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Japanese Scene Year in Review: Prospect of the Year

With 2012 winding down and no more Japanese events, outside of GLORY 4 TOKYO/DREAM.18, I have decided to do a 7-part series meant to recap the best of 2012. Starting today, and with a subsequent post each day, I will reveal the Prospect, Upset, Event, Promotion, Knockout, Fight and Fighter of the year for the Japanese kickboxing scene, as compiled by myself.

The title of prospect of the year was a 2-horse race between Hiroki Akimoto and Keisuke Miyamoto. Both captured an MA Kick title in their respective weight class and defeated the men considered the #2 fighters in their weight classes to claim WBC Japan titles. However, the final decision came down to one thing: consistency.

Winner: Hiroki Akimoto (2012 Record: 5-0-0, 3 KO) - Hiroki Akimoto was not the most surprising prospect of 2012, but he was the most impressive. Akimoto went 4-0-0 in 2011, stopping all of his opponents and looked as though he was going to continue that streak in 2012 as he finished his first 3 fights, including a TKO victory over Hiroki Fujisawa to win the MA Kick Featherweight title. That is when the former Koshien finalist took his biggest step up, facing Yosuke Morii, who had filled the void of #1 Featherweight in Japan after Genji Umeno's departure from the weight class, for the WBC Japan title. Akimoto got the toughest fight of his pro career, but won a unanimous decision, earning him the title and the top spot in the division. He followed up with the second biggest win of his career, a unanimous decision over top 5 Featherweight Shunta Ito. For the time being, Akimoto is the hottest prospect in Japan and looks to be unstoppable. He has his sights set on Lumpinee Stadium, but a fight I'm sure most would like to see first is a matchup with Genji Umeno.

Runners-up: Keisuke Miyamoto (2012 Record: 4-1-1, 2 KO) - Like Akimoto, Miyamoto picked up two quality wins and an MA Kick title, stopping Yu Hiramoto in his first fight of 2012 to win it. The quality wins came over NJKF champion Arato in April and then against Ryuya Kusakabe in September to win the WBC Japan title. Kusakabe had been considered the #2 in the division behind Krush champion Shota Takiya. The deciding factor between he and Akimoto was a draw to former Lumpinee Stadium champ Pinsiam Maki and a loss to end his year to Kantapon Sor Aooddanmuang.

SHIGERU (2012 Record: 4-0-0, 0 KO) - SHIGERU was definitely one of the two biggest surprises on this list. If you had asked me who he was about 6 months ago, I'm not sure I would have been able to tell you. He started 2012 with a win over Takahito Fujimaki, netting him the WPMF Japan Super Featherweight title and avenging the only blemish on his otherwise perfect record, a draw against Fujimaki to close out 2011. His next fight was a back and forth affair against Hiroto Yamaguchi which saw both men hit the canvas, but SHIGERU ultimately got the better of his fellow prospect and handed him his first loss. After a defense of his WPMF Japan title in October, he scored the biggest win of his career, defeating Yuji Takeuchi by majority decision. Despite 3 other solid wins, the Takeuchi win put SHIGERU on the map and has him set up for a (hopefully) prosperous 2013.

Nemo (2012 Record: 3-0-1, 0 KO) - Naming himself after the popular Disney/Pixar character was quite applicable, as it is very hard to find out anything about this quickly rising prospect, whose real name is Noriyuki Inoue. His year started with a win at Kick to the Future 1, but took off with a win over Shuichi Wentz in October, Shuichi's first fight since his brutal head kick KO of Romie Adanza in K-1. He followed that up with a win over former top 10 Flyweight Naoki Otsuki which put him in line to fight for the vacant NJKF Flyweight title. He faces the winner of Takashi Saenchaigym vs Shota, which already happened, but there haven't been any results for. From what I was able to find, I believe Takashi won the fight, setting up a rematch of a fight that ended in a draw earlier this year, the only blemish for Nemo in 2012.

Mizuki Inoue (2012 Record: 3-0-0, 1 KO) - The thing that makes Mizuki Inoue so impressive is that she is also a high-level MMA fighter and her 4 wins in MMA have come by submission. Throw in that she has a 4-0 grappling record under the Jewels banner and one might wonder why she's on this list. While only fighting 3 times in Shootboxing, Inoue won a 4 round and a 6 round fight against Shootboxing star Ai Takahashi, while beating MINA's face into a bloody mess in her other fight, winning the Shootboxing 53.5kg Girls S-Cup in the process. She introduced herself to fight fans with a big 2012 and can only go up from here.

