Kazuo "Grabaka Hitman" Misaki has become the latest to join the recent string of high-profile Japanese veterans to leave their long-time home.
Earlier this week, Misaki has officially announced his departure from the Grabaka gym where he has been affiliated since 2000 -- he made his professional debut in Pancrase in May, 2001. Citing his intent to "start from scratch," he did not unveil any detail regarding his future plan for training or fighting schedule.
Located in Nakano, Tokyo, Grabaka gym was founded by Pancrase/PRIDE veteran and former ADCC winner, Sanae Kikuta, and has produced numerous standout fighters including Misaki, Akihiro Gono, Yuki Sasaki, and Kazunori Yokota. The retired UFC/Hero's veteran, Genki Sudo and current UFC top middleweight contender, Nate Marquardt, count themselves among the fighters who have trained at the gym at one time or another.
A former Pancrase and Pride FC star, Misaki has signed with World Victory Road in the wake of the dissolution of Pride. In January of this year, he fought the American Top Team fighter and Sengoku middleweight grand prix winner, Jorge Santiago, for the promotion's middleweight title. After stymiing Santiago with superior striking for four rounds, Misaki succumbed to rear naked choke in the fifth round.
In July, he incurred indefinite suspension from competition by the WVR executive committee following a brush with law. According to the police report, an officer on motorcycle attempted to pull him over for talking on a cell phone while driving. Misaki proceeded to speed away, hitting the officer in the arm. He entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to three years probation, plus unspecified public service.
Misaki was allowed to compete in Sengoku 9 where he defeated the fellow Pride FC veteran, Kazuhiro Nakamura; however, he did not receive pay and the suspension nullified his title shot against Santiago. His originally scheduled payment has been donated to the Japan Foundation for AIDS Prevention charity.
According to the Grabaka chief, Kikuta, Grabaka does not bind its fighters contractually. Thus, unless the fighters have signed multi-fight contracts that name them, the organizations, and the gym as stakeholders, they are free to leave on their own accord.
Grabaka is one of the unofficial WVR-affiliated gyms and WVR has yet to lift Misaki's suspension. Last month, WVR PR Director, Takahiro Kokuho has stated that the status of Misaki's suspension will be discussed in the next committee hearing in early December. Though nothing is finalized at the moment, Kokuho has stated that he would like to add Misaki to Sengoku's New Year's Eve fight card.
While Misaki's promotional destination following the suspension by WVR remains up in air, ongoing rumors suggest that he may jump ship elsewhere: A rumor of possible showdown with Kazushi Sakuraba on FEG's Dynamite! NYE event has been gaining buzz online. Also, having made a victorious Strikeforce debut against Joe Riggs last September, he may opt to fight in the organization again -- especially given its recent momentum from network TV debut and the newly formalized alliance with DREAM.
Stay tuned to MMAmania for further news regarding Kazuo Misaki as they become available.