The featherweights continue to get a big push. Two weeks ago DREAM held the first round of their featherweight tournament, and this week Sengoku’s participants will take to the ring. This tournament may not have the big names like DREAM, but it remains stocked with plenty of young talent and the winner should make an impact on the world rankings.

Tournament Bouts:

Hatsu Hioki (17-3-2) vs. Chris Manuel (6-0-2)
The literal “poster boy” for the tournament is also the favorite. Hatsu Hioki is a world ranked fighter, and also the TKO champion. Over the course of his career he has defeated top fighters like Hideki Kadowaki, Jeff Curran, and Mark Hominick twice. He is truly an ace on the ground, which was made apparent by his guard passing dominance against Baret Yoshida. Yoshida may not have an impressive record, but he is a multiple time ADCC competitor and one of the best lighter weight grapplers on the planet. Hioki sometimes forgets his ground dominance and stands up too much. If he is going to win the tournament he needs to stick to his bread and butter.

In the first round Hioki will take on WEC veteran Chris Manuel. In his last fight he was tentative until the last round against Kenji Osawa. Despite turning it on in the last frame, Manuel did not do enough to win and had to settle for a draw. In the fight he showed improvements to his overall game, but the ATT competitor, who has been training there since age 13, still needs to clean up his striking.

Chris Manuel seems to have a great deal of potential, but at this point Hioki is on a higher level. Hioki will have a clear advantage on the ground and his length makes it difficult for his opponents to score on the feet. The poster boy should be able to win this fight via ground and pound, but of course there is always a chance he could show up with a bad game plan and give the fight away (see above).

Hideki Kadowaki (13-8-2) vs. Nam Phan (14-5)
Hideki Kadowaki, the former Shooto 143 lb champion, recently lost his title to Takeshi Inoue. Although he lost the fight he should much improve striking considering he has been mostly a ground fighter during his career. Normally he is very dominant from the top position, but he doesn’t have elite wrestling so he has trouble getting the fight to the ground. He is also known to quickly secure a rear naked choke during a scramble situation.

The popular Vietnamese born Nam Phan is finally coming down to featherweight after stubbornly spending much of his career at lightweight. At lightweight he has fought top fighters like Gesias Cavalcante, Josh Thompson, and Rob McCullough, but it was always clear that he needed to fight at a lower weight. Phan had won two fights in a row before dropping a controversial split decision to Billy Evangelista in Strikeforce last June.

Nam Phan is able to win fights against opponents that whom he can easily submit. Kadowaki should be able to stay out of Phan’s submissions and remain on top. If the fight plays out on the feet Kadowaki should hold the advantage, due to his improved striking. Look for Kadowaki to bring home a decision victory.

Marlon Sandro (12-0) vs. Matt Jaggers (9-4)
Jose Aldo isn’t the only featherweight out of Nova Uniao thats been turning heads recently. His teammate, Marlon Sandro has also been making waves on the other side of the globe. He is the current featherweight King on Pancrase, and holds wins over both Miki Shida and DREAM tournament participant Daiki “DJ Taiki” Hata. Much like Aldo he has a dynamic submission game, high level striking, and knockout power.

Do not look for any blockage in the pipeline of wrestlers to MMA any time soon . Matt Jaggers, a former Indiana high school wrestler, won 211 matches during a four-year New Castle high school career. His athletic prowes continues to succed since making the transition to MMA, being a former King of the Cage champion and ShoXC veteran.

Jaggers will look to take this fight to the floor. If he can do that, he should have trouble with the Nova Uniao product’s submissions. On the other hand, if Jaggers can not get the fight to the ground he will be over matched on the feet. Wrestlers desperate for the takedown often get caught with brutal knees. Sandro has proven he can deliver them when needed(see Miki Shida fight).

L.C. Davis (13-1) vs. Michihiro Omigawa (4-7-1)
The only loss of L.C. Davis career came against world ranked Wagney Fabiano in their IFL Featherweight title bout. Besides the lone blemish he has shown a solid wrestling base and an improving stand up game. This progress became apparent with Davis’s beautiful head kick knockout of Rafael Dias. Most recently Davis defeated respectable veteran Bao Quach on the Affliction: Day of Reckoning card.

Michihiro Omigawa is a former judo player who trains with Japanese legend Hidehiko Yoshida. During his judo career he took silver at the 2001 Asian games and bronze the next year. He started out his career by going 1-4, with the only victory coming against “Human Weapon” star Jason Chambers. However, after that Omigawa seemed to have turned things around by winning his next three fights. Zuffa apparently was a believer as they brought him in to fight in the UFC. He went 0-2 in the promotion and has not won a fight since. In his last fight, he fought to a draw with fellow tournament participant Shintaro Ishiwatari. World Victory Road originally planned to enter the winner into the tournament, but with the draw they were both granted admission.

Michihiro Omigawa desperately needs a win, but sadly, for him, it doesn’t seem to be in the cards. Davis’ wrestling prowess will allow him to take the fight wherever he wants and control the ground game, thus nullifying anything that Omigawa has to offer. Omigawa will probably be able to survive, so the smart bet would be Davis by decision.

Shintaro Ishiwatari (6-1-3) vs. Chang Son Jon (2-0)
Shintaro Ishiwatari impressed many onlookers in his last showdown with Michihiro Omigawa. On the feet he practically dominanted, as he landed hard kicks and superman punches. He clearly would have brought home the decision if he had been able to defend Omigawa’s takedowns. His slam knockout victory over Kazuhiro Ito initially put him on the map. Since then he has continued to show off an aggressive striking game and while hamming it up for the fans.

