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Japanese Scene Year in Review: Fighter of the Year

2012 saw a lot of fighters who established themselves in 2011 turn into stars in 2012, as numerous win streaks were expanded on and titles won or defended. While choosing fighter of the year was quite difficult, I felt there were two men in particular who had the most impressive year and because of this, I saw this category as a tie.

Winner: Hirotaka Urabe (2012 Record: 5-0-2, 4 KO) and Naoki Ishikawa (2012 Record: 2-0-2, 0 KO) - While I felt compelled to side with Krush in their decision of Hirotaka Urabe as fighter of the year, I felt equally compelled to place the man who fought him to a draw twice, Naoki Ishikawa, in that same category. Although Urabe went 5-0-0 with 4 stoppages in his fights that weren't against Ishikawa while Naokick only went 2-0-0, I felt that each of them had only one really solid win outside of their draws against each other, with Urabe defeating Xavier Bastard and Ishikawa beating Kan Itabashi. These two proved twice this year that they are each other's equals and despite Urabe's impressive slew of knockouts this year, I felt the 33 year old Ishikawa was just as deserving as his decade younger counterpart.

Runners up: Yuta Kubo (2012 Record: 3-0-0, 2 KO) - This list would hardly be complete without the man most people tout as Japan's top talent as he had another solid 2012, pushing his win streak to 11. He picked up a pair of wins against foreign competition in Charles Francois and Abdallah Ezbiri and a knockout of top Japanese Welterweight Yuya Yamato, all while gradually moving up in weight in each fight. While relative inactivity kept him from being a serious contender for the top spot, he could quickly find himself in contention in 2013 should he run through the Krush 67kg tournament in January.

Hiroki Akimoto (2012 Record: 5-0-0, 3 KO) - Being the only fighter from the prospect list to make it onto this list as well, Akimoto had as impressive a 2012 as any other fighter. He improved to 17-0-0 in his pro career, started the year with 3 straight knockouts, which pushed his KO streak to 7 in a row, and in his last two fights of the year, he beat top 5 Featherweights Yosuke Morii and Shunta Ito, making no doubt in anyone's mind that he was the top Featherweight in Japan. 2013 will be a crucial year for the 20 year old as he looks to make the foray into the international scene, though whether he aims for a Lumpinee title or a stint in Glory or K-1 is yet to be seen.

Masahiro Yamamoto (2012 Record: 3-0-0, 1 KO) - Despite only 3 fights this year, Yamamoto made his stamp on the international scene by capturing the It's Showtime 61kg title from Javier Hernandez in July. He followed that up with a win over Raz Sarkisjan teammate Mansour Yaqubi at RISE/M-1MC Infinity. Though It's Showtime is now defunct, Yamamoto will likely be a key player in Glory or K-1's supposed weight class expansions. After a 2010 that saw him lose 3 straight fights, including a K-1 tournament fight to Tetsuya Yamato, a WBC Japan title fight to Rashata and his first crack at the It's Showtime title to Sergio Wielzen, Yamamoto put together a strong 2011 and 2012 that saw him once again establish himself as one of Japan's top Lightweights.

Yosuke Mizuochi (2012 Record: 5-1-0, 3 KO) - Mizuochi is definitely the most under the radar fighter on this list, but he has quietly become one of Japan's top Lightweights over the course of the past 2 years, amassing a 10-1-0 record with wins over Yoshinori Nakasuka, Keiji Ozaki, Keijiro Miyakoshi, Shingen Endo, Yoshito Kajita and most recently Nong'an Sasiprapa, winning the WPMF Japan and World Lightweight titles and the WBC Japan Lightweight title in the process. He is poised to go from surging unknown to full blown star in 2013 should he continue his destruction through the Lightweight ranks and it could culminate in some shots against Japan's top Lightweights.

Shota Takiya (2012 Record: 3-0-0, 2 KO) - Another victim of not fighting often, Takiya pushed his unbeaten streak to 10 in a row, while pushing his KO streak to 5, although that was snapped in his most recent fight. He defended his Krush title twice with a 71 second knockout of Nobuchika Terado and in a rematch of the quarterfinals of the Krush 55kg tournament against Takumi. With KENJI leaving the sport, the only really interesting matchups for Takiya in Japan are a 3rd fight with Ryuya Kusakabe or Takumi or a fight with Keisuke Miyamoto, and the Miyamoto and Kusakabe fights seem rather unlikely. He faces Mike Alamos, brother of Lumpinee Stadium champ Damien Alamos, on January 14th to start off 2013.

