Kazuo Misaki is the "Grabaka Hitman" no more.
In a brief letter faxed to multiple media outlets on Sunday, the Japanese middleweight announced his departure from the Tokyo-based gym where he's spent the duration of nine-year MMA career. Misaki added that he intends to "start from scratch," though he didn't elaborate on future plans for training, nor a timeframe for his return to the ring.
Grabaka founder Sanae Kikuta wrote on his personal blog that while he was disappointed to learn of Misaki's decision, Grabaka does not hold its fighters under contract and he wishes Misaki nothing but luck.
A former star of Pancrase and Pride FC, Misaki has spent the past two years competing under World Victory Road's Sengoku banner. In July, the WVR executive committee opted to suspend Misaki from competition indefinitely following a June run-in with Tokyo police. According to reports, Misaki sped away from an officer who was attempting to cite him for talking on his cell phone while driving, striking the officer in the arm. Misaki entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to three years probation, plus unspecified public service.
Misaki was allowed to compete in his previously scheduled "Sengoku IX" bout with Kazuhiro Nakamura - where he choked out the judoka in the opening frame - but his suspension voided the middleweight title rematch with Jorge Santiago which the win would have earned him.
While it's hard to know just what to read into Misaki's "start from scratch" statement, Grabaka is one of several unofficial World Victory Road-affiliated gyms, and WVR has yet to lift (or address lifting) Misaki's suspension. It's no great stretch to say that Misaki could be seeking employment elsewhere in the near future.
One obvious option would be Strikeforce - Misaki controversially TKO'd Joe Riggs at their second Playboy Mansion event last September. Another internet rumor has the "Hitman" facing Kazushi Sakuraba on FEG's New Year's Eve "Dynamite!!" card.
[UPDATE] Sounds like the Misaki-Sakuraba rumor's got legs. Stay tuned...