MMA Review: #582: DREAM 17: Bantamweight Grand Prix 2011 Opening Round

-Bit of a weird confession coming – I actually miss DREAM. I mean sure, I love the UFC shows we get now and undoubtedly it’s better for the sport to have it more US-dominated as well; for the most part it’s treated as a proper sport in the US rather than the pro-wrestling style of Japanese MMA, but I always did enjoy the pageantry and weirdness of PRIDE and really, DREAM was the only other Japanese promotion that came close to replicating that. So when I discovered this show tucked away on my external hard drive I was pretty damn happy. At this point DREAM was largely in its death throes – the majority of the stars they’d signed or developed (Overeem, Mousasi, Kid Yamamoto, Zaromskis, Alvarez, Omigawa) had all migrated stateside and so the roster was wildly depleted – and this was their penultimate show following a couple of largely lower-level ones earlier in 2011 that didn’t even get numbered. They still had a couple of big names though – namely Shinya Aoki and Kazushi Sakuraba – and this show was the beginning of another Grand Prix, this time at 135lbs.

DREAM 17: Bantamweight Grand Prix 2011 Opening Round

09/24/11
Saitama, Japan

-Your hosts are Michael Schiavello and Frank Trigg and boy have I missed that wild Aussie voice. A guy called Hans Thompson also joins us at times to provide translation. THE HANSLATOR, apparently. We also get the crazy long introduction segment which I haven’t missed quite so much. Video package is as hilarious and random as you’d expect from DREAM though with a kid dancing around in a gi leading us to a bunch of highlights. Awesome.

Minowaman vs Baru Harn

Ha, what better way to start a DREAM show than with a SUPER HULK MATCH? I mean sure it’s Minowaman so the fight will likely suck, but ah well. Schiavello tells us Harn is a bouncer and pro-wrestler from Mongolia and he’s also about 220lbs to Minowaman’s natural 170lbs/185lbs. It must be said that Schiavello is beyond awesome during Minowaman’s entrance, saying he’s been “fist pumping long before Jersey Shore” which takes me right back to 2010-11 and the height of that show, which is somehow now more than HALF A DECADE AGO. Damn I feel old suddenly.

Fight begins and the announcers are debating on exactly how long it’ll take Minowaman to tap this guy out. Harn comes out chasing around, but Minowaman ducks under to get a single leg and forces him down into an awkward position under the ropes. Side mount for Minowa as Trigg is horrified that these big dudes can’t stop the takedown. Looks like we’re getting three five-minute rounds tonight too, UFC style, as opposed to the one ten-minute, one five-minute style previously used by DREAM. Harn looks totally lost from his back and Minowaman traps an arm and then goes to full mount. Triangle attempt from Minowaman but it looks as loose as one that Undertaker used to use back in the early 2000’s, and Harn manages to avoid it. Minowaman instead looks like he might go for a kimura variant, but he gives up on that to go back to full side mount. Weird camera angle follows as one of the dudes at ringside appears to stumble, ha. Few punches land for Minowaman and then he moves to north/south. Harn is beyond terrible. Into the last minute of the round now and I guess Minowaman decides he’s had enough of this shit and so he locks up the Mark Coleman side neck crank to force the tapout.

Well, that was absolutely ridiculous but shit, what would a DREAM show be without a weird Minowaman squash over a random large tomato can? At least it was short!

-Video package time to begin the 2011 Bantamweight Grand Prix. If DREAM was known for one thing outside of its random Minowaman squashes, it was for its series of Grand Prix’, tournaments that brought us some amazing stuff like the emergence of Eddie Alvarez (2008) and Marius Zaromskis (2009), and also some shitty stuff (the protection of Shinya Aoki in 2009’s Lightweight Grand Prix; the really weak LHW tournament in 2010). This one was the first Grand Prix the promotion did at 135lbs, although interestingly of the eight guys entered, over half had also entered in 2009’s Featherweight Grand Prix and were dropping down in weight, including the winner of that tournament, Bibiano Fernandes.

DREAM Bantamweight Grand Prix: Quarter-Finals: Rodolfo Marques vs Yusup Saadulaev

Never heard of either of these guys, surprisingly enough, as neither went onto big things following this stint in DREAM. Announcers explain that Marques is a Brazilian guy coming out of the famed Nova Uniao camp, where he’s been training with Renan Barao, Jose Aldo and Marlon Sandro (and shit, that guy ended up falling off didn’t he?). At this point he was an impressive 13-1. Saadulaev – another one of those random Russian/Dagestani guys that DREAM used to bring in – walks out here to FRANK SINATRA of all things. He did it HIS WAY. Seriously! And he was also unbeaten at 8-0-1, for those wondering. Holy shit does the ring announcer butcher his name too.

