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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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