Thursday, March 15, 2007

Shooto: Back To Our Roots II Preview

By Jordan Breen

February's BACK TO OUR ROOTS card in Yokohama was outstanding. It had great fighters, action-packed fights, and even a couple upsets along the way. It was definitely what should be expected out of a Shooto super-card.

However, something was missing last month at Pacifico Yokohama. Plain and simple, it's not a Shooto super-card without Rumina Sato. Worse yet, how can an event bear the title BACK TO OUR ROOTS, without having Rumina Sato on it? Not only is he a 12-year veteran in the Shooto ring, but it was Sato himself that started the whole "roots" motif. It's even the name of his gym.

Thankfully, Sustain has gotten some level of absolution by including Sato on the March line-up for BACK TO OUR ROOTS II.

Now, truth be told, the man sometimes identified as simply "The Charisma" ain't quite what he used to be. Many elements play a role in that. For starters, we're long past the days where a win over John Lewis is something to be lauded for, and even the most inept of obscure foreign opposition won't get caught with a flying armbar. Thirty-five professional fights over a 12-plus year career will extract a price on any man's body, especially one that is 33 years old.

Sato has a host of new job descriptions beyond just "Shooto superstar." He's now a gym owner; a coach; a trainer; a mentor. All of these things have served to erode the mystique of the man who showed the world how to fight MMA on the mat, in mid-air, and everywhere in between.

Nonetheless, there is, and will always be, something special when Rumina Sato steps into the ring. If he fights someone great, a little piece of hopes he can pull it off, as you brace yourself for the potentially gory catastrophe of Sato getting smashed. If he gets a gimme against some miserable, you'll have your fingers crossed for a flying armbar encore. The Charisma is no misnomer; he's truly that magnetic.

Therefore, it goes without saying that even though a showdown with Augusto Frota Guimaraes is not the most enticing match-up you'll ever see on paper, there's still plenty of reason to be excited.

Frota, a native Brazilian based in Switzerland, has made an appearance in Shooto Japan before, though it was nothing memorable. Many moons ago, in Nov. 2003, a considerably green Frota met a then-Class B Kenji Osawa at 132-pounds, who put Frota away late in the bout with an arm triangle choke. Since then, Frota has made his mark back in Europe, campaigning one weight class higher, and is now looking to capitalize on a big name opponent in Sato, who is enjoying the twilight of his career.

As you might expect from someone who carries the Brazilian Top Team flag abroad, Frota brings with him a heavily grappling-oriented game. Frota closes the distance on his opponents, generates takedowns, and pounds from top position to open up guard passing and submission opportunities. In that regard, he's been successful, having pounded out his first pro opponent from the mount, and having notched his other five victories via submission.

Frota is not much of a threat standing, and doesn't have particularly great striking defense. As a fairly well-rounded submission artist with some slickness, he has benefited largely from facing a steady dose of grappling-first fighters, who happened to not be as technically gifted as himself. The best fighter he's faced is the UK's finest in Cage Warriors kingpin Danny Batten, who survived early ground-and-pound pressure from Frota, and took him apart standing, forcing him to quit after the third round.

His style and durability concerns make him a favorable opponent for Sato. While Sato is not submission proof, the only time he's gotten caught in the last eight years was by Alexandre Franca Nogueira's vaunted guillotine. His carefree style of grappling sometimes sees him show vulnerability in pursuit of offense, but generally speaking, Sato is a great mat technician, with a dangerous set of submissions. Sato's biggest concern at this point in his career is durability; in his bout with Antonio Carvalho, Sato looked magnificent in the first three minutes of the bout, before his frenzied pace caught up with his aging body. Sato never got the chance to catch a second wind, as Carvalho immediately assumed control of the bout, and pounded Sato out in the second stanza.

What may be the deciding factor in this bout is the stand-up. As mentioned, Frota is very hittable and was broken down by a barrage of leg kicks from Danny Batten. Sato is no stadium champ, but he's quietly become a very serviceable striker until the tutelage of former Japanese kickboxing king Riki Onadera. Sato was able to dominate a decent striker in Makoto Ishikawa in the stand-up, knocking him to the canvas twice, though perhaps Ishikawa's notoriously shaky chin played a role. He also got some early licks in on Antonio Carvalho and Gilbert Melendez, both of whom have some potency standing.

Augusto Frota is an outstanding individual in terms of his commitment to the MMA scene in not only Switzerland, but all over Europe, acting as not only a fighter, but a coach, trainer, and a fight promoter. He's a swell guy. But, the odds are not stacked in his favor, as Sato should be able to nullify any offense Frota presents, while generally imposing his will for the duration of the bout.

I doubt Sato's finishing skills standing, and don't know that he'll be able to make Frota quit inside of 15 minutes, and Frota's grappling ability should at least insulate him from being submitted. However, Shooto's charisma incarnate will grab a victory in impressive fashion inside of Korakuen Hall this Friday.

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