Shooto 2023 Vol 5 Preview, Formidable Strikers Collide, Infinity League Featherweight and Women’s Strawweight





Main Event: World Strawweight Championship 5M x 5R

Jo Arai vs. Shuto Aki

Strawweight Champion Jo Arai is something to behold, a rare talent who combines solid technique with unbreakable spirit and unheard of power at his weight class. Suffering an 8 fight slump, all stoppages, many would have called it quits or lost motivation. Instead at Wajutsu Keishukai Hearts, Arai dug deep, committed himself and, with drive, discipline and heart, turned his career around and then some. What would follow would be a 9 fight win streak. After capturing the Strawweight belt in style with a 1st round blitzing of Junji Ito, Arai moved up to test his mettle at Flyweight, disposing of 2 ranked contenders.

If there is a fighter on the Strawweight roster equipped to contend with Arai on the feet it would be Shuto Aki. On a 4 fight win streak with 3 back to back T/KO stoppages, Aki decimated top contender Ryuto Sawada to earn a call out from the champion and a shot at the belt. The MMAZ gym challengers record is made all the more impressive considering his last loss was a disqualification due to an illegal knee in a match that the fierce striker was in control of. Sporting a flawless amateur career the 9-3-1 Aki owns 7 T/KO finishes. With 2 submission losses in addition to his DQ, Aki has never been stopped by strikes, something that will give him confidence as he faces off with the division’s wrecking ball, Jo Arai. 

A highly anticipated showdown that is destined to deliver! At range the sharp shooting precision of Aki stands out, conversely when Arai finds his range his hands are dynamite! Vying to become a 2 division champion Arai must first defend his belt against another, world class striker in what is destined to be an enthralling encounter!

 

Co-Main Event: Bantamweight 5M x 3R

Nobuku Fujii Vs Daichi Takenaka 

An incredibly consistent fighter who is an expert at enforcing their game, Nobuki Fujii has been a thorn in the side of many top prospects and title hopefuls. Known as the “fighter no one wants to fight” Fujii finally went from perennial contender to Pacific Rim title holder following a hotly contested victory over fan favourite Hayato Ishhii for the strap. Against Ishii, Fujii came through when it counted, out hustling and out grinding to convince 2 of the 3 judges. Relentless attack is the name of the game for Fujii who has cardio for days. Calm and collected the Pacific Rim Champion is never phased, tackling adversaries head on he absorbs strikes, defends takedowns and implements some of the best scrambles in the division to secure position. Once he attains dominant position on the mat Fujii seamlessly moves between techniques, drowning opponents with unending submission attempts and strikes. Fujii is as strong as ever, riding the crest of the wave he will not be denied another commanding victory. 

Returning to Shooto after a 7 year hiatus, Daichi Takenaka has been a top tier fighter for considerable time. After securing the Shooto 135lb strap Takenaka ventured overseas where he had a memorable run under the One banner going 3-2. His loss to Mark Abelardo came by way of a controversial cut stoppage in the final round of a fight he absolutely dominated. A grazing elbow from the bottom opened a cut on the mouth that inexplicably caused the doctor stoppage. The cut was not bleeding or visible post fight. A split decision loss to Yusup Saadulaev during a match he appeared to do enough to win must have stung too. His last fight was against fellow Japanese grappler, Tatsumitsu Wada. Takenaka had an answer for Wada’s signature O-Tatsu guard, solving the riddle that stumped so many of the world’s best. Another split decision loss and the Paraestra Izumi returned to fighting, almost 2 years later, signing once again with Shooto. Takenaka is set to stage a comeback and has all the tools to make it in Shooto’s shark tank of a division. 

This is truly a high level high stakes match for the technique savvy aficionados. Neither fighter has many holes in their game, Takenaka has the heavier hands, however Fujii is a master at dictating where the fight will take place. Prepare for a nail biting back and forth match as both pit their diversified and highly proficient skill sets against each other. Can Takenaka jump into contention by toppling the Pacific Rim champion? Or will Fujii put a wrench in Takenaka’s title aspirations?

 

Match 8: Flyweight 5M x 3R

Wataru Yamauchi vs. Shingo Yakul

Wataru Yamauchi secured his number one position after a lightning fast KO of the notoriously tough to finish Kiyotaka Shimizu. With an 5-0 record the fight farm all rounder has ascended the ranks and will fight tooth and nail to keep his 1st place ranking and unblemished record.

By comparison Shingo Yakul has had a much more storied career. Facing many rocky patches Yakul has tasted the highs and lows. Knowing what it is like with his back against the wall, the T-REX Jiu-Jitsu Academy fighter can draw on that experience when the going gets tough. Last outing Yakul pulled off a T/KO victory over the always dangerous Yuichi Miyagi to set himself up as the division’s number 3. 

