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Sengoku Raiden Championship 13: Preview and Predictions

World Victory Road's Sengoku Raiden Championship has had a three-month hiatus and although their return effort lacks big names and established stars, what it does have is prospects. And some of these young fighters represent the very best of the next generation of fighters coming out Japan.

Featherweight champion Masanori Kanehara will attempt to make his first defense against Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and knockout artist Marlon Sandro in a fight which will surely make an impact on most people's rankings lists.

Along with the title fight, Olympic silver medalist Hiroshi Izumi, Sanae Kikuta cutting over 30 lb to welterweight, Maximo Blanco, Shigeki Osawa, Ikuo Usuda and SRC's Welterweight GP all make this an unmissable card for a glimpse into the future of Japanese MMA.

After the break, predictions so good that I like to call them pre-fight results.

What: Sengoku Raiden Championship 13

When: June 20th. Delayed broadcast on HDNet: 10PM ET/7PM PT on Friday, June 25th

Where: Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, Japan

SRC Featherweight Title Fight: Masanori Kanehara vs. Marlon Sandro
Masanori Kanehara is the 2009 SRC featherweight tournament champion but there is an asterisk that goes along with that title.

After dealing with Korean slugger Jong Man Kim in the opening round, Kanehara was awarded a controversial decision over "The Korean Zombie" Chan Sung Jung in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, Kanehara was soundly defeated by tournament favorite Hatsu Hioki but due to injuries sustained by Hioki, Kanehara advanced to the finals where he took a split decision over the highly rated Michihiro Omigawa. Omigawa was also heavily injured going into that match and again, the decision was controversial. Then on New Year's Eve at Dynamite!!, Kanehara took a unanimous decision over Japanese superstar Norifumi "KID" Yamamoto but clearly that was not the same KID that we saw in K-1 HERO'S.

Before the KID fight, Kanehara made a wise decision and went to train under Greg Jackson in Albuquerque, New Mexico but still, after all these fights we are left wondering if Masanori Kanehara has truly arrived. Undoubtedly, there are some solid names on his resume but there is a lack of decisiveness. Marlon Sandro will put Kanehara to the test.

Sandro is the current Featherweight King of Pancrase and holds a stellar record of 16-1. That one loss also has an asterisk on it, somehow losing a "must decision" in SRC's Featherweight GP to Michihiro Omigawa after being on the positive side of a majority draw.

A Nova Uniao BJJ black belt, Sandro also sports ridiculous power in his hands, as displayed in his 19-second KO of Nick Denis. Or his 2:33 KO over the highly under rated Yuji Hoshino. Or in his nine second demolition of Tomonari Kanomata. If there is one thing that Sandro doesn't lack, it is decisiveness.

Kanehara isn't really outstanding in any one aspect of the game whereas Marlon Sandro is outstanding in most aspects. I don't see any path to victory for Kanehara other than a dangerous plan of sticking and moving and trying not to get knocked out. He wont be successful, Marlon Sandro will KO Kaneraha in the first round to become the new SRC Featherweight Champion.
Pick: Sandro

Hiroshi Izumi vs. Chang Seob Lee
Hiroshi Izumi is 1-1, but is still young at 27 years old, and is one of the most decorated judokas ever to make the transition to MMA. His one TKO loss to Antz Nansen was the result of an insane decision to stand and trade with the kickboxer but he showed a dramatic improvement in his match with Katsuyori Shibata. Izumi has been working with Yoji Anjo of all people and has developed a striking/takedown combination called the "Izumi Shocker". While Anjo is certainly not be the best name in MMA, seeing Izumi finally look to seamlessly integrate his base of judo into his MMA game is exciting.

Chang Seob Lee is a CMA Korea fighter with a mediocre record of 3-4. One interesting aspect for Lee though is his 53 second KO over Henry Miller. Izumi and Miller share a lot of common traits. Build wise, they are very similar and their backgrounds of judo and sumo are technically quite similar. Miller has developed a glass chin though where as Izumi has shown an ability to take significant punishment.

