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UFC 23: Ultimate Japan II review
by Scott Newman (MMA)
Posted on February 26, 2007, 7:56 AM

UFC 23: Ultimate Japan 2

Tokyo, Japan

-We open the show with a video package on the four Heavyweight fighters on this show, building to another big title match on the next show.

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Jeff Blatnick, who talk about the “UFC-J” tournament, as well as the title vacations of both Bas Rutten (Heavyweight) and Frank Shamrock (Middleweight).

-Indeed, James Werme is backstage with Rutten himself, and Bas wastes no time in explaining that he’s vacated to drop to Middleweight, and calls out Frank Shamrock. For those wondering, Bas’s move to MW didn’t end up actually taking place, due to injury.

UFC-J Tournament Semi-Finals: Katsuhisa Fujii vs Masutatsu Yano

This was actually the last ever one-night tournament promoted by UFC, the concept that started the whole thing finally ending here. They’re billing this as an openweight tournament, even though the first two competitors here are about the same size. UFC-J, for those wondering, was originally planned by SEG to be a separate company run by local promoters, but the idea was quickly dropped after the next Japanese show (UFC 25) as SEG fell into financial problems. As for the fighters in this one, they’re billing Yano as an amateur wrestler of some note, while Fuji had come from the Shooto organization. Interestingly enough, despite being billed as ‘Katsuhisa’ Fujii, he’s apparently Pride veteran Shamoji Fujii, no idea why he’d change his name like that at all.

They circle to begin the opening round, striking very tentatively, with Fujii landing a couple of glancing blows that don’t really do much. More circling follows before Yano shoots in for a takedown, which Fujii blocks with some knees to the body and follows up with a combo. Yano shoots again and this time gets a double leg takedown into the fence. He tries to land some punches from the top, but Fujii gets an armbar. Yano manages to wriggle free, and then starts to land punches from the top down into Fujii’s guard, and the round continues like that until time expires.

Into the 2nd, and they begin by circling tentatively again, with nothing much happening outside of Fujii landing a couple of jabs. Suddenly though Fujii lands an overhand right to deck Yano, and closes in with a flurry! Yano’s clearly out of it and the referee comes in for the stoppage just as he’s seemingly trying a desperation single leg. Fujii advances to the finals later in the night.

Pretty uneventful fight, but with a nice finish.

UFC-J Tournament Semi-Finals: Kenichi Yamamoto vs Daiju Takase

The openweight stipulation is in full effect here, as future Pride veteran Yamamoto is coming in around 30lbs heavier than Takase, who had already appeared in UFC once, taking a beating from Jeremy Horn a few shows back.

Yamamoto opens with a quick right hand, so Takase pulls guard. It’s a really tight guard too, with Takase clinging to him like a limpet, controlling Yamamoto’s wrists, and this makes for a seriously, seriously slow opening period. Towards the end Yamamoto breaks momentarily and lands punches, but as Takase ties up his wrists again, he decides to use the bizarre tactic of headbutting Takase’s midsection. Oookay. Takase lands some elbows from his back as Yamamoto continues the head assault to end the round.

2nd begins with Takase throwing a high kick, but Yamamoto counters with a right hand and catches him off balance, knocking him down. Yamamoto calls him back up, but Takase simply tries to pull guard again. Yamamoto avoids this time and tries a cartwheel pass, ending up in side mount, but Takase quickly works from his back to get guard. He ties Yamamoto up again, but this time Yamamoto at least manages to land some shots, albeit not doing any damage. They come back to their feet, but Takase drops to his back again, and Yamamoto joins him in guard, elbowing the body to end the round. This is a bad fight so far.

Third and final round, and Takase ends up on his back in guard after a failed high kick attempt again. More slow action from inside the guard follows, before Takase finally tries a triangle choke. Yamamoto easily stands to avoid it though, and the referee calls Takase to his feet. Takase tries to jump to guard as they restart, pulling Yamamoto down. Yamamoto tries to pass though, but ends up in the guard anyway, and not much happens until the round and fight mercifully ends. Yamamoto picks up the decision, but lord, what a snoozer. So it’s Yamamoto and Fujii later on.

