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Satoshi Ishii halts MMA career to focus on another Olympic Judo run

By Zach Arnold | April 20, 2011

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The Japan Times reported yesterday that the former Japanese Olympic judoka gold medalist Satoshi Ishii had suddenly made a U-turn in his professional career. He was scheduled to fight on, of all shows, the Strikeforce April 1st event against Scott Lighty before that fight got canceled. The world turned upside-down when Zuffa brought out the Strikeforce assets and Ishii ended up filing for divorce after nine months of marriage. Then, he was supposed to fight on a future Strikeforce Challengers card. That vanished after reported visa issues. Left with no real Japanese bookings on the table, Ishii has reportedly called it quits (for now) on his MMA career.

New Japanese reports this morning claim that he decided on Monday to enter into the upcoming 2011 USA Judo Senior National Championships event in Orlando on the 29th. His goal is to obtain American citizenship and make a run at the 2016 Rio Olympic games as a representative of the United States. Mr. Ishii has been living in Los Angeles since last July.

The career shift puts an end to what was one of the most heavily mismanaged prospects ever to hit the Mixed Martial Arts scene. He had all the tools and the power base to make it work. He may have came at the wrong time (with a dying Japanese MMA scene), but he still had lots of potential for high-profile television matches and commercial work. He was even aligned with the Antonio Inoki political machine to get things done. However, in the end, he was largely a colossal dud. He hated taking a punch and that’s not a good thing if you’re fighting in this sport. He also has a very mercurial personality and few fans could relate to his life story or his demeanor. He came off as aloof, goofy, and at times insulting — so much so that fans booed him and cheered Jerome Le Banner on New Year’s Eve 2010.

It’s easy to say that his career was mismanaged, but the larger truth is that you can only control someone to a certain extent. It’s clear, so far, that Ishii makes rash decisions in his life. I don’t know if impulsive is the right word, but undisciplined might be a more accurate term. On paper, he has all the talent in the world. That talent was certainly alluring to K-1 and he could have been a cornerstone for the promotion. However, he didn’t want to play the political games. He marched to the beat of his own drumt. Whatever he was doing for training, it didn’t pan out for him. Nothing clicked.

There was a lot of money on the table. However, to get that money, Ishii would have had to play by the rules and be disciplined about it. In the end, he didn’t want to be a Japanese mainstay. Furthermore, the money we thought that was on the table may have been nothing more than a mirage with K-1.

Last year, Jordan Breen discussed Satoshi Ishii’s career trajectory and praised the way both he & his handlers were going about his development as a fighter. If you read the article, I wrote a strong rebuttal stating that what we were seeing with Ishii was nothing short of a train wreck and one of the biggest busts of all time for an MMA prospect with major-league name recognition. Unfortunately, my assessment proved to be more accurate. It just wasn’t meant to be.

Topics: Japan, Media, MMA, Zach Arnold | 22 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

22 Responses to “Satoshi Ishii halts MMA career to focus on another Olympic Judo run”

  1. Light23 says:

    At least he can always come back to Japan as the biggest heel ever, after he wins gold for America.

  2. Stel says:

    I’ve never read or listened to Breen, but he doesn’t look too clever. I must say, matching ishi up with Yoshida for his first fight was about the stupidest thing I have ever seen. Hopefully he’ll generate some excitement on the tatami.

  3. 45 Huddle says:

    1) When faced with the idea of either taking a huge paycut or fighting UFC level caliber for the rest of his career…. It’s not a shock he decided to go back to Judo.

    2) Stel is correct. His management was horrible for the very first fight. Breen is just flat out wrong on this one. Which seems to be happening more and more with that guy lately.

    • fd says:

      Breen is really knowledgeable, but he’s probably the #2 example of how being very knowledgeable in mma doesn’t prevent you from having extremely stupid opinions on occasion. (#1 being Snowden)

      • Steve4192 says:

        I’d say Gross was the original archetype for really smart/knowledgable guys with dumb ideas about how the sport should be run.

  4. scranton mma says:

    This is good news for USA Judo. Hopefully it gets more people interested in the sport. I hope for Ishii that things work out for him in the long run!

    • Chuck says:

      “Hopefully it gets more people interested in the sport.”

      Very doubtful. The one good thing about Ishii going back into judo and competing for the States in the 2012 games is that USA might get her first gold medal in judo. But what would that prove? That Ishii is a really good judoka, not that the States has a good Olympic judo program. It’s not much different than when the American Olympic basketball team only uses NBA players. It seems cheap.

  5. 45 Huddle says:

    Jon Fitch is having shoulder surgery. Out 6 months.

    He is a textbook reason why fighters should be willing to fight teammates. He balked at the idea of fighting Koscheck… Got passed over…. And now won’t see another potential title shot for at least another year from now….

