Shooto returns to U.S. in action-filled week in Japan

After a busy weekend in the Japanese mixed martial arts world, quiescence hasn't quite crept up yet.

Sustain just put on a solid card with its BACK TO OUR ROOTS 04 offering on Sunday. However, rather than take a breather, pro Shooto's most prominent promoter has already laid the foundation for BACK TO OUR ROOTS '05, with revenge matches, and a Rumina Sato return.

And that's not all which has popped up in pro Shooto this week, as three of Japanese standouts are set to go stateside this summer when Warriors Cup looks to put Shooto on the map in the Golden State. Meanwhile, another Shooto standout is ready to get back into action, but under a different banner, as Hatsu Hioki is heading home to Nagoya for HEAT, which is looking to raise the profile of the octagon in Nihon.

While many have said the next few weeks are a quiet period of MMA, it seems Japanese promoters didn't get the memo. Friday night in Tokyo has got a double bill: G-STYLE is back with BATTLE MIX TOKYO 4 at Korakuen Hall, and have a funky flyweight bout between Takehiro Harusaki and Rambaa Somdet topping off the pro Shooto card, while MARS make its return to Shinjuku FACE with "Tornado" Un Sik Song back in action taking on Takahiro Kajita.

Monday, it's back to Korakuen Hall, as DEEP and CMA team up for their second annual DEEP-CMA Festival, and 12 bouts of Japanese vs. South Korean action, with Ikuhisa Minowa in the main event. However, that is perhaps not the most curious bit of DEEP news this week, as Shigeru Saeki says DEEP is headed for international waters, and that could be good for South Korean MMA fans.

Sustain back already with BACK TO OUR ROOTS '05

Hot on the heels of its BACK TO OUR ROOTS '04 card, leading Shooto promoter Sustain has announced the early design for BACK TO OUR ROOTS 05 card Sept. 22 at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo.

In addition to Rumina Sato announcing his participation against a yet-to-be-named opponent, the card will feature a rematch between perennial powerhouse 123-pounders Mamoru Yamaguchi and Yasuhiro Urushitani.

In December 2003, Mamoru and Urushitani squared off to determine the first bantamweight champion of professional Shooto, and Mamoru walked away with a hard-fought unanimous decision victory. After reigning nearly three years, Mamoru lost that title last October in shocking fashion to now champion "BJ" Shinichi Kojima. Kojima put his title on the line for the first time in March against Urushitani, who in the eyes of most spectators, was robbed of what seemed like a clear decision victory against the champion, when the judges ruled the bout a split draw.

With formerly No. 1 ranked bantamweight Masatoshi Abe being upset by Yuki Shoujou this past weekend, it would seem the winner of the Mamoru-Urushitani rematch would be prime to seek revenge on BJ. In a combined four bouts against the current champion, Mamoru and Urushitani are 0-1-3.

Another rematch is in store when 132-pounders Kenji Osawa and Daniel Lima collide. The two previously met in November 2005 in a competitive, but generally lackluster affair. In an intensifying 132-pound division, a win is crucial for either man, as Osawa is coming off a disappointing loss to "Louro" Marcos Galvao in May, while Lima has yet to record a win in Shooto, Japan, despite previously drawing current world champion Akitoshi Hokazono.

At 123 pounds, bantamweight bad boy Setsu Iguchi will return from what will add up to a 16-month layoff to face longtime veteran Jin Akimoto. Iguchi hasn't seen competition since May of last year, when he was stopped on a nasty cut courtesy of the aforementioned Mamoru's knees. The 36-year-old Akimoto has gone winless in his last five bouts, spanning back three years, but this will be his debut at 123 pounds after spending the bulk of his Shooto career in the 132-pound featherweight division.

Also scheduled is a 115-pound tilt between flyweight standouts "ATCH Anarchy" Atsushi Takeuchi and Shinya Murofushi, a 143-pound bout between Sakae Kasuya and Eiji Murayama, and two 2007 rookie tournament bouts between 132 pounders Hiromasa Ougikubo and Kazuya Tamura, and 168-pounders "Hunt" Daisuke Okumiya and Akihiro Yamazaki.

Japanese standouts stateside for Warriors Cup Shooto debut

The Sept. 22 card is not the only high profile Shooto action on the slate in the coming months, as newly-minted American pro Shooto promotion Warriors Cup are scheduled to put on their first exhibition of Shooto talent next month.

Head Warriors Cup promoter Jason Manly has confirmed that the Warriors Cup debut as a Shooto affiliate will feature three Shooto Japan talents crossing the pond to compete. The three fighters -- Kenichiro Togashi, "Wicky" Akiyo Nishiura and Tenkei Fujimiya -- were all scheduled to compete in the Warriors Cup in June. However, the card was then delayed, but now has a firm and fixed date for Aug. 18 in Los Angeles.

