by Rami Genauer
On a night in which fights were often decided less-than-conclusively, it was fitting that both marquee bouts ended in somewhat unsatisfying fashion. Kazuo Misaki took home the Welterweight Grand Prix belt, winning a split decision over Denis Kang. This was only after Misaki lost his initial bout to Paulo Filho, who was unable to continue due to injury. And in the sequel to his stunning defeat at the hands of Marcus Aurelio, Takanori Gomi was able to hang on for an uninspired split decision victory to retain his Lightweight Title.
Misaki’s tournament victory came with a bitter aftertaste, due to his earlier loss to Filho. It was not so much that Misaki lost, but the fashion in which he was defeated. In one of the night’s few fights with a decisive outcome, Filho took Misaki down almost immediately and passed to a strong, high mount that he held for the majority of the 10-minute first round. After raining down blows on a helpless Misaki, Filho was able to position the Japanese fighter in the corner and roll for an armbar with just 17 seconds remaining in the round, to win the fight in dominating fashion.
In the other semi-final match of the Grand Prix, Denis Kang patiently waited in the ring for more than 10 minutes for the conclusion of Akihiro Gono’s elaborate entrance, which included more than 30 backup dancers. The action in the ring was not nearly as entertaining. In what would become a trend for the evening, Kang and Gono traded blows and positions on the ground, with neither fighter able to inflict any significant damage or put the other fighter in any serious danger. Kang was awarded a unanimous decision on the strength of several overhand rights that sent Gono briefly to the mat.
The night’s final match saw Misaki take the place of the injured Filho to face Kang for the Grand Prix title. In the most even match of the night, Kang came out strong at the start of the fight, keeping Misaki at bay with a left jab and eventually taking him down to land punches from the guard and knees from the north-south position. After stopping a Kang takedown attempt midway through the round, Misaki turned the tables, getting Kang in the north-south position, while landing a dozen unanswered knees to Kang’s head. The first round ended with a big right hand from Misaki that dropped Kang to the canvas.
The second round progressed much as the first, with Kang starting strong with a double-leg takedown and landing punches from Misaki’s guard. After a stand-up by the referee, Misaki was able to proceed again to the north-south position where he landed more strong knees to the head of Kang. Though Kang attempted two armbars from the bottom later in the round, he was unable to land the submission, the attempts of which put him back in north-south, on the receiving end of more knees. With the second round’s end, the judges awarded Misaki a split decision victory to capture the Welterweight Grand Prix title.
The night’s co-main event was the highly-anticipated rematch between Lightweight Title holder Takanori Gomi and Marcus Aurelio, who choked Gomi unconcious in their non-title match seven months ago. The fight began with a long feeling-out process, with Aurelio landing solid leg kicks, while Gomi stood content to counter-punch. Seemingly tentative on the feet for fear of being taken down, Gomi circled the ring for the better part of the first round, unable to land any significant shots. After stuffing an Aurelio takedown, Gomi kicked at the American Top Team fighter’s legs, refusing to go the mat with the Brazilian Jujitsu expert. Though landing a crisp jab at will throughout the first round, Aurelio was only able to secure a takedown immediately before the closing bell of the first round.
Aurelio fared no better in the second round, securing a takedown into Gomi’s half-guard only to see the champion get back to his feet shortly afterward. The stand-up battle pitched back and forth, with Aurelio landing jabs, while Gomi caught him with several good lefts and a solid body kick to end the round. The close fight was awarded to Gomi via split decision, though a different set of judges could have easily given the match to Aurelio.
The uneven fight card, which saw nine of its twelve fights go to decision and stretch to six hours in length, sets the stage for some important matches in the near future. While Misaki’s win over Kang crowned him the Welterweight Grand Prix winner, he will likely need to face Filho again to prove that he is the legitimate champion. At the same time, the Grand Prix winner is guaranteed a shot at Dan Henderson and his Welterweight Title. Which must come first: Misaki’s defense of the Grand Prix belt against Filho or his well-deserved rubber match against Henderson to unify the belts? In addition, Gomi and Aurelio will likely also need a rubber match to provide resolution for their fights. With Aurelio winning his fight convincingly and Gomi only sneaking past in a split decision, the two will likely need a third match to decide the rivalry.
In other action, the most entertaining fight of the night was the battle of former Pro Wrestlers, Mike Barton and the always fun-to-watch Ikuhisa Minowa. Though outweighed by nearly 70 pounds and suffering from a six-inch height differential, Minowa was able to dominate the initial part of the fight, taking Barton down to the ground and making several armbar attempts. Barton fought back, however, landing huge shots that could not put Minowa down. Though in danger of getting stopped on several occasions, Minowa was able to persevere and earn a unanimous decision victory.
Only three fights on the night ended by a method other than decision, all three by submission. Along with Paulo Filho’s armbar of Kazuo Misaki, Miletich fighter Joe Pearson made quick work of Yoshiro Maeda, locking on a guillotine choke 54 seconds into the first round. Later in the event, popular Shooto fighter Shinya Aoki faced Clay French, who filled in on short notice for the injured Gilbert Melendez. After pulling French into his guard almost immediately, Aoki moved to a triangle choke and rolled for an armbar. French was forced to tap from the top-side triangle choke at 3:57 of the first round.
The remainder of the night’s fights were lackluster affairs that all went to unanimous decisions. In the reserve match of the Grand Prix, Gerard Mousasi dominated Hector Lombard for the win, while Murilo Bustamate sent Korean judoka Dong Sik Yoon to his fourth Pride loss in a fight that saw less than a dozen punches landed between the two combatants. In addition, Luis “Buscape” Firmino and Sanae Kikuta were able to take decisions from Nobuhiro Obiya and Jean Francois Lenogue in relatively uneventful fights in which the outcomes were never in doubt.