Preview: Sengoku – Ninth Battle

After a three-month break, Sengoku will be back in action on August 2nd.

Featuring the semi-final and the final rounds of the Featherweight Grand Prix, as well as a Lightweight title fight between Satoru Kitaoka and Mizuto Hirota, Sengoku: Ninth Battle features a stacked fight card.  The event will also see the MMA debut of a man who has handed Fedor Emelianenko a loss…. in sambo.

In the Featherweight Grand Prix, the four remaining fighters — Hatsu Hioki, Marlon Sandro, Michihiro Omigawa, and Masanori Kanehara — will fight twice on the same night for a chance to be crowned the Featherweight Champion.

Fitting for a grand fight card, Sengoku will up the ante by staging the event at Saitama super arena, the Colosseum of Japanese MMA.  Without further ado, let’s take a look at the fights featuring everyone from battle-tested veterans to stars on the rise and MMA debutante.

Satoru Kitaoka vs. Mizuto Hirota

A rising Sengoku poster boy, Kitaoka, will make his first title defense against the hard-hitting Hirota.  Hirota has earned his title shot after a devastating knockout of Mitsuhiro Ishida at the Shooto’s 20th anniversary event.

In this classic grappler vs. striker match-up, both fighters will come out looking for a quick finish.

Hirota will want none of Kitaoka’s wily grappling — he will have to overwhelm Kitaoka with crisp combinations on the feet while avoiding the takedown.  His last fight in which he knocked out Mitsuhiro Ishida before Ishida can launch his lightning quick takedown should serve as his template for the victory.

Kitaoka, still far from a polished striker, needs to force Hirota into his domain as quickly as he can.  He has struggled in prolonged battles against proficient strikers in the past.  As the stronger of the two fighters, Kitaoka is capable of neutralizing Hirota’s striking with relentless pressure via tenacious takedown attempts and constant threat of submission.

Look for a feverish contest of will in which Hirota seeks to land his fistic grenades while Kitaoka doggedly pursues submission.  If the fight goes the distance, Kitaoka will likely grind out a decision with his overall aggression.

Eiji Mitsuoka vs. Clay French

Two wrestling-based fighters will collide in a quest for future title shot.  Both succumbed to Satoru Kitaoka’s leg lock in Sengoku’s Lightweight Grand Prix last year.

Having cut his teeth in the King of the Cage and a host of regional circuits, French has yet to make an impact in Japan.  In his two previous Japanese outings, he has suffered losses to two of Japan’s premier submission wizards, Shinya Aoki and Satoru Kitaoka.  Ideally, the third time will be a charm but he faces a less-heralded but equally game Mitsuoka.

In addition to wrestling, Mitsuoka and French are adept with submissions.  Since neither possesses a discernible edge in the grappling department, the outcome of the fight likely hinges on striking and the intangibles/X-factors.

Mitsuoka’s striking has improved considerably over the years, as evidenced by his perfectly timed overhand right that floored Rodrigo Damm and a hard-fought split decision loss to a technical striker, Koutetsu Boku.  Having demonstrated his mettle against both precision strikers and power hitters, Mitsuoka has the distinct advantage in striking.

Mitsuoka is also the better-tested of the two against elite opposition.  He garnered spotlight when he toppled Joachim Hansen in 2007 and has also fought a three-round barn burner against Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro.  On the other hand, French has yet to prove himself against a top tier opponent.

If the two opt for a stand-up battle, as often happens when two wrestlers square off, Mitsuoka will pick French apart with superior striking.  Wherever the fight takes place, Mitsuoka should be able to capitalize on his experience and better all-around game to outwork French.

Kazuo Misaki vs. Kazuhiro Nakamura

The PRIDE veterans will vie for a shot at the title and the chance to avenge their losses against the Middleweight Champion, Jorge Santiago.

Having fought in the 205 lbs. division for a majority of his career and taken on heavyweights in PRIDE, Nakamura has the advantage in size and strength.  Given Misaki’s erratic takedown defense, Nakamura can outmuscle his foe from the clinch and utilize his judo skill for a takedown and positioning on the ground.

