FEG has its work cut out for it as World Victory Road delivered a memorable New Year's event this morning. I suppose the only thing not memorable about it was the fact that we weren't able to see it live, but the results speak for themselves. With that said however, FEG will fire back with a stacked card full of relevant battles, freak show match-ups, and one-sided drubbings. Yep, that's New Year's Eve in Japan, and it will all go down LIVE on HDNet at 4:00 AM EST.
The main event will feature a featherweight title showdown between Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace Bibiano Fernandes and the "Streetfight Bancho" Hiroyuki Takaya, a bout that serves as a rematch of the 2009 DREAM Featherweight Grand Prix final. Lightweights Josh Thomson and Tatsuya Kawajiri will also do battle in what many consider to be an important battle in determining whether Kawajiri truly has the style to bring down some of the elite American lightweights in Strikeforce. Alistair Overeem, Todd Duffee, Hayato "Mach" Sakurai, Jason High, Kazushi Sakuraba, and many, many more will make appearances on the card, and it wouldn't be a K-1 event without MINOWAMAN!
All the action starts right here at 4:00 AM EST. Join us for our live results & discussion thread at the time to enjoy the event with friends and chat about the fights.
DREAM Featherweight Title: Bibiano Fernandes (8-2) vs. Hiroyuki Takaya (14-8-1): I must admit. Takaya's recent run of knockout victories has inspired me to put a little confidence in his craft in this fight. While I think Bibiano will ultimately win this fight with superior ground tactics and an improving stand-up game, Takaya has a habit of making fights interesting until the final bell rings.
This is one of the tougher fights to call, mainly due to the fact that Takaya gave Bibiano some problems in their first encounter. Takaya won't be held down for long by Bibiano, and Takaya's striking seems to be on par with some of the better strikers in the division. If he can land a choice overhand, the winds could get beneath his sails quickly.
For me, in looking at the fight objectively, Bibiano already holds a win over Takaya while also possesses more tools in his arsenal to win. While Takaya has survivability and toughness to out last Bibiano on the ground, Bibiano's overall improvement in his stand-up game leads me to believe he will hold his own on the feet and eventual dominate Takaya on the ground later in the fight. He simply has more tools to win. Don't count out Takaya, however, as he is on a tear right now with two straight knockout victories.
DREAM Lightweight: Josh Thomson (18-3) vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri (26-6-2): North America vs. Japan is a match-up we don't see too often in the lightweight ranks, and it is often pitting a superior Japanese fighter against an inferior American fighter. In the last couple of years, that has changed, mainly due to the alliance formed between Strikeforce and DREAM. Most notably, Aoki traversed the Pacific to battle Melendez in his own turf, succumbing to an excellent strategy and the pinpoint punching prowess of the Cesar Gracie student.
Gesias Calvancante, who has made a career fighting in Japan, also made the transition stateside where he also failed to represent the old guard of elite Japanese talent when he lost a very close decision to Josh Thomson. Despite there being some mixed feelings about whether or not Thomson actually won the fight, it has set the table for an important showdown with Tatsuya Kawajiri, one of the lone Japanese fighters who fans feel has a style that could be successful against American counterparts.
Of course, that theory only has legs if Kawajiri doesn't conform to a brawler mentality as he did against Alvarez. If he can stick to his strengths in relentless takedowns and "crushing" from top control, he should be able to neutralize Thomson and ride out a decision. Thomson's near defeat at the hands of Cavalcante may be a warning sign of things to come, and I'm fairly confident that Kawajiri will grind out Thomson in this affair and put some fuel behind a match-up with Melendez down the road.
DREAM Welterweight: Hayato Sakurai (35-11-2) vs. Jason High (11-3): According to some of the reports following the weigh-in, Sakurai was in great shape. Whether or not that will actually matter is a different story, but it certainly helps the case that Sakurai may have a little left in the tank at this latter stage of his career. After three consecutive losses, he'll be looking for a big win to gain some confidence, but Jason High, as with most Team Bodyshop fighters, will bring sustained cardio and superior wrestling to this match-up as his means to derailing any thoughts of a rebirth by Sakurai.
While I do think Sakurai's power could be a concern for High, High will more than likely neutralize that power with his wrestling and ground and pound. He probably won't finish off Sakurai in this encounter, but I'm fairly confident he can work enough to wear down Sakurai and avoid any late fight heroics. High via decision.
