Come September 20, mixed martial arts aficionados will be in for a monster of a night, with seven bouts already on the card. Here’s our look at a few of the matchups to watch, including the main battle of the evening, when two of UFC’s most colorful fighters will come to grips inside the Octagon.
By Warren Adamson
Mark Hunt vs. Roy Nelson
Just imagine two angry rhinoceroses going head to head for 25 minutes in an enclosed area. That’s what it’ll be like when Mark “Super Samoan” Hunt takes on Roy “Big Country” Nelson. The five-round, non-championship match is the main fight in the Saitama Super Arena on September 20 and it is set to be a big slugfest with each fighter having a knock out punch in their arsenal.
Hunt, the eighth-ranked heavyweight fighter, is a former K-1 Champion and PRIDE competitor and weighs in at around 120 kg (265 lbs). Early in his combative sports career, he mastered kickboxing before making the switch to MMA via PRIDE. He later joined the UFC, where he fought a legendary bout against former heavyweight champion, Junior dos Santos, but lost the fight following a back-spinning heel kick.
Nelson is ranked ninth on the ladder and he too has faced champions in the heavyweight division. He was the winner of TUF in 2009 against Brendan Schaub and has been a force to be reckoned with since then. He tips the scales at 119 kg (262 lbs.) and uses that weight to execute knock out punches. He isn’t a stranger to grappling either as he has a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu.
This match is tough to call: both fighters are seen as the heavy hitters of the division, capable of giving out and absorbing incredible punishment. According to some punters, Hunt may have the technical advantage but Nelson’s losses have all been decisions which means that Big Country can take the fight all the way.
Dan Hooker vs. Maximo Blanco
Dan Hooker is set to take on Maximo “Maxi” Blanco in the featherweight division. Like some of the other fighters on the night’s card. Dan Hooker is a new signing to the UFC: his first fight in the league was a win over Ian Entwistle. He has plenty of experience in other leagues, boasting a 12-4 record. Hooker usually walks around close to 80 kg (176 lbs.) but has cut weight to make the 66 kg (145 lbs.) limit and will fight as a featherweight. Hooker is very quick on the ground and can gain full mount with ease if given even half a chance. He will need it against his opponent, the very dangerous and merciless Blanco.
Blanco is relentless on attack and throws everything at his opponent, creating unorthodox opportunities in the cage. He has a fight record of 10-6-1 but has lost 4 times in the UFC with only 2 wins. He’ll be looking to grow his win column come September 20. With Blanco’s speed and relentless attack, he may win the fight with a knock out but Hooker just might be able to sustain the punishment. It is always difficult for an athlete who has had to shed weight to maintain stamina, and this may play against him.
Rin Nakai vs. Miesha Tate
The only female bout during the evening is between Rin Nakai and Miesha “Cupcake” Tate. Rin Nakai is said to be the most flamboyant and “bizarre” fighter signed by the UFC. It is reported that she requested to enter the ring in a prom dress for the September fight and Dana White, UFC president, has allowed this request. Outside of the ring, Nakai has attracted a huge fan following from her fetish-themed YouTube videos and photos, in which the fighter wears costumes that run the gamut between French maid and “naughty bunny.” She may be a little unorthodox but has an impressive fight record of 16-0 with one draw. She has fought some of the best fighters in Asia and from around the world, and is set to make her UFC debut against Tate.
Tate has been around for a long time and has fought current women’s champion, Ronda Rousey, twice, losing on both occasions. Miesha Tate has a record of 14-5 and prefers to win fights on the ground, relying on her wrestling background to force a submission. She has taken a number of fights to decision and isn’t afraid of launching the first attack in the Octagon.
This will be one of the best fights of the night as women’s bouts tend to be more technical: knock outs are rare and grappling techniques take preference. Nakai hasn’t lost a fight yet, so it’ll be difficult for Tate to defeat her, but Tate’s ground and pound game may soften Nakai up enough for “Cupcake” to attempt a choke. Don’t be fooled though—Nakai has a very strong upper body which allows her to put a lot of torque on her armbars and locks.
Catching Up with The Fireball Kid
Takanori Gomi has a long and storied resume in mixed martial arts, having gone from strength to strength in catch wrestling, shoot fighting, and Japan’s PRIDE Fighting Championships league. The fighter racked up an impressive 13–1 record during his PRIDE career, setting league records for the longest win streak (10) and the fastest knockout (6 seconds). Gomi joined UFC in 2010, going 4 and 4 since joining the American-based league. Coming off a decisive win against Isaac Vallie-Flagg in April, 35-year-old The Fireball Kid will be squaring off against Michigan youngblood Myles Jury (25 years old; 14 wins, 0 losses), as a part of UFC’s Fight Night Japan 2014. Tokyo Weekender caught up with Gomi at a cafe near his fighting gym to ask him about his fighting career.
What’s it like for Japanese fighters in the UFC?
It’s tough for fighters to go over there and win. The fighters are really strong, and they have to be used to being in a foreign land. But there are Japanese fighters who are beginning to succeed in the league, so that’s clear that it’s possible to overcome those challenges.
Who are some of the younger Japanese UFC fighters who have caught your eye?
I’ve been watching a young fighter named Uruka Sasaki, who has signed with UFC and has been getting a lot of attention, as well as a fighter named Akira Okada, who’s ranked 8th in pancrase in Japan; I’m training him right now.
What’s your own training routine like these days?
I’m training at a university wrestling dojo, sparring at my fighting gym, and I do a general fitness routine as well.
During the broadcast of your last fight, [UFC commentator] Joe Rogan said that your punches look like you’re throwing a pitch. Did your career as a high school baseball pitcher have an effect on the way you throw your punches?
Really—he said that!? Well, come to think of it, there might be something there.
Over your career, what’s the fight that you’ve enjoyed most?
So far, the fight that has meant the most to me was my last fight in Baltimore [against Vallie-Flagg; Gomi won on unanimous decision]. It was great to go up against a fighter my own age. By the middle of the match, the crowd had gotten really fired up, and my match was chosen Fight of the Night.
What do you expect out of your fight with Myles Jury?
I’m still researching his fighting style, but I am looking forward to a tough fight. I’m hoping to give it my all and knock him out.
UFC Fight Night in Japan is set to launch some careers, will offer some exciting bouts and is sure to excite and entertain fans of mixed martial arts. In addition to the mentioned fights, there are more scheduled for the night but are subject to change but it has been confirmed that Hunt and Nelson will go ahead, barring extraordinary circumstances, as will the Tate/Nakai matchup.
The event is to be held at the Saitama Super Arena on Saturday, September 20. Tickets can now be purchased at ufc.tokyoweekender.com.