The first thing I notice as I watch the event is growing sense that this is it. That “missing feeling” that I did not get from watching UFCs for an entire year. “This” was what I fell in love with as a Mixed Martial Arts fan. The UFC was always a great org but it didn’t have the kind of air and atmosphere that Pride shows always had. Dream has it. Like Yarrenoka before it, Dream had the air of an epic martial arts tournament that was missing from the boxing-like production values of the UFC. And so here we see the spectacle of Dream.
Now that is how to make a promo poster!
I once again realized just how quiet the Japanese crowd was, and yet also appreciative. The crowd was so quiet you could hear a pin drop, yet would burst in a appreciative applause anytime a fighter would go into a good flurry, a ground pass/technique or a good escape. It wasn’t just for the hometown favorites though; in fact the applause for the entrance of Joachim Hansen was a lot louder than the applause for the home grown fighter, Koutetsu Boku. Yet the crowd showered both equally well with applause when Hansen took him down and performed a series of submission attempts, and also applauded Boku when he did his escapes and got the fight back to the feet.
This was all great, I loved it, I let it sink in, then I went to the meat of the fights. I will relive this later on once I get my hands on a more complete version of Dream’s inaugural event, as I had just watched the Japanese free-to-air version that edited out most of the fighter entrances and indeed many of the fights themselves. But I will tackle that in a later entry, for now let us look at the fights.
Hansen vs. Boku – it was quite clear form the onset that Joachim Hansen had this fight in the bag. His technique, power and skill was clearly above Boku’s by a few levels, and he dominated the entire fight form start to finish. Boku did get in a few punches but Hellboy just shrugged them all off and even taunted Boku many times to hit him harder, not even bothering to raise his gloves to defend in some cases. Other than those punches, Hansen took Koutetsu down, transitioned from a smooth series of sub attempts from RNC to armbar (from rear body triangle!) to traingle choke, Boku defended masterfully and the fight seemed to take a strange turn after that point — this being where Hansen stands up, seemignly a bit groggy and tired from his sub attempts, and Boku jabs Hansen in the face several times. Hansen shrugs them all off, taunts Boku a bit, then proceeds to counter punch him strongly.
It is unclear to me whether Hansen really was gassed after those sub attmepts, or whether he was just doing some kind of macho man display. His movements certainly seemed different afterwards, and though he recovers some snap and still manages to land many punches that flor Boku, he was moving more awkwardly than he was prior to the sub attempts. Regardless, it was still clear domination for him and no surprise that the fight went his way to a unanimous decision.
Minowa vs. Lee – it seems Dream had to get a really late, last second fight for Minowa. As usual, Minowa gets into another David vs. Goliath freakshow match, but unlike Zulu, Lee looks like he really has no business being in the ring. Minowa tries his rolling knee takedown twice, the same move he used against Giant Silva, but it seems Lee is too smart to fall for that. Lee tries a punch and Minowa scoops down for a shoot, taking Lee down into halfguard. While Lee defends MInowa’s punches, Minowa shifts his stance and ends up in a perfect position to do a kneebar, similar to the technique Ken Shamrock used on Bas Ruten back in Pancrase. Lee taps out after a few seconds of his knee being hyper-extended.
Maha Sakurai vs. Monma – pretty impressive match, Monma has some real skills however Sakurai’s low kicks are back with a vengeance and he lands many solid ones on Monma’s lead left leg. Sakurai gets a plum on Monma and knees him a few times (blocked by an arm), after which Sakurai elects to trip from the plum and alnd on top. Sakurai stays here only briefly, after seeing Monma’s tight guard Macha probably realizes he isn’t going to get anywhere with this approach, and stands back up. He lands a good punch that drops Monma, but he motions for him to come back up; he wants no part of the ground and why not, he is doing so well in the standup, and that has always been his strength. A few more exchanges later Monma moves in for a punch combo but Sakurai catches him with a powerful left hook counter connecting to the back of his ear, putting him down. He pounces on him instantly and rains in punishing straights from the guard, ending in a delayed referee stoppage. Ouch.
Black Mamba vs. Kawajiri – this was a big surprise. Many people held Kawajiri to be one of the favorites in the tournament, a powerful wrestler who used his skills to inflict brutal ground and pound on his opponents. Mamba on the other hand is well-known for a great standup but a weak ground game. In this fight however, Gil truly brought the fight to Kawajiri. In a performance similar to the one Maurice Smith gave against Mark Coleman that earned him the unanimous decision and the UFC HW Belt, the Mamba upped his game with an impressive sprawl and an even more impressive, tight and deadly guard. For whilst Kawajiri did manage to nullify the Mamba’s standup for most of the fight and take the Canadian Indian fighter down multiple times, Kawajiri never managed to take advantage of his top position, whether in the guard or the multiple times that he passed to side mount and north south, and to back mount. Instead of going for ground and pound, he had to settle for sporadic submission attempts like a side choke and rear naked choke. All of which the Mamba deftly evaded.
In fact, Kultar totally nullified any offense Kawajiri had, and was even doing more damage from the bottom position with numerous small punches and even a well-timed knee to Kawajiri’s head while he was in sidemount. By the end of the fight Kultar Gill looked as fresh as when he started, whereas Kawajiri was noticeably tired, bloodied up and otherwise exhausted. So it came to me as a huge surprise when Dream’s judges gave the unanimous decision to Kawajiri. Judging from the look on his face, The Crusher knew that he didn’t won that fight, and even bowed deeply to his opponent and gave an apologetic consolation to the opposing corner. Whilst it was true that Kawajiri did manage to control the entire fight, Gill did more damage and nullfied every offensive move Kawajiri had to offer. In a way, he controlled the fight as well, except from the bottom position.