A bout of 2 top rankers provides an excellent opportunity for someone to stamp their authority as the next title challenger. Yamauchi has the youthful vigour and confidence of a fighter undefeated. Yakul has gained valuable experience and knowledge through victory and defeat and understands how to endure and come out on top. Early in the bout Yamauchi will have sights set on putting his opponent away. As the bout progresses into the deep waters Yakul may begin to pull ahead what should be a top contender battle. 

 

Match 7: Flyweight 5M x 3R

Yuto Sekiguchi vs. Nobutaka Naito

Fighting competitively from the age of 11 Yuto Sekiguchi has amassed a wealth of experience in, not only MMA, but other combat sports. His honed fighting instincts served him well during his last bout, a showdown with heavy hitting Jo Arai. Sekiguchi did not back down and, while he clearly lost, he took the strawweight champion the distance in a spirited performance. As the number two in the weight class it is critical that Shooto Gym Tokyo fighter holds his ground and emerges Victorious

Nobutaka Naito has thrown down with the upper echelon of the division and lost only to prominent players. A decisive decision over the rugged Hiroki Takaoka marked a return to the win column for the Paraestra Matsudo striker. Naito is poised in a perfect position to stamp his authority on the division and set himself up for contention. 

While able to contend on the feet it may be in Sekiguchi’s best interest to test Naito on the mat. Should the fight play out on the feet it should prove explosive. Neither fighter has been stopped by strikes and both have considerable firepower. 

 

Match 6: Bantamweight 5M x 3R

Kenji “Enshin Bouncer” Kato vs. Su Sung Cho Gotoh 

Resident Shooto bruiser Kenji Kato finds himself with his back against the wall after dropping his last 2 bouts. Against Loibe de Oliveira Neto Kato was game but his “accurate aggression” was overpowered by the Brazilian whirlwind striker. Fighting as low as 125lbs Kato was never a large Bantamweight, against Neto he engaged in a 140lbs catchweight with the Featherweight powerhouse and succumbed to ground and pound. Excellent in the pocket slipping and ripping as he breaks through opponents defences K.O Shooto Gym’s Kato methodically breaks fighters down before knocking them out. Back at Bantamweight “Enshin Bouncer” knows his ranking is hanging by a thread and will be more determined than ever to prove he belongs.

A standout of Abema TV’s fighting dreamers reality program, Su Sung remains a perfect 4-0 as a professional. Improving measurably fight after fight the Taekwondo expert showed the fruits of his hard work at Krazy Bee as he became the first person to submit Akira Enomoto. Letting his feet and fists fly, Su Song had Enomoto desperate for a takedown before turning the tables on him late with a high altitude throw to slick rear naked choke. Su Song finally gets the opportunity he has been looking for to break into the rankings, something he will not let slip between his fingers. 

Kato knows that his position as a ranked fighter in a deep division is in jeopardy, his previous loss being at a catchweight may have helped him stay in the top 10. Su Sung has been on fire as of late and, while showing improvements and developing into a well-versed MMA fighter, he is still a striker at heart. Su Song will excel at distance with an arsenal of kicks at his disposal. Kato has experience edge and knows how to work his way to the inside where he is more refined than his opponent. An excellent match up of old guard versus new blood!

 

Match 5: Lightweight 5M x 2R

Daiki Yuki vs. Shota “Odin” Takagi 

Master Japan Fukuoka grappler Daiki Yuki scalped a huge victory over former Featherweight champion Mitsuhiro Toma last time out. Sporadically moving between Feather and Lightweight Yuki stands at number 10 at 155lbs. If he wants to forge a career at the heavier weight class must win when the cage door closes.

Stepping into the unforgiving Shooto Lightweight division for the first time, Shota “Odin” Takagi has yet to score a victory as a professional despite his potential. A representative of Fighting Dreamers gym, the Judoka made an impact on the reality show despite losing. 3 years on and it remains to be seen the improvements “Odin” has made. Winning may not be as important to Takagi’s career as how he fights. If he can leave a strong impression on fans and the Shooto brass the newcomers future could be a bright one.

Shooto debutant Takagi has a mountain to climb, being thrown in the deep against Yuki. The bigger the challenge the bigger the reward and Takagi really has nothing to lose in pulling out all the stops, biting down on the mouthpiece and going for broke. With the pressure firmly on his shoulders Yuki may start to feel it, especially if he cannot put Takagi away early. In MMA anything can happen.

 

Match 4: Infinity League 2023 Women’s strawweight 5M x 2R

Emi “The Kamikaze Angel” Fujino vs. Angel Shiho

Emi Fujino was announced as a surprise entry for the final 5th place of the infinity league. By far the most experienced participant “The Kamikaze Angel” actually competed in Shooto 12 years ago, before the women’s divisions were stopped. With 40 professional bouts in her pocket the 42 year old has a hefty amount of fight time to lean on. Her decision making and fight IQ make her almost unstoppable, yet to be submitted all 3 of her T/KO losses have come by way of cuts/ doctor stoppages. The durable veteran has skills on the feet but is far the most dangerous on the mat, with suffocating ground and pound paving the way for constricting chokes. Returning to Shooto, Triforce Akasaka fighter Fujino will be one of the favourites for the tournament.

