Shungo Oyama walked into a cage in Singapore on Sept. 16 to face Brian Gassaway in the main event of Martial Combat 10. Despite taking the match on a week’s notice, the judo practitioner needed less than two minutes to apply an effortless inverted triangle choke and leave Gassaway unconscious, face down on the mat.
As Oyama untangled himself and coolly strode away from the heap, he was pounced upon and embraced by the bleached-blonde man who’d traveled with him from Japan and occupied his corner for the brief bout -- none other than fellow fight veteran Daiju Takase.
"I was telling him ‘you are stronger!’ and making him breathe deeply to comfort himself," says Takase. "The thing I cared most about as a second was to comfort Oyama-san. I was confident he would beat Gassaway."
Despite being overjoyed for his training partner, watching the win from the sideline must have been bittersweet for Takase, since it was he whom Oyama had stepped in to replace at the last minute. Originally scheduled to face fellow journeyman Shonie Carter, Takase was forced out of what would have been his most high-profile bout in years after suffering a groin strain in training.
"I really wish I could have fought, but I’m still recovering from the injury. I’m aiming for a comeback sometime in December."
In the meantime, Takase will have plenty to keep him occupied.
"I'm going to publish a book called ‘Why I'm Hated by Them' on October 14," Takase reveals. "Unfortunately, I'm not the Japanese MMA insiders' favorite person, hence the title. But I want to make it clear that I'm not trying to accuse anyone. I wrote this book as a retrospective on my career, just to let fans know what happened. There are lots of stories fans will be interested in if they know Pride."
It was in Pride that Takase found the greatest success of his often hard-luck career. At Pride 3 in 1998, he debuted against the gargantuan sumo Emmanuel Yarborough in one of MMA's seminal freakshow bouts, forcing his 600-plus pound opponent to tap to strikes in the second round. While literally the biggest win of his career, it would not prove his most famous.
In June 2003, a 25-year-old Takase carried a 4-7-1 record into his Pride 26 bout with Anderson Silva, who had just reeled off nine straight wins. Before the fight, commentator Stephen Quadros asked broadcast partner Bas Rutten what Takase’s keys to victory could possibly be in this "potential disaster" of a match-up.
"Very little," replied Rutten. "But, hey, don’t count anybody out," he added as an afterthought.
Eight minutes and thirty-three seconds later, after dominating the match with top control and threatening with multiple submissions, Takase forced Silva to tap to a deep triangle choke, becoming the first man in MMA to ever finish "The Spider."
To date, Takase is one of only two to notch a submission win over Silva, along with Ryo Chonan of flying heel hook fame. It remains the unmitigated highlight of Takase’s MMA career, which is why his answer when questioned about future objectives comes as a bit of a surprise.
"I want to get into the UFC and submit Anderson Silva again with the beautiful triangle."
But, why such a lofty ambition? And why now?
"I just wanna fight the best fighter in the best place. Most would agree that the UFC is the best MMA promotion, and that Anderson Silva is the best fighter in the world," says Takase, who understands that the goal may sound far-fetched at the moment. "I need more wins. I’d like to get big support from the fans to make this happen."
The position is a 180-degree turn from 16 months ago. After falling out with influential management team J-Rock and losing four straight bouts, Takase stopped receiving calls from Japanese promotions. Then Toyoki Kubo, president of Cage Force promoter Greatest Common Multiple, offered Takase a fight.
"I was bothered fighting in Japan for some political reasons," Takase recalls. "I was really frustrated and mentally tired, and then Cage Force made me an offer. I accepted, and I decided it would be my retirement match."
"But while I was preparing for the fight at Grabaka, training with Sanae Kikuta, Kazuo Misaki, Akihiro Gono and Riki Fukuda made me realize that I could still fight more. So, I changed my mind and decided to keep fighting."
At that Cage Force show, a reinvigorated Takase took a split decision win over the Yoshihiro Akiyama-trained Shuji Morikawa. He followed it up with an armbarring of the masked Mr. X two months later, and most recently came up on the tough end of a majority draw against South Korea’s Hoon Kim in a Pancrase two-rounder on April 24.
Takase’s recent ability to garner fight offers and book deals stems from the popularity of his personal blog, leading some in the Japanese fight media to tab him as "The Charisma Blogger." Last summer, Takase entered into a heated online war with Hayato "Mach" Sakurai, who defeated Takase by unanimous decision at Pride’s 2003 New Year’s Eve event. So great was Takase’s desire for a rematch with "Mach" that he eventually settled for a kickboxing bout against one of Sakurai’s pupils, Naoki Samukawa.
"To make it clear, I don't hate 'Mach' Sakurai or his student," says Takase. "I've just wanted the rematch with Sakurai because I was injured and forced to fight at that time. So I want to fight him again, but there's no place in Japan to make the fight happen since there is this political issue going on."
While the recent injury has put any thoughts of a potential Sakurai rematch on hold, Takase still hopes a promoter will spring to put the fight together in the future.
"It would be so great if any promotion in the U.S., Canada or Asia is interested in making this fight happen," Takase solicits. "I know there would be huge attention from Japanese fans. While we exchanged words last year, my blog got about 390,000 hits a day."
For now, Takase will go on with his day-to-day life, which includes teaching an MMA class at the Tokyo branch of Johan Vos Gym and working out with constant training partners Oyama and Fukuda.
"These days, aside from sparring, I'm focused on weight training. I realized that in order to fight and succeed in the U.S., the physical part is what's needed most."
Unbeknownst to most, Takase also played a role in a fight which many have hailed as this year’s finest, training and cornering Kazuo Misaki for his thrilling August rematch against Jorge Santiago in Sengoku.
"I checked and analyzed Santiago's fight videos," says Takase. "I made the ground training menu for the fight. Thankfully, Misaki-san trusted my ground theory. He fought as we prepared him to, but it was really too bad that he was injured. Even though he couldn't prepare for the fight properly, he showed 120% of his potential once he got into the ring. That's the secret of Kazuo Misaki's strength. He's one of the best fighters in the world."
While Takase nurses his injury and waits to see where his winding road will lead him next, he vows to put on a great performance in his next outing, wherever that may be.
"Whoever I face, I promise my fans that I'll show you the 'New Daiju Takase,' different and evolved from when I was in Pride."
Thanks to Shiroobi of SKILL MMA for his assistance with this article.