Monday, January 30, 2012

A Future at 115?

The strawweight division…who knew it actually existed? I first found out about the division, which is a maximum of 115lbs., when I was looking for flyweight fights to watch when that division was starting to make noise. My Google searches brought me to Rambaa Somdet, an incredibly technical muay thai striker. He was considered a top-125lber at the time, and I noticed he was a Shooto champion…at 115lbs. What? Did I read that right? They actually have that? My initial befuddlement stemmed from the fact that the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts states that the lowest weight class allowed is flyweight. That’s at 125 pounds. So where did this come from? Upon further research, I learned that the only promotions that support the weight class are Shooto, and Shooto Brazil. I figured since it was MMA, it was worth a shot.

The first fight I ever saw was the aforementioned Somdet against Hiroyuki Abe in a match for the Shooto 115lb title. If you’re wondering why Somdet’s nickname is “M-16,” look no further than this fight to find the answer. In under a round, Somdet’s striking attack caused Abe’s eye to swell to the point where his vision was impaired. To put it bluntly, his striking is lethal. It’s precise, powerful, and quick. I was disappointed to hear Somdet vacated his title after a bicep injury, as I wanted to see more of what Somdet could do. The next Shooto 115lb champion was Junji Ikoma. He won the title in a match to fill the championship void Somdet created at 115lbs. From what I hear, it was an exciting back-and-forth affair, though I have yet to see it. What made it even more interesting was that Ikoma seemed like a real-life Rocky. His record was just over .500, and he was 41 years young, but the fact remained that he was still a champion.

Ikoma’s first title defense didn’t go quite as well though. What made this fight so interesting to me was the fact that his opponent, Mikihito Yamagami, looked HUGE. Sherdog lists him as 5’8”, which makes him look like Stefan Struve 115lbs. As soon as the bell rang, the two starting swinging. Yamagami used his reach to clock Ikoma with two left hands that sent that champion crashing to the canvas. Just :41 seconds into the 1st round, Shooto had another new 115 pound champion. I think it will be interesting to watch Yamagami continue to fight. Certain taller, lankier fighters (*cough* Jon Jones and Anderson Silva *cough*) with the right skillset have proven to be successful at the highest level, and it will be fun to see if Yamagami can do the same in this still-relatively new division. If not, at least his apparent willingness to trade blows will make it exciting.

Shooto Brazil recently added a 115-pound division of their own. They kicked off the division in style at Shooto Brazil 19, with the first two rounds of a grand prix tournament to crown a champion. The favorite in the field was Michael William Costa, a former challenger for Shooto Brazil’s 125lb title. After watching him fight, it was easy to see why. His first round match at Shooto Brazil 19 was against Pedro Mascote, and the fight had everything. Literally, everything a mixed martial arts fan could hope for: submission attempts, escapes, sweeps, ground and pound, lightning-quick striking exchanges…I was literally glued to my computer screen. Fifteen minutes felt like five, and Costa won a close decision. I was so entertained that I wanted more. I figured a 15-minute back and forth battle would affect Costa in some way for his next fight. Not quite. He submitted Evandro dos Santos with an armbar in just under a minute.

Then, there’s Lincon de Sa. He and Costa eventually faced off for the Shooto Brazil 115lb title, but unfortunately I have yet to see the fight. It says the result was a split-decision win for Sa, which indicates to me it was either boring and overly-tactical, or a highly entertaining fight. And I don’t think these fighters are capable of a boring fight. At first, I thought Sa was more of a ground specialist because he submitted his first two tournament opponents, Jean Buiu and Andre Costa Pereira. After defeating Costa to win the belt, he was set to defend it in a rematch with Pereira. What I saw left my jaw on the floor. The two touched gloves, and started swinging. The pace they put on made Leonard Garcia vs. The Korean Zombie I look slow. The combination that Sa put on Pereira in the 2nd round was absolutely crazy. Think of Chuck Liddell’s finishing combo against Tito Ortiz in their first fight…now imagine the combination lasting for about 30 seconds. That’s what Lincon did Pereira. I thought he’d be gassed like Mark Coleman in his 2nd fight with Shogun after that punching display, but he didn’t even look remotely winded. After more strikes on the feet, Sa finally dropped Pereira and finished him with some ground and pound to successfully defend his Shooto Brazil 115lb championship.

So, what’s the future like for 115lbs? Well, chances are that it won’t be in America, let alone the UFC anytime soon. The Zuffa-owned WEC said they’d be adding flyweights in 2009, and the UFC just started up the division in 2012. It took them three years to find a worthwhile talent pool for them to install it. The current talent pool for 115 is basically every name I’ve mentioned in this article. Let’s also not forget that the Unified Rules don’t even allow a male weight class at 115 pounds (at least not yet). However, Brazil and Japan are two great places to start. The people there are naturally smaller, so they would produce smaller fighters. As I stated in an earlier article, DREAM should possibly consider doing a 115lb tournament. It would be a good way to attract attention with something unique that isn’t a sideshow act. The bottom line is, all of these fights I watched entertained me. And that’s the point of sports; to be entertained. If 115lb fighters continue to put on entertaining fights, and the talent pool deepens, there should be no reason why these fighters won’t be on a big stage in the future. For now though, the division must continue to grow and develop. I, for one, will be watching all the way.

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