Lee will offer no challenge to Izumi but Izumi hasn't displayed any ability to finish fights so the Athens Silver Medalist should take an easy decision.
Pick: Izumi

Sanae Kikuta vs. Yasubey Enomoto

In his last fight in January 2009, Sanae Kikuta was 201.5 lb. Since then he went up as high as 207 lb. 8 days ago Kikuta was 185 lb. This fight is to take place at 170 lb.

With only six losses in 37 outings, the former Light-Heavyweight King of Pancrase and 2001 88kg ADCC Champion is a consistent and proven commodity but he has never fought this light. Even in high school, Kikuta was over 20 lb heavier than he will be going into this fight. As it is his first experiment at weight cutting and Kikuta is now 38 years old, it places a big question mark over his head.

Fighting out of Swtzerland with a Japanese father and Peruvian mother, Yasubey Enomoto was a sparring partner for Paul "Semtex" Daley but is much more inexperienced at 3-1 (or 5-1 according to Sengoku) but has respectable credentials in both grappling and striking.

Enomoto is a young and really an unknown fighter. Kikuta at this weight is an unknown fighter.

I expect Kikuta to take the fight to the ground to avoid Enomoto's striking but he will have trouble getting a submission and will instead get a decision victory. I wouldn't be surprised if Kikuta gassed towards the end of the fight after cutting this much weight though and may find himself KO'ed in the later rounds. So basically, I have no idea.
Pick: Kikuta (or Enomoto)

Maximo "Maxi" Blanco vs. Rodrigo Damm
Rodrigo Damm is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Champion and a Brazilian national wrestling champion. That is a dangerous combination. Recently though, Damm has been intent on showcasing his improving striking and that has led to some hit and miss performances.

If you haven't seen Maximo Blanco fight, you are missing out.

Maxi is a 2007 Pan American Games Bronze Medalist and as one of the original "Sengoku Training Players" Maxi has received a solid education in MMA and support from some of Japan's best at Yoshida Dojo and J-Rock Studio. What is really exciting about Maxi though, is his explosiveness and aggressiveness. With five wins and five huge knockouts, Maxi brings the pain in every fight but is on the verge of being DQ'ed in every outing with one DQ and one no contest under his belt already. Regardless of the rules, soccer kicks, stomps and slams will be on the menu and referees, officials and doctors would be wise to take the utmost care when trying to calm him down post fight.

A telling fight to look back at for this fight is Damm vs. Jorge Masvidal. In that bout, Masvidal dropped Damm with a simple but well timed right straight off a left jab feint but Damm was able to recover and come back for the win. What was alarming was that Damm got caught off balance and went down so easily. Against Maxi, if Damm gets dropped the fight will be over instantly.

With Maxi's wrestling credentials he won't have to worry about getting taken down. Under the tutelage of boxing coach Katsuhisa Tashiro, Maxi is getting more powerful and more technical and he should have no problem running through Damm in the first round. Both of these fighters also have very cool names but I think Maximo Blanco wins here too.
Pick: Blanco

SRC Welterweight GP Series 2010 Block A: Keita "K-Taro" Nakamura vs. Omar De La Cruz
When Keita "K-Taro" Nakamura went to the UFC he was 15-0-2 with eight finishes via his trademark rear naked choke. Since that entering the UFC in 2006 K-Taro has gone 3-4, sustained a serious eye injury and decided to retire (for three months). Unfortunately K-Taro is not the same fighter he used to be. Although he is still young at 26 years old, Nakamura's experiences in the UFC seemed to have drained him as a fighter.

Dominican Republic native Omar De La Cruz almost had his break out year in 2009, making it to the finals of Bellator's welterweight tournament and picking up an impressive TKO over former UFC Middleweight Champion Dave Menne in the semi-finals. Ultimately though, De La Cruz was TKO'ed by Lyman Good in the finals of that tournament and came up short.

Both of these fighters have come close to breaking out but both have faltered at the final step. Watching Nakamura's performances in Cage Force and DREAM in his post UFC career has been uninspiring. What's great about this weltweight tournament is that it gives fighters a second chance to make a name for themselves but I think Nakamura is spent. De La Cruz should be able to pick up the KO in the second round.
Pick: De La Cruz

SRC Welterweight GP Series 2010 Block A: Takuya Wada vs. Jae Sun Lee
Takuya Wada is the former Welterweight King of Pancrase (a title which he forfeited rather than lost) and has not lost a fight since February 2007. What is notable about his record though is an astounding 10 draws. With Pancrase and Shooto only using two rounds for many of their lower level bouts draws aren't uncommon but to manage to rack up 10 along with 13 decisions with only six submissions shows that he has a problem finishing fights.

