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Sengoku: Soul of Fight Predictions

World Victory Road's end of year event "Sengoku: Soul of Fight" is an ambitious effort. Twenty-eight men'ss and women's bouts fought under MMA, Muay Thai, kickboxing, "jacket rules", a featherweight title fight and welterweight and bantamweight tournaments.

Even more ambitious would be an attempt to predict every single outcome on one of the biggest fight cards of all time. Fortunately for my keyboard and my sleep schedule, I'm not an ambitious man and so after the jump I'll break down the fights that you need to know about for the first of two huge nights in Japanese MMA.

What: Sengoku: Soul of Fight
When: Dec. 30th, 2010 (Airing on HDNet in two parts in early January)
Where: Ariake Colosseum in Tokyo, Japan

MMA Rules: Marlon Sandro vs. Hatsu Hioki (SRC Featherweight Title Fight)
Aside from the controversial losses to recent UFC-signee Michihiro Omigawa, Sengoku champion Marlon Sandro and Shooto champion Hatsu Hioki have both looked unbeatable over the past two years. For Sandro, it has been his dynamite uppercuts that have been ending fights in the opening seconds, while Hioki has dominated with his incredibly slick guard passing, top-side triangles and armbars. Unless they are standing across the ring from a guy called Jose Aldo, I would find it impossible to pick against either of these fighters which is exactly what makes this bout so enticing.

Sandro effectively has no weaknesses. His great ground game won him the King of Pancrase title and incredible power and stamina gave him the Sengoku strap. Hioki is a more technical fighter on the ground and on the feet (although lacking any notable power), has a great jaw and conditioning but he does have one weakness and that is his ability to get sucked into the wrong game plan. He has avoided his tendency to follow a losing game plan to the grave for some time now but any time that Hioki spends trading with Sandro will be a mistake. During a five-round fight it is inevitable that some lack of focus will come and Hioki will make that mistake. One minute, one second even, is all the time that Sandro needs to end this fight.
Pick: Sandro

MMA Rules: Kazuo Misaki vs. Mike Seal
Kazuo Misaki may have given us one of the greatest fights ever in his recent epic five-round title bout with Jorge Santiago, but it nearly killed him. It's hard to know how dramatic PRIDE Welterweight GP champ is being when he says this but knowing the kind of character that Misaki is, it's hard to argue with him when he says that the towel that came flying into the ring 30 seconds before he would have won a Sengoku title saved his life.

After his war with Santiago, Misaki needs a rest. Mike Seal is not a pushover but he is being booked as that rest. Seal has had one fight since 2007 and it was a loss. What he does have is an aggressive, entertaining striking game and lots of tattoos and that will make for an entertaining fight for the Japanese public. Misaki should be able to put Seal away with a submission early but the bout should feature some fun moments.
Pick: Misaki

Kickboxing Rules: Buakaw Por. Pramuk vs. Hiroki Nakajima
There are Muay Thai rules bouts on this card and yet Buakaw isn't fighting under them. The recently crowned Shoot Boxing S-Cup champion and two-time K-1 MAX champ finally started to look like the dominating 2004 Buakaw that the 155lbs kickboxing division used to fear under the clinch-liberal Shoot Boxing rules this year. Now he returns to a neutered rule set against 2010 K-1 Japan Tournament Finalist Hiroki Nakajima and it really is a shame.

The current K-1 rules were effectively put in place to stop Buakaw from dominating and although he has adapted well, he really hasn't been able to truly shine since. The Thai will have the tools to avoid Nakajima's dangerous right and will take a solid, but due to the rules, unimpressive decision.
Pick: Buakaw

MMA Ladies Rules: Megumi Fujii vs. Emi Fujino
Megumi Fujii, sporting a perfect 22-0 fight record, was the woman to stop going into the Bellator 115-pound tournament finals and however controversial it was, Zoila Frausto managed to do just that. Attempting to rebound from the first loss of her career, Fujii will face an overmatched Emi Fujino and should return to her winning ways. Fujii no doubt has some judge related demons due to the Frausto fight so expect the AACC great to look to be the first fighter to ever finish Fujino.
Pick: Fujii

