Maximo Blanco might be well on his way to becoming the most exciting lightweight in mixed martial arts. Photo by SRC.
As expected, the lack of star power at World Victory Road's Sengoku Raiden Championships 15 produced some rather lackluster performances. Most notably, Olympic Judo silver medalist Hiroshi Izumi baffled fans with his propensity to strike with James Zikic in their main event showdown. Izumi's stupidity wasn't punished, however, as he miraculously won a split decision despite landing only a few strikes throughout three-and-a-half rounds of action.
Fortunately, Maximo Blanco delivered on levels of awesome that can't truly be explained with words. No, you'll have to actually watch Blanco's incredible knockout of Kiumu Kunioka to fully appreciate the jaw-dropping power of the Venezuelan prospect. Swiss Muay Thai champion Yasubey Enomoto also provided fans with an impressive performance against Japan's Chris Leben in Taisuke Okuno. Okuno, smiling as if pain is some sort of aphrodisiac, took the beating of his life, and Enomoto looked like future champion. For those of you who missed Sengoku 15, here's a breakdown of what took place:
- Hiroshi Izumi continued his disappointing foray into the world of mixed martial arts as he won a split decision over Cage Rage veteran James Zikic in the main event. I say "disappointing" in this particular effort because by all accounts of those who watched the battle unfold -- Izumi wasn't the deserving victor. Instead of focusing on the clinch game and using his Judo background, Izumi was content with throwing one-punch haymakers while diving forward for the tie-up. Unfortunately, Izumi was only able to capitalize on a close quarters encounter late in the third round, eventually putting Zikic on his back and threatening with blows from top control. But even Izumi had trouble producing offense from that position.
While Izumi did land a few power shots in the second round and a glancing blow in the first round, Zikic's lead jab peppered Izumi for most of the fight. Definitely a hometown decision if I've ever seen one, and it certainly hints at questions as to whether World Victory Road is protecting their investment. To be perfectly honest, I don't see what's worth protecting if Izumi is trying to follow the wisdom of Jorge Gurgel.
- Brian Cobb upset Kazunori Yokota in a close split decision that was decided after two judges scored the bout a draw and were forced to pick a winner under the "must decision" rule. Cobb came out quick as expected, but he faded late in the second round, likely due to some of the exhaustion caused by the weight cut. Fortunately for Cobb, he was able to take it to Yokota in the third round, wrestling him to the floor and gaining advantageous positions in the scramble. With the point deduction from missing weight, it's pretty impressive to see Cobb come out on top here, but he should probably learn from his mistake.
- As expected, Maximo Blanco spectacularly crushed his opponent, Kiumu Kunioka, with two brutal punches, the first dropping Kunioka to his knees and the second causing liftoff as Kunioka tried to regain his feet. The brutal uppercut finish from Blanco continues a pattern of violence from the Venezuelan wrestler that has made him one of the most appealing fighters in Sengoku, and this finish may put him on the map as one of the most entertaining fighters on the planet.
Maxi will undoubtedly become a huge free agent acquisition when he hits the market, and while there isn't a certainty as to when that might happen -- his performances, finishing ability, and wrestling background will surely have the big dogs circling to bring him to North America. For now, be assured that he'll dominate the Sengoku lightweight ranks.
See Maximo Blanco's crushing knockout after the jump....
- Kazuo Takahashi, a man who hasn't won in five years, defeated MAD TV's Bobby Lee, i.e. Chang Seob Lee, via what I would call a leg scissor armlock or armbar. Pretty creative stuff from the veteran. It's too bad the fight was far from relevant.
- I really thought Takaya Wada would put up more of a fight against Keita Nakamura as he is a bit of a scrapper. After all, this is the same "K-Taro" who washed out of the UFC in three appearances, all losing efforts. But it's evident that he's improved since those days, especially in his ability to take the fight to the ground. His striking remains a threatening area of his arsenal, but he's been positionally dominating opponents in his most recent fights. Wada didn't stand a chance either, succumbing to a trip that led to an inescapable crucifix position.
- Everyone should start keeping a close eye on Swiss-born Muay Thai striker Yasubey Enomoto. While he didn't fight an overly technical puncher in Taisuke Okuno, he did manage to completely dominate an opponent who has proven one-punch power in his hands for three straight rounds, garnering a 30-25 score from two of the judges. With beautiful combinations, great footwork, and a solid defense, Enomoto probably opened the eyes of many fans watching as to his potential in the division.
- The Welterweight Grand Prix final should gain some appeal with tonight's performances from Nakamura and Enomoto. "K-Taro" has been impressive in his last two performances, especially in the grappling department, while Enomoto's striking seemed unstoppable tonight. Nakamura's no slouch as a puncher either, but nowhere near the level of Enomoto. That should create a very attractive style clash for fans, and more importantly -- a highly relevant showdown between a veteran trying to regain his luster versus the new kid on the block.
- The Asian Bantamweight Grand Prix bouts started off rather slow as Manabe Inoue controlled Jae Hyun So to a decision win, almost predominantly by takedowns and top control. Shunich Shimizu produced a little more offense and defeated Wataru Takahashi via an unanimous decision. Tamura, in typical fashion, grinded out a rather boring split decision over Shoko Sato after being cut early in the fight.
Taiyo Nakahara and Shintaro Ishiwatari kept the crowd alive, however, and they may have stolen the show as the fight of the night. Nakahara punished Ishiwatari early in the first round with quick combinations from a distance. Ishiwatari was having a hard time wading through Nakahara's length, but found the mark when Nakahara tried to unload a flurry of shots, only to be countered by a heavy right. Ishiwatari pounced at the opportunity to finish, but a lengthy scramble ensued. Ishiwatari had turned the tide midway through the first, but found himself in danger at the end of the round as Nakahara nearly submitted Ishiwatari via armbar and kneebar.
The second round was much more tame with most fans watching having Ishiwatari edging out Nakahara, but the judges saw it differently -- giving Nakahara the split decision in what was explained as a "must decision" draw.