K-1 MAX Rules: Akiyo Nishiura (11-6-1 MMA) vs. Tetsuya Yamato (22-5 Kickboxing): I was a bit dumbfounded by this matchmaking when it was first announced, simply due to the fact that I thought "Wicky" had shown some solid improvements in his development during his battles against Hideo Tokoro and Mitsuhiro Ishida. Takaya would have been a very entertaining match-up in my mind, but I suppose my rational thinking isn't what FEG is looking for when it comes to ratings.
Instead, we're treated to a K-1 MAX rules bout featuring the 2010 K-1 World MAX 63kg Japan Tournament Champion Tetsuya Yamato battling Nishiura. In the past, I've been critical of Wicky's lazy defense on the feet as he keeps his hands to his side and bobs and weaves his way around punches and kicks. I promptly shut my mouth after he put on great performances in his last two appearances, but Yamato might be the opponent to finally expose Nishiura's idiocy in not keeping his hands up. Yamato's left hook is devastating, so don't blink when this fight hits HDNet. This is Yamato's territory. I'll take him via KO.
DREAM Welterweight: Marius Zaromskis (13-5) vs. Kazushi Sakuraba (26-14-1): I could turn this into a long-winded rant comparing Kazushi Sakuraba to Brett Favre, but I won't. The fact of the matter is that none of us can tell a legend of the sport to quit competing, especially when they are still considered better than fifty percent of the talent in their respective sport. Unfortunately, each fight that Sakuraba takes in order to please his fans and the promotion he has fought under for most of his career is hurting him physically. Look no further than the Jason "Mayhem" Miller bout for confirmation. Even in victory (i.e. Zelg Galesic), Sakuraba has suffered brutal beatings. Is it worth it? Apparently, it is.
Friday's showdown with current DREAM welterweight champion Marius Zaromskis has some significance as it is for the welterweight title. In reality, nobody is looking at the fine print and getting excited at the notion that we get one full ten minute round with two five minute rounds to follow. To be perfectly honest, I'm more worried that Sakuraba might have his block knocked off more than once in this fight.
Sakuraba has an outside chance of catching Zaromskis in a leg lock or toe hold, but Marius has always been good at avoiding submissions and lengthy ground encounter throughout his career. That isn't saying much as he usually fights fellow strikers, but Sakuraba's wobbling knees and old age aren't helping him at all here. I'll be rooting for technique over power in this title bout, but something tells me Zaromskis is going to spectacularly club Sakuraba into thinking his career should have been over a couple of years ago.
DREAM Heavyweight: Satoshi Ishii (3-1) vs. Jerome Le Banner (3-1-1): I'm actually quite interested in seeing this match-up. The obvious pick is the 24-year-old Olympic gold medalist judoka riding the K-1 veteran to the ground and submitting him at some point in the opening frame, but Ishii's striking is heavily inferior to that of Le Banner's kickboxing. That fact makes this an enticing bout for bettors believing Le Banner can blast Ishii out of the water in the opening seconds.
The logical pick is Ishii as he has the background in Judo to put Le Banner down quickly, and his submission game is getting better. Oddly enough, that doesn't satisfy me. Ishii is very green in the stand-up department, and Le Banner is the complete opposite of a bad striker. He isn't the most technical striker by any means, but his power is a great equalizer in that regard. Against my better judgment, I'll run with the safe pick in Ishii, but Le Banner is a huge threat here.
DREAM Heavyweight: Alistair Overeem (33-11-0-1) vs. Todd Duffee (6-1): If you're like me, the lottery to determine Alistair Overeem's opponent was quite the comical affair. Strikeforce heavyweight Bobby Lashley was tied to the fight for a few days, but news that Lashley wouldn't be taking on Golden Glory's ace came through the wire eventually. Online speculation exploded in the aftermath, but former UFC fighter Todd Duffee surfaced as a potential opponent with the only string attached being that he needed to have a visa approved to enter the country. The fight was officially confirmed on Wednesday, and there is now a name connected to the headstone of Overeem's next victim. That's what most mixed martial arts fans would lead you to believe this fight really is... a funeral.
While I'm not a witty analyst who loves to liken epic beatdowns to that of someone's inevitable demise, the analogy does convey my thoughts on this heavyweight showdown. Duffee isn't a premier heavyweight fighter, and defeating Assuerio Silva and Tim Hague in impressive fashion won't sway the general thought of Alistair Overeem pummeling Duffee quickly and efficiently on Friday morning.