Sun Hyun Lee (2012 Record: 4-0-0, 2 KO) - After making his name known to fans in late 2010/early 2011 with a beatdown of Kizaemon Saiga in K-1 and a disputed extension round decision loss to Koya Urabe in Krush, Lee returned to notoriety in late 2011 when he lost a majority decision to RISE 65kg champ Koji Yoshimoto, a fight that would have gone to an extension round had Lee not missed weight. 2012 saw him shine as he picked up wins over RISE 63kg champion Yuki, top RISE Lightweights Yuto Watanabe and Shohei Asahara and a 1st round stoppage of M-1's Buakaw WSR at Infinity. He is set to rematch Yuki for the RISE title on January 6th at Infinity.II and a win could see him vault into LiverKick's Lightweight rankings, as Yuki's stock has gone up significantly since a win over Javier Hernandez.

Masaaki Noiri (2012 Record: 3-1-0, 0 KO) - Despite a strong 2012, including nabbing the #1 spot on LiverKick's Lightweight rankings, the image most people have in their mind of Noiri's 2012 was his upset loss to Raz Sarkisjan at the Hoost Cup. Noiri showed amazing heart and determination, managing to drop Sarkisjan in the 3rd round after being dropped twice himself in the previous round, but he still ended up losing the fight. However, his 2012 saw him pick up wins over Cedric Peynaud, Makihira Keita, and most importantly Yetkin Ozkul, who was ranked #4 on the LiverKick rankings at the time and coming in off of a knockout of Krush 63kg champ Thomas Adamandopoulos.

Rena (2012 Record: 3-0-0, 0 KO) - After an up and down 2011 which saw her drop fights to Ai Takahashi and Jessica Penne while defeating Erika Kamimura, Rena fought only 3 times in 2012, though they all took place on the same night at this year's Shootboxing Girls S-Cup. After cruising in the quarterfinals against Australia's Kim Townsend, she needed an extension round to get past Seo Hee Ham before defeating V.V Mei for the second time in the S-Cup finals to capture her 3rd straight Girls S-Cup title. While fans didn't get the matchup with Erika Kamimura that most expected, Rena did prove that she is still the girl to beat in Shootboxing and, if she wins her rematch with Kamimura in RISE, the best female fighter in Japan.

Koya Urabe (2012 Record: 7-1-0, 2 KO) - After a devastating 2011 which saw him make it to 3 tournament finals only to lose in each one, Koya Urabe came back strong in 2012. After a close win over Kizaemon Saiga, Urabe hit a setback with a majority decision loss to NJKF champ Keijiro Miyakoshi in a fight most had favored him to win. However, Urabe rattled off 6 straight wins to close out the year including picking up his first career tournament win in the Krush 2012 63kg Youth GP, stopping Kengo Sonoda in the quarters, decisioning Hiroto Yamaguchi in the semis and picking apart Hisaki Higashimoto in the finals en route to a highlight-reel 3rd round stoppage. He closed out the year with an emphatic decision win over Mickael Peynaud and looks to once again establis himself as a top Lightweight in 2013.


2012's Breakout Fighters in Kickboxing

2012 was another year in kickboxing that wasn't "traditional" of the sport's nature so to say, being that for the second year in a row there was no K-1 World Grand Prix for heavyweights and in general despite K-1 being around, it pales in comparison to the K-1 of old. Usually that's where fighters would break out and make themselves known but now in kickboxing there are and in the last year were a number of different avenues for fighters to do so. I'll profile the fighters that really made a name for themselves in 2012.

Murthel Groenhart

While Groenhart has been fighting on It's Showtime cards for quite a while now, there's really nothing better than winning a K-1 MAX tournament in terms of getting your name out there and remembered. Murthel has fought around all over the place in weight and even did so in 2012, but has finally established himself as a top fighter at one weight class, with that being 70kg. He went 6-0 in 2012, with wins over the likes of Artur Kyshenko, Mike Zambidis at 70kg and Marc de Bonte all the way up at 79kg, finally finding consistency on his record. Now of course, he's thought of as a major player at 70kg, having fully established himself as such. With 2013 comes a plethora of potential match-ups, no matter what weight class they be at, for the product of Mike's Gym.