First round begins and they trade some low kicks before Marques lands a jab and a kick that puts Saadulaev down for a second. The Russian pops back up and gets a takedown but Marques scrambles and looks for a submission right away. He goes into the rare donkey guard position to attempt an inverted triangle, but the Russian manages to free himself and he spins to take the back. Marques explodes up to his feet though and they separate. They trade some shots into the clinch and Saadulaev hits a trip takedown to guard, but Marques rolls into an oma plata and then switches off to a leglock. Saadulaev avoids that and stands, then tries to take the back in a scramble, but Marques stands and reverses to grab a rear waistlock. A roll for a leglock fails for Saadulaev and Marques winds up on top in half-guard. Looks like Marques has got full mount for a second, but Saadulaev manages to get a butterfly guard back in. Decent hammer fist gets through for the Brazilian. He drops some more punches through the guard and then tries to pass as the round ends. I was about to type 10-9 Marques there but of course, DREAM judged fights on the whole, PRIDE-style, so they didn’t have scoring like that.

Second round and Marques lands a pretty nasty low kick and a counter right hand. Takedown from Saadulaev and he lands in the guard and passes into half-guard. He tries to get to side mount, but Marques ties him up, only to eat a couple of hammer fists. Slick sweep from Marques puts him on top in side mount from the deep half-guard. That was nice. He begins to lock up an arm triangle, but Saadulaev manages to turn over to avoid it, practically giving his back in the process. Body triangle now from Marques and he tries to lock up a neck crank, but he gives it up to land some hard punches right to the face. Full mount follows and Saadulaev is in trouble. He manages not to take much damage from there though and then hits a good reversal to take top position in the Brazilian’s guard. Ref calls a stand-up with 1:30 remaining, and they exchange some punches before Saadulaev reverses a takedown to land in Marques’s guard. Oma plata attempt again from Marques who then goes for a toehold at the same time, but Saadulaev avoids both and manages to last the round.

Third round and they exchange some strikes again until Saadulaev practically just falls into a takedown and finds himself in half-guard again. Not sure if one of Marques’s strikes might have hurt him or what. Full mount for Marques and the Russian is in trouble again. He desperately tries to throw his legs up for a reversal attempt but Marques blocks that and opens up with some heavy punches. Wild move from Saadulaev sees him practically hit a backwards roll WHILE UNDER THE MOUNT and that allows him to escape, right into a leglock attempt. He rolls and really cranks on it, but Marques seems okay and he manages to get his leg free. Cool sequence, though. They almost end up in a figure-four leglock position, all tangled up, and finally the ref stands them up. Nice clean left hand connects for Marques and Saadulaev shoots, but the Brazilian stuffs it and escapes to his feet. Another left hand connects for Marques but Saadulaev ties him up and trips him down to guard. Seconds to go and Marques looks to lock up the oma plata again, but he can’t finish it off before the bell sounds.

Really good, close fight. I’d probably score it for Marques but yeah, it was very tight due to the amount of reversals and takedowns and submission attempts. Trigg thinks Saadulaev’s got it, but the judges agree with me and all go with Rodolfo Marques. Not sure why neither man managed to get into the UFC at some point after this as they both looked pretty skilled here.

DREAM Bantamweight Grand Prix: Quarter-Finals: Masakazu Imanari vs Abel Cullum

Imanari was always one of those fighters I hated to watch a few years back, as all he ever seemed to do was dive or slide for leglocks and throw shitty jumping kicks, and if he couldn’t get a leglock he didn’t seem to have much else outside of winning a handful of bogus decisions. Cullum on the other hand was a guy I always DID love to watch, with his cool Cowboy gimmick complimenting a super-exciting fighting style, and why the WEC and then the UFC never brought him in I don’t know.

Round One begins and Imanari throws a kick and then pulls guard right away. He goes right into a rubber guard attempt and switches into an oma plata, and Cullum might be in trouble. He scrambles and almost gives his back, but manages to escape into the guard. Triangle attempt from Imanari follows and then he goes for an armbar, but Cullum avoids that too only to get caught in a fully locked triangle. Cullum stands with the triangle still locked on, and slams the Japanese fighter down, and that’s enough for him to escape. Big crowd pop for that but he decides surprisingly to stay in the guard, landing some punches before Imanari calls time to fix his glove. Weird. Couple of decent punches get through for Cullum and he shrugs off another triangle attempt. Gogoplata attempt from Imanari now but he can’t quite get that either. He goes back into an oma plata, then switches from that into a choke attempt, but Cullum scrambles desperately and somehow comes out on top, dropping some hard punches down onto the Japanese fighter. This is a great round. Some more really good punches connect for Cullum, and he ends the round on top.

