Home Sports First Blood – A fight for all, both big and small

First Blood – A fight for all, both big and small

by Archives September 29, 2009

Despite the size and growth of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, outside of the English-speaking world mixed martial arts superstars flock to other promotions, mainly to those in the land of the rising sun.
In fact, almost every event held in Japan squashes the “record breaking” attendance records of the UFC; the number of MMA fans in Japan makes UFC president Dana White weak in the knees.
Currently, Japan’s two largest promotions are World Victory Roads with their Sengoku series, and Dream, which is owned and operated by Fighting and Entertainment Group (FEG). FEG are the former owners of Pride Fighting Championship, which was arguably the largest MMA promotion in the world until it was slowed by the growth of the UFC and was eventually bought out by them.
Coming up on Oct. 6 is the long awaited Dream 11, which will feature two tournaments: the final round of the Featherweight Grand Prix and the semi-finals of the Super Hulk Grand Prix. Also on the card will be a headlining lightweight championship rubber match between current champion Joachim Hansen (19-7-1) and Shinya Aoki (21-4).
The 15-man featherweight tournament will come to a close at this event with its four remaining participants: Hideo Tokoro (21-14-1), Hiroyuki Takaya (9-6), Bibiano Fernandes (5-2) and the tournament’s dark horse Joe Warren (2-0). Presumably out of national sentiment, the matchmakers have chosen to pit both Japanese fighters remaining in the tournament against each other to guarantee that a hometown boy at least comes second. The other fight then is of course between Bibiano Fernandes and Joe Warren.
Warren has made quite the splash in the featherweight rankings, beginning his MMA career in this tournament. The 32-year-old was previously a Greco-Roman wrestler who has won both the Pan American Games and World Championships. Unfortunately, he could not compete in the Olympics after testing positive for marijuana in 2007.
Warren wasn’t a feared competitor until he ground out a split-decision win over Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto (17-2), delivering Yamamoto only his second loss. Before this, Yamamoto was considered the tournament’s favourite, even receiving a first round bye while recovering from surgery.
In the other tournament, two matches will be contested with the winners squaring off on New Year’s Eve at Dynamite!! 2009.
As the tournament’s title indicates, the fighters will be weighing in anywhere within the heavyweight (205 lbs. – 265 lbs.) and super-heavyweight (265 lbs. +) divisions. The tournament is officially open-weight, which means fighters who weigh less but make up for it in heart will be fighting as well. The way they account for the weight difference is disallowing knees to a grounded opponent when the weight difference exceeds 65 pounds.
The first of the two fights will feature South Korea’s, seven-foot-two, Hong Man Choi (2-2) – who literally has the largest head in the world – and Japan’s Ikuhisa Minowa (42-30-8), the tournament’s lightest fighter, weighing in at 195 lbs.
The other fight will be between Cameroon’s Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou(6-4), who is looking for a new home after a disappointing run in the UFC, and Bob Sapp (10-5) who will be replacing Gegard Mousasi (26-2-1). Mousasi is currently suffering from an injury. Sapp was in the opening round of the tournament, but lost to Minowa by a kneebar in the first round.
Sapp is perhaps best known for his acting career, appearing alongside Adam Sandler in The Longest Yard. Remember the big friendly giant who brok-ed his nose? Yeah, that’s him all right.
As one can tell from the four fighters’ statistics, the Super Hulk Grand Prix is more of a novelty than a world-class tournament, with most of the fighters usually dwelling outside of MMA. Choi and Sapp are both kickboxers, and Minowa is a professional wrestler. In fact, the first round featured Jose Canseco (0-1), the infamous retired Major League Baseball player, who “fought” Choi in the first round. Canseco appeared to have no martial arts training, despite boasting about it, and spent the fight running away from the giant until he was eventually caught and knocked to the ground. But one should have expected as much from a man whose only previous fight was an exhibition boxing match loss to one-time child star Danny Bonaduce.
As Dream is a rather young promotion – this is only their eleventh event – its executives have chosen to establish legitimate champions by hosting tournaments in each weight class, with the winner also winning the championship belt.
Sadly, Super Hulk Grand Prix participant Gegard Mousasi vacated the first championship belt won in the middleweight division in order to move up in weight, as his growing frame could no longer cut down to 185 lbs. And the title fight to fill the empty spot between Jason “Mayhem” Miller and Ronaldo Souza ended in an accidental eye-poke, making the match a no contest; the rematch was scrapped after Strikeforce acquired both fighters.
Now Dream will hope to make up for this dismal occurrence with their lightweight championship bout. As mentioned previously, this contest will be a rubber match as Hansen and Aoki have squared off before.
The last meeting between the two was the final round of the Lightweight Grand Prix, which saw Eddie Alvarez (18-2) disallowed to continue after a back-and-forth battle with Tatsuya Kawajiri (24-5-2). Because of this, Hansen, who had fallen out of the tournament after a loss to Alvarez, won the reserve bout against Canada’s Kultar Gill (10-8) and managed to stop Aoki with strikes in the opening minutes of the championship fight.
The Norwegian will have a lot on his hands when facing off with Aoki for the third time, as Aoki is considered by many to be the best 155 lbs. fighter in the world. Aoki is so flexible that he appears to have no bones, and as a black-belt Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Judoka fighter, his opponents scramble off the mat whenever they find themselves with even one knee on the ground. In fact, Aoki is so talented in submission fighting that he was the first man ever to defeat an opponent in a MMA contest by way of gogoplata – which consists of choking out your opponent with your shin bone. Coincidentally this was performed against Hansen in their first match.
Whatever the outcome, Dream 11 will be sure to offer a fantastic highlight reel and help people remember that UFC is not alternate spelling for MMA.

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