A new promotion in Japan, lead by former Pride Fighting Championships president Nobuyuki Sakakibara and vice president Hiroyuki Kato, will hold its first event on April 18th. Dubbed the “Japan Cup,” the event will feature the first and second rounds of an eight-man bantamweight grand prix.
A source close to the new promotion confirmed details of the April event to MMARising.com on Wednesday. Current plans call for the tournament final to be held in May. The tournament winner, as well as other semi-finalists, will move on to compete in DREAM’s world bantamweight tournament.
Sakakibara is expected to maintain a behind-the-scenes role in the new Japan Cup group, due to past controversies during his time with Pride Fighting Championships. Amidst damning allegations of ties to the Yakuza and organised crime, Sakakibara stepped down from his post in PRIDE and the promotion subsequently ceased operations in 2007 after it was acquired by the Ultimate Fighting Championship. With MMA in Japan now struggling, Sakakibara has returned and he and Kato have teamed up once again to stage the Japan Cup event.
As previously reported by MMAFighting.com, Sakakibara has been heavily involved with Japanese soccer team FC Ryukyu since his exile from mixed martial arts. Kato, meanwhile, has been working with DREAM and is seen by some as a positive influence who may be able to guide Japanese MMA back towards success. With the sport waning in popularity in the country, however, and widespread crackdowns on Yakuza operations, the former Pride Fighting Championships pair may face an uphill battle in attempting to restore faith in both Japanese MMA and in Sakakibara himself.
On April 18th, eight bantamweights – most or all of whom will be of Japanese descent, with a possible inclusion of South Korean fighters as well – will face off in the first round of the Japan Cup tournament. The winners will fight again later in the same evening as part of the semi-finals. In May, at a date to be determined, the final two men standing will battle to become tournament champion.
The winner of the tournament, as well as up to two other fighters who perform well, will then advance on to take part in the planned DREAM Bantamweight Grand Prix later in 2011. The DREAM tournament, should it proceed, is expected to feature fighters from around the world. Conversely, the Japan Cup will most likely be confined to fighters from Japan and possibly Korea only.
A venue for the April 18th event is not yet known, though MMAFighting.com further reported that the venue will likely be smaller and similar in size to JCB Hall. The identities of the fighters who will be competing on the card also remain unknown at this time, but formal announcements are expected to follow in the coming weeks.
(Photo Credit: Sherdog.com)