Round Two and Cullum stalks forward with a leg kick as Imanari practically turns on his side in a weird stance. He pulls guard after a low side kick, and Cullum settles in and begins to land some punches again. Triangle attempt from Imanari now but he’s eating a ton of punches from Cullum and he has to give it up. Cullum is doing a tremendous job from top position here considering how dangerous Imanari is from his back. Gogoplata attempt from Imanari but Cullum lifts him up and shakes free before dropping down to land another flurry of punches. More ground-and-pound from Cullum, going to the body and the head, but the referee decides to stand them back up with a minute to go. Imanari almost turns his back now, totally ignoring Cullum as he circles around. Naturally he pulls guard soon after. Triangle attempt follows but Cullum muscles free and lands another flurry before taking the back. Imanari manages to spin into guard, but he eats another bunch of punches to the body to end the round. Cullum’s fight thus far methinks.

Round Three and somehow Imanari stuns Cullum early with a left hand! He seems okay though and comes back with a combo of his own that doesn’t land cleanly. Another left hand gets through for Imanari but Cullum catches a kick and throws him down into the guard. This time though Imanari throws up the oma plata…and then switches off to an armbar and FINALLY catches Cullum and forces the tapout.

Well, credit where it’s due, that was an AWESOME FIGHT as Imanari threw the kitchen sink at Cullum in the form of tons of submissions, but just couldn’t catch him until he got slightly sloppy in the third, perhaps because that initial left hand stunned him. I thought both men looked pretty excellent here to be fair but Imanari’s finish was a thing of beauty. Bravo.

DREAM Bantamweight Grand Prix: Quarter-Finals: Bibiano Fernandes vs Takafumi Otsuka

It was an odd move by DREAM to match these two up in the Quarter-Finals, as they’d actually faced in the opening round of the 2009 Featherweight GP and the fight absolutely stunk from what I remember, with Bibiano winning a pedestrian decision. I guess maybe DREAM were offering Otsuka a chance to avenge his loss? In any event I’d guess Bibi would’ve been the huge favourite coming in given he went on to win that 2009 tournament, although in his last fight he’d lost his title to Hiroyuki Takaya in a pretty close fight.

Fight gets underway and Bibi connects with a right hand in the first exchange. Otsuka fires back and they trade off before Bibi lands a low kick. Wild left hand misses for Otsuka and he slips as Fernandes shoots, which results in him falling and Bibi leaping on to take the back! Rear naked choke follows INSTANTLY and Otsuka passes out rather than tap. That was FAST.

Tremendous performance from Bibiano Fernandes, as Otsuka made one tiny mistake and Bibi capitalised on it totally and finished the fight off there and then. That was about as clean a win as you can get in MMA in fact.

DREAM Bantamweight Grand Prix: Quarter-Finals: Antonio Banuelos vs Hideo Tokoro

Chuck Liddell training partner Banuelos was coming off his brief UFC run going into this one – he’d lost his only fight there to Miguel Torres following a solid run in the WEC – and he was looking for more success in Japan than the other former WECers who’d made their way to DREAM in Chase Beebe and Micah Miller, a sort-of reverse of what tended to happen with the top Japanese guys coming over to the US. Tokoro meanwhile – one of the most exciting fighters in the game at this time – was on a three-fight win streak and had won the lower-level DREAM Japan GP to secure a spot in this tournament, beating Imanari in the finals which must’ve been impressive.

We begin and it must be noted that even at 135lbs Banuelos is tiny. Dude could make 125lbs with ease. He presses forward to begin as Schiavello waxes lyrical about his wild moustache. We get barely any action in the opening minute or two as both men come up short on their punches, landing some glancing jabs, and it’s a yawner of a round early on. Less than two minutes to go now and still neither man’s landed anything of note. Finally Banuelos connects on a solid overhand right and he follows with a combination, backing Tokoro up a bit. Ref ends up calling time to warn both guys about the lack of action, and they trade off from the restart with Banuelos landing a hard right hand and a body kick. Banuelos seems to have found his range suddenly. Head kick from Banuelos but Tokoro decides to fight fire with fire and we get a WILD TRADE. Takedown attempt from Tokoro is stuffed and Banuelos connects on a combo to end the round. Round started horribly but picked up in the final minute.

Into the 2nd and Banuelos walks into a couple of early jabs from the taller Tokoro. Exchange continues with Tokoro using his length a little better this time. Overhand right from Banuelos is answered by a left hook from Tokoro. Looks like Banuelos is struggling to get into range again. Good inside leg kick connects for Tokoro. Big overhand right glances for Banuelos. Referee is not happy at ALL with the lack of action. Right hand puts Tokoro down but it looked like a slip and he pops back up. Nice chopping leg kick from Tokoro but Banuelos fires back with a quick flurry. Another low kick lands for Tokoro. Brief exchange sees Banuelos land with an overhand right. High kick glances for Tokoro. One minute to go and Tokoro lands with a knee to the body, but eats a right hand on the counter. This is a difficult fight to score. Front kick lands for Tokoro but Banuelos lands a counter right that drops him for a second although he springs back up. Head kick appears to miss for Tokoro, but Banuelos is suddenly on roller skates! Knee follows but Banuelos takes Tokoro down and takes the back in the ending seconds. Wild ending to another largely dull round.

