Hardcore fans were treated to one of the most impressive DREAM shows to date yesterday morning as DREAM 11 not only surprised us with some unbelievably entertaining bouts, but it also brought about the nostalgic feeling of PRIDE with excellent production, quality lead-ins, grand entrances, and a shrilling Lenne Hardt. From the DREAM Lightweight championship bout between Shinya Aoki and Joachim Hansen to the Featherweight Grand Prix Finals match-ups, DREAM 11 is definitely on my list in this year’s favorites.
One of the more surprising stories at the event was the dominance displayed by a rejuvenated Hiroyuki Takaya as he punched his way into the Grand Prix tournament finals. Takaya had won his opening round battles with Jong Won Kim and Yoshiro Maeda, but many fans had referenced his recent losses in the WEC against Cub Swanson and Leonard Garcia as signs that the "Streetfight Bancho" had simply lost his luster. Fortunately for those of us watching, we saw a patient and precise Takaya put it all out on the line.
Takaya defeated Hideo Tokoro in their semifinal showdown via TKO in the second round after both men nearly finished each other in the first round. Tokoro’s knee and subsequent combination of punches put Takaya into a daze, but Tokoro’s untimely guard pull gave Takaya the chance to crush Tokoro only seconds later. Saved by the bell, Tokoro was caught again at the beginning of the second round, ending his run in the FWGP.
On the other side of the bracket, tournament favorite Joe Warren battled Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Bibiano Fernandes in a heated battle of words outside of the ring and a relatively quick match inside the ring. Fernandes succumbed to a powerful takedown from Warren early, but he wrangled his arm into an armbar submission. Warren argued that he didn’t tap, but he was saved from having pins stuck in his arm for the next six months.
Most fans didn’t give Takaya much of a chance against the BJJ prowess of Bibiano Fernandes in the final, but Takaya showed excellent takedown defense, intelligent submission defense, and the same precision striking game he showed in the semifinal battle with Hideo Tokoro. While Takaya was unable to continually keep Bibiano off his back, he did manage to defend submission attempts fairly easily. His only mistake, which ultimately may have swayed the decision in Bibiano’s favor, was leaving his hand down to a Bibiano counter in the second round that dropped him. It was a truly entertaining war that ended in an absolute slugfest to determine the winner of the Featherweight strap.
I’m not in complete agreement with the judging of the final, but it wasn’t a robbery or infeasible decision. Takaya’s flurry of blows that landed at the end of the fight should have given him this win as I believe he won the second round, but Bibiano’s ground work in the first round with the knockdown in the second round are something to consider. Both men fought admirably, and Takaya made a mark for himself with his performance.
How long will Bibiano Fernandes hang onto the title? It’s tough to say, but Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto could once again be a name thrown into the hat. They have fought previously, but Kid’s striking game would be a much bigger threat than anything Takaya offered. DREAM may be looking to put a Japanese fighter into the mix for the title as well.
Shinya Aoki’s last second victory over Joachim Hansen was absolutely mesmerizing to watch as Hansen knew that he was in deep trouble in the minutes leading to his escape attempt. Interestingly enough, the judging had Hansen up in the first round due to his defense and damage from the bottom. It’d be nice to see that happen in the United States, huh?
Tatsuya Kawajiri is likely Shinya Aoki’s next opponent, but as Chris Nelson pointed out – Aoki would like to take some time off. Kawajiri will be a load for Aoki, but Aoki always surprises me with how deceptively great he is at gaining takedowns and top control. It should be interesting to see Aoki’s submission ability from his back along with the possibility of using his judo skills to put Kawajiri on his back.
Ikuhisa Minowa’s performance against Hong Man Choi was one of the more entertaining battles of the evening simply because it was almost comical to watch. While it obviously wasn’t a fight that was relevant in any way, we must all admit that Minowa’s powerful Mohawk-rat tail mullet exudes awesomeness.
Michael Shiavello and Guy Mezger were at their absolute best at DREAM 11. I have been critical of both in the past, but Shiavello has won me over with his K-1 and DREAM broadcasts. Mezger, while a bit hesitant in his analysis, is still much more honest than most commentators. While I had problems with his MFC commentary due to the sheer ridiculousness of his judging scores of some of the fights, he was much better at DREAM 11. HDNet has a solid team for their broadcasts overseas that I actually look forward to hearing from.
On a personal note, I watched this event with the surround sound blaring, and it gave me chills of PRIDE. The entrances, lead-ins, great commentary, and overall feel of the event reminded me so much of the PRIDE-era, and it was an awesome start to the day. If you have the chance to do so, gather up all your friends, darken the lights, crank up the sound, and watch the replay on HDNet on Friday night.