On paper Jae Sun Lee looks mediocre at 5-5 with only one win over an opponent with a winning record. In actuality he was reasonably impressive with his striking and even grappling in his last outing against Makoto Takimoto but ultimately lost a unanimous decision.

Takuya Wada is not a very impressive or an exciting fighter. This is his first trip to the bigger stage though and perhaps he will rise to the occasion against a lower level opponent I'm not too hopeful though. I expect him to play it safe and hold Lee down for a decision.
Pick: Wada

Featherweight: Shigeki Osawa vs. Katsuya Toida
Sengoku really did a wonderful job when it selected it's first two "Training Players" in Shigeki Osawa and Maximo Blanco. Like Blanco, Osawa is now one of the top prospects in Japanese MMA and although he lacks the physical power of Blanco he more than makes up for it with his wrestling. Osawa faltered in his first big step up in competition against Ronnie Mann but in his return against Kyung Ho Kang put on a clinic the likes of which has not been seen since Dan Severn vs. Anthony Macias back in 1994. Now, along with his wrestling Osawa has begun to add in striking, training at the famed Watanabe Gym.

Katsuya Toida is a highly experienced unorthodox grappler who has some solid wins but consistently comes up short whenever he makes a step up in competition. His loose catch style grappling lends itself to a "submit-or-be-submitted" match when rolling with other submission grapplers but in Shigeki Osawa he will face a straight wrestler.

Toida is the kind of fighter that needs space to work his game and Osawa will give him no space. If Toida attempts to create space on the ground, Osawa is just going to throw him. This fight will be decided on the canvas and Osawa is reaching the level of experience now where inconsistent fighters like Toida should offer few problems. Osawa by decision.
Pick: Osawa

Featherweight: Ikuo Usuda vs. Doo Ho Choi
Although there are a lot of prospects on this card, Ikuo Usuda is probably the top of them all.

Currently 6-0 and fighting out of Kiguchi Dojo, Usuda is the 2008 Shooto Rookie Champ at 154 lb where he won the award for most technical fighter and also the Sengoku Gold Cup Lightweight winner. For the first time, he will be moving down to featherweight. Usuda displays nonstop control on the mat and should look even better at featherweight where he should be bigger than most of his competition.

Doo Ho Choi is a late replacement for the injured Kang Kyung Ho and sports a record of 2-1 (or 9-2 according to Sengoku). His last fight was a split decision loss to the solid Yusuke Kagiyama which would be a good thing for his career if it was want only two weeks prior to this fight.

Usuda is one of the great hopes of Japanese MMA and should put on a clinic against Choi, taking home the decision.
Pick: Usuda

Light-Heavyweight: Ryo Kawamura vs. Hidetada Irie
In early 2007 Ryo Kawamura was considered a hardy knockout artist and an thought to have an exciting future as one of the few solid light-heavyweight Japanese fighters. Since then he has alternated between wins and losses, gone 1-3 in the Sengoku ring and it has become painfully obvious that he is just far too small for a light-heavyweight. If Kawamura is to revitalize his career, he needs to go down to middleweight and lose the excess weight. Fortunately for Kawamura though, he will have no problems in this fight.

Hidetada Irie is a pro-wrestler coming from the esteemed Kingdom Dojo but unfortunately he kind of missed the boat. Kazushi Sakuraba, Nobuhiko Takada, Daijiro Matsui, Hiromitsu Kanehara and many more learned catch and professional wrestling at that dojo but Irie debuted one year after Kingdom folded. Undeterred by the lack of a promotion to fight in, Irei created his own promotion with himself as the star but never achieved any fame. In the MMA world, Irie only has one win over an opponent with a winning record and the majority of the wins come over other pro-wrestlers.

Ryo Kawamura will KO Irie in the third round and if he wants to continue his winning streak after this fight he needs to cut down to middleweight.
Pick: Kawamura