-Matchmaker John Perretti joins James Werme backstage, and they talk about the upcoming fights.

Middleweight Fight: Eugene Jackson vs Keiichiro Yamamiya

Yamamiya is supposedly a good boxer, and with Jackson’s stand-up prowess the announcers are expecting a stand-up war here. God knows we could do with one after that last fight.

They both press with jabs to open the first round, before Yamamiya catches him with a left hook. More jabs follow and then they exchange punches, going toe-to-toe, before Jackson goes down momentarily. He pops back up quickly and gets a clinch, and they muscle for position with Jackson landing a couple of right hands. They break off, and Jackson looks like he wants to counterpunch, as they exchange a couple of times with both men landing. Jackson throws a high kick that Yamamiya blocks, and they exchange again to end the round with both men landing.

Into the 2nd, and they open with jabs before TRADING POWER SHOTS!~! Both land but somehow neither guy seems to be hurt, and they touch gloves with smiles on their faces. Somewhere, Joe Rogan was creaming at that point. They continue to press and another trade follows, and this time Jackson lands cleanly and Yamamiya looks stunned this time. They go into a clinch, and Jackson muscles him along the fence, but Yamamiya reverses and pushes Jackson into it, and they continue to shove each other around before breaking off to end the round.

Yamamiya opens the 3rd by coming forward and winging some big punches at Jackson, who looks to counter, landing the right hand a couple of times. Into the clinch, and Jackson seemingly looks for a takedown as they muscle for position, but they break off before they can go to ground. Yamamiya continues to push the action, but a counter-right from Jackson knocks his mouthpiece out. Another exchange follows and they go into a clinch, but they break quickly and Yamamiya comes forward right into some more counterpunches. Undeterred, Yamamiya continues to press forward, but this time Jackson lands a BRUTAL LEFT HAND for the one punch knockout!

Wow, does Jackson have a couple of classic highlight-reel knockouts, or what? That was almost as good as the one he caught Royce Alger with. Not a bad fight at all, as it goes, too, as both guys traded big punches and got their shots in.

Middleweight Fight: Joe Slick vs Jason Delucia

Delucia was a real throwback fighter, having competed in UFC 2 and lost by armbar to Royce Gracie. Since then though he’d developed a lot as a fighter and had seen some success in Pancrase over the following years. Slick was coming out of Pat Miletich’s camp and this was his UFC debut.

They get underway and Delucia catches him with some quick punches, so Slick gets a bodylock and tries a takedown. Delucia gets a nice reversal and tries to climb onto his back, but Slick manages to avoid and ends up in Delucia’s guard. He passes to side mount, and then lands a couple of knees to the head, but Delucia reverses and comes back to his feet in a clinch. Slick gets a bodylock and tries a takedown again, but this time as they go down Delucia’s right leg gets caught under his body, causing his right knee to bend at a nasty angle, and he verbally submits as soon as they hit the mat.

Post-fight Delucia looks hurt BAD and they carry him out of the octagon, and we get some replays that show the takedown in slow motion, with Delucia’s leg just folding up under his body. Man, that’s one of the most painful looking injuries I’ve seen in MMA, period. Seemed like it would’ve been a good fight, too.

UFC-J Tournament Finals: Shamojii Fujii vs Kenichi Yamamoto

Where Yamamoto had a size advantage in his semi-final, he’s actually slightly smaller than Fujii so that should make a different fight to his first one, hopefully.

Yamamoto comes forward to begin, but Fujii gets a big takedown to half-guard. Yamamoto gets full guard back immediately, but Fujii works him over from the top with short strikes. He tries to move him towards the fence, but Yamamoto uses his feet to push away from it. Fujii tries a flurry from the top, but Yamamoto rolls to his feet, only for Fujii to get another takedown right away. Yamamoto tries to roll out again as Fujii lands from the top, but Fujii avoids the reversal and ends up back on top in Yamamoto’s guard. Fujii stands up out of an attempted leglock and then goes back into the guard, where he works to pass, landing flurries of punches now as Yamamoto begins to look in trouble, covering up to end the round. Definitely Fujii’s round there.