Final round and Tokoro shoots for a takedown after a brief exchange, but Banuelos sprawls out and winds up in Tokoro’s guard after a bit of a scramble. Banuelos works in the guard with some short punches as Tokoro fishes for a kimura that isn’t really there. Tokoro keeps on squirming, and then he manages to escape to his feet and connects on a clipping left hand. Big knee glances for Tokoro as he’s really pushing forward now. Front kick lands for Banuelos. High kick answers for Tokoro. Both guys are swinging pretty wildly now. Right hand from Tokoro is answered by a combo from Banuelos. Tokoro’s really pushing it. Takedown from Banuelos slows him down though as he lands in Tokoro’s guard. Scramble from Tokoro allows him up, and he dives on a kimura ala Sakuraba, then switches to a leglock attempt, but Banuelos gets free and he gets a rear waistlock. Tokoro goes again for the kimura, but Banuelos muscles his way free and keeps hold of the rear waistlock. He tries to drag Tokoro down and with seconds to go Tokoro goes for the kimura again. He still can’t lock it up though and Banuelos ends the round with some knees to the legs.

Fight was very, very close throughout, but I think Tokoro just about did enough to win as he was more aggressive and had more submission attempts, and the striking was largely even. Judges surprisingly go for Banuelos in a split call though, didn’t expect that at all given the trademark Japanese bias and Tokoro being a major favourite there! Fight was horribly dull at points but also had its fun moments as well.

Gerald Harris vs Kazuhiro Nakamura

This wasn’t long after Harris’s odd cut from the UFC, as he’d gone 3-1 there and really didn’t deserve to lose his roster spot after one loss, however bad the fight was. He’d since lost one and won one on the regional scene, so a move to DREAM was probably the best thing for him. Nakamura was coming off a win over Karl Amoussou, but it was way over a year prior to this, no idea why he was out for so long.

First round begins and Harris comes out crouched pretty low. He looks much bigger than Nakamura. Couple of jabs connect for Harris before Nakamura replies with a low kick. Flying knee from Nakamura leads to the clinch and he forces Harris into the ropes, but Harris responds with a heavy knee strike to the body. Takedown attempt from Harris and he drops for a single leg, but a pretty blatant rope grab stops that. Quick flurry breaks for Harris and they circle out. Nakamura presses the action with a right hand, but Harris grabs a plum clinch to deliver a knee and they wind up in the corner of the ring. They break off with just over two minutes to go and Harris throws a head kick that doesn’t land, then follows with a flying knee into a single leg attempt. Takedown is defended well by Nakamura and the ref calls a break. Handful of punches get through for Harris before they clinch again, and Harris breaks with a body shot. Left hook from Nakamura and he blocks the takedown, but eats a jab from Harris. Round ends with an overhand left from Harris.

Second round and Nakamura opens with a right head kick that Harris blocks. Takedown attempt from Nakamura but Harris easily stuffs it and forces him into the corner. This is a pretty dull fight to be fair. They break and a decent combo lands for Nakamura, but Harris ties him up again and goes for the double leg. Nakamura defends again and then hits a SLICK judo trip! Harris immediately reverses to his feet though and they’re back in the clinch. Knees to the body from Harris but a foot sweep sends him backwards. He responds with a double leg attempt and almost gets Nakamura down, but the ropes prevent it. Harris keeps trying but still can’t get the Japanese fighter down. Harris instead breaks off and they exchange some punches before Nakamura tries a flying knee. Harris grabs the plum to land a knee of his own and drops for the takedown again, but he still can’t get Nakamura down. Solid knee to the body lands for Nakamura. Knee answers for Harris with just over a minute to go. Ref calls a break and both men come in swinging, but Harris ties him up again to look for the takedown. This is a real fucking yawner. Nakamura drops to a knee to prevent the takedown this time, but finally he succumbs to a slam with seconds to go. Round ends in Nakamura’s half-guard with little action.