Angel Shiho by contrast, made her debut last outing in her opening bout of the Infinity League. Fighting out of Grappling Shootboxers Tajimi, Shiho is well equipped to hold her own in the striking department and looked sharp on the feet against Momoka Hoshuyama. Lacking in fight experience and a critical mistake in the scramble saw her fall victim to a rear naked choke as Hoshuyama seized back control. As a considerable underdog Shiho has little to lose in going all out, throwing caution to the wind and rolling the dice. 

Though coming off a loss to Edna Oliveira last time out, Fujino holds a victory over Atomweight title holder Ayaka Watanabe and has faced top level competition. This match definitely appears to be Fujino’s fight to lose. MMA is a fickle sport however and upsets can happen, especially when cut stoppages are taken into consideration. Shiho will need to be guns blazing as soon as the bell rings, her best chance at a monumental upset will be early. 

 

Match 3: Infinity League 2023 Women’s strawweight 5M x 2R

Momoka Hoshuyama vs. Haruka Yoshinari 

Infinity League leader, Momoka Hoshuyama enters her sophomore bout on the heels of an impeccable 1st round rear naked choke over Angel Shiho. If the Akasaki Dojo A-Spirit fighter can capitalise on the momentum and score another stoppage she will establish herself as the fighter to catch. 

Haruka Yoshinari is yet to get off the starting block, with zero points. Having said that, her last outing, her debut fight, was against one of the division’s top fighters, Shooto mainstay Megumi Sugimoto. Yoshinari was impressive in defeat, going the distance and causing problems for the veteran. Fighting out of Shooting Uruno Dojo Yoshinari would be best served taking the fight to the ground. 

Yoshinari will have confidence after her last bout and for sure will be eyeing this match as an opportunity to score. Hoshuyama needs to keep the ball rolling and stack up points to ensure a good lead. Yoshinari and Hoshuyama have both demonstrated grit and heart combined with a well rounded understanding of the sport. As they are equally difficult to put away expect a very well matched bout that may see fighters take a round each. 

 

Match 2: Infinity League 2023 Featherweight 5M x 2R

Yamato Hamamatsu vs. Tesshin Isobe 

Yamato Hamamatsu fortuitously finds himself atop the leaderboard as he prepares for his 3rd Infinity League outing. Persistent weight cutting struggles saw Ryuya “Chan Ryu” Iwamoto fail on the scale and gift Hamamatsu a valuable 3 points. A product of T-Grip Tokyo Hamamatsu utilised some smooth and skillful wrestling to negate the striking of Taira Uehara in his 2nd tournament match. After slowing down in the 2nd stanza Hamamatsu elected to hold his ground and trade on the feet, a decision that could have cost him the round. 

Coming off a spirited loss on the scorecards to Keisei Takehara, Tesshin Isobe has proven himself a resilient competitor who is more than capable of capitalising on opportunities. With a sensational come from behind win over Yoshitomo Inoue by reverse triangle with only seconds left in the fight, Inoue can never be counted out. Fighting out of Paraestra Matsudo, Isobe has solid technique on the ground and is happy to play guard in hopes of scoring a reversal or submission. 

Hamamatsu has the technical acumen and ability but can fall short at the higher level competition. Ever improving, the rounds he wins he tends to do so with authority. Tesshin Isobe has a style that can cost him on the scorecards should he fail to get a submission. Expect a grappling encounter as positional dominance and ground and pound contends with submissions and reversals.

 

Match 1: Infinity League 2023 Featherweight 5M x 2R

Taira Uehara vs. Ryuya “Chan Ryu” Iwamoto 

Striking specialist Taira Uehara will be out for a more definitive win following 2 respectful draws for 2 points in the league. During his last draw against Yamato Hamamatsu, Uehara came on strong late and his determination in chasing the knockout swayed the judges in a close round. A Reversal Gym Yokohama Grand Slam representative, consistency has been the missing key for Uehara, something that he needs to find against an intimidating opponent.

Ryuya “Chan Ryu” Iwamoto, one of the top picks for the tournament, dropped the ball in his opening bout, losing on the scale and surrendering 3 points to Yamato Hamamatsu. In his last fight, “Chan Ryu” sent a strong message to the competition with a brutal slam to the canvas that injured the arm of Asuka Tsubaki. The MMA Z gym product has a Judo backbone but a penchant for letting his heavy hands go. 

Will Iwamoto stand and go toe to toe with Uehara on the feet or seek to use his Judo to plant him on the mat? Capable of putting up strong resistance, Uehara makes his opponents work hard for a grappling victory while throwing heavy leather at every opportunity. This match could turn out to be a fan friendly firefight!

Opening Matches:

2023 Rookie of the Year Tournament First Round Flyweight 5M x 2R

Kosuke Oishi vs. Kousuke Kinoshita 

Strawweight 5M x 2R

Takumi Satomi vs. Hiroto Nei

About the Author

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