by Al Yu – MMAWeekly.com
(LEFT TO RIGHT: Melvin Manhoef and Gesias “JZ” Calvancanti)
K-1 HEROS 154-POUND SEMI-FINAL TOURNAMENT MATCHES
GESIAS CALVANCANTI (11-1-1) vs RANI YAHIRA (9-1)
Gesias “JZ” Calvancanti is a Shooto and K-1 Hero’s veteran who trains with American Top Team, also home to fighters such as Denis Kang and Marcus Aurelio. A native of Brazil, the BJJ purple belt is coming off of a KO victory over Hiroyuki Takaya at the first round of the K-1 Hero’s 154-pound tournament in August.
Rani Yahira is a BJJ practitioner and a protégé of Rickson Gracie. The BJJ black belt choked out Kazuya Yasuhiro to advance to the second round of the 154-pound tournament.
Yahira has been impressive in his two K-1 Hero’s appearances, utilizing aggressive takedowns and strong control to defeat his opponents. Although Gesias is no slouch on the mat, Yahira’s grappling experience may give him a little edge. For Calvancanti, his opponent will probably be the most skilled and difficult submission fighter he has yet to face. I think Gesias is well-versed and competent enough to avoid getting submitted so fans can probably expect a stalemate on the ground.
Yahira isn’t known as an aggressive striker but is capable of throwing some nice combinations. However, he has been reluctant to display any of his striking in recent fights. Yahira favors low kicks but tends to leave himself open for counterstrikes. Gesias has power behind his hands and likes to throw straight and overhand rights. He has proven to be well-rounded on the ground or standing up. Calvancanti’s striking has improved greatly since joining American Top Team.
Although Rani is fighting at 154 pounds, he’s a natural 145-pounder and is considered a physically small lightweight. Calvancanti will have a size advantage and that will probably be a factor in the outcome of this fight. In his only professional loss to Fredson Paixao, Rani faced a more experienced BJJ practitioner. However, technique wasn’t what lost the fight for Yahira; it was his opponent’s physical size. Rani was unsuccessful at taking Paixao down and was forced to pull guard on many occasions. His opponent used his strength to control the fight and remained the aggressor, earning him a unanimous decision.
Gesias has faced better opposition than Yahira. In my opinion, he defeated Joachim Hansen back in July of 2004 but the judges didn’t see it that way. Both fighters have strong takedowns but “JZ” is more aggressive with his strikes. Look for Calvancanti to use his size and striking advantage to finish off Yahira in the second round.
PREDICTION: Gesias Calvancanti TKO Rani Yahira RD2
CAOL UNO (21-8-4) vs IVAN MENJIVAR (20-5)
Caol Uno is a veteran of Shooto, UFC and K-1. In the first round of the 154-pound tournament, Uno finished the “Black Mamba” Kultar Gill with a rear naked choke. The former Shooto welterweight champion will be making his seventh appearance in K-1 Hero’s.
At K-1 Hero’s 6, Ivan Menjivar and Hideo Tokoro put on a spectacular ground war. After two rounds, Menjivar earned a majority decision in one of the most memorable displays of grappling in MMA history. The “Pride of El Salvador” is undefeated in K-1 after two appearances.
Seasoned veteran Caol Uno has been fighting since 1996 and has faced high quality opposition throughout his career. Some say he’s past his prime but I would have to disagree. He fought well against Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto back at K-1′s 2005 lightweight tournament before having the fight stopped due to a cut. Since then, he has won three straight fights under the Hero’s banner.
Uno is more of an aggressive fighter than Ivan’s previous opponent Hideo Tokoro. Although Menjivar usually puts on competitive fights, he may have some difficulties dealing with Uno’s size and experience. Menjivar is very good on the ground but I feel that Caol is too skilled and versed to fall for any of his submission attempts. Like Rani Yahira, Ivan Menjivar is a natural 145-pounder and is considered a small lightweight.
I expect this to be a tough and competitive match for both fighters. On the ground, I foresee a stalemate as both guys have very good submission defense. Unlike Tokoro, Caol is more aggressive with his strikes when he’s in control. At times, Menjivar has been too comfortable adjusting to his opponent’s strategy rather than seeking to impose his own. Look for Uno to use his size and well-roundedness to earn a tough decision over the “Pride of El Salvador”.
PREDICTION: Caol Uno decisions Ivan Menjivar
CAOL UNO VS. GESIAS CALVANCANTI
Both fighters will have already fought difficult opponents. However, I feel that Calvancanti will walk into the finals as the more rested guy. As long as Gesias can keep dictate the pace of the finals, he should be able to wear down the already fatigued Japanese fighter with his edge in striking and physical strength. “JZ” has been known to be a bit torpid when he gets tired so he’ll need to pace himself. It should be a close final match but I think Calvancanti will earn a close decision.