Third round and Nakamura comes out more aggressively, landing a flurry and then a strong knee, but as he tries to follow it he walks into a hard left cross from the TUF veteran. Low kick from Nakamura is countered by a double jab. Clinch follows and they exchange some decent punches before Harris drops again for the double leg. Either Nakamura’s takedown defense is fantastic or Harris can’t get to grips with the ring, as I’ve never seen the guy struggle so much with a deep double leg. He finally gets Nakamura onto his knees, but the ref calls a strange break. Nakamura comes out swinging but eats some cleaner jabs from Harris, who also glances on a big left haymaker. Exchange continues into another clinch and yet again Harris attempts the takedown. This time he actually gets Nakamura down, but the Japanese fighter immediately powers back up. Harris drives him back into the corner and drops for the takedown once more, but the ref calls the break again. Nice left hand gets through for Harris with two minutes to go. He’s clearly beating Nakamura to the punch now. Takedown is stuffed yet again though. Harris keeps trying and does get him down, but again the ref breaks them off. This ref stinks. Nakamura comes out swinging but takes a couple of solid shots before firing back with a kick up the middle. Pace has finally picked up with one minute to go. Takedown attempt again from Harris but Nakamura ties up an arm to prevent it. Harris manages to free the arm and muscles him into the corner, but a BLATANT ROPE GRAB prevents a big slam and only makes it a semi-slam. Crowd actually boo Nakamura for the foul.

I’d call the fight for Gerald Harris, just about, but who the hell knows with Japanese judges? It was a close and mostly dull fight, unfortunately. First judge has it for Harris, second for Nakamura, and the third for Harris and somehow the Japanese fans seem fine with this. Fight stunk for the most part though, sorry guys! Just way too much clinching for my liking even though they clearly worked hard.

Saturo Kitaoka vs Wiilamy Freire

Kitaoka – AKA Japanese Joe Stevenson – is one of those guys who I can’t believe never had a shot in the UFC – he’s been around forever, has some big wins on his record (Carlos Condit and Takanori Gomi for instance) and generally has a fun style to watch. I guess he likes the home cooking too much? His opponent here, ‘Chiquerim’ Freire *did* have a brief UFC stint after capturing the Shooto title, but was released after a lone loss to Waylon Lowe. No idea why. In a fun side note his fight with Lowe was actually the first ever UFC Facebook prelim, if you remember those! Ah, 2011.

Round One begins and Kitaoka looks about as wrapped up as Sakuraba does around the knees. Takedown attempt from Kitaoka early on and he pretty much gets Freire down, but the Brazilian grabs the ropes to prevent it. He finally gets him down and drops into half-guard as Freire holds onto a guillotine. Kitaoka breaks free from that and remains on top, then stands over him before dropping a left. He looks to pass by throwing the legs out to the side, but it allows Freire to pop back up. Kitaoka gets back on him and looks to force him down again, but Freire shoves him into the corner. Ref calls a break and warns Freire for holding the ropes, and they restart. Kitaoka’s stance is so nonchalant. Takedown attempt from the Japanese fighter and he tries to lift the Brazilian for a slam, but Freire blocks it and forces him into the corner. Ref calls another break and Kitaoka catches him cleanly with an overhand right, but Freire takes it well. Head kick glances for Freire. Few more kicks follow to little success. Body kick into a takedown from Kitaoka and he lands in the guard. Round ends there.

Round Two and Kitaoka presses forward with a glancing head kick. Takedown attempt follows and he secures a single leg, but Freire defends initially and Kitaoka tries some BRUTE FORCE to complete it but still can’t quite get him down. Ref calls a break and they exchange some kicks with both men glancing. Couple of good ones get through for Freire but Kitaoka shoots, only for the takedown to be stuffed. Kitaoka keeps trying, but the ref calls another break. Front kick from Willamy. Body kick answers for Kitaoka. Freire is looking really passive. Left hand from Kitaoka answers a low kick. Takedown attempt is avoided well by Freire who lands a couple more leg kicks to the bandaged knees. Another takedown is stuffed well and Willamy drops some punches over the top as Kitaoka goes to his back. Seconds to go now and Freire lands with a step-in knee and another low kick. Round ends there and this is either man’s fight.

Round Three and Kitaoka shoots right away, but Willamy stuffs it and they muscle for position in the clinch. Trip from Kitaoka is botched and Willamy ends up on top, landing in the Japanese fighter’s guard. Guillotine attempt follows for Kitaoka and it looks quite deep actually, but Freire stays really calm and he pulls his head free before standing. They exchange kicks again and Willamy continues to do a good job with his low kicks. Ref calls a random break apparently for a low blow, but it didn’t look at all dodgy to me. Replay proves otherwise, however, as Schiavello suggests Kitaoka audition for the Tokyo Boys Choir. They restart and both men miss kicks before a left hand sets up a double leg attempt for Kitaoka. Ref calls another break when he can’t get it, and they exchange kicks again before Kitaoka misses a low single leg. Ref calls time again and gives a yellow card to Willamy, and everyone seems confused by that. They restart and Freire pushes forward with another low kick and a solid right hand. He’s the more comfortable striker by a mile. Left hand does land for Kitaoka but he eats another right from Willamy and he ends up going down off another shot, although he was off balance. Leglock attempt is shrugged off by the Brazilian who forces Kitaoka back to his feet, and they exchange punches with both landing right hands. Seconds left in the round and this is a super-close one to call. Solid left hand connects for Kitaoka as Willamy comes forward. The Brazilian keeps on firing punches, and they exchange until the bell. Well, under a ten-point system I think I’d go with Freire for the final two rounds, but he got the yellow card and Kitaoka was much more active early on. Nobody at all seems to know why the yellow card was issued to Willamy. Typical Japan!

