Satoshi Ishii, the prospect who was supposed to revive Japanese MMA has announced he's leaving the sport to return to Judo competition. He is working on getting American citizenship and hopes to compete for the American judo team in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Ishii won the gold medal at the Bejing Olympics in 2008 at age 21.
When he announced he was leaving the sport to try his hand at MMA, a feverish bidding war began to secure his services and Ishii managed to alienate nearly everyone in the sport before even having his first pro fight. First he verbally committed to fight for Dream. Then he announced he was going to sign with the UFC. Then he signed with World Victory Road to fight in their Sengoku promotion.
When Sengoku couldn't get it together to put on a major event, he ended up making his debut for Dream's parent company at Dynamite! 2009. That was a bust as he lost a decision to his fellow Olympic gold medalist, the 39 year old Hidehiko Yoshida. He went on to completely alienate Japanese fans while winning his next four fights against a mix of middleweights, aging kickboxers and not very good fighters.
Along the way he completely burned his bridges with the tight-knit Japanese Judo community.
Most recently he had been scheduled to fight at Strikeforce Challengers on April 1st but pulled out of that fight due to visa issues, a divorce and difficulties arising from the recent disaster in Japan.
Zach Arnold comments:
The career shift puts an end to what was one of the most heavily mismanaged prospects ever to hit the Mixed Martial Arts scene. He had all the tools and the power base to make it work. He may have came at the wrong time (with a dying Japanese MMA scene), but he still had lots of potential for high-profile television matches and commercial work. He was even aligned with the Antonio Inoki political machine to get things done. However, in the end, he was largely a colossal dud. He hated taking a punch and that's not a good thing if you're fighting in this sport. He also has a very mercurial personality and few fans could relate to his life story or his demeanor. He came off as aloof, goofy, and at times insulting - so much so that fans booed him and cheered Jerome Le Banner on New Year's Eve 2010.
It's easy to say that his career was mismanaged, but the larger truth is that you can only control someone to a certain extent. It's clear, so far, that Ishii makes rash decisions in his life. I don't know if impulsive is the right word, but undisciplined might be a more accurate term. On paper, he has all the talent in the world. That talent was certainly alluring to K-1 and he could have been a cornerstone for the promotion. However, he didn't want to play the political games. He marched to the beat of his own drumt. Whatever he was doing for training, it didn't pan out for him. Nothing clicked.
There was a lot of money on the table. However, to get that money, Ishii would have had to play by the rules and be disciplined about it. In the end, he didn't want to be a Japanese mainstay. Furthermore, the money we thought that was on the table may have been nothing more than a mirage with K-1.
It's the end of a very frustrating MMA career that left this fan very disappointed. In a way Ishii was the representative star for his era of MMA in Japan -- an era of empty promises and disappointed fans.