MMA Rules: Masanori Kanehara vs. Yoshiro Maeda
Former SRC Featherweight champ Masanori Kanehara finally makes his return to the ring to face WEC title contender Yoshiro Maeda in what shall be a contender for fight of the night. Maeda has a reputation as a fighter that can either really demolish an opponent or implode in the ring and there is never really a way to tell which guy will show up while Kanehara is a consistent, tireless all-rounder that has the ability to push all but the elite to the limit. Although Maeda is 2-2 in his last four, it has struck me that he has been a much more focused and aggressive fighter recently and his striking in particular has really been on. It will be an upset if Maeda manages it but I think Kanehara falls for the second time in a row.
Pick: Maeda

MMA Rules: Taisuke "Gouten" Okuno vs. Ryo Chonan
It's unfortunate that Dan Hornbuckle has been forced out his anticipated matchup with Anderson Silva flying heel hooker Ryo Chonan, but at the very least Taisuke Okuno will make a fun replacement. Okuno's style of walking forward and absorbing punishment to deal out some of his own will win him fans but against opponents like Chonan, will win him few fights. Chonan's more technical striking and top game will see him easily handle Okuno.
Pick: Chonan

MMA Rules: Maximo Blanco vs. Won Sik Park
Japan's best lightweight prospect vs. Korea's best lightweight prospect. Blanco was on the hunt for a belt this New Year's Eve and although he doesn't get a chance to get the SRC strap, the fight against Park is probably one of the best fights that could have been put together.

The spectacular violence that Blanco brings has been well documented but Park is a much more under appreciated product. Powerful taekwondo (Korean military taekwondo, not your McDojo stuff) kicks, excellent boxing and a measured, cool but killer instinct have essentially seen Park go undefeated since his debut (ignore the Hironaka loss via eyepoke).

Unfortunately, there is one large problem with this bout: Won Sik Park is currently serving his compulsory military duty in the Korean army. Park's obligations to his homeland in this time of crisis have reduced his training to a bare minimum and trying to prepare for the beast that is Maximo Blanco in the current conditions in Korea must have been incredibly stressful. If this bout was fought when both men were mentally stable and well trained it would have been a pick 'em. Under these unfortunate conditions: Maxi gets another bit of footage for his highlight reel.
Pick: Blanco

MMA Rules: Yasubey Enomoto vs. Keita "K-Taro" Nakamura (Welterweight GP Final)
The finals of SRC's welterweight tournament will pit one new arrival on the global MMA scene and one fighter coming out of retirement looking for a second chance. Yasubey Enomoto's arrival will be complete after he takes out Keita "K-Taro" Nakamura. The UFC veteran looks to be a rejuvenated fighter and should be able to finally test his Swiss-Peruvian-Japanese opponent on the ground but Enomoto will be up to the task and his excellent striking will get him the grand prix victory. Enomoto will be a definite fighter to watch in 2011 if his ground game does prove to be better than his striking as he claims.
Pick: Enomoto

MMA Rules: Kazunori Yokota vs. Jadamba Narantungalag
Yokota's return from an injury he suffered in a car accident prior to his Dynamite!! 2009 meeting with top lightweight Tatsuya Kawajiri was unspectacular as he dropped a sloppy decision to a drained Brian Cobb. Narantungalag will be a fighter that Yokota will especially be looking to make a more spectacular impression on as the Mongolian shocked the world with a dominating decision over Yokota's ex-teammate Akihiro Gono in his last outing.

It's hard to get a good reading on where Yokota is at this point of his career as injury and ring-rust has been a large factor in his last two bouts. Narantungalag on the other hand is a hardly a known quantity but his performance against Gono was beyond impressive. The Team Asashoryu product has a chance to really throw himself into the lightweight mix if he gets past Yokota here and I think he will. Narantungalag's powerful strikes and Mongolian wrestling keep the "Grabaka Speedstar" in check and he gets the second consecutive upset.
Pick: Narantungalag

MMA Rules: Mamed Khalidov vs. Yuki Sasaki
Although Khalidov still boasts a 20-4-2 record, the last twelve months has not been good to the Chechen-Polish mixed martial artist as he has only managed to add one loss and one draw to his ledger. Grabaka's Yuki Sasaki though has had a much tougher time lately as he has only managed one win six outings over the past three years.

