November looks to be a fantastic month for fight fans with a number of major promotions stepping forward to put on a few top notch cards that will appeal to casual fans and hardcore fans alike. This weekend begins the torrid month of action with Strikeforce holding Strikeforce Challengers: Gurgel vs. Evangelista on Friday night, World Victory Road promoting Sengoku XI on Saturday morning, and the weekend's action ending in spectacular fashion with Strikeforce's CBS card featuring a heavyweight tilt between Fedor Emelianenko and Brett Rogers. Be sure to participate in the FightMetric/BloodyElbow.com Tournament Pick 'Em game to maximize your enjoyment of all the great action this month.
World Victory Road's Sengoku XI is the first event in a long list of previews this month that we'll cover. The card will take place on Saturday morning at 2 AM EST airing LIVE on HDNet from Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, Japan. As we've normally seen from World Victory Road in the past , the event features some solid matchmaking with a featherweight tilt between Hatsu Hioki and Michihiro Omigawa, a middleweight war between Mamed Khalidov and Jorge Santiago, and a lightweight showdown between former champion Satoru Kitaoka and Bellator veteran Jorge Masvidal.
In main event action, top Japanese featherweight Hatsu Hioki (20-3-2) will battle Sengoku Featherweight Grand Prix runner-up Michihiro Omigawa (7-8-1) in a bout that should have taken place in the Sengoku Featherweight Grand Prix final. Unfortunately, Hioki had sustained injuries during his battle with Masanori Kanehara in the Grand Prix's semifinals, thus being unable to continue. Kanehara was allowed to continue and upset Omigawa in the Grand Prix final. Oddly enough, Omigawa was an underdog throughout the tournament bracket, defeating both LC Davis and Nam Phan in impressive fashion to advance.
This will once again be an uphill battle for Michihiro Omigawa as he'll be taking on a very lengthy grappler in Hatsu Hioki. Hioki's past troubles usually came from poor gameplans and the propensity to be sucked into slugfests, but Hioki seems to be a much more aware fighter these days as he's easily been able to outgrapple his opponents on the ground on the way to victory. The only real problem for Hioki is that he lacks the power to finish his opponents if he can't find a means to a submission. Kanehara was a perfect example of that, and it could become a blueprint for Omigawa to upset the giant.
Omigawa will need to keep this fight standing and connect combinations to put Hioki into any kind of danger. The ground will be Hioki's world, and his lengthy frame only makes it a tougher prospect for opponents. While Omigawa has shown deceptive power as he's used the weight cut to featherweight to his advantage, Hioki's grappling acumen should prevail over power in this showdown.
In one of the must-see middleweight showdowns this year, current Sengoku Middleweight champion Jorge Santiago (21-7) will take on Chechen-Polish challenger Mamed Khalidov (19-3-1). Santiago enters the title defense with nine straight victories over solid competitors who include Kazuo Misaki, Kazuhiro Nakamura, Siyar Bahadurzada, and Trevor Prangley. While his stint in the UFC resulted in a 1-2 record with two knockout losses to Alan Belcher and Chris Leben respectively, Santiago's move to American Top Team has resulted in his current success.
Khalidov is one of the most promising middleweights in the sport today, amassing nineteen wins within the confines of the emerging Eastern European MMA scene. Adept grappling ability coupled with explosive combinations and knockout power, Khalidov could very well be the next major middleweight to explode onto the worldwide scene. A win over Santiago would cement that hope, but critics would say that his strength of competition over the past couple of years has been very weak in comparison to Santiago's extensive list of wins.
Mamed has a very well-rounded game that could give Santiago a true "run-for-the-money" in this bout. He has shown great combinations in his striking with the ability to duck and counter attacks with tremendous force. He has good wrestling ability coupled with a submission game that includes the under-utilized ankle lock and kneebar. While his strength of record is a concern, styles make match-ups. This should be a great battle between two very well-rounded fighters that you won't want to miss.
In lightweight action, former Sengoku lightweight champion Satoru Kitaoka (25-9-9) will look to rebound off his loss to Mizuto Hirota at Sengoku IX by taking on Bellator and Sengoku veteran Jorge Masvidal (18-4). Masvidal enters the contest with a win over hot prospect Eric Reynolds in a 160 lb. catchweight fight at Bellator XII following his upset loss at Bellator V against Toby Imada in which he was submitted via an inverted triangle choke. Kitaoka has defeated three of Japan's top lightweight talents in Takanori Gomi, Kazunori Yokota, and Eiji Mitsuoka within the last year.
This should be a fairly straight-forward style match-up. Masvidal will look to sprawl or use his wrestling to punish Kitaoka with strikes while Kitaoka will relentlessly look for the takedown or leg/ankle lock. Kitaoka has power in the striking department, but his technical prowess in landing those strikes is lacking. Masvidal should have the advantage there, but he'll easily be the more deficient fighter on the ground as Kitaoka's strength and submission acumen become a real danger in a grappling match. If Masvidal can implement Hirota's sprawl tactics, he might have a chance to punish Kitaoka in similar fashion.
