As with all huge hype surrounding an event, there is always the potential for some disappointment. Sengoku IX didn't live up to the high expectations that many fans had pushed upon it, but it wasn't exactly a huge blunder in terms of fights either. Most of the disappointment resided on the shoulders of a Featherweight Grand Prix tournament that saw a tournament favorite get hurt in his semifinal bout while the other semifinal match-up ended in a very controversial decision. The outcome of both bouts produced a much different tournament final that many fans probably weren't too thrilled about watching.
Hatsu Hioki dominated ZST veteran Masanori Kanehara for the first two rounds of their semifinal showdown. Hioki easily took down Kanehara and used his lengthy physique to mount and punish Kanehara for a majority of the fight. It was arguable whether or not the second round could have been considered a 10-8 round, and our own Chris Nelson even scored it in that manner. Amazingly, Kanehara outlasted the onslaught from Hioki and punched his way to winning the third round after a tired Hioki ended up on the bottom. Hioki still won the fight, but the war had been lost as Hioki ended up dropping out of the tournament due to a possible concussion.
Michihiro Omigawa's current streak of dominance in the featherweight division continued against Marlon Sandro as he pulled off a highly-controversial upset win over the undefeated Brazilian. Sandro landed a lot of accurate punches in the first two rounds, and he was able to bust Omigawa up with three-punch combinations in the second round that should have easily created a 20-18 score going into the third. Omigawa was able to gain back control on Sandro and get him down into a punishing ground and pound situation in the third, but it was surely too late to make a huge difference. Sandro should have won 29-28, but Omigawa was given a gift decision by the judges.
The tournament final featured a disappointing match-up between Michihiro Omigawa and Masanori Kanehara. Kanehara had not only been crushed by Hioki on the floor in his semifinal match-up, but many fans feel he lost to Chan Sung Jung at Sengoku VIII. Omigawa had been given what many considered a gift decision. Obviously, this match-up was not pitting the two best fighters that the Grand Prix had produced against one another.
Unbelievably, the final bout ended in some controversy as well with Kanehara barely winning the final via split decision. Kanehara had won the bout on most fan's scorecards 29-28 with a dominating first round of back control via a body triangle coupled with punches, and a second round featuring combinations, knees to the face, and submission attempts. Omigawa once again made a last ditch attempt in the third round to win, but Kanehara held on without being finished after being mounted. Kanehara's win doesn't exactly prove that he's the best featherweight in Japan, and Hioki already dominated Kanehara for two straight rounds in their semifinal match-up. Sengoku can't exactly create the rematch to ultimately prove who the winner would have been now since Hioki dominated him earlier.
The tournament wasn't a complete waste though. We saw some huge improvements from some of the fighters while other fighters could use some better training in specific areas. Kanehara's jiu-jitsu skills have improved vastly from his days in ZST, and it isn't some sort of fluke that Kanehara was able to progress to the finals. Hioki may have gotten hurt, but Kanehara has proven that he has the attrition to keep going forward.
Sandro's striking game, while accurate, could use some revamping. His barrage of overhand looping punches were slow in comparison to straight punch combinations. They didn't pack as much power, and while they scored points for Sandro -- he'd be a much more dangerous opponent with the threat of knockout power in the stand-up game. We need to see more punches like the punch that knocked out Nick Denis than the punching he displayed against Omigawa in round one of their match-up.
The Lightweight title bout between Sengoku LW champion Satoru Kitaoka and Cage Force lightweight champion Mizuto Hirota was one of the better match-ups of the evening. Many fans believed Kitaoka's submission abilities would overwhelm Hirota, but Hirota was able to create a war of attrition that Kitaoka was unprepared to handle.
In true Nippon Top Team fashion, Kitaoka went for the kill early with shot after shot for the takedown coupled with submission attempts. Hirota was able to escape attempts and fight off takedowns for most of the opening three rounds. Unfortunately for Kitaoka, he had now became substantially tired from trying to takedown Hirota. Hirota took full advantage as the fourth round began with Kitaoka looking very sluggish throughout the round. Hirota eventually stuffed another horrendously slow takedown attempt by Kitaoka, kneed him flush in the face, and began combining knees and punches to end Kitaoka's night.
