Hioki, 'Lion' Stop Foes; Okazaki, Ikoma Become Shooto World Champs

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Takeshi Inoue (right) crushed Taiki Tsuchiya in their 143-pound headliner. | Taro Irei/Sherdog.com

TOKYO -- Former Shooto 143-pound world champion "Lion" Takeshi Inoue smashed Pacific Rim 143-pound king Taiki Tsuchiya Friday in the main event of Shooto Tradition 2011 at Tokyo Dome City Hall.

From the opening bell, Tsuchiya made it clear that he was to be the aggressor, throwing at Inoue crisp combinations as well as more esoteric techniques, like spinning back kicks and lunging side-push kicks. No slouch in the striking department himself, however, "Lion" welcomed the eager Tsuchiya with counter jabs and low kicks before retreating out of danger.

"He tried to feint with me a lot," remarked Inoue post-fight, noting Tsuchiya's penchant to shuffle and switch stances. "He was fast, but his motions were big, so I could read him."

Though Tsuchiya was far more aggressive and persistently chased with solid combination punching, the striking experience of the former world champ shone through. In what was shaping up to be a 10-9 Tsuchiya second round, all it took was one solid right straight counter to send the dizzied Pac Rim champion careening into the ring ropes. Inoue immediately lunged for the finish, dribbling his hapless opponent's head on the canvas before being pulled off by referee Toshiharu Suzuki at the 4:27 mark.

"In the first round, I thought my punches were really effective, but he kept on coming and my fists were hurting. I expect a lot from Tsuchiya [in the future]," said Inoue after the fight.

Inoue also made mention of his recent engagement after the bout, noting that details of the marriage have not yet been ironed out. Also up in the air is a rematch with current 143-pound world champion, Hatsu Hioki, a right he has seemingly earned by defeating the Pacific Rim champ, albeit in a non-title affair.

"I'd feel sorry for Hioki if we had to meet in my next fight. I've lost a lot, too, so now's not the time," Inoue said.

Hioki himself was also non-committal as to the outcome of the evening's main event, stating, "I'm not thinking about it as a title challenger bout. But, for Shooto's sake, I hope the [Inoue-Tsuchiya] fight is great and brings greater excitement to our division."

The dual Shooto and Sengoku featherweight champion had his Shooto homecoming earlier in the evening, against visiting King of the Cage bantamweight champion Donald Sanchez, whom he submitted in the second period.

The Fit NHB product handled himself well on the feet and even latched onto a guillotine midway through the first round. This proved to be the beginning of his undoing, however, as the Hioki's preternatural grappling ability suddenly switched on once the action hit the canvas. From mount and later in Sanchez's guard, the Japanese champ dropped heavy punches to seal the first stanza.

The finish came early in the second, after Hioki took Sanchez down with the single-leg and secured full mount. Sanchez reversed to put Hioki on bottom, simultaneously sealing his own fate by falling right into Hioki's triangle choke; the tap came at 1:36.

While Hioki's Shooto and SRC careers are uncertain, the Nagoya-based champ cryptically indicated that he may be ready for a change of scenery, later stating, "I want to fight on a new stage with new motivation."

Whether a product of his divided attentions while in training camp or not, Shuichiro Katsumura dropped his 132-pound world title to Koetsu Okazaki, just as many fans and pundits had predicted going into the bout. Okazaki originally fought for the belt three years earlier, after then-champion Akitoshi Hokazono vacated the title to pursue a career in physical therapy.

"I couldn't get the belt in 2008, so the belt feels so much heavier today, now that I've won it," reflected Okazaki, whose loss then resulted in Masakatsu Ueda's reign as champ.

The Osaka native took Katsumura to task on the feet and almost paid for it early when the grappling ace ducked under a lunging right hand to take his back. Okazaki gutted out a rear-naked choke attempt and spun into Katsumura's guard, where both men traded punches, the challenger arguably laying on the harder shots.

"I put too much power in the right hand and that's why Katsumura was able to take my back like that," Okazaki later admitted.

However, it was that same power that proved his key to victory in the second frame. A careless decision on the defending champ's part to engage Okazaki in the standup resulted in Katsumura eating the very same right hand, sending him dazed to the canvas. Katsumura was cognizant enough to attempt pulling Okazaki down while eating big punches, but referee Suzuki nonetheless called the stop at the 2:24 mark.

Although looking in every respect like an early stoppage, a wobbly legged but smiling Katsumura collapsed into a congratulatory embrace with the new champ immediately afterward.

In the evening's other title tilt, Junji Ikoma and Junji "Sarumaru" Ito put forth a "Fight of the Night" performance for the recently vacated 115-pound strap.

First-ever Shooto 115-pound world champion Rambaa Somdet was forced to vacate the title after sustaining a foot injury in March, followed by a partially torn left bicep in early April.

The will to grapple had no place in the ring, as both Ito and Ikoma clashed with punches and low kicks, dropping each other in every round. The 41-year old Ikoma was aggressive throughout all 15 minutes, pushing continuous jabs and combinations into the face of the young Shooting Gym Yokohama standout. "Sarumaru" gladly obliged Ikoma, but showed a much more conservative, single-strike counterpunch game, like teammate "Lion Takeshi." Though landing far less than his veteran opponent, Ito's punches were far more damaging, a fact which showed on Ikoma's ravaged face after the bout.

Ikoma's aggression and persistence in putting punches on Ito paid off in the end, however, as all three judges scored the bout 29-28 in his favor. Exhausted and lying in his corner, Ikoma burst into tears of joy, unable to get to his feet.

"I only had two weeks to prepare for this fight. I didn't have any stamina, so I'm glad I lasted until the end. I'm not the strongest, but I am the best," said a teary-eyed Ikoma to approving cheers after the bout.

"I didn't imagine that I'd get the belt. I didn't even think I'd fight for it. So when I received the chance, I thought it was meant to signal my retirement," he later reflected. "I'm too happy now, so I'm not feeling any of the damage. I'm 41 years old, but I'm braving through it."

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