TOURNAMENT WINNER: Gesias “JZ” Calvancanti
K-1 HEROS 187-POUND SEMI-FINAL TOURNAMENT MATCHES:
MELVIN MANHOEF (14-2-1) vs SHUNGO OYAMA (6-9)
Melvin Manhoef is the current Cage Rage light heavyweight champion. The Dutch kickboxer is coming off of a lopsided victory over Crosley Gracie. Gracie was a late replacement for Manhoef’s original opponent Carlos Newton.
Shungo Oyama is a PRIDE and K-1 Hero’s veteran. The Japanese Judoka advanced to the second round of the 187-pound tournament after a decision victory over Rodrigo Gracie.
These two first met at K-1 Hero’s 4 with Manhoef emerging the victor. Oyama suffered a deep cut above his eye after a powerful right hook and high kick from the heavy-handed Dutchman. The fight was stopped due to the doctor’s recommendation.
I’m not sure why K-1 matched these two against each other again. There was no controversy from their first fight to warrant a rematch. Despite never being submitted, one of Manhoef’s weakness would be his suspect ground game. The Dutchman displayed an improved sprawl in his last fight against Crosley Gracie. However, a good sprawl would be an ineffective defense against throw attempts from a Judoka.
Oyama has what it takes to defeat Manhoef but his only chance is to bring the fight to the mat or take it to a decision. The prior seems more of an ideal route as Oyama favors heel hooks and toe holds against strikers. I’m hoping Shungo pulls off an upset with a submission but I think Manhoef’s striking prowess will prevail.
PREDICTION: Melvin Manhoef KO Shungo Oyama RD1
YOSHIHIRO AKIYAMA (7-1) vs KESTUTIS SMIRNOVAS (16-6)
Korean Judoka Yoshihiro Akiyama is a K-1 Hero’s veteran. Having fought his entire career with the organization, Akiyama is becoming very popular among the fans. In the first round of the 187-pound tournament, Akiyama earned a technical submission victory over Taiei Kin due to a controversial ref stoppage. After scoring a takedown, Akiyama was able to attain a full mount. The Judoka applied an armbar that Kin would later spin out of. Clearly not in danger of being submitted and with no expression of pain on his face, the referee unexpectedly stopped the fight. Due to the tournament nature of the fight, a winner was required so the loss will unfortunately stay on Kin’s record.
Kestutis Smirnovas is the current Shooto European champion and a veteran of Rings Lithuania and ZST. The Lithuanian is a late replacement for Kazushi Sakuraba, who was unable to compete due to complications from poor blood circulation. Sakuraba defeated Smirnovas in the first round of the tournament. Early in the fight, Smirnovas landed a left hook that dropped the Japanese star to his hands and knees. In a much debated move, the referee pulled the barely conscious Sakuraba from the ropes and positioned him back into the ring. The questionable move allowed Kazushi a little time to recover.
Akiyama’s stand up game is decent but can benefit with some refinement in technique and hand speed. His punches are fairly accurate and I feel his punching power is a bit underrated. The Judoka also favors spinning back kicks. Smirnovas isn’t known as a remarkable striker but he does possess a powerful left hook, Kazushi Sakuraba can attest to that. Kestutis has a decent jab and likes to counter with short hooks.
Akiyama and Smirnovas are well-versed in submissions. Both fighters have a lot of wins by submissions but mostly over sub par or inexperienced opponents. Smirnovas’ armbar loss to Sakuraba was due more to exhaustion rather than a lack of skill. In a recent media workout session, Kestutis stated that he’s been practicing Judo for the past 15 years and may even consider wearing a gi. Akiyama is a technically sound Judo practitioner so it’ll be interesting to see if Smirnovas plays into Yoshihiro’s strengths.
Smirnovas may prove to be Akiyama’s toughest test to date. The Lithuanian will be a step up in competition when compared to Akiyama’s previous opponents. This should be a tough fight and I expect to see a fair amount of grappling. In his past fights, Smirnovas has been the aggressor, steadily moving forward and going for takedowns. Against Kazushi Sakuraba, Kestutis seemed a little tentative and I feel he may start off the same way against Akiyama.
Having never fought past two rounds, it will be interesting to see how Akiyama’s conditioning will hold up. Although Smirnovas has gone the distance on multiple occasions, one has to wonder if his fatigued performance from his last fight will be a foreshadowing of this upcoming match. Look for Akiyama to try to secure a clinch at the first opportunity and take the fight to the ground. The key for the victor in this fight will be ground control and aggressiveness. I think Akiyama will pull it off.
PREDICTION: Yoshihiro Akiyama decisions Kestutis Smirnovas
MELVIN MANHOEF VS. YOSHIHIRO AKIYAMA
Yoshihiro Akiyama earns a spot into the finals against a fresher Melvin Manhoef. After a hard fought decision over Smirnovas, Akiyama will probably be a little fatigued. The Judoka has faced some big strikers but none of those previous opponents have the combined power, speed, and experience that Manhoef brings to the ring. Melvin has had a problem with his cardio in the past so the longer fight goes, the more it benefits Akiyama. However, I don’t think it will go the distance. Look for the Dutchman to do what he does best and finish Yoshihiro Akiyama with strikes early in the first round.
TOURNAMENT WINNER: Melvin Manhoef