Misaki is nimble on his feet and possesses an effective counter-striking style.  He can use his footwork to frustrate and keep Nakamura off balance.  Nakamura has decent striking and submission skills, but he is not nearly versatile enough to put away the very durable Misaki, who possesses granite chin and has been submitted only twice in his 30+ fights.

As long as Misaki avoids tangling with the stronger Nakamura in a clinch or give up positions on the ground, he will dictate the pace of the fight.  He will be able to earn a victory in any fashion, depending on how the fight unfolds.

Akihiro Gono vs. Dan Hornbuckle

The Japanese Sensation is back in Japan after consecutive, hard-fought losses to Dan Hardy and Jon Fitch in UFC.  He will now compete with King Mo for the best ring entrance in Sengoku.  Of course, he will look to get back into the winning column as well.

Standing in Gono’s way is Dan Hornbuckle, a veteran of the Midwestern circuits.  While Hornbuckle pales Gono in experience, this fight between a promising up-and-comer and battle-tested veteran constitutes an intriguing stylistic match-up.

Hornbuckle has yet to defeat any noteworthy opponent, but will promise spirited action against Gono.  Boasting a 17-2 record, he has only gone the distance once in his career.  A tall welterweight, he utilizes his long limbs well in offensive grappling and stand-up exchanges to set an aggressive pace — his aggression has paid dividends, as he holds an equal number of wins via submission and (T)KO, albeit against unproven opposition.

Gono has a wealth of experience fighting against top class opposition in PRIDE and UFC.  On the feet, he can frustrate Hornbuckle with his elusive, counter-striking style.

He also possesses underrated submission savvy that has allowed him to catch his opponents off guard — given that Hornbuckle has suffered his two losses via submission, Gono can bore into the chink in his armor by weathering his aggression.

He must be careful about fighting too defensively, though, as Hornbuckle’s relentless style and long reach can force him to leave his offense on the back burner.

The unique fighting styles of Gono and Hornbuckle should make this match an entertaining, competitive affair.

Kazuyuki Fujita vs. Blagoy Ivanov

Blagoy Ivanov has spurred pre-fight hype with his defeat of the heavyweight king of the world, Fedor Emelinanenko, in a sambo match.

The world class sambo practitioner from Bulgaria will be thrown into a shark tank in his MMA debut as he faces PRIDE veteran, Kazuyuki Fujita.

Giving an objective assessment of how Ivanov will fare in his MMA debut is infeasible.  He certainly has tremendous potential, but sambo and MMA are completely different ballgames.

Whether he collapses under the weight of inexperience or joins Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal and Joe Warren to form a trio of extraordinary MMA converts hinges upon his aptitude and mind set.

Taking on a beast like Fujita will be no easy task for Ivanov.  Though Fujita is nearing 40 and, by all accounts, past his prime, his monstrous power and unparalleled chin still strike caution into the most elite opponent.

Come fight time, we will know what Ivanov is truly made of.

Yoshihiro “Kiss” Nakao vs. Mu Bae Choi

Two wrestling stalwarts collide in what may unfold as an entertaining slugfest or a complete snoozer.

Choi, a former Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling bronze medalist, handed Dave “Pee wee” Herman the first loss of his career in the last Sengoku outing.  Choi boasts a loftier wrestling pedigree, but Nakao is more than capable of holding his own in the wrestling department.

Both fighters possess knockout power and some submission tricks up their sleeves.  While they mirror each other stylistically, Choi has the edge in size, strength, and wrestling.  Fans can only hope that they stay active in search of a knockout or submission; otherwise, the fight will languish into a monotonous wrestling match.

Featherweight Grand Prix Reserve Bout: Chan Sung Jung vs. Matt Jaggers

Korean slugger, Jung and Midwestern wrestler, Jaggers face off in hope of reinstatement in the Featherweight tournament.

Jung had his six-win, undefeated streak snapped when he dropped a close unanimous decision to Masanori Kanehara in the quarterfinal bout.  Jaggers, on the other hand, lost to the tournament favorite, Marlon Sandro, in the opening round.

Jung possesses the edge in the striking, as he has demonstrated in the tournament so far.  In the opening round, he engaged in an all-out brawl against Shintaro Ishiwatari.

