by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
It’s no secret that Japanese MMA promotion Sengoku is amidst a change.
Long gone are many of the company’s high priced imported talents such as Josh Barnett, Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal, and Jeff Monson. Joining them are local heroes Takanori Gomi, Kazuhiro Nakamura, and Michihiro Omigawa.
Yet with the loss of many name fighters, the company has managed to put on one of its most exciting shows of the year with last week’s SRC 14.
To look back at the evening’s action and how it plays into the company’s shift in philosophy, MMAWeekly.com spoke with HDNet commentator Michael “The Voice” Schiavello and got his view of the proceedings.
MMAWeekly: On paper, SRC 14 may have lacked star power, but it turned out to be one of the year’s most competitive cards. Is credit due to the promotion’s matchmaking or the fighters themselves?
Michael Schiavello: I think you have to credit both. SRC always puts on good, tough, well-rounded fights. So their matchmaking is undeniably good. But on this night in particular, even though it was sweltering outside and same so in the arena, every fighter dug deep, every fighter gave their all and put on one of the most emphatic cards I have ever seen.
This card was live on HDNet, which was a big thing for SRC and they told their fighters that they would be live on U.S. television. So that may have had something to do with everyone digging deeper, knowing the U.S. audience was watching live.
MMAWeekly: Is the letting go of big name stars and the addition of regional championships a good thing or bad thing for Sengoku’s future?
Michael Schiavello: I don’t see SRC slowing down, I just see them changing tact. Now we see SRC breeding a lot of good Asian talent and creating their own organization stars. Guys like Marlon Sandro, Masanori Kanehara, Jorge Santiago, and Maximo Blanco are all very impressive names whose stars have been built recently through SRC.
Add to them up and coming talent like Yasubey Enomoto, Hiroshi Izumi, Shoko Sato, Shintaro Ishiwatari, and I think SRC is taking a very positive direction in building its own stars and no longer simply loading a card with stars built mostly in other organizations.
MMAWeekly: Speaking of Enomoto, tell us your thoughts not only on his performance, but the other fighter headed to the Welterweight Grand Prix finals, Taisuke Okuno.
Michael Schiavello: This Welterweight GP needs more attention and has been sadly overlooked by a lot of the media.
Enomoto is my boy. He impresses the hell out of me and is one of the revelations of 2010. He mixed a Muay Thai style that I love with some slick Jiu-Jitsu and is one to keep an eye on definitely. As for Okuno he just produced the second best KO of the year (first was Sandro on Masanori Kanehara) and played a beautiful game against Nick Thompson, patiently waiting for the time to strike and striking to finish. I was very impressed.
MMAWeekly: After having a much-hyped drop to lightweight only to lose to a fighter he was expected to defeat easily, where does Akihiro Gono go from here?
Michael Schiavello: (Gono needs) to do some soul searching. He looks good, but he didn’t do anything that was match winning last weekend. He was just moving and jabbing and throwing kicks and punches, but nothing to step it up to the next level. You can’t fight like that. He needs to find that finishing fire again, like he had at Dynamite (against Hayato “Mach” Sakurai).
MMAWeekly: Capping off the evening was an instant classic that is easily in the running for Fight of the Year, with middleweight champion Jorge Santiago defeating Kazuo Misaki by corner stoppage with just 30 seconds left in the fight. Where does it rank in your mind?
Michael Schiavello: It was beyond incredible. I think it was the best MMA fight I have ever seen live and ranks up there as one of the greatest ever along with Gomi vs. Nick Diaz and Antonio “Minotauro” Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Mirko “Cro Cop” (Filipovic).
If this doesn’t win Fight of the Year there is something very wrong. (It) had superb stand-up in which both men dropped each other, submission attempts by both that came close to finishing, devastating ground and pound by both, and was just non-stop drama from beginning to dramatic end.
It has drawn massive attention to SRC, which is great for the organization. You know SRC has now produced the Knockout of the Year and the Fight of the Year in my opinion.
MMAWeekly: Thank you for your time, Michael, as always it’s greatly appreciated. Is there anything you want to tell fans about your upcoming activities?
Michael Schiavello: Thank you kindly. Stay tuned to HDNet in September and October as we have lots coming your way including MFC from Canada (Sept. 10), King of the Cage from Foxwoods (Sept. 17), Dream 16 from Nagoya (Sept. 25), K-1 Final 16 in Seoul (Oct. 2), and more!