Sengoku Eighth Battle looked, on paper, to be one of those cards that might fly under a lot of fans’ radar, but also like a card that had the potential to reward the viewers with interesting matches and great action. In execution, it started out very oddly but ended up more than living up to its potential. The tournament battles, in particular, were all exciting and well-fought. There were also almost as many leglocks and leglock attempts at this event as there used to be in a typical Pancrase show back in the early 1990s. All in all, it was easily one of the better Japanese MMA cards in recent memory.

Maximo Blanco vs. Akihiko Mori

In a bout that I don’t believe made air, Sengoku Training Player/Yoshida Dojo prodigy Shigeki Osawa took a decision win over Kota Ibishi, at least in part because Ibishi was given a yellow card for stalling. The rules played an even larger role in determining the victor in his training partner “MAXI” Blanco’s fight. Blanco used his tremendous power and aggression to take the fight to Mori, escaping an early armbar attempt and dealing out punishing strikes. A little past the four-minute mark, Blanco landed a right hook that dropped Mori, but foolishly followed up with a soccer kick to the Japanese fighter’s face that forced the referee to immediately disqualify the Venezuelan wrestler. Mori, laying unconscious on the canvas, was declared the victor.

Travis Wiuff vs. Stanislav Nedkov

The strangeness definitely continued through the first round of this fight, which saw the Bulgarian BJJ Black Belt Nedkov nail former YAMMA Pit Fighting champion with three separate knees straight to the groin in the early going. Understandably, this had the effect of slowing both the fight and the American powerhouse right down. In spite of clearly fighting much of the first two rounds in mortal agony, Wiuff was ahead on the judges cards going into the final frame. Nedkov, however, managed to knock Wiuff down with a hard right hand about half a minute into the third. After that, he pounced on the American and pounded him until the referee called a stop to the bout.

Makoto Takimoto vs. Michael Costa

Costa and his crew come out in “Jesus is my coach” T-shirts. Impressively, Costa seems to have taken the following advice from the Sermon on the Mount very much to heart: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” So, when Costa managed to escape Takimoto’s early arm-bar attempt, he very generously offered up his leg to the judo gold medalist. With Shamrock-like grace, Takimoto locked on an inverted heel hook, which he released in order to switch to a regular heel hook. Just as Bas was admonishing Takimoto for making that mistake, Costa tapped out. In a very classy move Takimoto politely accepted Costa’s offered gift of a copy of the Bible after the fight. With this win, the champion judoka has raised his pro MMA record to 5 -5.

Marlon Sandro vs. Nick Denis

This was meant to be one those classic battles between an experienced grappler (Sandro) and a powerful striker (Denis). Sandro demolished expectations, however, by immediately crushing Denis with a lead right uppercut that knocked the Canadian “Ninja of Love” completely out.

Chan Sung Jung vs. Masanori Kanehara

The evening’s second featherweight grand prix bout was a very closely fought and wildly exciting fight, and an early contender for 2009’s best fight of the year. In the first round, both fighters demonstrated that they had the skills and strength to match up with the other both standing and on the ground. The pace picked up considerably in the second, as the fighters engaged in a wild slugfest before taking it to the ground and exchanging submission attempts and escapes. Kanehara almost managed to give us a second heel hook finish on the night, but Jung managed to fight him off until the bell sounded. Jung battled furiously throughout the third but was unable to put Kanehara away. A slight advantage on the judges’ scorecards in the early rounds was enough to give Kanehara the right to advance to the tournament’s third round.

Alexandre Ribeiro vs. Keiichiro Yamamiya

It was great to see that Yamamiya is still active in the world of pro fighting. He was one of the guys who paved the way for Japanese MMA, fighting for Pancrase in the mid-1990s. This was the Grabaka fighter’s sixty-eighth pro fight, and by stark contrast it was Ribeiro’s second. The BJJ world champion was simply too much for the veteran to handle, though. Ribeiro dominated the fight, taking Yamamiya down and improving position more or less at will, and without ever seeming to fully exert himself. After toying with the veteran fighter for two rounds, Ribeiro caught him with a right hook less than a minute into the third, putting an end to the fight.

Leonardo Santos vs. Kazunori Yokota

This was a very hard-fought back and forth battle between two evenly matched fighters. Yokota, the former DEEP lightweight champion, used his strength, balance, and positioning to counter Santos’ speed and superior length. Although both men attempted and escaped multiple submissions, Santos spent the majority of the fight on his back and so it came as no surprise when the Japanese fighter was awarded a close spit decision.

Nam Phan vs. Michihiro Omigawa

Omigawa earned his second consecutive upset victory to continue his surprising run in the featherweight grand prix. Unlike his previous carefully fought decision win, Omigawa really brought it to Phan in this fight, going full out from the opening bell and not stopping until the referee called an end to it very late in the first round. Bas, and others, might have thought it was an early stoppage, but Phan seemed to take the referee’s call in stride. Other than an early heel hook attempt, the likeable California native had been on the defensive throughout the round.

Hatsu Hioki vs. Ronnie Mann

Hioki finished off the evening by advancing to the third round of the tournament in dominating fashion. He applied the kind of constant pressure and rapid transitions that brought to mind the early career of Genki Sudo, taking Mann down, advancing his position, and locking on a beautiful triangle choke that he reinforced by raining blows on his opponent’s trapped head. It brought a very impressive end to an entertaining evening of fights.

I eagerly anticipate more of the same at Sengoku Ninth Battle in August.