Chang Son Jon is an up and coming Korean fighter, whos quickly been making a name for himself. In his first fight, he rudely welcomed Michihiro Omigawa back to Japan and proved it not to be beginner’s luck by stopping Fanjin Son with punches only 17 seconds into the bout. Before fighting MMA, Chang Son Jon was the winner of a Korean “Ultimate Fighter” type reality kickboxing show called “Street Fighter.”

This should be an exciting fight. World Victory Road has matched up two young fighters who like to bang it out on the feet. Although this is a very hard match to call, Shintaro Ishiwatari should have a slight technical advantage on the feet. Chang Son Jon has been extremely effective standing, but he is still a bit of free swinger. Look for Ishiwatari to avoid Chang Son Jon’s power shots and land the more precise shots en route to a victory.

Masanori Kanehara (11-5-5) vs. Jong Man Kim (3-5-3)
Masanori Kanehara has spent the majority of his career in ZST. For those that don’t know, ZST has peculiar rule set that does not allow judges, close guard, or strikes on the ground. If a fight goes the distance then it automatically becomes declared a draw. Recently Kanehara has acted as a ZST representative in Pancrase and DEEP. In DEEP he suffered from Takafumi Otsuka’s ground and pound for two rounds and in Pancrase he stopped Kenji Arai to earn his spot in the tournament.

Jong Man Kim came out of nowhere and beat Hatsu Hioki back in 2007. He also owns a draw with Yoshiro Maeda and a win over Atsushi Yamamoto. Despite flashes of potential in these fights, Jong Man Kim has never been able to be consistent, which explains his losing record. In his most recent bout he dominated Daiki Hata, but could not sway enough of the judges and instead took home a draw.

Masanori Kanehara may hold the more impressive record, but only boasts a record of 3-3 outside of ZST. Jong Man Kim has fought better fighters over the course of his career, and experienced success against some of the best. Despite having a losing record overall, Jong Man Kim will be able to win this fight by decision.

Seiya Kawahara (6-1) vs. Nick Denis (6-0)
Seiya Kawahara is only 20 years old, but he’s already well into his MMA career. In his last bout he fought to become the bantamweight King of Pancrase. He displayed powerful knees in the bout, but in the end Manabu Inoue handed him the only loss of his career. One of Kawahara’s greatest strengths lies in striking his opponent while he is in guard. He may be undersized for this fight since he normally competes at 135 lbs.

Nick Denis is a Canadian fighter from Ottawa, Ontario. The “Ninja of Love”, as he calls himself, remains undefeated and has spent most of his career in King of the Cage. He signed to fight in Elite XC but the company closed before they could ever give him a bout. He trains at Ronin MMA with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt Fabio Holanda.

These are two young fighters who have the ability to stop the fight on the feet. This could be the hardest fight to pick on the card, but Kawahara has just a bit more experience, since he has  fought for a title. Both of the fighters are brawler types, but the extra bit of polish on Kawahara’s game will be the difference.

Tetsuya Yamada (3-0) vs. Ronnie Mann (16-1-1)
Tetsuya Yamada is the prodigy of Shinwa Total Combat. He graduated from high school
On March 2nd, and he plans on working a nursing and welfare job. So far all three of his MMA fights have come under the ZST banner. He also holds a record of 8-0-2 in ZST grappling only matches. In an interview with sportsnavi he said that he wanted to fight a foreign fighter, so here he gets his wish.

Ronnie Mann is a Team Trojan fighter from England. His lone loss came against former Cage Rage champion Robbie Olivier. During his career he has only gone the distance four times. Of his 16 wins 8 have come by way of submission, and he has surprisingly good wrestling for an English fighter.

The water may be a little bit too deep for Yamada. He is clearly a talented prospect, but he is still very young and working another job. If you add in the fact that he has only fought under ZST rules, then Mann has even more of an advantage. Mann is still a work in progress himself, but his experience should be enough to carry him to the next round of the tournament.

Individual Bouts

Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal (3-0) vs. Ryo Kawamura (9-3-2)
Despite being only 3-0 in MMA Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal does not need much of an introduction. He has been phenomenal since coming up one match short of the US Olympic freestyle wrestling team. He was a Division II national champion wrestler, and a Division I all American for wrestling powerhouse; Oklahoma State. Since coming to MMA he has stopped Travis Wiuff, Fabio Silva, and Yukiya Naito.

Ryo Kawamura is the light heavyweight King of Pancrase. He won the title by avenging a previous loss to Keiichiro Yamamiya. Prior to that fight he welcomed Kevin Randleman back to the ring. He surprised everyone with his performance in that fight, and many fans actually thought Kawamura had done enough to take home the decision.

Ryo Kawamura proved he is ready for the big show by pushing Randleman and defeating Yamamiya. He might surprise some fans against Lawal, but he won’t have enough to win this one. If Kawamura starts to get the better of the striking, then Lawal will be able to take the fight to the ground and win it there.

James Thompson (14-9) vs. Jim York (9-2)
The riot starter and near Kimbo conqueror finally returns to Japan. James Thompson has actually improved a great deal since his last time fighting in the land of the rising sun. A lot of the credit for his improvement must go to Xtreme Couture. Thompson owns wins over MMA legends Don Frye, Dan Severn, and Hidehiko Yoshida.

Jim York had his nine-fight win streak stopped by Yoshihiro “Kiss” Nakao. He may not be a very well rounded fighter, but he makes up for it with big power. None of his fights have gone the distance and only one has ever came close.

Jim York has power and James Thompson is…James Thompson. This used to be all the analysis that a Thompson fight would require, but recently he has shown more willingness to take the fight to the ground, even when there is a gentleman’s agreement not to. Thompson should be able to wrestle York to the ground and do enough to win the fight. With that being said, there isn’t a way Thompson can make it through the whole fight without tasting York’s power. Sadly for Thompson it will only take one solid punch from York to end his night.

By: Richard Mann

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