Andy Ristie

In my eyes, you don't have to win 100% of your fights in one year to be a breakout fighter. In 2012, Andy Ristie won all but one of his fights, with the lone loss coming to Andy Souwer recently at the K-1 MAX Finals on December 15. I'm putting Andy Ristie on this list because let's face it, despite a few appearances on It's Showtime events in 2011, a lot of fans didn't know Andy Ristie before this year, and surely a lot of them didn't think of him as a major player at 70kg before this year as well. It all started back in January when he demolished Hinata in the first round, and then continued to do the exact same thing to the rest of his opponents over the course of the year, culminating in another first round destruction of Hinata at the S-Cup in November, before eventually losing to Souwer. Needless to say, 2012 was a year where Andy Ristie made his mark on kickboxing and established his name as a fighter to watch at 70kg.

Davit Kiria

Look, it's no coincidence that most of 2012's breakout fighters are at 70kg, seeing as it's the deepest division in kickboxing and the second most popular one, behind heavyweight. In 2012, the 70kg tournaments of GLORY and K-1 had a number of "new" names, in terms of fighters who had not been featured on the big stage before. These fighters included ones who greatly exceeded expectations, and Davit Kiria is one of them. Kiria had been featured on GLORY, or United Glory at the time, shows before in losing efforts to Robin van Roosmalen and Nieky Holzken. When he replaced Cosmo Alexandre to fight Kem Sitsongpeenong at GLORY's First 16 on May 26, everyone was already penciling in a win for Kem. Kiria shocked everyone in not only defeating Kem but dropping him in the process, and then went on to defeat Shemsi Beqiri at the GLORY Final 8 in November before ultimately losing to Giorgio Petrosyan in the semi-finals. Fast forward to the present and he is most definitely seen as a legitimate fighter at 70kg, as opposed to a guy who might've been once thought of as being used to fill up card space.

Sanny Dahlbeck

Just like Davit Kiria, heading into GLORY's First 16 in Stockholm, many were chalking up the inclusion of Sanny Dahlbeck to the fact that he was the hometown fighter and a fighter with GLORY's co-promoter for the event, Rumble of the Kings. The 21 year old put an end to those notions in one fight with a dominant performance over Warren Stevelmans. Then at the GLORY Final 8 after Albert Kraus had pulled out, he did something that only three others have done, in stopping Yoshihiro Sato. He would get stopped against Robin van Roosmalen in his next fight but not without a valiant effort before that, troubling the Dutch fighter with his strikes from the outside. At just 21 years old, the future looks incredibly bright for Sanny Dahlbeck, who before this year was essentially a complete unknown in kickboxing.

Jamal Ben Saddik

A late addition to the list here, but definitely deserved as Jamal Ben Saddik made it all the way to the semi-finals of the GLORY Grand Slam tournament, defeating big names in Errol Zimmerman and Remy Bonjasky on the way there. There have been a lot of people that didn't think much of him simply because of his physical appearance but now it's undeniable that he belongs in a tournament field such as the Grand Slam. What's even more is that no one seemed to have remembered, or maybe just not even paid attention at the time, that he had lost his previous fight at GLORY 2 Brussels to Jahfarr Wilnis in October. Even the loss to Daniel Ghita in the semi-finals certainly won't diminish his stock. With 2013 having started, the difference is now that Jamal Ben Saddik isn't some random big guy on a GLORY show anymore and he's here to stay with some legitimate wins under his belt.


Japanese Scene Year in Review: Fight of the Year

Choosing the fight of the year was the most difficult choice because of the limited access to fights that fans outside of Japan had. Because of this, I only selected 6 fights as contenders, 3 that there were video of and 3 that there weren't. While I was tempted to choose a fight that there was video of, there was one fight in particular that stood out among the others, despite the fact we have not seen video of it yet.

Winner: Nobuchika Terado vs Andy Howson (Krush.21) - While video has yet to surface of this fight, it was chosen as Krush's 2012 fight of the year. Howson started strong, dropping Terado 2 or 3 times in the opening round and a half and looked to be well on his way to victory. Terado, who was knocked out by Krush champion Shota Takiya in just 71 seconds earlier in the year, did not want to be a quick KO victim again and dug deep and dropped Howson. He followed up with two more knockdowns in the 2nd round, forcing the referee to stop the bout and defending his ISKA Super Bantamweight title. He snagged victory from the jaws of defeat and put on one of the year's most exciting and spectacular performances in doing so.

