Several books have been written about individual boxing matches. Fights like Ali vs. Frazier or Tyson vs. Douglas are celebrated not just because they are entertaining scraps, but also because the stories they tell seem to transcend a simple melee. For a myriad of reasons many thought these type of fights would never happened in MMA. However, on Sunday morning, while most North American fans dreamt of a world without Jon Schorlee, one of the best fights in MMA history happened at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo.
The decline of Japanese MMA has made almost every fight a proverbial last stand. Takanori Gomi and Yushin Okami’s wins earlier this month were hailed as landmark victories for the sport in the Land of the Rising Sun.
In order for SRC or Dream to survive native stars must rise. Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto has struggled. Hidehiko Yoshida recently retired. Gilbert Melendez handled Shinya Aoki with relative ease.
In the co-main event of SRC 14, Akihiro Gono, making his lightweight debut, dropped a tedious decision to Team Asashoryu representative Jadamba Narantungalag. What was supposed to be a showcase match, a former Pride FC star taking on a teammate of the supreme Sumo bad boy, turned out to be a disaster.
Even if Kazuo Misaki had wanted to fight simply for himself against Jorge Santiago it would have been impossible.
Through five action-packed rounds Misaki showed that he would do anything to give his promotion the star it needs. He may have lost, but the fight gave fans and pundits something else. Misaki and Santiago showed how amazing an MMA fight can truly be.
Misaki faced off against the SRC middleweight champion for a second time early Sunday morning. Back on Jan. 4, 2009, Santiago pulled off a last-minute rear-naked choke submission to best Misaki and take the title intended for the then “Grabaka Hitman.”
For the first two rounds, Misaki used a lot of footwork to stay away from Santiago’s improved striking. Late in the second, Misaki caught his opponent in a tight guillotine choke. He set it up by faking an outside-trip takedown and jumping for the choke. Santiago successfully defended, but certainly lost the round.
After being nearly submitted, Santiago returned with a spectacular third round. The champion landed a head kick and followed it up with a straight right that pasted Misaki to the canvass. The end appeared to be close, but normally trigger-happy referee Yoshinori Umeki allowed the fighters to continue.
The fourth round turned out to be a round of the year candidate. Misaki landed a two-punch combination that landed without much power. However, the following left hook flatted Santiago. The challenger stormed his opponent and landed a variety of wild strikes, took the mount and forced Santiago to flee under the ropes.
After Umeki issued Santiago a red card for trying to escape, the fight restarted on the feet with about 30 seconds left in the round. Misaki was headed towards a 10-7 round, a 10-8 round minus the red card deduction. However, with about 10 seconds remaining, Santiago dropped Misaki with a stiff right.
Despite having the best round of the fight, Misaki was clearly the worse for wear between rounds. It appeared as if the challenger just had to hold on for the victory.
Misaki was still a bit out of it as the fifth round began. Santiago lands a hard knee to once again put down the challenger. From there, the champion was all over Misaki looking for the finish. Misaki held on for his life, but with 29 minutes left in the fight his corner threw in the towel to signal surrender.
In a lot of ways, everyone involved in the fight knew they were a part of something special. At the end of the fight, Misaki was taking some serious firepower. It was clear that he was willing to take anything to stay in the fight. After the final bell, both of his eyes were swollen shut. He stopped and embraced former K-1 star Kozo Takeda who was doing commentary for the Japanese-language broadcast.
On Twitter, Shiroobi of SkillMMA said that Misaki decided to fight with a damaged knee ligament instead of pulling out of the fight.
Santiago was able to come back and collect the victory. Misaki tested his Achilles heel, his chin, and he was able to persevere and retain his title. He has put together a rather impressive streak and in the process become the promotion’s most consistent champion.
Even the previously mentioned Uemki stepped up his game. Anyone who has been watching stateside MMA recently understands how a poor referee can prevent a fight from being great. Normally, Umeki falls into that category, but for this fight he was solid. He recognized that Santiago was escaping the ring in the fourth round, and he also did the right thing by not stopping the fight in the third, fourth and fifth rounds.
We are only eight months into the year, but one thing is certain. At the end of the year, when “Fight of the Year” awards are given out, Jorge Santiago vs. Kazuo Misaki II should be the unanimous choice. If it gets passed over in favor of a glorified bar brawl between two guys hungry for a Zuffa bonus, it will certainly be a shame.
These two fighters have collectively held belts in Pride, Strikeforce and SRC and hold wins over Trevor Prangley, Denis Kang, Kazuhiro Nakamura and Dan Henderson. However, their fight on Sunday in August says more about their mettle as competitors than any other accomplishment.