Kawajiri winces in pain from a knee strike from the bottom delivered by the Mamba
I can’t agree with the judge scoring, however the rules criteria do have aggression and ring control as primary criteria, so you could judge the fight in that manner. However, the rules also give weight to damage and Gill had the nod there. But in retrospect the judges would have given that to Kawajiri, as they have done in the past in the Melendez vs. Ishida fight under Yarrenoka (similar to this one, although Ishida too less damage than Kawajiri and was not as exhausted) or the Minowa Baroni fight (pretty similar to this one).
All in all we can say that the LW division needs to watch out, the Black Mamba is now a legitimate top contender and will terrorize this division from now onwards.
Alvarez vs. Dida – I have to give it to Alvarez, he really brought it that night! This was thought by many to be the hardest fight to call that night, as it was questionable how the two would match up to each other. Yet as it would turn out, Alvarez gave us an incredibly dominating peformance, starting with an early punch that may have ruined Andre’s rhythm the entire fight, and afterwards showing some extremely good boxing as opposed to the powerful wide swinging (unfortunately extremely telegraphed) from Dida. This allowed him to drop Dida, and once he was on top he deftly passed guard, put in some very brutal punches on the ground, and proceeded to get to mount to sidemount and back almost at will. Referee stopped it a little too late after Dida was blooded to a pulp.
Alaverez then puts a cherry on top of his performance by performing a massive back flip from the top ring post, much to the delight of fans everywhere. People, a new LW star is born in Japan.
Jung vs. Ishida – it is a shame that this was only a highlight, for this was one of my most anticipated matches of the night. I can’t tell much from the highlight but it seems the fight went the typical Ishida route — with Ishida getting top control and Jung throwing numerous armbar attempts. It is sad that Jung was not able to get his “Jungbar” as the fight went to the judges for a unanimous decision for Ishida.
I have not seen the entire fight but I would wager that it went similarly to the Gil Kawajiri fight, with Ishida getting top control for the most part, and Jung offering some good offense from the bottom (sub wise, not really damage wise), and some flurries where Jung got the better standing up. I can’t say for sure who I’d give the fight to, not having seen it, but it looked a lot closer than the Kawajiri vs. Mamba fight judging from how the fighters looked at the end.
Miyata vs. Buscape – again another highlight; Buscape was the favored fighter here and he came off with a nice RNC near 8 minutes into the first round. Miyata looked like he put up a good fight but unfortunately we did not get to see the entire fight.
Nagata vs. Oumakhanov – We saw some impressive weaving from the bottom on Oumakhanov’s part but we don’t really know what happened. Oumanakhov seems to have lost by decision, again to the Japanese fighter.
I can’t seem to condone this coming trend of favoritism by the judges to the hometown fighters but without having seen the actual fights I can’t tell who won. With Mamba and Kawajiri I will agree the judging was consistent with how it was in Pride and Yarrenoka, so I can understand giving the nod to Kawajiri but the other two fights I can only hope they rendered the right decision.
Aoki vs. JZ – the mian event of the show was unfortunately a huge disappointment as it ends with a no-contest after an illegal blow from JZ using an elbow to the back of Aoki’s neck and head. It started off tentatively with Aoki carefully staying out of JZ’s reach as JZ tries to tee off. Aoki actually got in a good mid kick each time JZ tried to come in, though his kick didn’t have much damage and JZ barely flinched each time. AOki tries several flying guard attempts but falls to his back each time, with JZ tentatively trying to kick but not willing to commit to go tot he ground. The referee breaks and restarts them standing each time, until JZ tries for a huge high kick which Aoki evades. After JZ lands his feet back down, Aoki realizes his window of opportunity and shoots in for a fast single on JZ’s leg. This backs JZ into the corner, and as Aoki tries to get hte single, JZ defends with 4 elbow strikes to Aoki’s back, the last two of which hits the back of Aoki’s neck and head — a clear foul under Dream rules.
The doctor stops the bout as Aoki is unable to continue, but at the very least Dream rules it a NC instead of a DQ for JZ, for which I am grateful… hey give the Brazilians a break too! Hoepfully we get to see the rematch at Dream 2, in time for the LW GP to continue. I was also surprised at how docile Aoki was from the stoppage, normally Aoki can act like a real asshole. JZ as usual was all class and even apologizes to the audience and bows down before Aoki for forgiveness. All in all, a disappointment but at least we will surely see a rematch.
Mirko vs. Tatsuya – now we head to the “real” main event, which was really not even a question. In an extremely dominating performance against an obviously outmatched opponent, Mirko delivers some punishing low kicks and a vicious knee from the thai clinch that destroys every ounce of fight left in his opponent. Mirko then proceeds to systematically corner and demolish him with some spot-on punches to drop him and deliver a couple of devestating straights to a turled up Mizuno. The ref stops it before any more serious damage is done.
Devastating knee delivered by Mirko. Even with the hand guarding it still has an impact
Well I have to say it Mirko, why the hell weren’t you fighting like this against Kongo and Gonzaga! If you had at least *tried* against them you wouldn’t have had a legion of UFC fans calling you a coward and a loser. It’s good to see the old Mirko back, it seems Mirko himself didn’t know until after the fight, he was crying from the emotion of the moment, whether due to being able to validate to himself that he was a fighter, or whether the nostalgia of the crowd from Japan, his true home as a fighter, simply overwhelmed him.
It’s good to see you back Mirko, but now you have to prove yourself against stiffer competition to show that you really are #1.
All in all it was a great event. Dream still needs to put on a beefier heavyweight and light heavyweight division, but it surely has the lower weights covered very nicely. I cannot wait for Dream 2, and as we go along I can only hope that fears that Dream will succumb to the same yakuza threat as Pride did are unsubstantiated. May Dream have a long prosperous run as the next Pride.