Runners up: Yuki vs Yuto Watanabe (RISE 87) - Sticking with the theme of improbable comebacks, Yuki and Yuto Watanabe squared off at RISE 87 in a fight for Yuki's 63kg title. It was Yuki's first defense and a fight he was favored in. However, Watanabe started strong in the first round and scored a knockdown, then went on to win the 2nd round and draw in the 3rd, giving him a 3 point lead with just 2 rounds left. Yuki closed the gap in the 4th, but needed at least two knockdowns to win the fight outright and at least one to force an extension round. In the 5th round, Yuki hurt Watanabe and dropped him, meaning the fight would likely go to an extension round. However, Yuki saw his opportunity and took it, forcing a standing 8 count as he battered Watanabe with several unanswered punches. When the scores were announced, two of the judges saw the fight for Yuki with the third having it scored a draw and Yuki retained his title in dramatic fashion.

Satoru Suzuki vs Bovy Sor Udomson (Shootboxing 2012 act.1) - Since coming to Shootboxing in 2009, Bovy has proven he is no stranger to wild, exciting brawls, putting on some of the promotion's best fights including fight of the year contenders in 2009, 2010 and 2012. This year's fight saw him face off against former boxer Satoru Suzuki. Suzuki started very strong, knocking Bovy down about half way through the round. Somehow, Bovy managed to get up despite smacking his head quite hard against the ground, but suffered another knockdown, putting him down 4 points after just 1 round (in Shootboxing, knockdowns result in a 2 point deduction each). Despite the deep hole he found himself in, Bovy stormed back in rounds 2 and 3, outbrawling the boxer and almost scoring knockdowns of his own. Unfortunately, he was unable to do so and Suzuki found himself the winner after 3 rounds. 

Chang Hyun Lee vs Genji Umeno (K-1 Rising World GP Final 16) - Over the course of 2011 and 2012, Genji Umeno had become one of Japan's most highly touted fighters, using 2011 to clear out the Featherweight division and start a run at the Lumpinee Stadium title. Despite getting himself ranked, he chose to take a fight in K-1 and move up in weight to 61kg. His first opponent at the new weight and under the new ruleset was unknown Korean Chang Hyun Lee, a training partner of Sun Hyun Lee who had scored a big upset of his own in his first fight in K-1. Despite looking like he had adapted well to the new ruleset, Umeno was having a tough time getting away from Lee's combinations, as he was able to land at will throughout the first round.  Umeno came out stronger in the 2nd round, landing combinations of his own, but not without eating more shots from the Korean. The 3rd round was the decisive round as Lee looked a bit tired in the first minute, but dropped Umeno with a huge overhand right. The knockdown seemed to energize both fighters as they both went for broke in the final two minutes, landing power shots, but neither man was able to drop the other and the fight ended. Lee had upset Umeno with the decisive knockdown, taking a 29-28 decision on all 3 cards.

Hirotaka Urabe vs Naoki Ishikawa III (Krush.25) - After starting the year with a draw at Krush.15 on January 9th, 60kg champ Hirotaka Urabe and #1 contender Naoki Ishikawa met for the third time, with Urabe's title on the line for the 2nd time. Both had gone undefeated over the course of the year and looked to end the year with a strong win. Ishikawa came out hot, wobbling Urabe in the 1st en route to a knockdown. Not to be shown up, Urabe came back in the 2nd and dropped Ishikawa to even the score at 18-18. Knowing the 3rd round would be the deciding one, the two went for broke and produced one of the best rounds of 2012, disregarding defense and looking to take control of the round. In the end, no winner was decided as the two drew for the second time in as many title fights and ended their 2012 the same way it started. Next year will likely see them meet for a 4th time and hopefully it is as exciting as their 3rd encounter.

Keisuke Miyamoto vs Ryuya Kusakabe (NJKF: Kick to the Future 6) - Kusakabe is no stranger to entertaining fights, as his run through the Krush 55kg tournament saw him put on 2010 and 2011 fight of the year contenders against Nobuchika Terado and Shota Takiya, respectively. 2012 was no different story as he set out to defend his WBC Japan Super Bantamweight title against MA Kick champion Keisuke Miyamoto. Over the course of 5 rounds, the two exchanged frequently, much to the delight of the Korakuen Hall crowd, and at the end of 5 rounds, Miyamoto was given a unanimous decision. The fight saw Miyamoto emerge as one of Japan's new stars, but it also helped cement Kusakabe as one of the country's most exciting fighters.


Japanese Scene Year in Review: Knockout of the Year

From head kicks to spinning backfists to jumping knees, 2012 produced some brutal yet entertaining knockouts and luckily, most of them got uploaded to Youtube in one form or another. While I cannot say this is a definitive list, as 9 of my 10 nominations took place in Krush, this is the best I could do with the resources I had. 7 of the 10 have an accompanying video, but for the 3 that don't, the pictures say it all. Not surprisingly, 5 of the 10 were head kick knockouts that left the other fighter out cold. However, there was one that lifted itself above the others.

