continued to make Arai work. Moving and rotating out of range the bigger, taller fighter refused to engage at the Strawweight champions range. A monstrous straight right hand busted Sekiguchi’s nose, even when unable to land clean Arai hits heavy. Mixing up attacks the Shooto Gym Tokyo top contender sought to take the match to the ground, partially due to danger on feet, mostly because he sensed the key to victory would be on the mat. Quick to react, Arai predicted the shots and shut them down before they got deep enough to trouble him. Firing on all cylinders at every opportunity a visibly frustrated Arai could not find the mark to put the wily veteran down.
With the final round underway it was clear that Sekiguchi, while making for a competitive fight, needed to pull a rabbit out of a hat to walk away with his arms raised. Arai dug to the body and edged closer to a conclusive blow that would wrap up the fight. A well timed knee tap takedown and Arai was flattened out on his back for the first time in the match. Trained at Wajutsu Keishukai Hearts and wrestling gym Kingdom Ehrdeiz the Strawweight title holder is not simply a striker. Educated, Arai would bide his time and make small movements as Sekiguchi rained down elbows. When the opportunity came Arai exploded and reversed, returning to his feet with fire in his eyes. Teeing off with everything he had, Arai met Sekiguchi in the centre of the cage going toe to toe for a finish. It was the perfect way to cap off an enthralling match.
The victor was never in doubt as the judges read out the score cards. Sekiguchi proved worthy competition, had his moments in the fight and snapped the KO Kings 8 fight finishing run. For Arai the, “Never Give Up” motto remains true and his Cinderella story continues. From 8 fights in a hole he has now won 9 straight and is poised to contend for the Flyweight strap. Before that however, he called out Strawweight top contender Shuto Aki for a battle of the striking elite!
Match 6: Strawweight 5M 3R
Shuto Aki defeated Ryuto “Dragon Boy” Sawada by TKO, R1 3:49 (Ground and Pound)
Ryuto Sawada’s return to Shooto after a 5 year stint in One Championship did not go according to plan. Flyweight no1, talented striker Shuto Aki set the tone immediately with blistering jabs and crosses. With flawless technique Aki was proving difficult to read. Sawada could not close the distance, eating short uppercuts and hooks on the inside the AACC grappler was taken off his feet by low calf kicks at distance. Showing heart and spirit “Dragon Boy” bravely ventured into the fire, throwing accurate strikes of his own to set up the single leg and knee taps. The rangy MMAZ Gym striker’s hands returned to his body in anticipation of the impending takedown. Sawada exploited the opening to the head and traded blow for blow with the deadly Aki. The moment “Dragon Boy’s” left hand counters to the jab started landing, Aki adjusted. A right hand rocked Sawada and the following straight left sent him reeling to the canvas. Instinctively the wrestler went for a single leg but Aki would not let him recover, raining down elbows and punches as the referee waved off the fight.
An ecstatic Aki celebrated as fans witnessed a passing of the guard. Already ranked in top position, the young gun has more than justified a title shot.
Match 5: Lightweight 5M 3R
Mark “Max the Body” Moleke defeated Kazumasa “Bunta” Sugawara by TKO, R1 1:18 (Right hook to Ground and Pound)
Mark “Max the Body” Moleke covered distance fast, launching a punch before bullying the Masters Japan striking specialist to the cage. Sugawara held his own in the grappling, initiated and defended takedowns and drilled home knees to body. The sheer power disadvantage was clear though as the “Cameroon Hercules” muscled his foe against the cage and to the canvas. “Bunta” worked back to his feet and, as he broke from the clinch to let his heavy hands go, was caught flush by a crushing right hand. The powerhouse Brave Gym wrestler gave Sugawara no chance to recover, hammering down ground and pound until the referee stepped in.
“Max the Body” continues to go, literally and technically, from strength to strength. No longer riding on the back of raw physicality, the fighter from Cameroon has been constantly improving his MMA acumen and is a sure pick for the next title contender. For Sugawara it was a tough stylistic test. “Bunta” has a go-for-broke style that usually results in someone getting stopped, Sunday evening he was on the wrong side of a TKO.