It’s another split decision from the judges, with one going for Freire but the other two for Kitaoka, giving him the win. Eh, it was close enough that the call would’ve been fair either way really. Fight started off really, really slow, but it picked up later on once Willamy seemed to realise he could outstrike Kitaoka and stop the takedowns, and by the final few minutes I was totally into it. Still can’t see why Kitaoka wasn’t given a token run in the UFC once the Japanese scene really crashed later in 2011, either. He would’ve made for some fun fights for sure, especially in the cage I think.

-And it’s INTERMISSION TIME which is one thing I don’t miss from Japanese MMA. At least on this show they show a couple of decent fights from past DREAM shows – namely Hiroyuki Takaya vs. Joachim Hansen from DREAM 14 and Takaya vs. Chase Beebe from DREAM 16. Brutal knockouts from Takaya both times.

Yan Cabral vs Kazushi Sakuraba

What would a Japanese show be without a Sakuraba match, I guess? Assuming he’s retired now (I hope so!) this was actually his penultimate match and coming into it he was on a three-fight skid, with his previous fight being that horrible one against Marius Zaromskis that saw his EAR DETACHED FROM HIS HEAD. This was Cabral’s first exposure to the big leagues of MMA as we were still a couple of years away from his TUF Brazil and eventual UFC stint, and he was unbeaten coming in, sporting a 9-0 record. Thankfully all of his wins had come by submission which at least suggested he wasn’t going to pound Sakuraba’s head into mush as had happened loads of times up to this point. Cabral walks out to JASON MRAZ for this one, giving us one of the all-time unlikely entrance themes, while the pre-fight video package for Sakuraba is one of the weirdest I’ve ever seen. I won’t even try to explain it.

Fight gets underway and Cabral pushes forward and lands with a front kick. Low kick answers for Sakuraba. They continue to exchange kicks before Sakuraba comes in winging a combination. Left hand answers back for Cabral and Sakuraba’s hurt, and they trade wildly before Cabral takes him down and gets a mount briefly. Sakuraba reverses to his feet but eats some more punches and they’re basically brawling wildly here. Didn’t expect that! They finally clinch and settle into the corner, before a nice trip takedown puts Cabral on top in half-guard. He almost takes full mount, but Sakuraba uses a butterfly guard to avoid that. He turns his back though and takes a couple of punches from the Brazilian who doesn’t put the hooks in, but controls him from the side instead. More punches connect for Cabral and then he drops into half-guard as Sakuraba rolls. Sakuraba rolls again but still can’t get out from underneath the newcomer, and he’s taking plenty of punches too. Really good combination gets through and bounces Sakuraba’s head for a moment and he’s in trouble here. Side mount for Cabral but Sakuraba manages to hip escape into full guard. Hammer fists land for Cabral and that’s the round. Totally one-sided.

Second round begins and Sakuraba – who had a shot like lightning in his prime – misses a single leg by miles. This is sad to watch more than anything. Front kick glances for Cabral. Series of jabs follow for the Brazilian before Sakuraba comes back with a glancing high kick. Pair of nasty low kicks answer for Cabral before Sakuraba backs him into the corner. Cabral comes back with a bodylock and from there he trips Sakuraba down, right into side mount. Punches and hammer fists connect for Cabral and then he works knee-on-belly before swinging over to full mount. Sakuraba manages to get half-guard, but Cabral slaps on an arm triangle and slides out to the side, forcing Sakuraba to tap out.

Cabral looked excellent in all areas here but of course the opposition has to be questioned because Sakuraba had literally no business being in the ring at this point. Somehow Rizin (ugh) wheeled him out AGAIN for their 2015 New Year’s Eve show and let him get beaten down by Shinya Aoki there too. It’s so sad because I could easily see all of these beatings causing a premature stroke or something for the guy. Just goes to show that for all the people online that demonise him, at least Dana White seems to care about a lot of his fighters when you look at the way he basically forced Chuck Liddell to retire before he ended up like Sakuraba. With anyone else involved this would’ve been a fun fight to watch and a good win for Cabral, but it was more disturbing than anything else.

Lion Takeshi Inoue vs Caol Uno

This must’ve sounded like a pretty good fight at the time actually, as Uno – while miles past his prime – still had a bit left in the tank and in fact he’d won his last fight against Wicky Akiyo, and while Lion Takeshi had never quite lived up to the hype he received from his Shooto days, he was still a pretty solid fighter on the DREAM roster. Announcers mention that Uno had been talking this up like a potential retirement fight, too.

