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Sengoku 15 Preview: Maximo Blanco, Hiroshi Izumi Headline Weekend in Japan

After a busy weekend of mixed martial arts action that spanned the globe from Tokyo, Japan to Halifax, Nova Scotia to Anaheim, California, we're probably due for a little calm before the storm of action that will take place as we near the end of 2010. Before the one-and-a-half week layoff of any major mixed martial arts action, World Victory Road's Sengoku Raiden Championships will hold the final major event of the month as they bring Sengoku Raiden Championships 15 to us live on HDNet on Saturday, October 30th at 2:00 AM EDT from the Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, Japan.

Headlining the card, Olympic Judo silver medalist Hiroshi Izumi will hope to notch another victory on his record and extend his streak to three as he battles Cage Rage and UFC veteran James Zikic in a light heavyweight main event showdown. Also featured on the card, Venezuelan terror Maximo "Maxi" Blanco will battle late replacement Kiuma Kunioku while Kazunori Yokota taggles with recent UFC casualty Brian Cobb. Masanori Kanehara, Keita Nakamura, Yasubey Enomoto, Taisuke Okuno, Akitoshi Tamura, and Kazuo Takahashi will all make appearances on the card as well.

Main Event: Hiroshi Izumi (2-1) vs. James Zikic (16-5): As we've talked about in the past, World Victory Road's strategy in developing talent is well off the beaten path. FEG's idealogy that Japan's most well-respected athletes outside of the cage be transitioned into the sport in a trial by fire scenario against some of the best in Japan proved to be unsuccessful in a variety of ways. While it did bring some short term success in terms of ratings, it certainly didn't help their long-term goals of sustainability.

World Victory Road has other plans, and Olympic Judo silver medalist Hiroshi Izumi is one of those projects that they hope will eventually pay off in the long run. While Izumi did manage to get beaten to a pulp by New Zealander Antz Nansen in his debut bout, he's managed to come back strong with victories over Katsuyori Shibata and Chang Seob Lee within the last year. He'll hope to increase his win streak and progress steadily to bigger and better things as he meets former Cage Rage light heavyweight champion James Zikic in a light heavyweight tilt.

Zikic's last outing took place at BAMMA 4 in September, a fairly one-sided loss at the hands of John Phillips. While Zikic is considered your standard British boxer with somewhat surprising submission skills for a pugilist, he hasn't faired well against better competition. He also hasn't truly challenged himself in the last few years. His Cage Rage crown was taken by Vitor Belfort in September of 2007, and since then -- Zikic has only fought three times, going 2-1 with his lone loss coming in the aforementioned Phillips' battle.

But Zikic has a few things going for him in this fight. His 6'2" frame in combination with his stand-up game should provide him with enough means to damage Izumi throughout this fight, but Izumi will be highly dangerous on the ground, mostly due to his background and ability to control Zikic on his back. Izumi also has some power in his hands, although it's rather tough for him to land in the striking department due to his poor reach. He'll look to bring this to the ground and pound on Zikic for a stoppage. If he can't land his strikes, controlling Zikic for the entirety of the fight isn't out of the realm of possibility.

Flip a coin. That's my advice. Zikic seems to be the slight favorite here due to Izumi's atrocious striking ability, but Zikic is likely going to have problems staying on his feet against an Olympic-level judoka who is improving slightly in each fight. I'll go with Izumi here though. Zikic's stand-up hasn't even been average in his more recent bouts, and he does have a propensity to try to take fights to the floor, which will probably be something he'll shy away from here. Barring a lively boxing game from Zikic, Izumi gains a takedown and controls Zikic to decision.

Lightweight: Kazunori Yokota (11-3-3) vs. Brian Cobb (15-5): This should be quite the uphill battle for incoming challenger Brian Cobb as he draws Kazunori Yokota in lightweight action. While Cobb does present some dangers on the feet and in top control situations from guard, Yokota is well-rounded enough to avoid anything Cobb brings to the table. Yokota's striking, while not the most powerful, is effective at scoring points and frustrating opponents to no end, and his grappling ability has only been dwarfed by the best wrestlers and jiu-jitsu fighters in the division. Cobb isn't included in that group, and Yokota should edge out Cobb via decision in a rather one-sided affair.