Fujii ducks a couple of big punches to open the 2nd, and gets a rear waistlock off a single leg attempt. Yamamoto drops and rolls to full guard, and Fujii’s working a lot slower from the top now, still landing punches but not with the frequency he was earlier. Yamamoto stays calm from the bottom, but plays it very defensive, but suddenly spins into a BEAUTIFUL kneebar, and straightens it out for the tapout!

Seriously slick submission there, I think UFC actually used it in their ‘On The Mat’ segments on like UFC 50 or something, too. Probably the best fight in the mini-tournament as well, as Fujii was aggressive from the top in the first round, and then the second had the mad slick submission. Post-fight they present Yamamoto with the UFC-J belt and a cheque for 1million Yen, so he’s got to be happy!

Heavyweight Fight: Pedro Rizzo vs Tsuyoshi Kosaka

The premise behind this was basically a straight-up #1 Contender’s fight, with the winner going on to face the winner of the title match on the next UFC show. Both men were coming off wins – Rizzo was still unbeaten at this point and was coming off the knockout of Tra Telligman – while Kosaka had stopped Tim Lajcik at UFC 21.

They begin and Rizzo takes the center of the octagon while Kosaka circles around, but only glancing blows land early as both men seem tentative. Rizzo lands the first clean right as Kosaka comes forward, but doesn’t really follow up. More circling follows before they exchange low kicks, but so far this is a slow fight. Rizzo lands a particularly nasty low kick though, marking up TK’s leg to end the round.

More of the same follows in the 2nd, as both men continue to fight tentatively, before Rizzo lands another brutal leg kick about two minutes into the round. Rizzo begins to open up a bit more now, landing a couple of one-twos before TK changes up his tactic, shooting in for a takedown. Rizzo sprawls and stuffs the attempt, and then begins to pick him apart from the outside, landing another vicious leg kick before blocking another takedown, shoving TK to his back to close the round out.

Third and final round, and Rizzo begins to press the action now, clearly realizing that TK’s hurt. He lands a right hand, cutting Kosaka open on the face, where he’s already pretty marked up at this point. Rizzo continues to land from the outside, and then decks him with a left hook! TK comes back to his feet quickly though, and shoots in for a takedown, only for Rizzo to sprawl back, and then NAIL him with a huge right hand as TK is on his knees. Kosaka completely freezes for a moment so McCarthy steps in there, and Kosaka then falls to his back looking badly hurt.

Upon seeing the replays, man, that was a seriously hard shot that Rizzo caught him with there. Prior to the third round though this was your typical tentative, cautious Rizzo fight, with Pedro staying on the outside and only landing now and again. Seriously, if Rizzo had been more aggressive, who knows what kind of damage he could’ve done?

UFC Heavyweight Title: Kevin Randleman vs Pete Williams

This was for the vacant Heavyweight Title after Bas Rutten had dropped to move to Middleweight, and in reality after the fight between him and Randleman you could probably say that this ought to have been Randleman’s first title defense. Pre-fight the announcers talk about Randleman’s anger over being robbed in that fight, and he looks crazy fired up on his way to the octagon, practically running out from the back. Williams, for his part, was coming off two impressive submission wins and was also still riding the wave of his KO of Mark Coleman about eighteen months earlier.

Randleman charges right out of the gate to begin the fight and shoots in for a takedown, but Williams sprawls nicely and somehow almost ends up in mount! Randleman keeps pushing through though, and gets a leg trip down to Williams’s guard. Randleman stays relatively conservative from the top, mainly controlling Williams and then he tries a smother choke variation that doesn’t work. Randleman uses a headlock for control for a moment, and then lets go and throws a flurry, but Williams blocks a lot of it. Randleman lands some more glancing shots, but Williams suddenly pushes him off with his legs and stands, then comes forward and stuns him with some punches, putting Randleman down! Williams follows him down and gets a strange mount variation, basically sitting on Randleman with one arm pinned underneath, and he lands some shots to end the round.

