It's a great time to be a mixed martial arts fan, and Saturday's UFC 104 will only be the tip of the iceberg for fans this weekend. DREAM 12 will air LIVE at 2 AM EST on HDNet from Osaka Castle Hall in Osaka, Japan. The major difference between past DREAM events and this event is the inclusion of a "White Cage" that will be used for the first time in a major Japanese MMA promotion. While it's unknown whether the masses of Japanese mixed martial arts fans will be drawn to the use of a cage, it's nonetheless an intriguing card with big names and a different concept.
Drawing off the newly produced popularity of Alistair Overeem in the archipelago of Japan, DREAM has put together a main event bout between current K-1 World Grand Prix participant and PRIDE veteran Alistair "The Demolition Man" Overeem (30-11) and former PRIDE veteran James Thompson (14-10) as a match-up that will surely draw a little intrigue from fans overseas. While the bout has yet to be confirmed by DREAM officially, MMA Fanhouse is stating that the bout will likely happen.
There isn't any mystery as to why this bout is happening. Thompson was tabbed for this fight for the simple reason that he isn't a dangerous opponent at all for Overeem. Overeem's schedule still relies on him to be healthy for the K-1 World Grand Prix Final on December 5th, and Thompson is about as unlikely to actually hurt "Megareem" as he is to actually win the fight. Thompson's novelty popularity from his PRIDE days helps minimally, but Overeem's popularity has skyrocketed since his drubbing of Badr Hari and near win against K-1 champion Remy Bonjasky. Most fans will tune in to see Overeem manhandle Thompson, and that's exactly what they'll get.
In a much more intriguing match-up for fans, Bellator lightweight champion and past contender to Shinya Aoki's WAMMA lightweight crown Eddie Alvarez (18-2) will battle Japanese Kyokushin karate practicioner and DEEP lightweight champion Katsunori Kikuno (12-1-2). Alvarez enters the contest following a three-fight win streak in the Bellator lightweight tournament and DREAM lightweight tournament upset victories over Joachim Hansen and Tatsuya Kawajiri. He eventually lost to Shinya Aoki at Dynamite!! 2008, but he still remains one of the best lightweights in the world outside of the UFC. Kikuno is coming off a quick victory over Andre "Dida" Amade at DREAM 10 after knocking out Koichiro Matsumoto in the DEEP Lightweight tournament to win the Lightweight crown.
Many fans have been intrigued by Katsunori Kikuno's karate background and his gut-busting crescent kick that has finished off or damaged many of his opponents in the past, but it might not find it's place in a cage where Eddie Alvarez is most comfortable. While Kikuno has improved immensely over the past few years from what he was when he first entered the sport, Eddie has years of experience in fighting at a very high level. Kikuno's ground game will also be something that Eddie can exploit as Kikuno will struggle mightily in trying to stop Eddie's top control game. The striking exchanges could get interesting as the fight wears on, but Eddie Alvarez should be able to stop Kikuno in this huge step up in competition for the Kyokushin Karate fighter.
In other lightweight action, Cage Force lightweight champion and former UFC figther Kuniyoshi Hironaka (15-6) will battle 22-year-old Korean Taekwondo fighter Won Sik "Parky" Park (7-1-1) in a difficult test to prove whether Parky is ready for the big leagues. Hironaka's stint in the UFC ended with a loss to the glass-jawed Jonathan Goulet at UFC 83, but he's gone 4-1 in his last five fights -- only losing to Japanese MMA legend Hayato "Mach" Sakurai. Park has impressively dominated the competition in DEEP with his last three wins coming by way of first round finishes. He's only been to decision once in his career.
Hironaka offers a submission grappling game coupled with his extensive Judo background that could give Park some problems on the ground. Park hasn't shown where his grappling game is at due to his vastly superior striking game winning him most of his fights, so this may be a fight in which he'll have to show some sort of ground game in order to avoid being submitted or put into a bad position by Hironaka.
Fortunately for Park, his Taekwondo background will be his key asset in defeating Hironaka. He uses an array of kicks and combinations coupled with his lengthy reach to pound opponents, and his takedown defense is fairly decent for a guy who has yet to prove he's competent on the ground. It should be a huge step up in competition for Park as Hironaka has experience in the UFC, but it's also a winnable fight for him.
