It’s said that you never get a second chance to make a fi rst impression, but Kazuo Misaki might be an exception to that rule. A veteran of nearly every Japanese MMA promotion including, DEEP, Pancrase, PRIDE, and World Victory Road, Misaki was six years into his career before competing on U.S. soil. The “Grabaka Hitman” lost that fi ght to Frank Trigg at PRIDE 33 on Feb. 24, 2007 in Las Vegas, and Misaki had little opportunity to further showcase his skills for Western audiences when the promotion was purchased and disbanded by Zuffa, LLC just a few months later.
But Misaki was stateside again on Sept. 9, 2008, and this time the Grabaka Hitman left American fans with a much more favorable impression, fi nishing Joe “Diesel” Riggs with strikes in the second round of their match at the Playboy Mansion. The fi ght, the fi rst of two promised by his contract with the San Jose-based Strikeforce promotion, wasn’t Misaki’s toughest test, but the latest win notched on a career record of 21-8-2 with one no contest.
Misaki’s resume is stout, boasting wins over Dan Henderson, Denis Kang, Phil Baroni, and Ed Herman, and losses to Henderson, Trigg, Nate Marquardt, Paulo Filho, Chris Lytle, Ricardo Almeida. Misaki fought Jake Shields to a draw, rounding out a body of work that compares favorably with most of the world’s top middleweights. The judoka trains at Grabaka, a top level MMA gym founded by Japanese grappling legend Sanae Kikuta, alongside UFC welterweight Akihiro Gono and retired fi ghter and worldclass eccentric Genki Sudo.
But its no wonder Misaki is a mystery man on most middleweight ranking rundowns. The native of Chiba doesn’t possess the fl air of some of his Japanese contemporaries; he doesn’t sport colorful leggings; he doesn’t turn his entrances into performance art; he’s never defeated a Gracie. Misaki doesn’t stand out, which frankly is an accomplishment in itself for a man who won the 2006 PRIDE Welterweight Grand Prix.
The Hitman’s next test is American Top Team product Jorge Santiago, a UFC, King of the Cage, Absolute Fighting Championship, and BodogFight veteran and winner of Strikeforce’s 2007 four-man middleweight tournament and the 2008 World Victory Road Middleweight Grand Prix. The two will tangle at Sengoku: Seventh Battle on Jan. 4, 2009 in Saitama, Japan and the vacant World Victory Road middleweight belt will be on the line.
Stateside, Misaki’s credentials and defi nitive win over Riggs positions him nicely to challenge Cung Le for the Strikeforce middleweight strap. With several promotions competing for the handful of topranked middleweights available outside of the UFC, Misaki could fi nd himself in the spotlight every time he competes in this country. After all, America is the country of second chances.