There’s a belief in the fight community that when you go to Japan that you need to be prepared for anything. You could say that for any fighter going into another country where they are to fight local fighters they have their backs against the wall and fear the “hometown decision,” but in Japan it always seems amplified. A part of that is the marriage of professional wrestling and professional fighting that has existed for a very long time in the world of “kakutougi.”
In fact, if you were to look at Shoot Boxing’s S-Cup event there was a professional wrestling bout on the card featuring New Japan Pro Wrestling Junior Heavyweight sensation Kota Ibushi against former DDT Pro Wrestling colleague Michael Nakazawa. It was originally labeled as an “exhibition match” under Shoot Boxing rules and was scheduled to be against Kazushi Sakuraba, but that fell through thanks to Metamoris 5.
That should set the tone for you.
This S-Cup was one of the few that I’ve seen more than the usual fans excited over, which was in part due to the card that they put together. Mosab Amrani, Pornasae, Hiroaki Suzuki, Michiko Omigawa, Hiroki Shishido and American Muay Thai fighter Kevin Ross were all a part of the tournament, while legend Andy Souwer and Shoot Boxing hero RENA were in Super Fights.
It felt like one of the bigger shows that Shoot Boxing had put on in a very, very long time and then Shoot Boxing went and put on a shameful display for all of the world to see.
The draw for American fans was muay thai standout Kevin Ross being in the tournament. Ross went into the tournament against his toughest test by the way of former Sengoku, DREAM and UFC alumnus Michihiro Omigawa. Omigawa was a champion Judoka who rose to prominence in the Japanese MMA scene and after his UFC stint gave a shot at Shoot Boxing. Much like Toby Imada in the past, his grappling skills were able to help him against seasoned kickboxers and 2014 was his second attempt at Shoot Boxing gold.
By all accounts Omigawa was winning the first round handily thanks to his throws, which score heavily under Shoot Boxing rules, but there was a clash of heads that led to a nasty cut on Omigawa's face. In the second round the cut was a major factor, leading the ref to stopping the bout. The referee awarded the fight in favor of Ross due to the stoppage, while backstage there was a different story and Shoot Boxing organizers informed Ross that the fight was being rendered a No Contest and that he would not continue on in the tournament.
The rules are a bit unclear at a time like this, where it isn’t clear who was at fault, or if it was accidental. What the referee most likely saw and ruled was that the cut was due to Omigawa’s own “negligence” (section 10) and ruled it in favor of Ross. Shoot Boxing might have been arguing that it was due to both men, which would make things a lot muddier. The truth of the matter is, the referee awarded Ross the win in the ring and any time the decision is reversed backstage it will be a tough sell to anyone that it was on the up-and-up.
If that wasn’t frustrating enough, then there is the story of Zakaria Zouggari. Don’t know who Zakaria Zouggari is? Neither did we, but we sure as hell know now. Rob Emerson of MMA fame (fame?!) was scheduled to take part, but at the last minute was unable to secure a visa, which left Shoot Boxing in a bind and called up relative unknown Zakaria Zouggari to fill in for Emerson in a reserve bout.
Zouggari defeated Shoot Boxing’s resident punching bag Bovy Sor. Udomson via cut stoppage in round two and, thanks to the Kevin Ross/Omigawa shenanigans, was called upon to fight in the tournament moving forward.
That led to a fight with internationally-renowned Houcine Bennoui and for this amazing display.
Seriously. God damn.
So this unknown would move onto the finals. According to Andy Souwer after the event Zouggari literally got off of the plane, dropped his bag off in his hotel room then hopped on a bus and headed to the event without time to rest, eat or get acclimated. This was the man who went on to the finals against 2013 65kg S-Cup Champion Hiroaki Suzuki. This is where things went from bad to worse. Zouggari clearly had the fight won after three rounds, only for an extension round to be ordered. When that was too close a SECOND extension round happened where Suzuki was finally able to score a TKO over Zouggari and it looked like Shoot Boxing’s hand-picked champion had won again.
It was almost like they weren't trying to hide the favoritism and that they really, really wanted Suzuki vs. Omigawa in a rematch of last year's finals.