Read more of SBN's coverage of Sengoku 15...

Lightweight: Maximo Blanco (6-2-1-1) vs. Kiuma Kunioku (34-23-9): Leonardo Santos was forced to pull out of this fight due to a neck injury sustained in training, so World Victory Road decided to throw a lamb to the slaughter by grabbing Kiuma Kunioku. Years of experience are on Kunioku's side along with the impressive fact he's only been knocked out six times in sixty-six professional bouts. Unfortunately, Maximo is going to make that seven, and it'll be in ferocious fashion. Maxi via KO.

Featherweight: Masanori Kanehara (15-7-5) vs. Doo Ho Choi (5-1): I'm a little surprised that Kanehara is only getting 2-to-1 odds to win here, but Choi certainly has a little intrigue around him as a rising featherweight prospect. Unfortunately, Kanehara is going to provide the relentless pace that Choi will be unable to stop, just like many of the bigger name fighters in the division have had problems dealing with as well. Choi's power has potential to put Kanehara on ice, and Sandro's recent knockout over Kanehara probably stirred oddsmakers a bit. But I'm not buying. Kanehara via decision.

Welterweight GP Semifinal: Keita Nakamura (19-4-2) vs. Takuya Wada (20-8-10): This is actually a fairly intriguing battle within the welterweight grand prix bracket as Nakamura put on an impressive showing against Omar de la Cruz in the opening round. While Wada is probably unknown to almost everyone reading over these breakdowns, he's definitely a tough, grind 'em out type of competitor who can create offense on both the feet and the ground. He does seem to be much more effective on the ground however, and that should be a means for Nakamura to put him into uncomfortable territory on the feet.

Nakamura's victory over Cruz opened my eyes a bit to some of the improvements "K-Taro" has been making. His takedown defense is quite good, and he uses it rather well in reversing his opponent's leverage and gaining top control. From there, he has the know-how to be quite dominant. Wada's no slouch, but I think Nakamura gets the better of him in a grappling match and wins via decision.

Welterweight GP Semifinal: Yasubey Enomoto (5-1) vs. Taisuke Okuno (10-4-2): Very underrated match-up here as Swiss-born Muay Thai striker Yasubey Enomoto battles the always-entertaining Taisuke Okuno in the second welterweight grand prix bout. If you recall, Okuno knocked Nick Thompson out cold in a go for broke flurry to start the third round of action in their SRC 14 meeting. He always proved that he's either mentally ill, or flat out crazy... continually laughing as if he were the Matthew Barnaby of mixed martial arts.

Characters are welcome in this sport, and it's hard not to like Okuno. While many fighters wilt under the pressure of being dominated for almost an entire round, Okuno logically, or perhaps it was just some sort of psychotic episode, concluded that he must rush out and knock Thompson out quickly rather than let the judges decide his fate. It worked, and it was one of the most impressive knockouts of 2010.

Enomoto will be a much stiffer challenge however. His impressive Muay Thai background will give Okuno huge problems on the feet, and his takedown defense is rather good for a predominant puncher. Okuno's tactics will likely lean toward takedowns, but Enomoto's technical striking should expose Okuno's one punch tactics.


The card will also feature four Asian Bantamweight Grand Prix battles along with an opening bout between Kazuo Takahashi and Chang Seob Lee:

Jae Hyun So vs. Manabu Inoue
Shoko Sato
vs. Akitoshi Tamura
Wataru Takahashi
vs. Shunichi Shimizu
Shintaro Ishiwatari
vs. Taiyo Nakahara

Most fans who are completely ignorant to the history of Japan's mixed martial arts scene probably have no idea why a three-fight neophyte is headlining a major mixed martial arts event. In fact, I'd wager quite a few greenbacks to bet that most American fans are uninterested in this event altogether, mainly due to the unrecognizable names that fill the card. While I somewhat sit in the same boat for the main event and many of the others lining the roster of bouts, Sengoku's events have a way of producing some incredible results while having little appeal for the Yanks like myself. But those results should be reason enough to join us here at at 2:00 AM EDT on Saturday.

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