- In featherweight action, former WEC veteran and Virginia Athletic Commission robbery victim Chase Beebe (12-5) will battle former WEC veteran Yoshiro Maeda (25-7-2). Beebe's wrestling should be good enough to put Maeda into some trouble during this fight, but Maeda has the striking acumen to damage Beebe over the course of the fight. Beebe has been fairly tough to knockout though, but can he put Maeda down enough to win a decision? A somewhat tough fight to call there.
- Brazilian power grappler and former WEC champion Paulo Filho (18-1) is set to battle Korean judoka Dong Sik Yoon (4-7) in a middleweight tilt that looks like another losing affair for Yoon. While Yoon could offer some submission danger on the floor, Filho's background is far too extensive and his power is way too formidable on the floor. Filho should win with his overwhelming strength, but we should be hoping this doesn't turn into a sloppy slugfest as Filho could come in with the crazy idea that Yoon presents a huge threat to him on the floor.
- DREAM Welterweight Grand Prix champion Marius Zaromskis (12-3) will take on Ho Bae Myeon (8-4) in a non-title showdown that pits Zaromskis' explosive striking against Myeon's submission grappling skills. Bae could pose a danger to Zaromskis on the floor in this bout, but Zaromskis has the wrestling and good enough grappling game to keep this fight standing and punch (or kick) Bae out.
- ZST veteran Keisuke Fujiwara (7-1-3) will take on DEEP veteran Tomoya Miyashita (12-5-6) in featherweight action. Fujiwara will look to put his knockout power on the chin of Miyashita while Miyashita will surely be looking to bring the fight to the ground where he can use his submission skills. It's a tough fight to pick considering Miyashita's guillotine is renowned, but Fujiwara's punching could end the night quickly for Miyashita. It should be a fun fight for the fans though with plenty of action.
- In the typical "professional wrestlers turned MMA fighters" bout of the evening, Katsuyori Shibata (3-6-1) will battle pro wrestling legend and former IFL coach Tokimitsu "Kendo Kashin" Ishizawa (1-4-1) in a middleweight bout. Ishiwaza makes his return after a three year layoff against Shibata, who is coming off an upset victory of Ikuhisa Minowa at DREAM 8. I'm sure this fight isn't on anyone's radar, but I'll take Shibata for the simple fact that Shibata has actually fought in MMA recently.
- Replacing Melvin Manhoef in a middleweight bout, Japanese MMA legend Kazushi Sakuraba (25-12-1) will take on Croatian striker Zelg Galesic (9-4) in a classic grappler vs. striker showdown. I'm not sure how to feel about this fight. Sakuraba is well past his prime obviously, but his skill-set could easily put Galesic in some danger on the floor. On the other hand, Galesic's power in the striking game could crush Sakuraba early. I'm more inclined to go with the legend here, but it could go either way.
- Fights will be fought under 3 x 5 minute rounds, although elbows will remain illegal for these bouts (bummer!)
Some of the interesting rumors circulating revolve around Eddie Alvarez's participation in the event and the contractual obligations he has with Bellator. As per the MMAWeekly article outlining Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney's comments on the situation, could Bellator gain a DREAM lightweight for their next season due to the exchange?
"The reality is from a contractual perspective, we have the ability to approve or not approve one of those outside fights happening," said Rebney. "But my first inclination would be to get on the phone with folks and say, hey, what can we do, how can we make this work, what can we do together? As opposed to taking the closed-door approach where we say, no, they’ll only fight guys that are under contract with us."
This was back in June, but it sounds like Rebney hints that he'd want some sort of collaboration on the deal. Nobody has any idea if Bellator negotiated a possible exchange, but I find it a bit intriguing for the next season. I suppose we'll find out soon enough if there is any truth to these rumors.
I don't expect a spectacular event from this lineup, but DREAM always manages to bring the PRIDE aura back to me when I view it in the early morning hours with the surround sound cranking. Alvarez vs. Kikuno and Park vs. Hironaka are intriguing match-ups with Fujiwara vs. Miyashita possibly giving fans some action on this card. Beebe vs. Maeda could also be a fun match, and anything is possible when featherweight enter the cage. We look forward to seeing all of you for some late night talk here at BloodyElbow.com via our live blog thread. Enjoy the fights!