While exchanging wild power shots, Jung displayed his technical superiority over the reckless Ishiwatari.  Against Kanehara, he again kept his opponent in check on the feet, landing some big shots.  He also showed a flash of his unheralded grappling prowess, working fluidly from his guard and threatening Kanehara with submission attempts.

Jaggers makes his Sengoku return on the heel of a first-round stoppage win in the Bellator FC.  Wrestling is his bread and butter, and against Jung, it will be his most potent weapon.

Jaggers has no business brawling in this fight, and if Jung’s fight with Kanehara is any indication, Jung has yet to develop sound takedown defense:  If anything had swayed the fight away from him, it may have been his spending too much time working off his back.

If Jaggers applies relentless pressure on Jung with his takedown and top control, he will be able to grind out a decision.  One mitigating factor in this scenario is Jaggers’ unproven submission defense.  He has suffered four of his six career losses via submission, and if he proves vulnerable in this area in the fight, he may fall prey to Jung’s slick guardwork.

Featherweight Grand Prix Semi-final 1:  Marlon Sandro vs. Michihiro Omigawa

The tournament surprise, Michihiro Omigawa, faces yet another tournament favorite, Marlon Sandro.

Entering the tournament as a heavy underdog, Omigawa has turned innumerable heads with upset wins over tournament favorites, LC Davis and Nam Phan.

Right now, he may be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world with a losing record.  His markedly improved striking and newfound strength advantage after a drop to featherweight have complemented his judo background exquisitely.

However, Omigawa will face the toughest test to date in the tournament in Marlon Sandro.

A product of the famed Nova Uniao camp, Sandro looks to update his undefeated record en route to a tournament victory.  Like Vitor Ribeiro, Wagnney Fabiano, Thales Leites, and other fighters from Nova Uniao, Sandro boasts top notch jiu jitsu pedigree.  He rounds out his arsenal with takedowns and, as he demonstrated in his 19-second destruction of Nick Denis, very potent striking.

Omigawa scored a unanimous decision win over Miletich Fighting System prospect, LC Davis by utilizing judo throws and exercising superior ground control.  In the quarterfinal round, he showcased his technical striking by effectively evading Phan’s strikes and cutting off the ring before finishing Phan with a flurry of punches.

This fight promises to be an exciting, back-and-forth battle on the feet and the ground.  Sandro possesses the well-rounded skill set to counter whatever Omigawa throws at him in striking and grappling; however, Omigawa will be extremely difficult to finish, as he has proven his durability against larger opponents in the lightweight division.

The fight will likely see Sandro and Omigawa push each other in a fierce contest of will — whichever fighter manages to outlast the other will get the judges’ nod.

Featherweight Grand Prix Semi-final 2:  Hatsu Hioki vs. Masanori Kanehara

The top-ranked featherweight and the tournament golden boy, Hioki, looks to keep his streak intact all the way to the finish line.  Before claiming the belt, however, he must get past a tough, scrappy Kanehara.

Hioki has breezed past Chris Manuel and Ronnie Mann in the first two rounds, scoring submission victories over both.  Kanehara, on the other hand, endured back-to-back three-round scraps against Jong Man Kim and Chan Sung Jung.

On paper, Hioki is clearly the superior fighter with wins over noteworthy opponents, including Jeff Curran, Hideki Kadowaki, and Rumina Sato.  He has the technical finesse to overwhelm Kanehara.  Against Kanehara, he looks to force the fight to the ground where he will enjoy virtual dominance.

The one weapon Kanehara has against Hioki is the power in his hands.  The best bet for him against Hioki is to set an aggressive pace and try luring Hioki into a stand-up war.  For Hioki’s technical precision, he has abandoned his fight IQ in a few of his fights and paid dearly:  He has allowed himself to become overconfident in his reach advantage and engage in a brawl.

sengoku-ninth-battle-smFor Kanehara, though, the strategy is easier said than done, as Ronnie Mann tried to bait Hioki into a striking exchange, only to fall into Hioki’s trap mere three minutes into the first round.

Hioki will likely weather some early storm and steadily work on imposing his game on Kanehara.

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