Making his second appearance in the Warriors Cup promotion after an easy armbar win over Darren Crisp in April, Hiroshima native Togashi will make his second stateside appearance at 154 pounds against Brian Cobb. Meanwhile, for the Shooting Gym Yokohama teammates, Nishiura will make his debut at 154 pounds against Joe Camacho, while Fujimiya will see main event duty at 143 pounds against Bao Quach.

Hioki head-to-head with "Coelho" in HEAT

As was previously reported in this very column, featherweight standout Hatsu Hioki will return to action in front of his hometown Nagoya crowd as part of HEAT 4: Mega Heat Battle on Aug. 11 at the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium. HEAT, a local Nagoya event typically featuring a mixture of MMA, kickboxing and grappling matches, is a sister promotion to the more prominent Japanese promotion DEEP.

Hioki, who is coming off of a hotly competitive split decision loss to former Shooto world title challenger Antonio Carvalho this past May, informed the HEAT secretariat that he wanted to face a strong fighter whom he would know nothing about. To some extent, he will now get his wish, in taking on relatively unknown Brazilian "Coelho" Gustavo Franca. A Minas Gerais jiu-jitsu champion, Coelho has compiled a 2-1 record in MMA competition in Brazil and Spain.

Perhaps the more interesting angle for this event is that the HEAT promotion will be utilizing a cage, instead of a ring, as was used for their first three events. The cage is seldom utilized in Japan outside of CAGE FORCE. Given the cage connection, it may come as little surprise that CAGE FORCE promoters Greatest Common Multiple have agreed to cooperate in the promotion of the event and subsequent HEAT shows, stating that they're happy to spread the use of the cage in Japan.

The event will also mark the first time that kickboxing rules bouts are contested inside a cage in Japan. The cage has been used by English promotion Cage Warriors for stand-up bouts in the past, when they have promoted kickboxing features on MMA cards.

G-STYLE mixes it up with M-16-Harusaki main event

This Friday, Shooto promoter G-STYLE will return for its fourth edition of BATTLE MIX TOKYO at the Tokyo Kinema Club on July 20. The event will be a bit of a different mix-up than as per usual, with only one female bout on the seven-fight card, and a highly intriguing main event from left field.

The developing Shooto 115-pound division has been prominently featured in the first three BATTLE MIX TOKYO cards, and so it comes as little surprise that the trend will continue for this card, which will see a particularly interesting main event between Takehiro Harusaki and former Muay Thai standout "M-16" Rambaa Somdet.

Somdet gained notoriety in his native Thailand, where he became infamous for his highly unorthodox style and unusual in-ring antics. Somdet was one of the first Thai fighters to migrate to MMA, establishing a 2-2 MMA mark in DEEP some five years ago. However, not only is his return to MMA curious: the fact that Harusaki-Somdet will be a Class A Shooto bout is something to note as well.

While Somdet does have some amateur Shooto experience, his circumstance is a unique one. Typically fighters must ply their trade in Class B Shooto before being promoted to Class A. However, Somdet's situation is perhaps worthy of comparison to Gilbert Melendez, who was given a Class A Shooto license to make his pro Shooto debut, largely due to the fact that he had previously beaten Stephen Palling, a then-Shooto world ranked competitor, outside of Shooto sanctioning. Similarly, Somdet defeated Class A Shooto veteran Takeyasu Hirono in December 2002 under the DEEP banner.

Harusaki has recently solidified himself as the king of Shooto's developing 115-pound class with a win over fellow Class A flyweight "ATCH Anarchy" Atsushi Takeuchi in May. With Shooto authorities hoping to organize a 115-pound world title fight by late 2008, this bout takes on a greater importance, as Harusaki will look to solidify his stature on top of the division and as the likely first world champion of the weight class, while a win for Somdet would skyrocket his status from curiosity to contender overnight.

The undercard should not be overlooked either. Up-and-coming 154-pounder Shinji Sasaki will get a soft touch in taking on ho-hum veteran Koumei Okada, in what essentially amounts to a showcase bout for the Hiroshima native who is quickly closing in on securing his Class A Shooto license. Sasaki, who has spent time training with Shinya Aoki, Masakazu Imanari, Satoru Kitaoka and the rest of their usual posse, is a long and lithe with slick grappling skills, and is the owner of a particularly potent triangle choke.

Another Hiroshima native, Takeshi Okada, will do battle with hard-hitting Sapporan Takuya Mori at a 128-pound catch-weight. Okada is coming off of the biggest win of his career in front of his hometown crowd this past May, where he defeated Takeyasu Hirono by split decision. Mori has not fought since his decision loss to Ryuichi Miki in the finals of last year's 123-pound rookie tournament in November

In a match-up of peculiar and overly emphatic ring names, rookie tournament competitor Junya Kudou (better known as "KODO") will take on veteran Seiji Otsuka, who will now campaign under the moniker "OZ." Otsuka, who is coming off a win in a small scale DEEP show over Taro Shimazaki, will be a stiff and experienced test for the 5-0 KODO, who is looking to get another fight under his belt before meeting his semifinals opponent in the 132-pound rookie tournament later this year.

