Top 10-ranked lightweight Mitsuhiro Ishida will make his way from the battlegrounds of Japan for the first time in his seven-year professional career to face former NCAA Division I wrestler and rising Team AKA star Justin Wilcox in the cage at Strikeforce's return to the Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills, Calif. on Sept. 20.
Since jumping off to a shaky 2-2 start while fighting at 170 pounds, Wilcox has reset his game plan and reeled off three consecutive victories, including his Aug. 30 conquest of The Ultimate Fighter Season 5 cast member Gabe Ruediger.
The 29-year-old native of Cincinnati credits the sudden turnaround to his recently formed alliance with San Jose's Team AKA, the home of Wilcox's Edinboro University of Pennsylvania wrestling brother Josh Koscheck.
"I love the way they train. They have that grind that I'm used to from wrestling in college so I feel at home here," said Wilcox, who became the first true freshman in Edinboro history to win the NCAA national qualifying tournament. "My college coach always said if you want to be a champ, you have to surround yourself with champs so I went out to AKA and haven't lost since."
During his collegiate career, the high-spirited Wilcox was turned on to amateur and, later, on to professional bodybuilding, a stint that helped mold him into the monstrous physical specimen that he is today.
"I've always been into one on one competition so MMA was perfect for me. I saw Koscheck fighting on TV one day and I said 'This is what I want to do.'"
Also 29 years of age and a wrestling phenom known for his exceptional endurance, Ishida infiltrated the top echelon of 155-pound competitors by conquering numerous other top contenders in Japan's leading MMA organizations, including the now defunct Pride Fighting Championship as well as Shooto and DREAM. Ishida, on New Year's Eve last year, defeated then-Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez, handing Melendez the first defeat of his career by way of unanimous decision at Japan's Saitama Super Arena.