After the postponement of the Affliction card from October to January I was very disappointed. The IFL had shut down operation and this was the second time a fight had been pulled out from underneath me. I had not competed since April and was really becoming antsy. Fortunately, my trainer, Shawn Tompkins, was able to get me the opportunity to do something I have always wanted to do: Compete in Japan, which is the Mecca of Martial Arts. Coach Tompkins and I both came from a martial arts backgrounds from a very early age, so he knew how much of an opportunity this was for us. After getting the thumbs up from Affliction and my management at NCFC, we were bound for Japan competing in one of the country’s highest kickboxing promotions, Shootboxing, in their S-Cup Final 8 man tournament. Shootboxing is basically standing MMA, with punches, kicks, knees, takedowns, and standing submissions, a very easy transition for me.
Preparation for the fight went awesome. I split my time between our gym in London: Adrenaline Training Center, Xtreme Couture Toronto, time with my conditioning coach Scott Paton, and finished camp with Shawn at Xtreme Couture Las Vegas. I was on point with my timing and in condition ready to go for the 3 fights.
Shawn threw in another surprise for me before the fight. He recently began working with K1 veteran Ray Sefo at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas. Ray is one my idols in combat sports. In and out of the ring Ray has been someone who I have looked up to and try to learn from. Knowing Ray was fighting in the K1 World GP, and that he was travelling to Japan a few weeks prior to his bouts to get acclimated, Shawn asked Ray if he would work my corner with him.
We took off to Japan on a 12 hour flight a few days prior to the tournament. I was able to sleep for most of the flight there. Once we arrived, it was the biggest culture shock ever. Gardens in the airport, pictures of cartoon rabbits and cats on the walls, sumo wrestling bouts playing on big screens. We went straight to the Shootboxing Gym in Tokyo for interviews, pictures, and a training session. There we quickly realized how compact everything is in Japan. No room was accessible without a stairwell and tiny training rooms were packed tight. After training, we went and checked into our hotel and went for a walk in the city. Packed streets, neon lights, arcades, bloated fish in aquariums in front of restaurants, and many beautiful girls were the scene. Trying to find food that wasn’t too different from my normal diet before the fight was quite difficult as no one spoke any English and English menus were not common.
When tournament day arrived I was excited. I was amongst living legends in the sport of kickboxing such as Andy Souwer and Kenichi Ogata. The drive to Saitama Arena felt as if I was Frank Dux in Bloodsport on the way to the Kumite. Eight thousand Japanese fans were there respectfully cheering on the combatants, very different audience than you get back home.
My opponent in the first round of the tournament was Hiroki Shishido. We knew he was an experienced fighter, a champion in Shootboxing, and (from viewing tape on him) a fighter that likes to lead with kicks looking to outpoint his opponent and look for a throw when in trouble. I had my head trainer Shawn Tompkins, who’s like a father and brother to me, and one of my idols Ray Sefo, along with K1 vets Jan Nortje and Doug Vinny in my corner to lead me to battle. I was prepared and ready to go. The fight was a back and forth and the clash ended up being decided by the judges. I felt sure, coming back to the corner after the last round that I had won. The first and the third round were mine, but knowing how the judging system works I was prepared to go for an extra round and expecting it. When Shishido was announced as the winner I was disappointed but knew he had the home field advantage and I was in his territory.
After the fight, the people at Shootboxing were happy with my performance and want to have us back, hopefully with my fellow teammates we can send a team in 2009.