Winner: Hirotaka Urabe (vs Masato Kobayashi, Krush.18) - In what was one of the biggest mismatches of the year, Krush 60kg champ Hirotaka Urabe faced off against DEEP and GCM Flyweight Masato Kobayashi. While Kobayashi shared a name with the legendary Masato, he did not share his kickboxing skill. After hurting his opponent with a pair of flying knees and some punches in between, Urabe landed a high kick that made Kobayashi drop. He didn't get up. It was one of the year's most devastating knockouts and will probably stop Krush from booking a mid-level MMA fighter against one of their champions for a while.

Runners up: Yasuhiro Kido (vs Kenta, Krush.17) – The first time these two met, Kenta had all the momentum in the world while Kido was trying to pull himself out of a slide. In the rematch, the momentum had swung to Kido. He started off the 1st round with a beautifully timed knee that dropped Kenta. Then came the 2nd round, where, about half way into the round, Kenta had Kido in the corner and went to attack. Kido ate a right hand to the side of the head while ducking away and somehow, in a small window, Kido turned and landed a beautiful spinning backfist that put Kenta down and, upon attempting to stand up, Kenta didn’t have his legs and the referee was forced to wave off the bout. It was not Kido’s first spinning backfist KO, as he had stopped Shintaro Matsukura to end 2011 and it wouldn’t be his last, as he finished Xu Yan in the K-1 Final 16 with the same maneuver.

Thomas Adamandopoulos (vs Ryuji Kajiwara, Krush.21) – Thomas Adamandopoulos was the first of many French fighters to compete in Krush, making his promotional debut in 2011, winning the ISKA World Super Lightweight title against Keiji Ozaki. His second appearance saw him face off against Krush 63kg champ Ryuji Kajiwara in a title fight. From what I can tell, the fight was pretty close, though Adamandopoulos was getting the better of the exchanges. Then half way through the second round, Adamandopoulos connected on a high kick that put Kajiwara out for good. This is one of the three fights that there is no video of, but the picture below speaks for itself.

Nobuchika Terado (vs Andy Howson, Krush.21) – Another entry from Krush.21 saw ISKA World Super Bantamweight champ Nobuchika Terado defend his title for the first time against the UK’s Andy Howson. After being dropped twice himself, Terado knew he had to go for broke and somehow found it in himself to turn the tides and drop Howson in the 2nd round. That was followed up by two more knockdowns for Terado, who pulled off the exciting, improbable comeback win, a fight Krush named their 2012 Fight of the Year, as well as my favorite photo of the year of Terado walking away from Howson as the fight is called (featured below). Unfortunately, this is one of the other fights there is no video of.

Hirotaka Urabe (vs Fumiya Osawa, Krush.20) – Being the only person featured on this list twice, Hirotaka Urabe had quite a year in 2012. In this instance, he was defending his title against improbable 60kg tournament winner Fumiya Osawa, who had just a .500 record coming into the tournament. Urabe chose to spend most of the first round feeling out Osawa, throwing kicks from range and countering, then clinching whenever Osawa came at him with offense. In the last minute of the round, he started getting aggressive, but clearly he had seen something from the previous clinching. With about 30 seconds left in the round, the two were separated from a clinch and Urabe threw a perfect spinning back kick to the body, landing on the liver and sending Osawa to the ground in pain, where he was unable to get up.

Yuta Kubo (vs Yuya Yamato, Krush.22) – In Krush’s first event to take place in Nagoya, they had set up a fun 5-match set of Nagoya vs Tokyo fights, with Yuta Kubo vs Yuya Yamato headlining. After the first 4 fights saw a 2-2 split, it was up to Japan’s top two Welterweights to settle the score. After a strong first round, Kubo dropped Yamato with a right hand. When Yamato got up, he was promptly met with a left high kick that kept him down. Again, no video for this fight, but the series of pictures is quite amusing.

To read about the other 4 selections in this category, as well as videos for all fights except for Thomas Adamandopoulos vs Ryuji Kajiwara, Nobuchika Terado vs Andy Howson and Yuta Kubo vs Yuya Yamato, which I will post pictures for, click read more

Also, I had promised to do a post each day, but due to New Year's Eve plans, I won't be able to put the Fight of the Year and Fighter of the Year posts on time, but I will post them either both on January 1st, or one on January 1st and the last on January 2nd.


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