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Nippon Weekly: Strikeforce Considering Heavyweight GP Event in Japan

There are still no significant fights on the horizon, but there have been some big moves this week in Japan.

In this edition of Nippon Weekly, Strikeforce is considering holding its second quarterfinal round of their Heavyweight GP in Japan, UFC is planning its own Japanese events in 2011 and DREAM co-promoter Real Entertainment and Strikeforce are possibly planning a lightweight tournament sans-FEG.

Strikeforce Furthering Japanese Partnerships, Considering a Strikeforce Heavyweight GP Event in Japan?
DREAM and K-1 promoter Fighting and Entertainment Group are keeping us all anxiously waiting for news of their life or death, but the vultures are already swooping in.

In the same week that the UFC announced new distribution deals and plans to return to Japan, ESPN's Josh Gross reports that Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker is considering venues in the U.S., Canada, Brazil and also Japan for the second quarterfinal round of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, to be held April 9.

Leading Japanese promoter DREAM formed an alliance with Strikeforce in August 2009, but until now the agreement has been limited to fighter exchanges. The Japanese event is now having serious financial difficulties and DREAM co-promoter Real Entertainment, which consists of former Pride FC staff, is now considering furthering the alliance.

Scott Coker should be meeting with Real Entertainment's Sotaro Shinoda this Thursday to discuss the possibility of holding the second quarterfinal round of the heavyweight GP in Japan.

Gross also wrote on rumors this week that Real Entertainment is planning on holding an eight-man lightweight tournament starting in May, possibly without the support of FEG and possibly partnered with Strikeforce.

TV ratings and internal politics indicate that DREAM would be the first event under the FEG promotional banner to fall unless co-promoter Real Entertainment takes the initiative and splits the partnership now. Although the proposed lightweight GP will most likely not be under the DREAM name, a coalition with Strikeforce seems like one of the few plausible ways for Real Entertainment staff to continue promoting fights at this point.

"We're committed to keeping our fighters active, but if we can help DREAM and have our fighters go over there and participate in their tournament, why not?" said Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker to ESPN. "If things go the way they should, I feel confident we'll send a bunch of guys over."

While on the topic of Strikeforce, heavyweight Olympic judo gold medalist Satoshi Ishii is currently in negotiations to fight in the American promotion as a light heavyweight. Koichiro Matsumoto, Deep featherweight champion and Ishii's new best buddy, has been posting recently on his blog that Ishii will be fighting on the Feb. 12 show in New Jersey but that in fact will not happen. MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani has more.

More MMA Fighters Cross Over to Shoot Boxing
Cage Force lightweight champion Kuniyoshi Hironaka and Sengoku "training player" and 2012 Olympic wrestling hopeful Shigeki Osawa will continue the tradition of mixed martial artists crossing over into striking as the pair have recently signed to fight at Shoot Boxing's Feb. 19 Korakuen Hall event.

Hironaka, a veteran of UFC and DREAM, made a successful debut in Shoot Boxing in February 2010 with a second-round knockout victory over Shinichiro Kuroki. This time around, the BJJ black belt will face former Japanese middleweight boxing champion and Shoot Boxing convert Satoru Suzuki. Suzuki was given a rude welcome to the kickboxing world as he faced Mike Zambidis and Masato in his first two matches but has recently found his feet somewhat.

Osawa, whose slams and suplexes have punctuated his MMA career thus far, was inspired by the S-Cup Finals performance of judoka Toby Imada (video vs. Andy Souwer), but has been booked against a proven wrestler-killer in Hiroaki Suzuki. A top-ranked featherweight, Suzuki welcomed DREAM featherweight standout Mitsuhiro Ishida to the Shoot Boxing ring at the S-Cup Finals in November 2010. It did not end well for Ishida (video).

Also on the Feb. 19 Korakuen Hall event: Hiroki Shishido will rematch Bovy Sor Udomson and in female action 2010 Women's S-Cup finalist Ai Takahashi will face Zaza Sor Aree.