Sho Ogawa (2012 Record: 3-1-0, 0 KO) - Ogawa is another of one of the many products of K-1 Koshien and likely its last winner, as he won the 2011 tournament, though it took place this year. He made himself known late last year, making it to the quarterfinals of the Krush Youth GP where he lost to Hiroya, but not without giving him a tough fight. After his Koshien tournament win, he rattled off 3 straight wins, including a win over Minoru Kimura. Unfortunately, he dropped a decision in REBELS to Tatsuya Inaishi in his most recent fight. Despite that, Ogawa seems to be another fighter we can expect to make waves in the Lightweight division in 2013.

Shiro (2012 Record: 2-0-1, 1 KO) - After suffering the first defeat of his career in 2011 to Rui Ebata, Shiro put together an undefeated 2012, beating Daihachi Furuoka in January and Jomrachan Tor Ragu in August, with the draw coming against Rui Ebata in a SNKA title fight. Shiro proved with the draw against Ebata that he is an elite Bantamweight and he has another chance to prove it against Fonphet Chuwattana in January, as Fonphet is the #2 ranked Bantamweight at Rajadamnern Stadium.

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Roman Mailov replaces Houcine Bennoui, faces Yuta Kubo at Krush GP 2013

Krush.26 features an eight man, one night tournament in Krush's debuting 67kg division. Originally there were two foreign fighters, Houcine Bennoui and Abdallah Ezbiri, included in the tournament. As of now, there's been a change in one of the non-Japanese fighters participating in the tournament.

Roman Mailov, who just won on December 23 and signed to GLORY this month, will replace Houcine Bennoui and face the tall task of fighting Yuta Kubo at Krush.26 on January 14.

This of course is Mailov's toughest test to date, even though he is coming down in weight from 70kg. Mailov made the move to 70kg this year but judging from his physical appearance it looks like 67kg shouldn't be a problem. It also won't be Mailov's first venture internationally, as he travelled to Germany in September and beat Leo Zulic, just one week after fighting and winning in Russia.

The addition of Mailov reinforces how stacked the card is, as along with the 67kg tournament, there are also a number of other good fights. Full fight card here.

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Mirko Cro Cop wants to fight Gokhan Saki in 2013

Mirko Cro Cop's career in combat sports keeps trucking on, with an MMA fight against Shinichi Suzukawa at Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye 2012 on December 31 in Japan. Cro Cop will also fight kickboxing on March 15 in Zagreb, Croatia at another Final Fight event, like the one that took place in March this year. He took to his Facebook page once again where he gave some details about what's happening with his schedule and career.

While Cro Cop says he doesn't have an opponent yet, he stated that he wants to fight Gokhan Saki, saying that Saki is the best kickboxer today. He referenced Andy Hug fighting in Switzerland in the 1990s, fighting top quality fighters and drawing big crowds, something that he would like to do:

"The legendary Andy Hug had an annual event in his native Switzerland and brought only top quality fighters as opponents. Before the home crowd he fought against Bernardo, Aerts, Leko, my small world... So it works. It is my desire for Gokhan Saki to be an opponent because he is the best kickboxer today, but not sure that he will be available in March. I believe that by the end of this year, however, it will be achieved and it will be an excellent match."

Mirko Cro Cop has a potentially busy schedule for the first half of 2013, with the March 15 fight in Croatia, a May MMA fight against Pedro Rizzo at Royal FC in Brazil, and potentially even an MMA fight against Denis Stojnic in Bosnia on February 15, though negotiations are still ongoing. Of course, there's also the K-1 World Grand Prix Final which Cro Cop qualified for, but the last statement from Cro Cop and his manager on that matter was that they don't know what's happening with it or when it will be.

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Dzhabar Askerov Gets Disputed Decision Over Enriko Kehl

Dzhabar Askerov returned to the ring today in Dagestan, Russia at NewFC, where he was featured in the lone kickboxing fight on the event, against 20 year old German up and comer Enriko Kehl.

Kehl had been riding some momentum to end out the year, with wins over Mohammed Medhar, Magomed Magomedov and Nonsai in the past few months. For him, that momentum came to an end as Dzhabar Askerov was declared the winner by decision.

I personally watched the fight live and thought Kehl won the fight pretty clearly. Askerov came forward but didn't have a very high workrate, while Kehl kept his distance and peppered him with strikes from the outside. Askerov landed a bit more in the third round but Kehl seemed to be the clear winner to me.

For Kehl, it's not really a setback as he's only 20 and still coming up on the scene and because Askerov is a relatively big name by kickboxing standards. Askerov moves on with a win and is scheduled to fight Andy Souwer in the main event at Yokkao Extreme 2013 on January 26.

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