Akira Shoji, Daijyu Takase, Ryuta Sakurai, Daisuke Nakamura and Takahiro Oba held an open training session at BCG gym before their upcoming bouts in the April 34d PRIDE BUSHIDO 6.
"Vovchanchyn's back and I've been fighting since PRIDE 1. It wasn't a tough road getting this far. I don't want to lose to someone that's been on nothing but smooth roads. I don't care what it takes, I will win."
Normally soft spoken, Shoji was very serious today. Proud of being one of the people that created PRIDE, all of the training time he has put in and the work he has done, Shoji's words carried a tone saying that he is back. There's no doubt that the real meaning in Shoji's words was that he fought his way through PRIDE and he helped lay the foundation. If someone thinks they can just ride in on the path that he cut and jump straight into the Middleweight Grand Prix, they had better think again.
Today Shoji worked his punches on the sandbag. Repeatedly punching the sandbag and fighting against the sandbag as it tries to return to its starting point, Shoji showed that he just keeps moving forward and forward. It's a parallel to Shoji's life in marital arts. Although not blessed with a big body, he's went toe-to-toe with the strongest fighters in the world. Fighting against naysayers that say he can't win, it's impossible, Shoji has always moved forward against resistance, even against heavyweight kicks and punches. That's Shoji's life.
"It's a tournament so that means two fights in one day. It's a first for me. I think it will be a challenge for me and a challenge for PRIDE. I want to win here and take on the world. No matter what, I want to win. They used a slogan in the Heavyweight Grand Prix that said, ??ven if you die, live.' That's what I plan on."
Shoji's pride and decisiveness came through loud and clear. Two fights in one day is a tough schedule and one that's only available in the Grand Prix. This will be a test run for that. Even if he wins here, an even crueler reality is waiting for him. Just 3 weeks later, he would have to fight in the real tournament.
"I agreed immediately when they asked me about the tournament. I don't care what it takes, I want to win and be in the Grand Prix. I'm honored that they gave me a chance. This is a challenge for me. There's no guarantee that I won't get injured in the first fight so I have to be able to mentally overcome that."
Shoji's nickname in Japan is "the last Japanese man." In modern times, with so many people easily moving forward and doing as they please, how many people like Shoji, that overcome difficulties through mental toughness, are left in Japan? Shoji always face the cruel reality face-on, moving fans and gaining the nicknames of "the last Japanese man" and "Mister Pride". It's been a long time since he's been in the PRIDE ring and it looks like we'll get to see the real Shoji in this BUSHIDO.
"I always fight the toughest guys but I'm really on fire this time. I'm going to win this time, no matter what." Shoji's hungry for a victory. Shoji's opponent, Dean Lister, is one of the best ground fighters in the world and won the Abu Dhabi unlimited weight class division.
"He's physically strong and his attacks are strong. He can win standing or on the ground but I have to be especially careful on the ground. He seems like he doesn't give up. Will I stand and fight? I heard that he's also getting some good boxing training, so I'll do a little of everything. I think it's going to be a battle of wills in the end."
On the other side of the four-man tournament are Amar Suloev and Paulo Filho, both world-class fighters. Filho and Shoji have met twice before in PRIDE. The first time Shoji lost by submission for the first time. The second time ended in a disappointing 2-1 split decision, with Filho getting the win.
"Any of us could be in the Grand Prix. Everyone is strong. When I saw Suloev in the UFC, he didn't back down from Chuck Liddell at all. I want Paulo to win, though. I want to get my revenge in the finals."
Shoji has just returned from his training back of Seattle, Washington. He still has some jetlag but according to Shoji, he'll be in top form by the day of the fight. His sparring partners can in all sizes from Morris Smith to Bob Sapp and, from January, Hayato "Mach" Sakurai. That training is where Shoji gets his confidence, "there was never a day where I wasn't thinking about PRIDE."
Also like Shoji, Daijyu Takase is fighting for survival. Although he won against Carlos Newton is a battle to decide the strongest grappler in the world, he was scolded by Dream Stage Entertainment CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara for ignoring the fans and the reaction from the fans themselves was definitely not good. As a result, Takase has distanced himself from the PRIDE ring, although partially due to injury, for the past year.
"This isn't just about winning. This is a fight where I can show everyone what I'm made of. Actually, I think that's the best. This is a good opponent to do that kind of fight with. I want him to come at me with everything he's got. I want him to knock me out. I want him to kill me. That's my feeling when I train."
It seems like something has changed in Takase during his long vacation. Takase, known for his grappling, has been concentrating on stand-up fighting. "I've worked really hard on striking, like I had never done anything else before. I go to a boxing gym every day. I've been sparring with (Ryuta) Nochi (Kyokushin and Pancrase veteran) and Kojiro, the K-1 fighter. We spar for more than 10 rounds every day. Then I run, run and run again. I've been doing so much sparring; I haven't had time to work on grappling much."
Asked about why he was working so hard on striking, he replied, "Striking is popular now", but that's not the real reason. Takase is one of the best grapplers in Japan, and well known overseas. There aren't many fighters that want to try to beat him on the ground. Most likely he felt that if he wants to make full use of his grappling skills, he'll have to strengthen his striking.
The fighting world has changed a lot during this past year and his training partners have been very active. Kazuhiro Nakamura has gained a spot in the Middleweight Grand Prix, Hirotaka Yokoi was in the Heavyweight Grand Prix and Ryo Chonan has begun to rival Gomi for the "ace" position in Bushido. It looks like Takase is the only that's been left out.
