MAR 14- A press announcement was held in Dream Stage Entertainment's Tokyo office on March 9th to announce Yuki Kondo's move from the Middleweight to the Welterweight Division and upcoming fight against Phil Baroni. The match will take place on April 2nd at the Ariake Coliseum in Tokyo at PRIDE BUSHIDO 10.
Yuki Kondo will finally make the move to Welterweight; a move that fans have long waited for. Dream Stage Entertainment CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara, couldn't hide his excitement over the news and smiled as he made the announcement.
"Last year, many Japanese fighters in the Lightweight Division, particularly Takanori Gomi, fought toe-to-toe with the world's strongest fighters and came out on top. Japanese fighters, however, weren't able to stand up to the world's strongest fighters in the Welterweight Division. As I feel that Kondo is capable of giving a good fight to fighters like Dan Henderson and Murilo Bustamante, I had personally hoped that he would move to the Welterweight Division. Now, Kondo has agreed to do exactly that."
Shigeru Saeki, BUSHIDO's Director of Public Relations, was also confident in Kondo's move. "Kondo only weighs around 85kg and has fought bigger opponents until now. I think he can make 83kg just by training normally. I'm grateful and have high hopes now that we will finally be able to get him into BUSHIDO. To be perfectly honest, I think he is the toughest Japanese fighter under 83kg. His striking and groundwork are great and his stamina is the best in the world. In Kondo we have someone able to take on foreign fighters and I hope he will add some excitement to the Welterweight Division."
Kondo's first opponent as a Welterweight will be Phil Baroni, who has KO victories over Ikuhisa Minowa and Ryo Chonan. In the recent PRIDE 31 UNBREAKABLE, Baroni served as corner man for the Hammer House's Mark Coleman. In the melee following Coleman's bout, Baroni was in the thick of it and even had the courage to take down Wanderlei Silva.
"I think this will be a standup battle, a striking war," Saeki predicted. "With Kondo's move to the Welterweight Division, we can put together many incredible matches. The spotlight was on the Lightweight Division last year but this year is going to be about the Welterweights."
Kondo is always ready to break new ground, "It's an honor to receive this opportunity. I want to do my best. There are many strong, interesting opponents in the Welterweight Division, including Baroni. I'm interested in the tournament."
"I've seen Baroni against Chonan and against Minowa in the tournament and my image of him is as a striker. His punches are fast and strong. His wrestling also looks strong. For myself, I want to strike, toe-to-toe, and win," Kondo continued, predicting a victory by strikes. Kondo's change in weight class was expected from last year and Kondo himself said that he had anticipated this offer since his fight with Kazuhiro Nakamura on New Year's Eve. "There were no definite talks but just for myself, I kind of felt like that's how it would the next time (I fought)."
Kondo also revealed that he has already begun losing weight for the April 2nd fight. "This is the first time cutting weight. I weigh about 86.5kg now and I'd like to cut weight slowly. It's the first time for me, so I'm having a hard time. (laughing) I think my senses have gotten sharper since I started losing weight. I feel like I'm going to be stronger than I ever was before."
Kondo has previously fought as a Middleweight while weighing less than Kazushi Sakuraba. His losses, though, were mainly from controversial decisions. Many fans believed that he should have won in his fights with Dan Henderson and Kazuhiro Nakamura. Fighting at his natural weight, he has fought against the top Middleweight fighters without backing down.
How strong of an opponent will he be if he drops down to the Welterweight Division? Probably more than anyone can imagine. "I'm interested in fighting Japanese and foreign Welterweights, including the Champion, Dan Henderson. All of the Japanese fighters lost at last year's Welterweight Grand Prix but I think it was a fluke. I believe that Japanese fighters can win. I won't know until I try, though," Kondo said, confident that fighting as a Welterweight will be easier than his Middleweight bouts.
Kondo even went so far as to say, "If I have the opportunity, I'd like to fight in the Open Weight Grand Prix as a Welterweight. I think I'll defend my Pancrase title as a Welterweight, too. I will continue to fight in Pancrase even if there is a Welterweight Grand Prix. I want to fight as much as possible."In a previous interview with PRIDE, Kondo said, "if possible, I'd like to fight every day of the year. Anything less than that is a waste."
"Kondo will fight anyone," Saeki said, praising Kondo's willingness to fight anyone, anywhere. "He's not particular. 3 or 4 years ago, there was a fighter in DEEP that got hurt. We made an offer to Kondo to replace him just a week before the fight and Kondo accepted, saying that fighting was the reason he had joined Pancrase. He's a warrior."
"I like candy a lot but I'm using self control at the moment. I ask everyone that I meet about how to cut weight. I want to cut weight and not have to worry about stress or rebounding," Kondo said, laughing.
According to Sakakibara, the scale of the tournament will be bigger than last year. "We haven't decided whether this year's tournament will be for the Lightweight or Welterweight Division yet. We're trying to work out the timing for the opening round. It could be June, August, or somewhere in October or November. We're also working on the venue and the fighter lineup. Whether it's a Lightweight or Welterweight Tournament, I want to have a 16-man tournament this year." If it works out that there will be a Welterweight Tournament, Yuki Kondo will be a strong contender for the Championship.
"If it's a Japanese-only event, the scale will become smaller so I'd like to have Japanese VS Japanese matches in an event that also includes foreigners," Saeki added. "From the Welterweights, I'd like to see Kondo VS Misaki or Kondo VS Chonan."
Additionally, a bout between Luiz Azeredo and Joachim Hansen was announced for the upcoming PRIDE BUSHIDO 10. "This is any exciting, appealing match-up," Saeki said. "It's a match-up between styles - Hansen's unwavering strength and Azeredo's amazing physical abilities - and the hidden main bout of this event. Personally, this is the fight that I'm most looking forward to."
The announcement of the remainder of the PRIDE BUSHIDO 10 card is planned for next week. There will be both Japanese and foreign fighters making their BUSHIDO debut.