Fight begins and Uno pops Takeshi with a stiff jab as he dances around. Good counter left from Takeshi as they continue to circle. Takeshi keeps on feinting a high kick. They continue to exchange before Uno shoots, but Takeshi sprawls out well. More feinting follows for Takeshi and he shrugs off a clinch. It almost looks like he’s doing the running man in fact. Overhand right connects well for Uno. Couple of right hands from Uno and he tries to clinch, but Takeshi counters with a trio of right hands to the temple and Uno goes down! Takeshi pounces to look for the finish, but Uno gets up. He’s wobbly, though. More running man type feinting from Takeshi but it’s allowing the veteran to recover. Clinch from Takeshi now but Uno shrugs him off. Big head kick glances for Uno but doesn’t hurt Takeshi. Clean counter right connects for Takeshi. Front kick misses for Uno. Body shot follows before Takeshi comes back with a HUGE RIGHT HIGH KICK THAT KILLS UNO DEAD!~! Jesus.

All that feinting ended up paying off as it looked like Uno was just expecting more of the running man and instead he got hit with an absolutely BRUTAL kick, and the replay shows Takeshi caught him with a punch on the way down too, just vicious stuff. That was one of the best knockouts I’ve ever seen in DREAM I think. As for Uno? He’s apparently still active today despite claiming he’d retire here! Unsurprising but still a bit sad too.

Tatsuya Kawajiri vs Joachim Hansen

This was the first go at 145lbs for Kawajiri, and while it’s pretty accepted these days after his UFC run at 145lbs, it was pretty crazy here as he’d always seemed like a really big 155lber who cut loads of weight! This was his second fight with Hansen too, as the veterans had faced off in Shooto back in 2006 in an excursion from PRIDE, although that fight had ended prematurely when Hansen accidentally kicked Kawajiri in the groin. After falling on hard times in 2009-10 with three straight losses, Hansen had managed to win three in a row coming into this one and although it looked like he was past his prime, this still would’ve sounded like a great fight between two of the pioneers of the 155lbs division.

Round One and Hansen opens with a low kick as Kawajiri responds with a flurry. Big kick to the side puts Kawajiri down, but it looked like he was off balance rather than hurt and sure enough he catches Hansen charging in with a flying knee and takes him down into half-guard. Big mistake for Hansen. The Norwegian ties Kawajiri up from the half-guard, but Kawajiri’s quite happy to be there and he passes into side mount after landing some punches. Good job from Hansen to get back to full guard, and he works some punches from the bottom before throwing an upkick as Kawajiri stands. Hansen joins him and takes a low kick, then eats a left hook as he comes forward. Clinch from Hansen and he lands a pair of knees to the body, but Kawajiri ties him up and trips him down to half-guard. Full guard for Hansen now but Kawajiri works to pass and has to avoid Hansen somehow taking his back too. Looks like Kawajiri’s working for a kimura from the half-guard, but a SICK REVERSAL puts Hansen on top and he gets a rear waistlock as they stand. Kawajiri still has the kimura though and this is a real struggle. Kawajiri manages to power him to the ground to look for the kimura from side mount, and Hansen’s in serious trouble. He manages to grip the inside of his own leg to defend though and then hits a sweep into top position! Whoa. Full mount for Hansen and now Kawajiri’s in trouble! He gives his back and Hansen slaps on a body triangle…but the bell sounds. Well, that was awesome.

Round Two and Kawajiri gets wobbled with a straight left in the opening exchange before they clinch and Hansen goes for a takedown. Kawajiri reverses though and winds up on top in half-guard as they hit the ground. Hansen gets back to full guard and ties Kawajiri up, and the action slows down a bit before Kawajiri passes into half-guard. Side mount follows and it looks like he wants an arm triangle choke, but Hansen manages to hip escape back into full guard. Pass from Kawajiri puts him in half-guard again and I’m thinking these guys might be tired after such a hard first round. Side mount again for Kawajiri and he tries Minowaman’s neck crank, but of course that doesn’t work on Joachim Hansen because he’s actually a great fighter, and the Norwegian escapes into half-guard. Sweep attempt from Hansen is avoided, but he does get back to full guard. Hammer fists land for Kawajiri and he looks to wrap the head up for an arm triangle, but he can’t get it locked up properly and so he goes back to short ground-and-pound. Pass into side mount for Kawajiri but he fails on a mount attempt and winds up in half-guard again. Round ends with some more punches from the Japanese fighter.