"I'm not jealous at all. I really respect Chonan, in particular. I was injured and was criticized no matter which way I turned. I really thought it was over. When he beat Anderson on New Year's Eve, I thought that I have to do my best to and began my training all over from the beginning. I trained too hard, got a respiratory infection and had to rest for three weeks, though. In the end, that was a complete waste! (laughing)"
"There's no one promoting Chonan. He brought himself up and I think it's amazing. I'm in the same spot so I'm going to give it everything I have this time."
Takase's opponent is Daniel Acacio, and comes by repeated recommendation of Wanderlei Silva, "I want to show him to Japan. He's the strongest Chute Boxe fighter in the 83kg class." He's Chute Boxe's secret weapon and for Takase, it'll be the first striker he's faced since Anderson Silva in PRIDE 26.
"I have no information about him. I don't know if he's orthodox or a south-paw. From what I have heard, he's really tough. Training in Brazil says it all. It's probably going to be a very hard fight."
Shoji, an old friend of Takase, is also going to fight in BUSHIDO. "I think Shoji is always in a tough position. We're both going to have tough fights and I would be really happy if we can both win."
Ryuta Sakurai, with his bodybuilder frame, hails from Ibaragi, a martial arts hotspot in Japan that has produced champions in all genres in recent years. "I think this is just the beginning for me," commented Sakurai. Although Sakurai lost to Yushin Okami in BUSHIDO 2, he has come back with intensity. With the exception of the Okami fight, Sakurai won all of his matches last year. He uses arm-locks and extremely powerful punches as his weapons. In December of last year, he fought Ryuki Ueyama, another BUSHIDO veteran, in DEEP and pounded him out in just seconds to take the DEEP Middleweight Championship title.
"I'm not going to become totally defensive just because I've become Champion. I always fight as if I'm the challenger. I go in to take people out. That's all I know," Sakurai promised a big fight in BUSHIDO 6. "My opponent's famous? Everyone around me says so but for me, I think it's just another fight. I'll beat him."
"I knew of him when he became UFC Champion," Sakurai said of his opponent, Murilo Bustamante. We're in the same weight class so I thought that I'd probably have to face a guy like him if I kept winning. I'm glad that it has finally come true. I'm actually excited. I want to fight as soon as possible. I'm going to beat him silly and mess his face up. That's my style. Ground work just makes me tired and the fans like to see people that just go in punching, anyway. It'll be great if I can win like that.
Shigeru Saeki, DSE Public Relations Officer, is pushing Daisuke Nakamura, Kiyoshi Tamura's student, as the one to watch in this BUSHIDO. "There's no stalling in a Nakamura fight! All of his fights last year were good. I think this fight with Aurelio will be incredible. I want everyone to watch so they will realize that this kind of fighter exists," recommended Saeki.
The truth is that unless you are a hard-core martial arts fan, you probably haven't heard of Daisuke Nakamura. As Saeki said though, Nakamura has been in many events and is a fan-entertaining machine. Some people even call him "Reversal Nakamura" because many of his wins are from reversals. His DEEP fight with Jutaro Nakao in October, 2004 at Korakuen Hall was an especially intense battle.
"It's an honor for me to be able to fight a top-level fighter like Aurelio in my first BUSHIDO fight. I don't think I will lose, though. It will be a good fight and I will win by submission or knockout. I will fight as I always do," commented Nakamura.
This won't be Nakamura's first appearance in a PRIDE-sponsored event, though. He made his pro-debut in PRIDE's former event to highlight newcomers, THE BEST, beating Shannon "The Cannon" Rich by submission. This BUSHIDO match will be his first fight against a foreign opponent and also his first fight against a jiu-jitsu fighter.
"I train at U-FILE CAMP and I don't train at other gyms. I'm picky about this. I want to show everyone that U-FILE is strong. I want to prove it. I'm looking to take out a big name this time and that's how I have trained." Nakamura is obviously confident going into this match and perhaps we will get to see some "Nakamura-ism", including his specialty move, the flying triangle, which is rarely seen in MMA fights.
"No stalling and active attacking, using ground attacks so simple that even a complete novice will understand them. I didn't do martial arts before. I started in U-FILE so an active style is the only style I know."
Formerly pro-wrestling under the ring name of Anglo-Saxon Oba, Takahiro Oba has grown over the past few years, concentrating on MMA training. Oba still considers himself to be a pro-wrestler, though.
"I don't pro-wrestle any more but pro-wrestling is still in my heart. I'm going to enter the BUSHIDO ring as a pro-wrestler. I don't have a background doing judo or wrestling or anything like that. The first thing I did was pro-wrestling. I don't do pro-wrestling anymore but I've always kept pro-wrestling close to my heart."
Oba made his MMA debut in a Russian event. Since then, he has continually competed in lesser-known events, even becoming the Okinawa Super Fight Champion. He is on a winning streak in DEEP since last year. His opponent, Denis Kang, is also on a 12-win streak and both will come into the fight with a lot of momentum.
"I don't know anything about my opponent," Oba commented. "Well, I know that he was in K-1. Even if I don't know him, I believe I can win if I use what I have always practiced. This is also a fight against myself."
Shigeru Saeki, who recommended Oba, also has high hoped for him, "Oba is strong and he will beat Kang. He's a lot stronger than everyone thinks."
"I don't want to go to the decision at all," Oba added. "Whether I win or lose, the fight will end in a KO or submission. We'll fight until one of us can't fight anymore. This is a chance to show myself to everyone. I don't think anybody knows me so I have to leave an impression."