Match 4: Infinity League 2023 Featherweight Tournament
Kaisei Takehara vs. Taira Uehara fought to a Draw (19-19, 19-19, 19-19)
In a tentative fight both combatants seemed painfully aware a mistake could be costly. Taira Uehara largely dictated the pace on the feet in the first, taking advantage of opponents low calf kicks to counter and score a brief knockdown in the opening stanza.
Keisei Takehara, one of the Infinity League favorites, rebounded in the 2nd round. Able to get in gear and find his game, the Paraestra Matsudo prospect scored belly to back supplexes and high altitude throws. Persistent knees and ground and pound while maintaining a “back ride” position was more than enough to shut out the final round for Takehara.
In the end it was a straightforward task for the judges who unanimously scored the fight a draw at a round a piece. While it was not a barn-burner of a match by any means both tournament participants were able to clearly display their strong suits. Dropping 2 divisions has benefited Uehara significantly, the The Reversal Gym Yokohama Grandslam Featherweight illustrated why he could be the dark horse of the league. Takehara, similarly, showed why many regarded him the top pick for the title, when on his game the heavy handed grappler is a force to be reckoned with.
Match 3: Infinity League 2023 Featherweight Tournament
Yamato Hamamatsu vs. Ryuya “Chan-Ryu” Iwamoto (Cancelled)
Japan has always had stringent rules regarding fighters’ weight. Most commonly when a fighter breaches their contract and comes in overweight the fight does not happen. One the rare instances that an opponent agrees to face the overweight fighter, penalties can be very severe.
Ryuya “Chan-Ryu” has been fighting the scale on many occasions and in this instance, came in at 67.5 KG on fight day weigh-ins (fighters missing the mark the day before have another chance to weigh in on fight day). At 1.7 KG over the limit the fight was cancelled, and, as the match was for the Infinity League round robin style tournament, T-Grip bruiser Yamato Hamamatsu was awarded 3 points.
Match 2: Bantamweight, 5M 2R
Shohei Nose defeated Takumi Arai by Submission, R1 2:53 (Kimura Armlock)
From the get-go the action was fast as 2022 Rookie of the Year Takumi Arai met seasoned professional Shohei Nose. Coming from a strong wrestling backbone, the lightning fast Arai excels in transitions and scrambles. Nose, a strong Judoka turned striker is also known for his versatility and dynamic grappling.
A slick battle of takedowns, submission attempts and reversals ensued as the fighters jostled for position on the feet and mat. Arai seized a leg, fishing for a kneebar but was quickly shut down by Nose who launched into a guillotine. Strapple Shinyurigaoka’s Arai appeared to win the following scrambling battle, coming out on top, however, Nose had kept on an “o-Tatsu” lock as he settled for bottom position.
Developed by Karateka/ Judoka Tatsumitsu Wada, who employs many sequential variations, the “o-Tatsu” lock allows a fighter to control opponents legs from a ½ or full body triangle. Arai achieved top but was locked at an angle, unable to square up with Masters Japan’s Nose. From the position Nose went all out on an Ude-Garami “Kimura” armlock, grimacing as he wretched the hold. With no escape Arai succumbed as 2 minutes and 53 seconds of exhilarating action came to a close.
Match 1: Bantamweight, 5M 2R
“Susong” Soo Sung Cho defeated Akira Enomoto by Submission (RnC, R1 4:52)
The opening match kicked-off as “Susong” dictated the distance, firing off a variety of kicks at range. The Taekwondo specialist went low to the calf before demonstrating his flexibility upstairs with hooks and sidekicks. Akira Enomoto tried to take the Krazy Bee fighters’ confidence by drilling straights and jabs off every kick. A low calf kick was anticipated perfectly by the Reversal Tokyo Standout all-rounder who drove into the legs and took the fight to grappling range against the fence.
Susong showed he is more than just a striker, hoisting his foe up, rotating and dumping on his back. Enomoto defended the proceeding head and arm choke well by wrapping his arms through his own legs to relieve the pressure and roll out. Susong was waiting however and just as the 10 second buzzer sounded sunk in a tight Rear Naked Choke for the tap.
Another impressive victory for the Abema TV “Fighting Dreamers” stand out who recorded a career first submission over tough opposition. Surely a ranked fighter will be next for the fighter with lofty expectations, “Susong” has his sights set on the Shooto belt and sees UFC in his future!