Saturday, January 20, 2007

Aoki and Kikuchi Set For Second Shooto Championship Clash

One year to the day of their first encounter, Shinya Aoki (Pictures) and Akira Kikuchi (Pictures) will take Shooto back to its roots when the 167-pound world title on the line.

Leading Shooto promoter Sustain announced Friday that its Feb. 17 card at the Pacifico Yokohama National Convention Center would feature a Shooto middleweight world title rematch between current champion Shinya Aoki (Pictures) and former champion Akira Kikuchi (Pictures). The two met last Feb. 17, when the largely hyped but considerably inexperienced Aoki opened the eyes of fans with a surprising decision win over Kikuchi, who was largely viewed as Japan's most outstanding competitor in the weight class.

The first bout between Aoki and Kikuchi also gave rise to considerable controversy. Following the bout at Yoyogi National Second Gymnasium last year, Kikuchi's training partner and cornerman "KID" Norifumi Yamamoto (Pictures) kicked physician Dr. Kenji Nakayama from behind, while shouting epithets at him. Yamamoto was furious that the physician failed to recognize that the cut sustained by the fallen champion was, in his opinion, caused by an errant Aoki elbow.

As a result of the incident, Yamamoto and all fighters out of KILLER BEE were indefinitely suspended from both amateur and professional Shooto competition. Only after serving a suspension of 170 days was the competition ban on KILLER BEE lifted on Aug. 6, 2006, giving Kikuchi the freedom to again fight in the Shooto ring.

Sustain president Kazuhiro Sakamoto revealed that 167-pound Pacific Rim titleholder "K-Taro" Keita Nakamura (Pictures) was the first choice to take on Aoki, but that Nakamura was currently occupied with training toward having another fight on U.S. soil and potentially a second appearance in the UFC.

"While they're different, both fighters excel on the ground," said Sakimoto. "It's called mixed martial arts — often there is an overemphasis on striking. You can expect to see that moved aside, and to see the offense and defensive grappling skill of two of the best in the world."

The 23-year-old champion, who is coming off a sensational submission win over former Shooto world champion Joachim Hansen (Pictures) via gogoplata, revealed to the media that he felt he was in great physical shape, and that he would not have to drop any weight this time to make the 167-pound limit.

"My status in the [Shooto middleweight] division hasn't changed by me having fought outside [of Shooto]," Aoki said. "Since I'm fighting, I want to give 120 percent against anyone who challenges me."

"Although Sakamoto said it'll be the 'highest level of grappling in the world,’ I'm reluctant, being a striker," Aoki sarcastically quipped. "I want to show 'the highest level of slugfest in the world.’”

"Since August, I've been able to take on strong fighters both in PRIDE and in Shooto. I want to fight to the fullest and attain my goal: not a decision, but a submission conclusion," said Aoki.

Kikuchi conveyed a calm enthusiasm to the media, stating, "I am the challenger, and I want to fight decisively this time. Last time, I lost because I wasn't able to take the initiative. I waited for my opponent too much. Maybe I was feeling the pressure."

"But since I can get revenge this time, it's my pleasure. I'm confident, though maybe without basis. But I think I can win, so I'm fighting,” laughed Kikuchi.

Kikuchi closed his discussion with the media by saying, "This time I want to fight synthetically. I'm aiming firmly at my goal, and I want to end it."

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