    • Steve4192 says:


      I see no reason why Fitch can’t get the next shot after Shields. GSP only fights twice a year anyway. Let Fitch take his six months to recover, skip the meaningless BJ rematch and give Fitch his long-overdue rematch with the champ.

      • 45 Huddle says:

        It’s hard to justify a title shot with a guy just coming off a draw….

        He will need one more win…. Which probably won’t happen until November at the earliest….

        • Steve4192 says:

          Who gives a shit if his last fight was a draw?

          He’s 5-0-1 since his first fight with GSP and has gone 21-0-1 in his last 22 fights against guys not named GSP. If that doesn’t justify a title shot, I don’t know what does.

        • The casual fan give a y’know.

  6. manapua says:

    Anyone who saw Ishii fight knows he did not have much potential for long-term success in MMA.

    • edub says:

      Gotta agree. I understand he is an olympic gold medalist, but he just never seemed to be that good to me. His takedowns looked ok, his top control looked ok, his grappling strength looked good. His striking looked and still looks horrible, his cardio looked like shit, his punching power looked on the level of Jake Shields, and to top it off he doesn’t seem to be progressing at all.

      I think this was the right decision for him.

    • d says:

      He had potential for a nice quick cash grab for himself, and he’s managed to screw it up in the most amazing and thorough way.

  7. david m says:

    Judo is the least valuable of the grappling arts; takedowns aren’t that good, and subs aren’t that good either.

    45 how do you figure that a shoulder surgery and fighting teammates are related? That is a stretch. I thought under current UFC scoring criteria he lost to BJ anyways, so who cares. Further, Dana hates Fitch and so do 99% of mma fans, so the UFC was always going to find a way to not give him another title shot. And I still don’t think any of that relates to fighting Koscheck; Josh has lost to GSP 2x now and is effectively eliminated from title contention until GSP loses. Fitch won’t get an immediate title shot when he gets back not because he needs to have another win on his record, but because nobody wants to see him fight. Lesnar got a title shot in like his 2nd fight simply because people want to watch him; Fitch is the anti-Brock.

    • Chuck says:

      “Judo is the least valuable of the grappling arts; takedowns aren’t that good, and subs aren’t that good either.”

      I would amend that statement. To this……“Judo is the least valuable of the EXTERNAL grappling arts”.

      Judo might not be ass effective as the wrestling styles and BJJ, and maybe Sambo, but it is still much better than crap like Aikido, Dim Mak (which came from basically Chinese pulp novels), grappling aspects of Tai Chi Chuan, Aiki Jujitsu, etc.

      • Chromium says:

        Not sure what you mean by “external,” but I pretty much agree that judo is the least valuable of the legit useful grappling arts. So yeah, it has a bit of value. It is not a bad compliment at all to wrestling and BJJ, even if the other two are much better bases. Judo can definitely help in the clinch both with takedowns and takedown defense.

        A shame about Ishii. I was interested to see if maybe he could develop at LHW, even if he never showed the potential to be a top 10 fighter. He’s gonna have to make some money between now and 2016 anyway, and I don’t know if Judo really pays that much even in Japan (Zach, if I’m off on that, feel free to correct me). Might as well take a few matches in StrikeForce where he’s, you know, under contract. His first opponent will probably be soft-serve anyway.

        • Chuck says:

          External martial arts are martial arts that use actual physical force and exertion. Arts like boxing, wrestling, judo, Brazilian jujitsu, karate, taekwondo, savate, sambo, Muay Thai, Wing Chun gung fu, some of the northern styles of gung fu, etc.

          Internal martial arts are more meditative and don’t use as much force and exertion. Stuff like Tai Chi, Aikido, baqua, tajiquan, maybe yoga, etc.

  8. drawp says:

    He did have a horrible start, but I thought that getting in with Strikeforce was going to be a good start for him stateside. I honestly don’t think he had any visa issues at all, I think he probably had just decided to call it quits. Applying for citizenship and planning to compete again in the olympics isn’t something that’s decided overnight.

    He could still make another run at MMA once the 2016 games are over.. but man, he’s going to be steps behind Teddy Riner at this point.

  9. Safari_Punch says:

    Maybe this is an attempt to somehow keep his name in the limelight and get a big payday further down the road. If there is no money in Japan for the time being and Zuffa is trying to low ball Ishii, why should he fight in MMA? Seems like he would be taking a step doing fighting in the States and the money isn’t right.

    If Ishii wins gold for Team USA, you can bet there will be a bidding war between Zuffa, FEG and whomever else is in the mix down the road.

    I wonder if he will continue to work on his MMA and striking game in the mean time?


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