In case it wasn’t obvious from my “Pancrase” introduction a couple of weeks ago, I am a HUGE fan of Japanese MMA. At one point, Japanese promotion PRIDE FC was the world’s leading MMA promotion. Some of the sport’s biggest names passed through PRIDE FC: Fedor, Shogun, Anderson Silva, Dan Henderson, Gomi, and Wanderlei Silva, just to name a few.
However, it is less well known that Shooto, a smaller Japanese promotion, that sent countless young fighters to PRIDE. Hiroyuki Abe was one such fighter, although his name value is almost nil compared to the fighters listed above. Despite his inability to catch on as a household name, he has always been my favorite JMMA competitor. We all dream of meeting our favorite (insert name of sport here) player, but given that Abe had no reason to come to Texas, my chances of meeting him was almost zero, or was it?
Some quick background: my mom is a gambling junkie whose favorite place to be is in front of a slot machine. Apparently if you do that enough, the casino gives you free stuff to entice you to come back and dump more money.
In 2009, one such perk was two VIP tickets to a Bellator MMA show at the casino. Naturally, my friend and I claimed the tickets and found ourselves up on the stage of the casino’s theatre, chilling on a couch that was five feet from the cage apron. I was in heaven.
Then, as if on cue from God, I look to my left and who is standing over me but the one and only Abe-san. In his broken Engligh, he asked if he could sit on the end of our couch. I felt like a little kid as I nervously made some room and said “Sure”. Turns out, one of his fighters was on the card and he had time to kill while waiting for his fighter to warm up. He sat with us for 45 minutes and was a class act: he didn’t even get bothered by me talking his ear off the entire time.
He eventually shook my hand and left to get his fighter ready, and I felt like I got to meet Elvis. The kicker? After the fights, he saw me sitting at a blackjack table and sat next to me and played and talked for hours. It was one of the best nights I can remember. Hell, I couldn’t tell you who fought on that card because I don’t recall. Let’s ride:
Stephen Thompson (-105) vs Geoff Neal (-115)
We finally get to see Wonderboy back in the octagon. One of the most gifted, unique strikers the sport has ever seen, Thompson throws strikes with every limb and from every angle you can imagine. Although he’s had some surprising losses (like his KO defeat to Anthony Pettis), he’s capable of winning against the best of the division in stellar fashion (ie, his wins over Jorge Masvidal and Vincente Luque).
Neal has done nothing but impress since joining the UFC via the Contenders Series. Violent victories over Belal Muhammad, Niko Price and Mike Perry show exactly who he is: a durable banger with dynamite in his fists. This is an intriguing fight that will show where each man is in his career.
Wonderboy’s elusiveness should keep him on his feet and out of Neal’s KO zone. At the same time, Neal hasn’t shown me enough head movement to make me think he can avoid Thompson’s best shots. I love Wonderboy in cash. Neal is a deep GPP play in case he catches a KO.
Jose Aldo (-145) vs Marlon Vera (+125)
After dropping to 135, former featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo has had his ups and downs. Although he’s cutting more weight, it hasn’t affected Aldo’s gas tank or his ability to bully opponents around the cage. What most people might not realize? Aldo is winless at bantamweight. Aldo is winless at bantamweight.
Vera is a rangy striker who is at his best keeping folks at the end of his jab. He’s coming off a first round finish of Sean O’Malley, albeit due to an injury. Still, Chito should have his moments in what promises to be a standup war.
Aldo should take a decision here, but it’s a super close fight. I think both these guys are playable for cash, maybe even in a stack.
There is a preview of my breakdown article for this week. We will have the full article on our premium side!
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