The second major mixed martial arts event this weekend will take place across the Pacific Ocean in the Land of the Rising Sun on Sunday, March 7th from the Ryogoku Kokugikan arena in Tokyo, Japan. Sengoku Raiden Championships XII will be World Victory Road's debut event of 2010, and it will be headlined by a middleweight championship showdown between Polish striker Mamed Khalidov and Brazilian fighter and American Top Team member Jorge Santiago. The fight is a rematch of Sengoku XI's non-title fight between Khalidov and Santiago, a fight that Khalidov surprisingly won in only 2:45 into the first round.
The rest of the card will include appearances from PRIDE and UFC veteran Akihiro Gono, rising Venezuelan prospect Maximo Blanco, Brazilian featherweight kingpin Marlon Sandro, Yoshihiro Nakao, Nick Denis, Leonardo Santos, and Shigeki Osawa.
This card doesn't have the impressive name recognition that casual fans crave in a fight card, but it's also lacking the same competitive matchmaking that we're used to seeing from past Sengoku events. That could be a direct effect of the rift between WVR and Yoshido Dojo, or the fact that many of Japan's top notch fighters are moving to the DREAM/Strikeforce alliance or into the WEC. In either case, World Victory Road has some work to do in order to bring some quality fighters back into the mix as they have historically done for the past couple of years.
In the main event, former UFC and Strikeforce fighter Jorge Santiago (21-8, 5-1 WVR) will look to avenge his Sengoku XI loss in a rematch with Mamed Khalidov (20-3-1, 1-0 WVR), an opponent who quickly dispatched of the champion in the non-title affair in a little over two-and-a-half minutes. Interestingly enough, Khalidov has stated that he expects to be in even better shape for this fight despite dispatching of Santiago in quick fashion back in November while Santiago has said that he didn't prepare for Khalidov appropriately when they met previously.
I would expect more of a challenge for Khalidov in the second installment of this bout. The line remains relatively the same however. Khalidov possesses a strong striking game that includes vicious counters, great power, and knockout ability. He's also very adept on the floor and utilizes some of the more obscure submissions such as the ankle lock and kneebar in his repertoire of ground skills. Santiago is no slouch either as he's a proven knockout threat with both his knees and fists, and his ground game is likely more technical and better trained than Khalidov's tactics on the floor.
The previous knock on Khalidov before defeating Santiago was that his strength of record was lacking due to the extensive list of Eastern European prospects that he'd beaten on over the course of his five year career. Khalidov managed to silence those critics with his victory over Santiago, but we should expect a much tougher fight in the second meeting. In fact, this match-up could end up being one of the better fights of the year in terms of matchmaking. I'm leaning toward Santiago in the rematch as he's currently the odds underdog, but Khalidov will certainly be a strong test once again.
The rest of the card is fairly lopsided in terms of odds and quality of fights, but here's a quick rundown of every fight on the Sengoku Raiden Championships XII fight card...
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Rest of the card
Welterweight: Akihiro Gono vs. Diego Gonzalez: Gono should take this fight as he's been resurging as of late following his devastating knockout loss to Dan Hornbuckle at Sengoku IX. Gonzalez is definitely a threat to Gono in this fight, but I'm not confident that Gonzalez's experience will hold up against the quality of competition that Gono has been facing despite his three losses over his last five fights. Gono should be the more adept grappler, and his striking should be effective enough to give Gonzalez problems as well. I'll take Gono via decision.
Featherweight: Marlon Sandro vs. Tomonari Kanomata: Sandro's finishing power is finally beginning to show up in his fights, and Kanomata may end up becoming another victim in Sandro's path to the top. Sandro should be able to land some impressive leather in this fight, or lock up a submission. Kanomata has the longevity to go the distance, but Sandro seems to be peaking right now in his career. Sandro by a stoppage.
Lightweight: Maximo Blanco vs. Chang Hyun Kim: It's in our nature to stand by and watch train wrecks like your Dad trying to sing at a wedding while hammered. It's also in our nature to watch uncontrolled chaos in a ring. Maximo Blanco fits that description perfectly. Kim should provide a threat on the ground as he has been monikered "Armbar Kim" due to his plethora of armbar submission wins. Unfortunately, Blanco's strength, explosive striking, and wrestling credentials will probably put Kim on the defensive for most of this battle. Blanco should pummel Kim, but as we've seen in the past -- Blanco's uncontrollable rage has put him into some trouble.
Heavyweight: Yoshihiro Nakao vs. Henry Miller: A fight that should probably be within the confines of the DREAM Super Hulk tournament... this will be the fun heavyweight fight of the evening. I'd go with Nakao simply because he's proven he can land some heavy leather on a chin. But... make your night interesting with a bet on Miller.
Featherweight: Shigeki Osawa vs. Kyung Ho Kang: Osawa was brought up in the same development program as Maximo Blanco, and he also has a base background in amateur wrestling. He won gold at the 8th World University Wrestling Championships in Greece. He lost his fifth professional fight to Ronnie Mann at Sengoku XI, a significant step-up in competition. Kang is a solid move by WVR to give Osawa a guy who has some threatening skills in his repertoire. Osawa should be able to out wrestle and defeat Kang here, but I don't think it'll be anything more than a decision win.
Lightweight: Leonardo Santos vs. Kiuma Kunioku: 6'1" Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace versus the 5'8" Pancrase veteran with fourteen years of experience. Not a bad match-up here, but Santos' jiu-jitsu chops will be very tough for Kunioku to overcome. Santos is only 6-3 in the sport, but he did face Yokota, Gomi, and Jean Silva in those three losses. Not exactly an easy level of competition. I fully expect Santos to come away with the win here.
Featherweight: Nick Denis vs. Yuji Hoshino: Denis' knockout power is pretty impressive against the sub-par competition inside the regional circuits in the United States. Can he bring that same power to Japan as he did against Kawahara at Sengoku VII? Hoshino won't be an easy fight for Denis as he has beaten some decent competition over the course of the last couple of years. Both men were knocked out by Marlon Sandro, but Denis' proven knockout ability could be the game changer in this battle. I'll take Denis.