‘K-Taro' Cuts Down for UFC Encounter


With his back against the wall, Japanese standout Keita "K-Taro" Nakamura will look to take his first win in the Octagon on Saturday against TUF 5 alum Robert Emerson (Pictures) on the UFC 81 undercard in Las Vegas.

With a 14-2-2 record, Nakamura's only missteps as a professional have come in the Octagon. In his December 2006 debut, Nakamura dropped a razor-thin decision to Brock Larson (Pictures) before losing a disappointing unanimous verdict to Drew Fickett (Pictures) last April.

After his two defeats, Nakamura spent subsequent months focused on improvement in the gym. He returned to Cage Force for a tune-up fight in November and easily dismantled offbeat grappler Takefumi Hanai (Pictures), knocking him out in less than two minutes.

Following the Hanai win, Nakamura spent the subsequent weeks training stateside with the likes of Tyson Griffin, Gray Maynard (Pictures), Hiroyuki Takaya (Pictures) and Rumina Sato (Pictures), as part of Sato's American seminar tour. Now, after a career of competing as a welterweight, his bout with Emerson will be his first at 155 pounds.

Emerson's latest battles have been more of the legal variety, as his well-documented extracurricular activities involved an arrest in September. Emerson's last MMA action came in June, when his bizarre bout with Gray Maynard (Pictures) ended as a no contest after Maynard's slam left both men unable to continue.

With its debut card, Sengoku, scheduled for March 5 at Yoyogi National Stadium now just more than a month away, World Victory Road has been ironing out the wrinkles.

There had been mixed reactions toward the regulations adopted in November by the high-profile startup. The allowance of knees on the ground and stomps and the prohibition of soccer kicks and elbows may have been enough to draw debate on their own, but most of the discussion has centered on WVR's weight-class structure.

WVR chairman Naoya Kinoshita initially revealed that the promotion planned six weight classes: featherweight at 132 pounds, lightweight at 150 pounds, welterweight at 168 pounds, middleweight at 183 pounds, light heavyweight at 205 pounds and heavyweight at 206 pounds and above. The lightweight division seemed very curious, given the usual 154-pound standard used in Japan, the 155-pound limit prescribed in unified rules or even the 161-pound mark used in the PRIDE Bushido series.

"I understand 65 kilograms [143 pounds] or 70 kilograms [154 pounds] is the familiar limit for lightweight," Kinoshita said. "But I would like to see Japanese fighters flourish, and to do so we needed to put a lot of emphasis on setting the proper weight classes."

WVR's announcement of distinct weight classes came at a time when the trend in Japanese MMA was toward unifying the weights and measures of mixed martial arts. Greatest Common Multiple strongly introduced the unified rules in Japan in all respects in 2007, including the prescribed weight classes.

Even Pancrase, which has long been noted for peculiar weight classes at 141, 152, 165, 181, 200 and 220 pounds, announced that in 2008 it would fall in line with the weight classes set in the unified rules. DEEP followed suit as well, adopting the unified weights for championship fights in 2008, even though DEEP President Shigeru Saeki was vocal in saying that he felt different rule sets were paramount to the success of MMA.

Now, whether the result of careful reflection or external pressure, WVR has revamped its lower weight classes.

The classes will not be those called for in the unified rules, but they are considerably closer. The lightweight division will be at 154 pounds, and a 143-pound division has been inserted between the lightweight class and the 132-pound bantamweight division.

WVR also announced that it will introduce an official rules director next week and will announce additional rules and provisions to govern Sengoku.

Akihiro Gono (Pictures)'s hand injury is worse than originally realized.

The colorful Japanese veteran, who made a successful Octagon debut in November against Tamden McCrory, was forced to pull out of a slated March bout with standout welterweight Jon Fitch (Pictures) after sustaining a broken right hand against McCrory. Gono had accepted the Fitch bout and resumed training before it was revealed that the nagging pain in his right hand was the result of a break.

Although Gono thought he would able to fight by summer, the new prognosis suggests that autumn is a more likely time for his return.

The 33-year-old Grabaka product has a history of hand problems. He first broke his right hand in his December 2001 bout with Yuki Kondo (Pictures), and he broke his left hand nine months later against Osami Shibuya (Pictures). With nearly 50 professional bouts in a 14-year career, Gono's tenure as a prizefighter plays a considerable role in the amount of time he has to spend on the shelf.

Surgery is scheduled for Feb. 2, and Gono plans to continue his conditioning as well as work on his kicking while his hand heals.

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