It's fairly evident that Kitaoka's style is in need of a high-output gas tank to truly sustain pressure. By the third round, Kitaoka was beginning to look very sluggish. The fourth round was pathetic in terms of takedown attempts. He showed no explosiveness or drive, and it was pointless for Kitaoka to even attempt those takedowns. Hirota worked the perfect gameplan to outlast the grappler in a five-round battle.
In other action, a very small Kazuhiro Nakamura had virtually no way to get inside on a much quicker and more powerful Kazuo Misaki. Misaki easily picked apart Nakamura from the outside while bouncing around on the balls of his feet. Nakamura was unable to rush in on Misaki and take him down, nor was he able to mount any kind of offense that was deemed effective. Nakamura rushed in at one point, and Misaki timed a flying knee to Nakamura's head that dropped him. The fight ended abruptly after Misaki landed a few blows to make sure it was over.
Interestingly enough, we won't be seeing a rematch between Jorge Santiago and Kazuo Misaki any time soon because he was suspended indefinitely for fleeing the police after being pulled over because he was using his cell phone while driving. He did manage to injure a police officer while fleeing, so I suppose it's justified, but now the middleweight title match-up is basically on hold until Sengoku states that Misaki is no longer under suspension.
The Misaki fight wasn't a disappointment in terms of the outcome, so most fans can get behind eventually seeing a rematch between Santiago and Misaki, but the bout between Blagoi Ivanov and Kazuyuki Fujita is a battle that most fans would run to the restroom to avoid watching again. I don't know whether it was Ivanov's horrible striking or Fujita's lay and pray that was more annoying. Ivanov eventually won, but ultimately... we all lost.
Akihiro Gono was knocked out unconscious by a right head kick that landed dead center on the chin in the third round of his match-up with Dan Hornbuckle. Hornbuckle's length was dominant for the first two rounds, and it was evident that Gono was on his way to a loss unless he pulled off some sort of miracle finish in the last round. Unfortunately, Hornbuckle beat him to it.
Eiji Mitsuoka completely outmatched Clay French in their match-up. He was able to get French to the ropes, take him down, and as French tried to gain his feet again... Mitsuoka sunk in the guillotine choke for the finish. Chan Sung Jung defeated Matt Jaggers via triangle choke in the second round of their bout after outputting plenty of punishment to Jaggers while on his back. It would be nice to see a Jung vs. Kanehara rematch down the road.
This was definitely a letdown in terms of the potential fights we could have saw in the Featherweight Grand Prix. Most fans felt a Hatsu Hioki vs. Marlon Sandro showdown would have been a fantastic fight, and it probably should have happened. Hioki's injury is something that can't be controlled, but Sandro was absolutely robbed by the judges against Omigawa. As powerful as Omigawa has looked in his previous stints in the GP, he didn't prevail against Sandro.
Kitaoka's loss is probably a perplexing thing for Sengoku to swallow. After having Gomi lose twice, Sengoku was looking for a star to build a lightweight division around, but Kitaoka is probably the wrong type of fighter to be a long-time champion. He had virtually no striking capabilities with the exception of throwing powerful overhands with the only intention of being a one-punch knockout. It never landed. He has relentless takedown ability, but his gas tank can't supplement that style for more than three rounds. As champion, Kitaoka needs to be prepared to go five.
Gono's stance as a solid fighter coupled in the shell of an entertainer is slowly losing steam. Hornbuckle is definitely a tough guy to fight due to his length and suprising striking ability, but Gono had the experience behind him to be a much better challenge. Hornbuckle needs to fight better competition after this win. He's 18-2 right now, but losing to Mike Pyle at Sengoku II can't sit well with him, especially via triangle choke.
Misaki vs. Santiago needs to happen sooner rather than later. I understand Japan's cultural scrutiny when it comes to the police and fighters, but Misaki will pay his dues to society for what he did. Santiago is now waiting around for his next fight after the Affliction debacle. Make it happen.
Fujita looks to be on his last leg as a MMA fighter, and Blagoi Ivanov is probably going to be embarrassed by Aleksander Emelianenko in September at the FMC event in Korea. Ivanov's style just isn't overwhelming in MMA, and his striking was almost laughably horrible. Even more ridiculous was the fact that a hurt Fujita had to resort to laying on Ivanov and doing very little of anything. \
Overall, not a great event for Sengoku. Hatsu Hioki is obviously one of the most dominant featherweights in Japan, and I think he ultimately would have proved that at Sengoku IX. If he remains adamant about taking every fight to the floor, he could be a huge problem for even the WEC's best.