SRC XIII Preview: Marlon Sandro, Masanori Kanehara Collide in Featherweight Title Showdown

Continuing the frenzy of mixed martial arts action this week and weekend, World Victory Road presents its second show of 2010 with Sengoku Raiden Championships XIII. The event will take place on Sunday, June 20th from the Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, Japan. The main event will feature a featherweight title showdown between Sengoku Featherweight Grand Prix winner and champion Masanori Kanehara and Nova Uniao black belt and newly-minted knockout artist Marlon Sandro.

The card will also feature Olympic judoka Hiroshi Izumi, Sanae Kikuta, Maximo Blanco, Shigeki Osawa, and Rodrigo Damm, just to name a few. The event will not air live on HDNet, but will air on Friday, June 25th at 10:00 PM EST.

Kanehara_vs_sandro_medium Featherweight (Championship Bout): Masanori Kanehara (15-6-5, 3-1 WVR) vs. Marlon Sandro (16-1, 3-1 WVR): This should be a rather interesting main event title bout as Kanehara has been on a tear recently sporting a 5-1 record over his last 6 appearances. His lone loss came against Hatsu Hioki at Sengoku 9 as part of the Featherweight Grand Prix, but he re-entered the mix due to Hioki's inability to continue to the final. He defeated Kenji Arai, Jong Man Kim, Chan Sung Jung, Michihiro Omigawa, and Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto during his run.

Sandro's strength of record isn't as impressive in recent bouts, but he has improved his knockout power, something he was criticized for lacking in the past. He knocked out Nick Denis, Yuji Hoshino, and Tomonari Kanomata while dropping a razor close split decision to Michihiro Omigawa in the third round of the Featherweight Grand Prix. His increased power in combination with his Brazilian jiu-jitsu credentials and continued learning under the Nova Uniao banner has gained him considerable hype as potentially being the top featherweight fighting in Japan.

I was inclined to believe Sandro would likely dominate this fight with better stand-up and a dangerous ground game, but Kanehara is absolutely relentless in his style. His conditioning has an unquestionable advantage against almost anyone in the division, and his improved striking has been surprisingly productive. He has good awareness of the submission, solid positional control, and survivability. Simply put, Kanehara has the skills and x-factors to upset anyone in the division in Japan.

Kanehara's diversity in his striking is certainly an advantage, but the aggressiveness he's displayed in past fights in the stand-up game could be a dangerous gameplan in this showdown. Sandro has shown highly accurate power punching in exchanges, and he's dropped multiple opponents in the heat of exchanges. It may not be in Kanehara's best interest to play a game of chicken with Sandro's power.

On the ground, I'd be very interested to see how Kanehara stacks up against Sandro. We haven't seen a whole lot of Sandro's ground tactics in recent bouts, but we do know that Nova Uniao black belts are almost impossible to dominate positionally.

I'll side with Marlon Sandro in this championship battle, but Kanehara is a very real threat. If he can push the pace, he may be able to frustrate Sandro and tire him out. My only concern, however, is that he'll run into strikes as he pushes forward for takedowns or to land combinations, much like Sandro's latest victims.

Heavyweight: Hiroshi Izumi (1-1, 1-1 WVR) vs. Chang Seob Lee (3-4, 0-0 WVR): At a cursory glance, I'm going to assume that this is Sengoku's attempt to protect the 2005 Judo world champion from certain defeat at the hands of a more recognizable name, but I'm not so sure this is even a less dangerous option than anyone else. Izumi narrowly defeated Katsuyori Shibata at Dynamite 2009, but that decision was somewhat controversial as Izumi wasn't able to do much of anything until the final round of action.

Chang Seob Lee comes from a Taekwondo background, but his rather small frame and heavyweight status make him a huge underdog against the massive fighters in the division. He managed to win a reality series in Korea that resembled The Ultimate Fighter, but he hasn't had much success in his professional career. Regardless of his losing record, the man knows how to entertain.

His short frame and heavy hands would probably most closely resemble Andy Wang without the Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Lee rushes forward, chucking monster overhands over the top of counter attacks (B.J. Penn isn't to tell him to take him down). That's his style, and that's why there is a good chance he'll tag Izumi and finish this fight. He has finished his last two opponents via TKO in the first round.

Pretty straight forward match-up. Izumi is better on the ground, Lee is a finisher on the feet. I'm picking Lee. Why? Because Izumi seems to think he can strike, and Lee hits home runs. I wouldn't be surprised if Izumi wins, but if this fight actually has betting lines -- anyone against Izumi is a good bet unless they are Judo-based fighters.

Welterweight: Sanae Kikuta (28-6-3, 2-0 WVR) vs. Yasubey Enomoto (3-1, 0-0 WVR): The 38-year-old 2001 ADCC champion in Sanae Kikuta will aim to continue his late career comeback as he battles Swiss-born Thaiboxing champion Yasubey Enomoto. I don't want to delve deeply in Kikuta's history as he's one of the pioneers of mixed martial arts in Japan, but he is a highly-skilled grappler with loads of experience.

It's been over a year since Kikuta's last fight, a split decision win over Hidehiko Yoshida, but he showed some solid ground tactics and survivability in that fight. Yoshida was on the verge of TKO'ing Kikuta, but Kikuta was able to survive and used his grappling base to positionally dominate the judoka on the ground.