Between rounds things get a bit strange though, as Randleman stays down holding his shoulder, and for a second the announcers think he’s done, but referee John McCarthy talks to him for a while, and then he gets up and heads to his corner. It looks like he might’ve hurt his arm as Williams mounted him.

Randleman comes out for the 2nd looking okay though, and Williams presses forward, so Randleman shoots for the takedown. Williams blocks it nicely, and then looks for some kicks, but they go into a clinch where Randleman takes him down cleanly this time. Randleman doesn’t do much from the top as Williams uses his guard to control him, and when Randleman stands, Williams locks up an armbar from the bottom! Randleman looks in trouble for a second but then manages to muscle his way free, and stacks Williams up, doing little damage, and they end the round in the same position.

Round 3 begins and they circle, with Williams throwing a kick, but Randleman closes in and drags him to the mat using a front facelock. Williams slides to guard, and the round plays out from that position, with Williams defending well, although Randleman stays somewhat active, landing hammer fists inside Williams’s guard, but not really looking to advance his position. So far I think I’d give the 1st to Williams, but the 2nd and 3rd rounds to Randleman.

Into the fourth round, and Randleman rushes in gain and muscles him to the fence, getting another takedown to guard. He goes for a neck crank this time, but then lets go and settles for staying in the guard, throwing the odd flurry now and then as Williams defends nicely, but doesn’t really make an attempt at any submissions, nor try to escape from the bottom. Pretty plodding fight actually.

Fifth and final round then, and they circle, before Randleman tosses him down to a side mount, but goes into a side waistlock instead with an ankle pick hold for good measure. Blatnick points out now that it looks like Randleman’s in a wrestling match rather than a fight. He controls from that position, but Williams rolls to guard and then gets to his feet! Williams presses forward, obviously knowing he needs something drastic, but they circle around doing nothing and McCarthy gives them a warning for inactivity. Randleman gets a takedown off the restart, but Williams rolls and gets to his feet quickly. Randleman follows though with a heavy one-two combo, and Williams misses a kick to end the fight.

There’s only one winner this time, and unsurprisingly Randleman picks up the unanimous decision, becoming the new UFC Heavyweight Champion. Post-fight Randleman apologises for his somewhat boring performance, but puts Williams over as a really tough guy to put away.

Well, first off justice was done as Randleman got hold of the title he should’ve won earlier in the year. For the most part the fight *was* boring though, as Randleman simply took Williams down time after time and controlled him with very little damage being done. Granted, Williams fought a very good defensive fight, but he made no real attempts to get out from underneath Randleman and get on offense himself, outside of the end of the first round, so I’d say he’s just as to blame as Randleman was for the fight.

-And, we end there as the announcers talk about the UFC moving into the new millennium.

Final Thoughts....

While it’s not quite the worst UFC show I’ve seen (so far, nothing’s come close to UFC 11 in that stake) UFC 23 is certainly one of the least interesting you’ll find. Outside of the great submission in the final round, the tournament is mind-numbing, and Randleman/Williams is up there as one of the most boring title fights the organization’s ever seen. Add in a fight that’s two-thirds snoozer (TK/Rizzo) and a seemingly good fight ending on a freak injury (Slick/Delucia) and you’ve got a pretty poor show. There’s nothing really to see here, folks.

Coming Soon....

Pride: 18.
UFC: 24, 26, 27, 28, 29, 63, 64 and 65.
Cage Rage: 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18.
WEC: 10 and 11.
WFA: 1, 2 and 3.
King of the Cage: 15, 18, 21, 23, 29, 30, 32, 33, 36, 42 and 48.
Best of Shooto 2003 vols. 1 & 2.

Until next time,

Scott Newman:

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