Backed by former Pride Fighting Championships staff in association with DEEP, M-1 Global, and the parent company to K-1, Fight Entertainment Group, Yarennoka signified the return of a major event to the Saitama Super Arena and continued a New Year’s tradition.
The arena was visibly full as fans waited in anticipation for the event to start. Referee Yuji Shamada was met with a familiar shower of boos during the introduction of the officials. The opening video showed footage of the fighters and closed with a picture of Fedor Emelianenko beside the words “We are back.”
The curtains fell and fans were graced with a drum ensemble lead by Nobuhiko Takada. Rage Against the Machine’s “Guerrilla Radio” played loudly as the fighters were introduced to a familiar voice belonging to Lenne Hardt. An emotional Shinya Aoki could be seen walking down with tears of joy.
In an apparent change of the fight order, Fedor Emelianenko and Hong Man Choi met in the sixth match of the evening. The former Pride Champion went for a body clinch early and pulled his opponent into his guard. Fedor attempted an armbar, but Choi was able to escape. With both fighters standing again, Fedor landed a lead left hand and pulled Choi down again. The Red Devil fighter took some punches from the Korean giant as he pulled guard, but another attempt at an armbar proved successful this time and Choi was forced to tap.
Actor Jean Claude Van Damme was on hand to congratulate Emelianenko in the ring afterwards.
Shinya Aoki faced late replacement Bukyung Jung in the main event of the evening. The 2000 Olympic Judo Silver Medalist stepped in for the injured Gesias “JZ” Calvancante, who was in attendance to watch the event. Fans cheered as Aoki entered the ring to his theme song “Baka Survivor.” Aoki embraced his father before he finished walking towards the ring.
Sporting gold spandex pants, the Shooto 167-pound Champion took the smaller Jung down early. The Korean Judoka attempted to secure an armbar, but Aoki eventually escaped. After failed leg/ankle lock attempts by both fighters, Aoki was content to stand and throw punches in Jung’s guard. The fight was reset to the center of the ring and Aoki unleashed a flurry of hammer fists followed by another ankle lock attempt. Jung surprised everyone when he attempted another armbar, but was unable to extend Aoki’s arm. Shinya stunned Jung with a right hand on their feet and finished the round in the Judoka’s guard.
Aoki took Jung down in the second round and transitioned from side mount into full mount. He threw countless unanswered strikes, but the fight surprisingly wasn’t stopped. After two rounds, the Pride veteran was awarded a unanimous decision. Although he lost, Jung proved to be a formidable opponent in his mixed martial arts debut.
Hayato “Mach” Sakurai earned a one-sided unanimous decision over Hidehiko Hasegawa. Hasegawa came out aggressive early, but was unable to land any significant strikes and was taken down on many occasions. Despite losing almost all of the exchanges, he constantly took the fight to Sakurai.
The second round saw a more animated Hasegawa. However, despite his best efforts, the DEEP Champion was outclassed again in every aspect. Sakurai was congratulated by Matt Hume as he exited the ring.
Coming off a big victory over Denis Kang, K-1 Hero’s Grand Prix Champion Yoshihiro Akiyama faced Kazuo Misaki in the fifth match of the evening. The fight started in a strategic battle of leg kicks with either fighter unwilling to over commit with their hands. Akiyama stalked his opponent, as Misaki landed the more effective leg kicks. With about four minutes remaining in the opening round, Akiyama landed a left-right combo that dropped his opponent. Misaki was able to regain his composure and was back on his feet shortly.
Minutes later, Misaki landed a left hook that floored the Korean Judoka. As Akiyama attempted to get up, “The Hitman” followed up with a kick to the head and strikes, forcing the ref to halt the fight. The former Pride Grand Prix winner embraced Nobuhiko Takada in the ring afterwards, earning the Grabaka fighter an Inoki slap.
Mitsuhiro Ishida put on a wrestling clinic and controlled Gilbert Melendez to earn a unanimous decision. Ishida’s wrestling prowess was apparent as he constantly secured takedowns and controlled Melendez from his back. Ishida avoided a majority of the exchanges on their feet and smothered most of the Strikeforce champion’s offense.
In the second round, Melendez landed in Ishida’s guard, but was unable to effectively do any damage. “El Nino” ended the fight with a big flurry, but his efforts weren’t enough to sway the judges’ decision. A very emotional Ishida thanked the fans afterwards.
Olympic Gold Medalist Judoka Makoto Takimoto earned a split decision over Murilo Bustamante. The Brazilian Top Team fighter controlled the fight early, getting the better of exchanges and demonstrated his ground prowess. Takimoto was more aggressive with his strikes than his previous fights and landed a big right hand that dropped Bustamante in the second. The former UFC Champion spent a majority of the second round on his back recovering from the big punch and it was enough to sway two of the judges in Takimoto’s favor.
Former Shooto Champion Tatsuya Kawajiri dominated Chute Boxe’s Luiz Azeredo for fifteen minutes of their fight. The “Crusher” used his wrestling prowess and signature ground and pound to completely outclass the Brazilian striker. The majority of the fight saw Kawajiri throwing punches and hammer fists inside Azeredo’s guard, earning a unanimous decision for his efforts.
Pride and XFO veteran Mike Russow submitted Fedor Emelianenko’s teammate Roman Zentsov in the opening bout of the night. Russow secured a single leg early and took Zentsov down. He attempted a north-south choke, but later gave up on it. After more posturing, Russow secured the north-south choke again and the Red Devil fighter was forced to tap.
M-1 President and CEO Monte Cox thanked the Japanese crowd prior to the main event. He let fans know that M-1 Global would be back in 2008. All of the fighters appeared in the ring after the event to count down to the New Year and address their fans.
Yarennoka proved to be a very good event. Pride Fighting Championships’ demise was very heartbreaking to many fans and Yarennoka provided an opportunity for those fans to relive those days they cherished.
-Shinya Aoki def. Bukyung Jung by Unanimous Decision, R2
-Hayato Sakurai def. Hidehiko Hasegawa by Unanimous Decision, R2
-Fedor Emelianenko def. Hong Man Choi by Submission (Armbar) at 1:54, R1
-Kazuo Misaki def. Yoshihiro Akiyama by TKO at 7:48, R1
-Mitsuhiro Ishida def. Gilbert Melendez by Unanimous Decision, R2
-Makoto Takimoto def. Murilo Bustamante by Split Decision, R2
-Tatsuya Kawajiri def. Luiz Azeredo by Unanimous Decision, R2
-Michael Russow def. Roman Zentsov by Submission (North-South Choke) at 2:58, R1