Sasaki is a solid submission fighter, solid technical striker and should provide a good test for Khalidov which is what he really needs at this point. This fight is really sink or swim for Khalidov. I have him getting past Sasaki in any case but if one of his spinning hook kicks land he will find himself getting booked as a premiere middleweight. If he ends 2010 with a more mediocre 1-1-1 record then finding a fight in the new year will be a whole lot more difficult.
Pick: Khalidov

MMA Rules: Yoshihiro "KISS" Nakao vs. Dave Herman
Yoshihiro Nakao's reliance on his "kiss" gimmick, and the fact that he is a less than thrilling fighter, has led to him being a criminally underrated heavyweight. Aside from a knee injury suffered in the opening minutes of his fight against Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva, Nakao has not lost since 2006. Herman on the other hand can instantly grab people's attention. 19 wins and only two losses with every victory coming inside the distance. Herman does have one problem though and that's his work ethic. It was exposed in his the first loss of his career when he came in soft and gassed against Mu Bae Choi and completely lost the will to fight.

Nakao is a similar fighter to Choi in that he has a great chin (when not getting sucker punched after kissing a Texan), will lean on his opponent and smother them into losing a decision. Herman will have to work hard to put Nakao away early. If he doesn't he will be on the bottom getting ground down for three rounds.
Pick: Nakao

MMA Rules: Akitoshi Tamura vs. Taiyo Nakahara (Bantamweight Asia GP Semi-finals)
The first round of Cage Force representative's quarterfinal bout against Shintaro Ishiwatari was probably one of the rounds of the year in 2010 although few people saw it. The heavy hitting, high risk style that he brings to the ring makes for entertaining scraps and in this case former Shooto champion Akitoshi Tamura will be more than happy to accommodate him.

Tamura's Shooto title has got him a long way in terms of credibility in his career but since he lost the title he has been less than impressive and only just managed to get past Shoko Sato in his last outing. If Nakahara wins it will be called by many to be an upset as Tamura is the name fighter here but I like the Cage Force rep to make it into the GP finals in one of the fights of the night.
Pick: Nakahara

MMA Rules: Manabu Inoue vs. Shunichi Shimizu (SRC Bantamweight Asia GP Semi-finals)
Shunichi Shimizu's ZST style grappling impressed in the quarterfinals of the Bantamweight GP but against the King of Pancrase Manabu Inoue, Shimizu won't have the same room to work his rolling kneebars and omo-platas. Inoue isn't a showy fighter in particular but will tie up Shimizu to take the decision and move into the bantamweight tournament finals to set up a Pancrase vs. Cage Force bout for 2011.
Pick: Inoue

MMA Ladies Rules: Roxanne Modafferi vs. Hitomi Akano
This bout is intriguing for a strange reason. Modafferi and Akano are both Strikeforce veterans, both 135 pounds, both train with Megumi Fujii at AACC but have never trained together just in case they should one day meet in the ring. Well that day has come and although I'm not sure that I agree with the logic behind avoiding a perfect training partner in the gym every day, at least we have a great fight.

Akano's performance in the ShoMMA 135-pound tournament is a much better indication of her abilities than the farce of a fight against Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos. The former Smackgirl Champ should be too refined on the feet and good enough on the ground game to take a close decision.
Pick: Akano

Valkyrie Rules: Rin Nakai vs. Mika "Hari" Harigai
Really there is no need for me to break down this fight. The reason I write on it is so that I can link to Nakai's unusual blog and so that hopefully someone from Strikeforce pays attention to one of the great unknowns in Japan.

Nakai is the undefeated Valkyrie open weight champion and Hari is 6-23-1. The purpose of the bout is so that Japan's best 145-pound woman can be introduced to the world (although her blog does a pretty good job of that). Nakai will takedown and pound Harigai out in the first round, do some flips across the ring and then flex her biceps. Nakai has just about cleared out Japan's heavy girls. Strikeforce: pay attention.
Pick: Nakai