Round Three and they trade some pretty nice kicks before Hansen comes in swinging with a decent combination. Kawajiri seems fine and then opens up with a combo of his own, and then secures a bodylock to look for the takedown again. Hansen manages to get free after landing some strikes inside, but Kawajiri closes distance and lands with a hard uppercut. Combination fires back for Hansen and a right hand hurts Kawajiri, but the Crusher ties him up again and muscles a takedown after the ropes prevent a couple of initial attempts. This time he gets to full mount, and seems to already have an arm triangle prepped. Hansen manages to just about get half-guard, but it’s not fully locked up and Kawajiri slips his leg free into full side mount. Arm triangle is now sunk fully and Kawajiri REALLY squeezes while turning like a clock and Hansen has to tap out there.

That was a great fight as both men turned back the clock to their PRIDE-era primes and showed some fantastic skill in all areas before Kawajiri used his superior ground game to finish the Norwegian. The second round was a little slow as I guess they got tired after such a wild first, but yeah, still a great fight. As for where both men went after this? Kawajiri had to wait a couple more years but eventually made it to the UFC for a brief run before recently returning to Japan, while Hansen’s become a bit of a journeyman unfortunately. Still would’ve loved to have seen him in the UFC or shit, even in StrikeForce in like 2010-12 would’ve been cool. Ah well.

Shinya Aoki vs Razor Rob McCullough

Aoki was always DREAM’s poster boy from day one, as they pushed him harder than anyone else and even did some shady stuff (in my opinion) that favoured him, particularly in his second fight with Joachim Hansen and in that odd fight with JZ Cavalcante at the first DREAM show, so it’s no surprise to see him in the main event. By this point he’d lost a bit of his lustre due to his one-sided loss to Gilbert Melendez and then that ridiculous knockout loss to that cross-dressing kickboxer who’s name I forget at the Dynamite 2010 show, but he was still on a five-fight streak here and was still largely recognized as one of the best 155lbers in the world outside of the UFC/StrikeForce/Bellator bubble. Of course due to that bubble DREAM were struggling to find decent opponents for him by this point, giving us matches like this, with Aoki facing former WEC champion Razor Rob who was largely past his prime at this time and was probably a little overrated to begin with. A good sounding fight on paper though I suppose.

We get underway and Trigg is literally begging McCullough to knock Aoki’s teeth in. They circle and sure enough Aoki shoots quickly, forcing Rob into the ropes before dragging him down. McCullough gets half-guard but with Aoki on top of him he’s in trouble. Just noticed too that Aoki’s wearing shorts rather than his usual weird long tights! He grabs hold of Razor Rob’s neck and it looks like he’s setting up for a choke variant, but McCullough manages to free himself. He looks totally stuck underneath Aoki though and eats some hammer fists. Looks like Razor Rob might just be stalling for a stand-up, but good luck getting that from a Japanese ref in an Aoki match. Beautiful pass into full mount from Aoki and McCullough is in deep shit now. Aoki takes a high mount and looks to set up a mounted gogoplata, but he can’t quite get it and Razor Rob explodes to his feet! Aoki takes him down pretty instantly though and we’re back to half-guard. One minute to go and Aoki works the hammer fists, grinding on Razor Rob who again seems stuck from the bottom. He tries to kick Aoki away but can’t manage it and Aoki moves into side mount. Reversal attempt from McCullough but he ends up on all fours and gives his neck, and Aoki lands a series of knees to the head and then snakes over to take the back. BRUTAL FACE CRANK follows and Razor Rob has to tap with about a second remaining in the round.

Totally one-sided win for Shinya Aoki who had no issues taking Razor Rob down and on the ground he ran a clinic on him just as you’d expect. I still think he would’ve been exposed if he’d come to the US as I don’t think his style would’ve worked nearly as well against better wrestlers inside the cage (as we saw in his Bellator match with Eddie Alvarez), but he was always good for this type of win over a somewhat overmatched opponent in the DREAM ring.

-Credits roll and we’re done with another DREAM show.

Final Thoughts….

It’s been years since I watched a DREAM show so as an exercise in nostalgia I found this one awesome, but realistically there are probably better DREAM and certainly better PRIDE shows out there. Still, there is a bunch of fun stuff on show here – the finishes from Aoki, Takeshi, Bibiano and Imanari were all great, and we got a pair of really excellent fights in Kawajiri/Hansen and Imanari/Cullum and only a few slower ones (Harris/Nakamura, Kitaoka/Freire and Banuelos/Tokoro) – so it’s definitely worth a thumbs up. As it came at a time when DREAM and Japanese MMA was on a real downswing I’m not sure how many fans would’ve checked it out first time around too, so on that note I’d say it’s a thumbs up and worth tracking down. I enjoyed it at least!

Best Fight: Kawajiri vs. Hansen
Worst Fight: Nakamura vs. Harris

Overall Rating: ***1/2

Until next time,

Scott Newman:
NewmanMMA@gmail.com