The mysterious start to Satoshi Ishi’s professional mixed martial arts career continued on Saturday in Japan at the Saitama Arena during Sengoku’s “Seventh Battle.”
Ishii entered the ring during the show’s intermission and was seen wearing a UFC t-shirt. After wishing the crowd a Happy New Year, the former judoka referred to himself as an MMA fighter. Ishii also took the opportunity to dispels rumors that Bob Sapp’s victory over the masked professional wrestler “Kinniku Mantaro” during FEG’s “Dynamite!!” event on New Year’s Eve was against him.
Some confusion was created by the loss because the role of Mantaro, a popular character within Japanese Anime, was played by Akihito Tanaka, who was a Olympic bronze medalist for Japan in freestyle wrestling.
Ishii closed the interview by re-stating his intentions to begin his career in the U.S. but vowed to return to Japan one day and intimated he would do so as a world champion.
The appearance was surprising because Ishii, a gold medal winner in judo while representing his native country of Japan during this past summer’s Olympic games in Beijing, at one point had reportedly signed with FEG’s DREAM promotion and was expected to appear at “Dynamite!!” Sengoku is considered to be a direct competitor to DREAM.
However, the deal between Ishii and DREAM apparently never became finalized as he would later be quoted as saying that he considered the UFC to be the top promotion in the world and it was his desire to compete there. Soon after the comments became public, UFC President Dana White invited Ishii to spend time in the United States during the New Year’s holiday in order to attend UFC 92 while also touring several of Las Vegas’ top MMA gyms.
Despite not having signed a contract with the UFC, the promotion still featured him on-camera several times during the Japanese feed of the UFC 92 pay-per-view. Soon after, a release was issued on UFC.com which proclaimed that “exclusive” negotiations had begun between both parties.
“Satoshi Ishii has the potential to be very successful in mixed martial arts,” White was quoted as saying. “We can’t wait to start working with Mr. Ishii, we look forward to helping him with his training, his career, and his eventual debut in a professional fight.”
To date, there have been no official reports that Ishii has formally signed with the UFC.