Song-Kajita marquee marks MARS return to FACE

Pro Shooto isn't the only show in Tokyo on Friday night. In the midst of a quiet year after their 183-pound Grand Prix thrust them to the Japanese MMA spotlight in 2006, the Trinity Group will return for the eighth installment of MARS a Shinjuku Face.

The main event will feature a solid and exciting clash of styles between Shooto regular Takahiro Kajita, and South Korean standout Un Sik Song, who has seemingly entrenched himself as MARS' main eventer.

Kajita has fought largely in front of his hometown Nagoya crowd in Shooto and DEEP, and this bout will be only his third bout in Tokyo in 14 pro fights. Coming off of an easy drubbing of Marcelo Shigeo Kobayashi in June, Kajita is an aggressive fighter with a decently rounded skillset, but he flourishes on the feet with both powerful and technical striking.

"Tornado" Un Sik Song, has fought his last five bouts under the MARS banner, where he has emerged as a homegrown star, going 5-0. Song has kickboxing experience and skill on the feet, but has largely excelled in MARS with quality groundwork, showing good sweeps and submission skills on the mat. In Kajita, he faces undoubtedly his biggest test in his MARS tenure.

Though hardly as compelling as the main event, the undercard is slated to feature at least two other Japan vs. South Korea match-ups, with Do Ji Chong taking on Naoki Kimura and Myeon Ho Bae meeting Seiki Ryo.

DEEP and CMA join forces for second annual festival

MARS isn't the only Japanese promotion set to feature a healthy heaping of South Korean talent, either.

Shigeru Saeki's DEEP promotion has long been noted for fostering the development of South Korean fighters, and giving them the opportunity to fight in Japan. That connection to South Korea runs through CMA, the Central Martial Arts Association, a powerhouse promoter of combat, back in Daehan Minguk.

In May of last year, CMA brought over more than the regular quota of Korean talent to DEEP to cross-promote the first CMA Festival in Tokyo. However, the results weren't exactly rosy for the South Koreans, who were largely dominated by the more seasoned and experienced Japanese competitors. However, despite the Korean side winning only three of 11 bouts one year ago, this coming Monday will mark the second annual DEEP-CMA Festival.

The main event of the 12-fight card will see the return of last year's marquee man, Ikuhisa Minowa now fighting under the name "MINOWAMAN."

The card will take on a greater significance for Minowa, as the event is also being dubbed "Minowa's 10th Year Anniversary," as July 20, 1997 marked Minowa's first foray into pro MMA at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo. Minowa, who needed only 17 seconds to put away Park Hyun Kab in last year's main event, will take on South Korean Heo Min Seok.

Another longtime Pancrase veteran, Kousei Kubota, will make his second CMA Festival appearance as well. In fact, Kubota's only win in his last 13 fights, spanning five years, came at last year's event against Ban Sun Han. Kubota will look to brighten an incredibly dismal in-ring run against South Korea's So Do Won.

Prominent females will also be in the mix. South Korean kickboxing champ Su Hi Ham, who burst into the female MMA world earlier this year with a stirring upset over joshi star Hisae Watanabe, will square off with former Smackgirl open-weight champ Megumi Yabushita in a kickboxing rules bout. While Ham will have an upper hand in terms of kickboxing experience, she will be giving up in the neighborhood of 25 pounds to the much larger Yabushita.

Also, in female MMA action, standout Takayo Hashi will take on Ei Hi Jin. The bout figures to be a tune-up for the vastly more experienced Hashi, as she heads into her September Smackgirl title clash with Hitomi Akano.

Saeki announces DEEP's inaugural international endeavor

And, that is not all there is to be said for DEEP getting international this week.

DEEP boss Shigeru Saeki has revealed after six and a half years of promoting DEEP, he has decided to take DEEP outside of Japan, and to an international venue. Saeki stated that the project is in the advanced stages of negotiations, and it is his hope to organize the card abroad for Nov. However, due to the fact that DEEP has a considerably hectic schedule in the immediate future, with the CMA Festival on the 23rd, DEEP GLOVE on the 26th and DEEP 31st Impact on Aug. 5, Saeki plans to make an official announcement regarding the card late next month.

While Saeki did not name a specific country that he plans to promote an event in, South Korea would appear to be the overwhelming frontrunner to host the promotion. Not only does Saeki have well-developed connections with the CMA and a keen interest in promoting South Korean talent, South Korea is currently in the midst of an MMA boom, as the sport has become massively popular in the country.

K-1 and formerly PRIDE have both enjoyed success in the South Korean market in terms of televising their events, and K-1 has had several successful ventures in Seoul. As well, homegrown promotions such as Spirit MC, Gimme 5 and KPW have helped form a foundation for the sport for the South Koreans as well.

Jordan Breen is a writer for Sherdog.com.