In a welcome case of a striker preparing properly to cross over into MMA, K-1 World Grand Prix 2009 in Seoul champion Singh "HEART" Jaideep has been working his grappling recently at top Japanese gym Grabaka with former ADCC champion Sanae Kikuta and training wrestling with recent UFC signee Riki Fukuda. Jaideep recently scored a first-round knockout over Strikeforce Heavyweight GP participant Sergei Kharitonov at the K-1 World GP Finals in December.

Deep Continue Strong Bookings for 52nd Impact
It may not make up for cancelling their event in Macao only days prior to fight day, but leading regional promotion Deep have recovered from their horrible start to 2011 to put together a strong showing for their 52nd event.

Deep Bantamweight champion Masakazu Imanari will return to action in a non-title bout against Yoshiyuki Yoshida teammate Hiroshi "Iron" Nakamura at Deep 52nd Impact on Feb. 25.

Imanari's "foot-fetish" style apparently did not impress DREAM execs, as he has not gotten a call back to the big show despite almost clearing out Deep's bantamweight division. Although Nakamura won't be getting a shot at Imanari's belt, "Iron" has proven a tough fighter to beat in the past, drawing with Shooto and Sengoku champion Hatsu Hioki in 2008 and has also never been submitted.

Also announced, Deep light heavyweight champion Yoshiyuki Nakanishi, who lost his place in the 2010 DREAM Light Heavyweight GP due to a change of plans by FEG, will move down to middleweight to face two-time Deep middleweight Cchampion Ryuta Sakurai. Also, Jewels starlet and former All-Japan Karate Champion Saori Ishioka will try to exact revenge on Korean kickboxer Seo Hee Ham. As previously announced, the main event will see Yuji Sakuragi and Kazuhisa Tazawa square off for the recently vacated Deep Megaton title.

Megumi Fujii's injury-Plagued 2010
While reflecting on the year that brought her first loss, a highly contested decision to Zoila Frausto in Bellator, Megumi Fujii has revealed that she was fighting while injured for much of 2010.

It started in March with two herniated disks that severely limited movement in her right leg and woke her every morning in tears with throbbing pain. Rehabilitation allowed Fujii to participate in an exhibition bout with close friend Miku Matsumoto in April, but even then just sitting down caused her back problems.

Still unsure of her back in June, Fujii went to Bellator (after getting her toenail torn off in May) and was able to score the first TKO of her career over Sarah Schneider but then tore a pectoral in July and injured her ribs during her September win over Lisa Ward. Fujii notes that the year ended on a good note though as her toenail finally grew back in November.

Weekend Action: "Mach" in Exhibition, Pancrase Neo-Blood Tournament Qualifiers
We are still waiting for the giants of Japanese MMA to come out of their winter slumbers but thankfully we finally will see some fighting at the regional level this weekend.

Former pound-for-pound great Hayato "Mach" Sakurai will return to action on Saturday in Gladiator for an exhibition match against his undefeated pupil, Yoshiki Harada. Sakurai most recently dropped a split decision on New Year's Eve at Dynamite to Jason High. Ikuhisa "Minowaman" Minowa was originally set to appear on the card (Minowa's manager runs Gladiator), but the DREAM Super-Hulk Champion is ill and unable to participate.

Pancrase will also get their year under way on Saturday with the qualifiers of the yearly Pancrase Neo-Blood rookie tournaments. Young fighters from Kazushi Sakuraba's Laughter7, Norifumi "KID" Yamamoto's Krazy Bee, Grabaka, Yoshida Dojo and a host of other local gyms will compete in divisions from flyweight and up for a chance at earning a professional Pancrase license.

Note: For pictures of Sexyama's new hair, Enson Inoue's handmade bracelets or Mach's meals, follow me on Twitter at @DanHerbertson.

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