While Kitaoka-Masvidal is an important battle within the divisional ranks, Kazunori Yokota (10-2-3) vs. Eiji Mitsuoka (16-6-2) should determine who will become the next contender for the Sengoku lightweight crown. Mitsuoka enters the contest with first round submission victories over Sergei Golyaev and Clay French while Yokota is coming off a knockout win over Ryan Schultz and a split decision victory against BJJ phenom Leonardo Santos. Both men were defeated by Satoru Kitaoka in his pursuit for the lightweight title, although Yokota lost in the lightweight grand prix finals.
Mitsuoka offers a quick-transitioning jiu-jitsu submission game with a highly respected guillotine and rear naked choke. He's a very controlling fighter on the floor who has the ability to quickly progress himself to better positions on the floor and submit opponents quickly. He's managed to defeat some of the best in the world due to his controlling style on the floor, but Yokota has managed to defeat some tough Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitors in the past.
Interestingly enough, Yokota has never been submitted, even in bouts with Satoru Kitaoka and Leonardo Santos. Furthermore, Yokota actually defeated current champion Mizuto Hirota back at Sengoku VI. A win for Yokota could set up a rematch while a win for Mitsuoka could finally cement a new kingpin at the top of the division. If either man regains the title from Hirota, it's almost assured that Kitaoka will find his way back into contention for a rematch.
Bulgarian light heavyweight prospect Stanislav Nedkov (7-0) will put his wrestling to the test against former UFC champion and PRIDE veteran Kevin Randleman (17-13). Nedkov was impressive in his victory over Travis Wiuff at Sengoku VIII, and Randleman was a huge disappointment at Strikeforce: Lawler vs. Shields in his decision loss to Mike Whitehead. If Randleman gasses out like he did versus Whitehead, Nedkov should take this one.
Former UFC and PRIDE fighter Akihiro Gono (29-15-7) will look to rebound from a devastating head kick knockout loss to Dan Hornbuckle at Sengoku IX against another hot prospect in Yoon Young Kim (12-4). Kim doesn't present the same dangers that a lengthy Hornbuckle did in Gono's last fight, but he's mostly a submission danger on the ground. Gono should be good enough to defeat Kim as Kim hasn't faced enough stiff competition to give confidence in Kim upsetting Gono.
Yuji Hoshino (16-7-7) will put his well-rounded skills to the test against Featherweight Grand Prix semi-finalist Marlon Sandro (14-1). While Hoshino has battled some of the best at 155 in his career, Sandro is easily becoming one of the best featherweights in the sport. This should be a stiff test for both fighters, but I'll take Sandro in the end. Sandro's improving stand-up could be the key to success, but his grappling acumen is good enough to surprise Hoshino as well. Look for this to go to decision, however, as Hoshino is still a fairly tough man to finish.
In heavyweight action, Dave "Pee Wee" Herman (15-1) will take on New Zealander "Big" Jim York (11-3). York is currently 1-2 in the promotion with a win over James Thompson while Herman's only loss came Choi Mu Bae at Sengoku No Ran 2009. York presents a formidable test in the stand-up game, but Herman should be able to edge out York. The only question is whether or not Herman will be taking this fight seriously as he was criticized in the past for takin Choi Mu Bae lightly.
The lighter weight classes dominate the start of the event's action with bouts between featherweights Ronnie Mann (16-2-1) and Shigeki Osawa (3-0), bantamweights Ryota Uozomi (9-2-2) and Yuichiro Yajima (9-9-1), and featherweights Hirokazu "Bull" Konno (1-3) and Tomoaki Ueyama (2-3). Mann should be able to push past Osawa's wrestling ability on the way to victory while Uozomi will have to avoid Yajima's submission abilities to gain victory in their bantamweight scrap. I'll take Ueyama over Konno, although it's really a battle that won't register on anyone's radar in the featherweight division.
Fans couldn't ask for better matchmaking from a promotion. This line-up of fights is stacked to the brim with potential upsets and quality bouts. While Hioki vs. Omigawa has the potential to be lopsided if Omigawa can't nullify Hioki's length on the ground, Santiago vs. Khalidov could be a barn burner with Yokota vs. Mitsuoka and Kitaoka vs. Masvidal providing good supporting match-ups while York vs. Herman, Nedkov vs. Randleman, and Hoshino vs. Sandro are stylistically good fights on paper.
Tune in on Saturday morning at 2 AM EST on HDNet for the LIVE broadcast of Sengoku XI. Remember to fill out your Tournament brackets, which include Sengoku XI. Don't get HDNet or can't watch it at home? No worries, we'll be liveblogging the event right here at BloodyElbow.com.