All you fight-starved fans in the land of the rising sun can rejoice. This month marks the start of two upstart promotio


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All you fight-starved fans in the land of the rising sun can rejoice. This month marks the start of two upstart promotions looking to fill the void left by the fall of Pride.

(Cue sad violin music.)

The first organization making a stab at fistic excellence is World Victory Road, which has turned heads with its acquisition of Japanese stalwarts such as Takanori Gomi (Pictures) and Kazuo Misaki (Pictures).

The promotion's opening offering features the return of both fighters as well as MMA's anime encyclopedia and the usual collection of converted judokas. Truly something for everyone, so fire up that pirated satellite receiver and pray the Feds don't come a-knocking before the final bell.

Like most Japanese fighters post-Pride implosion, Takanori Gomi (Pictures) has struggled to find a home for his talents. Preferably, a home that will keep stacks of cash at his beck and call while building his superstar status in Japan.

World Victory Road has stepped up to save Gomi from the clutches of the Japanese nightlife, and we, the fans, get to see the one of the premier lightweights in the world take on one of MMA's most dangerous strikers.

The striker in question is none other than K-1 Max veteran turned Bas Rutten (Pictures) protégé Duane "Bang" Ludwig. Despite having the world's top liver-kick enthusiast on his side, Ludwig has never quite made the transition that so many expected of him.

It wasn't too long ago that many assumed Ludwig (16-7) had already made the transition based on his wins over then lightweight stalwarts Jens Pulver (Pictures) and Genki Sudo (Pictures). That run of success turned out to be more smoke and mirrors than a Criss Angel show, as Ludwig has consistently failed to reclaim the top-10 status he once enjoyed.

That status would be his with a win over the man who went from challenging James Brown for the title of "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business" to sitting around chugging one too many Kirin Ichibans. For most of his fistic career, Gomi (27-3, 1 NC) has kept on his grind like a young Jay-Z. While he doesn't have Beyonce on his arm, the rewards have been considerable for the native of Kanagawa, Japan.

A rising star in his homeland and the only man to hold the Pride Bushido lightweight title as well as the Grand Prix title, Gomi maintained a hectic fight schedule that saw him best a who's who of elite lightweights. Just as Pride fell apart, however, so did Gomi. Prior to his catch-weight bout with Nick Diaz (Pictures), photos circulated of Gomi downing brews at a local watering hole while sporting a less than impressive physique.

The final result was all too predictable. Gomi entered the bout with the cardio of a hypoglycemic and lost what could only be called a slop-fest via, of all things, a gogoplata. Luckily for Gomi, Diaz's training program consisted of recreating the "Up In Smoke" tour, which led to the NSAC declaring the bout a no-THContest.

Back in Japan and fighting outside Pride for the first time in four years, Gomi needs to reestablish his worth as a lightweight with a dominant performance, lest he fall from the good graces of the always fickle Japanese MMA audience.

World Victory Road certainly took that into account by matching him with the grappling-deficient Ludwig. While Gomi would put himself at great risk by engaging Ludwig toe to toe, he does have an adamantium chin while Ludwig has been known to be dazed by stiff winds.

Don't count on a chin-check competition, though. Gomi will test Ludwig's striking early before settling for a takedown and quick submission win over an overmatched Ludwig.

Anyone else up for a round of Kirin Ichibans?

Lost in the hype surrounding Gomi's return to the homeland is Kazuo Misaki (Pictures) looking to erase the memory of his New Year's Eve follies at the expense of the man putting Afghani MMA on the map.

While no one is looking at Afghanistan as the next hotbed for MMA talent, Siyar Bahadurzada (Pictures) has been quietly building a name for himself as the reigning Shooto light heavyweight champion and one of Holland's top prospects. Having left his hostile homeland at just 15 years old, Bahadurzada (13-1-1) found his calling in the Tatsujin Dojo under the guidance of Martin de Jong.

He's entering this fight with a two-year winning streak and a freshly minted four-fight contract with MMA's latest upstart promotion. All Bahadurzada has to do now is escape the bounty that has been placed on his head.

The official hitman of the Grabaka Gym, Misaki (18-8-2, 1 NC) has been collecting on plenty of contracts of late.

His most recent target got away from him on a technicality, however, as a brutal soccer kick knockout over Yoshihiro Akiyama (Pictures) was declared a no-contest thanks to the less than lucid Yarennoka rulebook and refereeing by way of the local clown college.

Regardless, Misaki has entrenched himself among the middleweight elite with wins over Dan Henderson (Pictures) and Denis Kang (Pictures) after years in virtual anonymity on the Pancrase circuit.

Now part of WVR's bid for MMA supremacy on the opposite side of the Pacific, he is faced with an opponent who mirrors his own multifaceted style. Despite training under the Team Golden Glory umbrella, Bahadurzada has proven himself capable wherever a fight may go. Yet his greatest strength still lies on the feet thanks to years of dedicated muay Thai training.

With Misaki having shown an increased willingness to settle matters on the feet, we're likely in for a clash of striking styles, as Badahurzada's straightforward muay Thai clashes with Misaki's unorthodox hybrid style.

Watch for Misaki to keep his Afghan mark off balance with strikes from odd angles and the usual bevy of flying knees while occasionally mixing in a takedown and outworking Badahurzada on the mat. Having lived up to his moniker as the "Grabaka Hitman," expect Misaki to announce he is now the "Grabaka Oilman."

Keep an eye on your milkshakes: Misaki will drink them up with his mighty straw.

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