HERO'S 7 Preview
October 9, 2006, Yokohama Arena, Kanagawa, Japan.
Light Heavyweight Tournament Semi-Finals
Yoshihiro Akiyama vs. Kestutis Smirnovas
Akiyama is a much-decorated Judo champion who is being groomed to be a big star. Akiyama has a 7-1 MMA record, but he hasn't exactly faced the toughest competition since world class kickboxer Jerome Le Banner knocked him out in the first round of their March 2005 bout. The popular judoka was originally scheduled to face MMA legend Kazushi Sakuraba in a big money fight that HERO*S brass undoubtedly hoped would serve as a passing of the torch. Sadly, though, Saku was forced to withdraw from the tournament due to cumulative neck trauma resulting in vertebrobasilar damage, which restricts blood circulation to the head and neck. Replacing Saku will be the Lithuanian fighter who very nearly beat the legend at HERO*S 6. Smirnovas has a deadly left hand, and if Akiyama is not careful, he may fall victim to the same kind of vicious hook that almost stopped Sakuraba in the tournament opener. On the other hand, if it goes to a decision the judges will almost certainly hand the victory to Akiyama.
Melvin Manhoef vs. Shungo Oyama
Oyama is another judoka. His aggressive style generally makes for interesting fights, but he loses more often than he wins. He beat Rodrigo Gracie by decision in a tedious stall-fest at HERO*S 6 to advance to the semi-finals. Manhoef is an absolutely monstrous striker, who has won his last six fights by KO, with five of the six coming in the opening round. His 17-second demolition of Ian “The Machine” Freeman at Cage Rage 17 was arguably the most impressive KO of the year so far, with the only real competition being Cro Cop's devastating high kick against Wanderlei Silva. While both Akiyama and Oyama are hoping for an all-judoka finals, I'm guessing that the dominating Dutchman will make short work of Oyama and go on to claim his place as HERO*S Light Heavyweight Champion.
Middleweight Tournament Semi-Finals
Caol Uno vs. Ivan Menjiver
Uno is perhaps most widely known at this point for being the man who beat TUF contestant Din Thomas by decision at UFC 39. Ivan “The Pride of El Salvador” Menjivar also made a taped appearance on The Ultimate Fighter, losing by decision to Matt Sera at UFC 48. I'd guess that their fight is going to be much more exciting than most of the TUF tournament bouts we've seen on the reality show so far this season. Menjivar is known to spice things up with an occasional Powerbomb or German Suplex, and Uno has been in some great fights over the last year. I'd like to see Menjivar get the upset, as I'm still mad at Uno for eliminating BC native Kultar "Black Mamba" Gill from the tournament by tapping him out with a Rear Naked Choke. Interestingly, “The Pride off El Salvador” also fights out of Canada these days. Here's hoping he can avenge his compatriot's loss!
Gesias "JZ" Calvancanti vs. Rani Yahira
The other semi-final bout pits two Brazilian fighters against one another. I know very little about Yahira (The official K-1 website lists him a Rani Yahya), but he looked very impressive in choking Kazuya Yasuhiro out in just over a minute, back in August. I know even less about Calvancanti (Who they have listed as J Z Calvan), but he has quickly destroyed the last three fighters that he's faced, including a 30-second flying knee KO of Shooto veteran Hiroyuki Takaya to advance in the tournament. He's also a member of American Top Team, which means that he rolls with Jeff Monson and Denis Kang, and that's enough for me to give him the nod in this one. In fact, I'm going to go way out on a limb and predict that “JZ” will win an upset victory in the final round to become the HERO*S Middleweight Champion.
Light Heavyweight Reserve Fight
Tokimitsu Ishizawa vs. Carlos Newton
Ishizawa is better known as NJPW and AJPW professional wrestler Kendo Kashin. He's one of the people that was forced into MMA when Inoki went completely insane back in August, 2000. This fight should give Newton, the former UFC Welterweight champion, a chance to put an end to his three-fight losing streak. Newton vs. Manhoef is a fight I'd like to see some day.
Antonio Silva vs. Georgi Kaisinov
Silva's nickname is either “Junior” or “Gorilla” depending on who you ask. He's undefeated in MMA competition and in fact he's never had to go beyond the first round. He dominated “Big Cat” Tom Erickson at HERO*S 5 in a very impressive fight. Kaisinov is a 35 year old heavyweight freestyle wrestler from Uzbekistan. In the the 1992 World Cup, he lost in the gold medal match to the very man that "Gorilla" Silva demolished in his last MMA fight.
Don Frye vs. Min Soo Kim
I'm a Don Frye mark. His all-out war with pro wrestler Yoshihiro Takayama is one of the most amazing spectacles in the history of fighting, and I respect Frye as an MMA pioneer who was among the first to combine striking and wrestling skills. That being said, he looked out of shape and disinterested at HERO*S 6, and I sincerely hope he's taking this fight a little more seriously. Kim is an Olympic silver medalist in judo who holds an MMA victory over former WWE 'star' Sean O'Haire (But hey, I'm not telling you anything you don't already know). The Korean was choked out by Semmy Schilt in August, and he'll probably get choked out again on the 9th... if Frye doesn't gas out first.
Ken Kaneko vs. Hideo Tokoro
Kaneko is the actor who submitted to a “Crazy Horse” Bennett arm bar at PRIDE's New Year's Eve supershow. I'd guess that HERO*S signed him in an attempt to grab some mainstream media attention. Perhaps this was meant as a bid to regain some of the ratings points that might have been lost when Sakuraba was forced to withdraw from the card. It's also a nice way to get Tokoro back on the winning track after losing to Gill and Menjivar on successive shows. I honestly believe that Kaneko takes his MMA seriously, and word is that he has been training very hard... but he has no chance here.
Superfights/Freak Shows/Space Fillers