When MMA was first conceived the main selling premise was style VS style, a test to find out what skill set was truly the best in combat sports. And while over the years many fighters have become equally cross-trained, there are occasionally matches where each fighter excels at an individual opposing discipline enough to give it an old school feel.
Thus is the case at Bushido 10 this coming weekend in Japan where striker Jens “Little Evil” Pulver takes on submission specialist Masakazu Imanari in a clash of very different styles.
Jens Pulver is a name that almost every MMA fan is familiar with. The last man to hold the UFC Lightweight Championship, Pulver is one of the best of the first generation Miletich Fighting System fighters.
Since his debut in MMA in 1999, Jens has always been one of the best strikers in the lightweight division. This is no surprise to anyone that knows him however, having always wanted to be a professional boxer and later having the opportunity to be such.
During Pulver’s UFC title run he beat veterans such as Caol Uno, Dennis Hallman, and handed BJ Penn his first loss. Then after a contract dispute landed him out of the company in 2002, Jens had streaks of wins and losses, but always remained a fan favorite.
After taking four straight Jens was invited to Pride FC and lost one of the best pure striking displays in the company’s history to Takanori Gomi at Shockwave 2004. Pulver would split his two fights in 2005, winning his Bushido debut before losing in the first round of the Lightweight Grand Prix to eventual finalist Hayoto “Mach” Sakurai.
After time off to heal from injury Jens returns to Japan for his first fight of the year against a very unorthodox fighter in Imanari in a fight that could very well set the pace for what could possibly be Pulver’s next big run.
If Pulver’s expertise lies in using his hands as a weapon, you couldn’t get more opposite as Masakazu Imanari is. Unlike Jens, Imanari’s skills lay on the ground, more specifically in attacking an opponent’s legs.
This is no more evident than by the fact that Masakazu has won nearly half of his fights by leg submissions. And when Imanari isn’t attacking opponents’ legs, he’s outlasting them and getting decision wins, proving he has the gas tank to stand up to just about anyone.
Such is how things have gone for Imanari in his four year career. Upon winning his first four fights, Masakazu had some mixed results during the mid-point of his career. Matching up against the likes of Jorge Gurgel, Marcus Aurelio, Luis “Buscape” Firmino, and Joachim Hansen proved to be a mixed bag for Imanari.
But since his loss to Hansen in his last Bushido appearance Masakazu has been on a tear. Imanari has won three in a row, including a single-night eight-man lightweight tournament in Deep where he defeated UFC vet Mike Brown and Pancrase star Yoshiro Maeda.
So now Masakazu has been invited back to Pride, this time taking on another high profile opponent in Pulver, in a fight that could very well determine his future with the company.
This is one of those fights where it’s clear what each fighter is going to do. While there may be some slight posturing, this match boils down to Pulver’s striking ability VS Imanari’s submission skills.
If there is one thing that boasts well for each fighter, it is that there is a gameplan that has worked against the other in the past.
Jens would be best served to fallow Hansen’s strategy against Imanari. He must keep the fight standing, pick his shots and not be suckered into going to the ground when Masakazu inevitably falls backwards multiple times during the fight in hopes of luring Pulver in.
For Imanari, he must not spend much of the fight on his back on the mat, waving Pulver in, he has to attack and force the fight to the ground through a takedown. Jens has been susceptible on the mat in the past and has lost via heel hook before, a Masakazu specialty.
Win or lose, both fighters’ futures in Pride is up in the air. Pulver has a deal with the IFL on the table and Imanari has never shown enough consistency or personality to become a solid Japanese hero ala Sakurai or Gomi.
With an Absolute/Open Weight GP just around the bend for Pride, this match of style VS style adds to the old school flavor that’s currently sweeping the promotion. And with their futures possibly lying elsewhere, both fighters can concentrate solely on this bout and maybe have the sleeper fight of the night.