The huge disparity in skills in this match-up comes on the ground as Enomoto has won quite a few "national" Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitions in countries like Germany and Switzerland whereas Kikuta won the 2001 ADCC grappling championship at 88kg. Enomoto will have the striking advantage, but most of Kikuta's opponents have been better strikers. His ground technique is the ultimate equalizer in a style match-up however.

Of course, I say all of this... with the intention of picking Enomoto. I just can't back an aged fighter like Kikuta. He rarely fights, and Enomoto is a up-and-coming prospect with better striking. All he really has to do is stuff takedowns and hold his own on the floor to regain his feet. Sure, Kikuta can smother him in technique on the ground, but I'm going to wager that age is catching up to him quickly.

Lightweight: Maximo Blanco (5-2-1-1, 3-1 WVR) vs. Rodrigo Damm (9-3, 1-1 WVR): For hardcore fans, this should be a very intriguing match-up as it will be the 2007 Pan American bronze medalist freestyle wrestler's stiffest test to date as he draws threatening Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Rodrigo Damm. Damm is coming off losses to Eiji Mitsuoka and Gilbert Melendez in 2008 and 2009 while defeating Jorge Masvidal in June of 2008. Blanco has finished off Katsuya Inoue, Tetsuya Yamada, and Chang Hyun Kim in his last three appearances, but Damm should be a bigger challenge than any of those names.

Blanco's wrestling credentials are very strong, but his massive power and tenacity combine to make him one of the most dangerous fighters progressing up the ranks. He has a sort of uncontrollable rage in his style, and Damm will need to be in the frame of mind to try to neutralize the beast in the opening moments. Damm's jiu-jitsu will be a key, but I think it'll be amazing if he can actually stop Blanco from slamming him around. Blanco's strength is massive.

Honestly, Damm's experience and strength of record should signal an end to Blanco's run, but Blanco is just way too exciting to watch. The biased pick would be Blanco, but I also think Blanco's power is going to be a menace for Damm to contain. I'll go with Maximo.

Featherweight: Shigeki Osawa (5-1, 4-1 WVR) vs. Katsuya Toida (12-9-3, 0-0 WVR): Osawa is another top wrestling prospect who's been groomed for the major leagues alongside Maximo Blanco. Osawa won gold at the 8th World University wrestling championships in Greece and won the All-Japan Freestyle Wrestling Championships, both in the 60kg weight class. Toida is a long-time veteran in the Japanese mixed martial arts scene, and while I think he'll provide somewhat of a challenge -- Osawa should be able to use that wrestling background to smother Toida to a decision. Short and sweet.

Welterweight Grand Prix: Keita Nakamura (15-4-2, 0-0 WVR) vs. Omar de la Cruz (6-2, 0-0 WVR): Cruz is most well-known for being the Bellator's first season welterweight runner-up as he was finished by Lyman Good in the championship bout at 1:23 of the first round. Despite the loss, he has had some great success in his young career, and it's even more surprising that he's one of the few fighters hailing from the Dominican Republic who has found success. Cruz is a 4th-degree black belt in Taekwondo and a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He has a surprisingly good guard, and solid stopping power in his punching.

Nakamura makes his return to mixed martial arts after a little over a year-and-a-half off from the sport. He was 2-4 in his last 6 fights, dropping three fights in the UFC against Brock Larson, Drew Fickett, and Rob Emerson. He defeated Adriano Martins at DREAM.6 after his UFC stint, retired to become a police officer, then returned only three months later to be massively upset by Jang Yong Kim.

I'm not exactly sure what we can expect from Nakamura. He's only 26 years old, but his form was underwhelming in the UFC. The fact that he's been off for so long while Cruz has quite active in the last two years leans me toward Cruz however. I think Cruz is good enough on the ground to neutralize Nakamura's submission attempts, and I think we'll see Cruz be a danger to Nakamura on the feet.

Welterweight Grand Prix: Takuya Wada (19-8-10, 0-0 WVR) vs. Jae Sun Lee (5-5, 0-1 WVR): Is this seriously a part of the Welterweight Grand Prix? I'm not exactly sure what this tournament is supposed to prove, but I would have rather seen youthful prospects in place of this showdown. I think either fighter will lose to Cruz or Nakamura, but since I'm forced to make a pick -- I'm taking Takuya Wada based on experience. My South Korean roots are probably trying to drag me down as I have shunned Jae Sun Lee, but Wada's resilience should win him this match-up.

Lightweight: Ikuo Usuda (6-0, 2-0 WVR) vs. Kyung Ho Kang (5-3, 0-1 WVR): Usuda should pound out Kang rather quickly as Usada has good striking ability inside a wrestler mold. Some have actually said he may be a better prospect that Osawa. It'll be interesting to find out at SRC 13.

Light Heavyweight: Ryo Kawamura (11-5-2, 1-3 WVR) vs. Hidetada Irie (7-3-2, 1-0 WVR): Kawamura has had a bad run in Sengoku, but he hasn't had the easiest opponents to deal with. He should get back on track as Irie isn't a dominant behemoth wrestler like Lawal. Kawamura's power should come into play and finish off Ire in this opener.

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