"I guess that Yoshida had a feeling that one day [this match] was going to happen. I know he has mixed feelings right now, but he definitely can't and shouldn't lose this fight."
Both statements are from one man, Takahiro Kokuho. He manages and promotes both fighters – the student, Kazuhiro Nakamura, and the teacher, Hidehiko Yoshida. Kokuho is making them fight each other.
At ASTRA, on April 25th at the Nippon Budokan, the former public relations director of Sengoku and current J-Rock and ASTRA boss, has booked a fight between his two biggest stars that will mark the end of an era for Japanese MMA. Kokuho also hopes that it is the start of something.
"ASTRA is an event especially for Yoshida's retirement. It would be great if we can create another legend."
Since the demise of PRIDE FC in October 2007, Kazuhiro Nakamura has gone 2-4. Whether he can be the fighter to make the step up to legend remains to be seen, although it looks highly unlikely.
"I hope that Yoshida would be able to hand on what he has learned to Nakamura during the fight. Nakamura has been following Yoshida's path from Judo to MMA. I think he has a feeling that he wants to overtake his great mentor one day. This will be the last chance for him to do that. He is fighting against all kinds of pressure now, but I am sure he'll be fully concentrated on the fight in the ring."
It is a lot of pressure to put on a fighter who is looking to rebound, especially seeing as though the pressure is coming from his own manager.
As Kokuho had previously said, "Booking the fight that fans want to see led me to put my fighters in difficult bouts. But my fighters know my attitude and that motivates them to be victorious."
Michihiro Omigawa is one J-Rock-managed fighter who is reveling in the pressure. Before Omigawa entered Sengoku, his record was 4-7-1. Since his first fight under the promotion of Kokuho, Omigawa is 5-1 and is now a consensus top-10 fighter at featherweight.
Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal, Masanori Kanehara, Marlon Sandro and Hatsu Hioki are other notable examples of fighters placed under this kind of pressure and tough matchmaking by Kokuho who have made huge ranking leaps in a short period of time.
But at the moment, ASTRA is planned to be a one-off event, with Kokuho preferring to focus solely on this event rather than think about the future. He has however, been very successful in securing sponsors in times of economic difficulty, especially in the Japanese MMA world.
"We are concentrating on nothing but this upcoming event at the moment. As you can see from the sponsoring companies supporting ASTRA, Yoshida is a man beloved by so many people. ASTRA will give people a hope and a dream. Please keep an eye on ASTRA."
Even if ASTRA is not to continue, Kokuho's responsibilities do not end. He must still be concerned about where the fighters he manages through J-Rock will go afterwards.
After the falling out between Kokuho and SRC promoter World Victory Road at the end of last year, it may still be unlikely that J-Rock fighters would return to that promotion. Also, with DREAM having canceled its April South Korean show, it now has one less event than originally planned this year. There could be simply too many fighters on their roster already.
If there is no more ASTRA, fighters who do not perform at this event may have problems getting signed, at least in Japan. As with he does with his matchmaking, Kokuho takes the same tough stance with his management.
"Fighters who are doing well are going to be in demand. I will discuss it with each fighter and determine where is a suitable place for them to fight."
But this event is to focus on Yoshida. Kokuho's friendship with Yoshida has been ongoing for about 20 years now and they have had a professional relationship since the founding of J-Rock in 1997. But still, he doesn't want to say goodbye.
"Yoshida is not a fighter, but an athlete. A judoka who happened to be in the MMA business. He was in the ring as judoka. I have watched a lot of footage from Yoshida's past fights for ASTRA production. My honest opinion is that I want to watch more of his fights, but I can't say that he has to continue as I know about all the injuries from his judo career and know about his current condition. I would like to apologize to all the fans who wish that he would continue fighting."
ASTRA will be broadcast locally on SkyPerfect TV and while the infrastructure for Internet streaming is in place, it is still not decided if it will be implemented. There is no HDNet broadcast scheduled.
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