Weekend Preview: DREAM.17: Fight for Japan
Following a late night of MMA on Saturday thanks to UFC 130 – which was previewed here – North American fans hoping to get a long awaited fix of Japanese MMA will have to stay up through the night, or give themselves a couple hours of rest, as DREAM.17: Fight for Japan will be taking place in the wee hours of the morning. MMA fans, particularly those of the Japanese variety are no strangers to sleep deprivation, but their bigger challenge will be where to watch the card live. HDNet, DREAM’s normal home for North American broadcasting won’t be airing the card until June 3rd, so unless some Japanese streams exists (which is a big if, considering the fact that TBS has severed their association with FEG), fans may have to rely on play-by-plays… the modern day MMA equivalent of a radio broadcast.
Irregardless of the medium, DREAM has put together their most complete card in quite some time. With no fights above Lightweight, I am struggling not to have WEC flashbacks looking down the list of fighters set to compete in Saitama. The feature attraction is Shinya Aoki vs. Rich Clementi, in what is clearly meant to be a showcase match for Aoki. Clementi is a solid veteran, but he is willing to grapple with any opponent he faces, even to his own detriment, and that is exactly what will happen against Shinya. There really isn’t much to break down about this fight, since Aoki will clamp on to Clementi, drag him down, and from there likely come up with some sort of flashy submission. I usually try to look for all the angles a fight can go, but that sums up all of them in this one. Shinya Aoki via 1st Round Submission.
With all due respect to Joachim Hansen and Mitsuhiro Ishida, the next most intriguing event taking place on this card is the opening round of the DREAM Japan Bantamweight Grand Prix. Although there isn’t a single top-10 fighter in the field (Masakazu Imanari was there until a recent loss), this is still likely the best Bantamweight tournament ever assembled, simply by virtue of there never having been a 135lb tournament on such a big stage before. The first round match-ups feature the aforementioned Imanari vs. Keisuke Fujiwara, Hideo Tokoro vs. Yoshiro Maeda in what is almost guaranteed to be the most entertaining fight this weekend, Kenji Osawa vs. Takafumi Otsuka, and Atsushi Yamamoto vs. late replacement Yusaku Nakamura. Picking a favorite in this Grand Prix has been extremely difficult for me, because each fighter has obvious weaknesses that others in the field are capable of exploiting. Gun to my head, I’d say Imanari is the favorite, but with his style being as hit and miss as it often is, hitching your wagon to him is a risky proposition. Next in line would be Yoshiro Maeda, who has the most big fight experience, and is the most dynamic offensive fighter in the field.
Fujiwara does present some issues for Imanari in the first round, but his lack of quality opposition will ultimately be his downfall. Masakazu hasn’t won by some form of leg lock in nearly three years, so I feel like he’s due for one, even though his style has shifted to a less reckless leg focused attack and a more measured grappling approach. Masakazu Imanari via 2nd Round Submission. The Tokoro/Maeda match isn’t even a fight I want to imagine happening, I just want to sit back and watch it. Tokoro’s style of grappling is probably only surpassed by Daisuke Nakamura and vintage Rumina Sato when it comes to excitement, and Maeda possesses just about every offensive skill you can imagine. Neither guy brings much defense to the table, which should only serve to make things more exciting, but I think Maeda’s well rounded offensive attack will be able to overcome Tokoro’s grappling heavy style. Yoshiro Maeda via 2nd Round (T)KO. The Osawa/Otsuka fight is the most difficult on the card for me to pick. Kenji Osawa has experience against some of the best 135ers in the world from his time in the WEC, but he has been very inactive of late and ring rust could be an issue. Otsuka on the other hand was supposed to be one of the new wave of Japanese fighters, but has fallen on some tough times, losing 3 of his last 4, and showing some wild inconsistency in his performances. While there are big question marks surrounding both of these fighters, if they put all their skills together each of them has the ability to win this tournament. The thing that makes this fight so difficult to call is who is going to answer their questions more emphatically. My vote is going with the more historically consistent fighter. Kenji Osawa via Unanimous Decicion. With Darren Uyenoyama dropping out of this fight, it went from a very competitive match to one that seems tailor-made for Atsushi Yamamoto. Yusaku Nakamura is honestly a fighter I know very little of. He would seem to have some power in his hands, but his lack of experience will likely be exposed by the veteran Yamamoto, who looks to use his wrestling skills to control matches whenever possible. Atsushi Yamamoto via Unanimous Decision.
The other big fight on this card features one of two non-Japanese fighters, Joachim Hansen, against one of a bevy of Japanese fighters to make the transition from Lightweight to Featherweight, Mitsuhiro Ishida. Hansen’s run at Featherweight has been less than impressive, due partly to the massive difference between DREAM’s LW and FW divisions (155 to 137), so Hansen has had to cut significant amounts of weight. For someone with no background of dropping weight, that is a significant difference, and it has shown in Joachim’s performances at the lower weight, he has looked sluggish and uninspired. Ishida, on the other hand has made a smooth transition to the lighter weight, no doubt helped in part by his wrestling background. I think that regardless of the weight this fight took place at, I’d favour Mitsuhiro, as he is just a stylistic nightmare for Hansen, who has never had a strong wrestling game, but that is especially true at Featherweight. Mitsuhiro Ishida via Unanimous Decision.
Other notes on this card:
- After consecutive losses to Hatsu Hioki and Kazuyuki Miyata, “Lion” Takeshi Inoue looks to build on his impressive TKO victory last time out as he faces off with DEEP Featherweight Champion Koichiro Matsumura. Inoue is the better striker, and still capable of being competitive with any Featherweight out there, as shown in the Hioki fight. He should make his superior skills count emphatically, notching his second straight (T)KO finish. Takeshi Inoue via 1st Round (T)KO.
- Caol Uno is winless in five fights and over three years. DREAM has provided him with a favorable match-up in Akiyo Nishiura to end those streaks, as Uno has clear advantages in wrestling and grappling, and “Wicky” will give him plenty of opportunities to showcase those skills with his often reckless striking style. Caol Uno via Unanimous Decision.
- One of my favorite fighters of all-time, the ever exciting Daisuke Nakamura is sure to bring some of his unique submission stylings to the ring against Katsunori Kikuno, the man who may have the most devastating body kick in MMA today. Nakamura has a tendency to stay on the feet slightly longer than he should at times, and against Kikuno, that will almost certainly mean his night gets cut short. I hope he’ll recklessly pursue takedowns and submissions (although not necessarily in that order), but more than likely Kikuno will control the distance and pick him apart on the feet. Katsunori Kikuno via 2nd Round (T)KO.