Overeem's strength, explosiveness, and superior technique are a combination of advantages to consider, but the fact that Duffee must come in on short notice hurts his chances greatly. My only interest lies in whether Duffee can actually test Overeem's takedown defense, and possibly his ground defense from his back. Unfortunately, I don't think he'll provide a scouting report on Overeem's ground capabilities. I fully expect "The Reem" to pulverize Duffee in the clinch, something he should be excited to do after FEG wrote rules into K-1 to eliminate double-handed knees in the clinch.
DREAM/K-1 Mixed Rules: Shinya Aoki (26-5-0-1 MMA) vs. Yuichiro Nagashima (16-3 Kickboxing, 3-2 MMA): One three minute round of K-1 rules action with a second five minute round of MMA action. Sounds crazy, right? While the rules have made for a lot of critical thinking among MMA fans and media alike, it does bring some intrigue to an otherwise one-sided beating of a match-up if this were solely under K-1 or MMA rules.
The side story, however, is that this isn't much of a win-win for FEG as it is apparent that Nagashima is the more popular fighter these days in Japan. If he gets beat by Aoki in this match-up, it really doesn't change things as they are now, and if Aoki flops around the ring for an entire round and submits Nagashima in the opening moments of the second round -- most Japanese MMA fans will groan at Aoki's antics. In my mind, this is a match-up that doesn't really cut it for either fighter's popularity, although Aoki getting clubbed by Nagashima in spectacular fashion might gain some attention.
In any case, I think Aoki will surprise some people with some very underrated kickboxing, but for the most part -- he'll stay far away from Nagashima in round one. With only three minutes to work, Nagashima is going to have a hard time knocking out Aoki instantly. Once round two begins, Aoki will likely submit Nagashima in quick fashion.
K-1 Heavyweight: Keijiro Maeda (18-4 Kickboxing) vs. Gegard Mousasi (7-0 Kickboxing): This is one of the toughest fights to pick, mainly due to the fact that Kyotaro should have all the advantages going into this fight as he is the fighter with the K-1 background. But not many people realize that Mousasi was on track to become a highly-touted kickboxing prospect in his own regard before porting those abilities to MMA. Who knows how far he could have gone, and with the unpredictability of outcomes in MMA vs. K-1 bouts in recent years -- we could be in store for another upset.
Kyotaro's power and counter striking ability is a major advantage in this fight, but Mousasi's speed and footwork will be a tough nut for Kyotaro to crack. In any case, it's a very intriguing match-up, but I'm going with the upset. I think Mousasi can work the angles better from range and pepper Kyotaro. Once Kyotaro moves in with his power, he'll try to pounce, but Mousasi will be satisfied with sticking to the edge and frustrating Kyotaro. All the pressure is on Japan's K-1 hero in this fight, and that can be hard to overcome.
DREAM Heavyweight: Sergei Kharitonov (16-4) vs. Tatsuya Mizuno (8-6): Kharitonov hasn't fought in an official mixed martial arts bout since April of last year, and that was a quick loss at the hands of Jeff Monson at DREAM 8. Perhaps he'll have some better luck this time around as he draws Tatsuya Mizuno. Mizuno's Judo background shouldn't be a huge problem for Kharitonov as it isn't at the level of many of the other judokas who have transitioned to the sport in Japan. If it were, this might be an interesting match-up.
Unfortunately, Mizuno is going to have major problems dealing with Kharitonov's boxing game, and that will be the story in the post-fight. Unless Mizuno can find a way to put Kharitonov on his back and keep him there, it's game over once Kharitonov finds his range. But then again, we're talking about Kharitonov, a man who can't seem to defend a submission at all at this point in his career. Mizuno could toss him to the ground, gain top control, and move to a top control submission like a kimura or keylock. Tough call due to the mystery of Kharitonov's training regiment, but I'll take my chances and take the Russian.
DREAM Open Weight: Ikuhisa Minowa (47-31-8) vs. Hiroshi Izumi (3-1): The legend returns to center stage as Ikuhisa Minowa, or as we all know and love him as Minowaman, battles Olympic silver medalist judoka Hiroshi Izumi in an open weight contest. Normally, I'd sing the praises of Minowa and talk about how he'll battle against all odds and come out on top, but he's actually the odds on favorite in this match-up. Unfortunately, I think oddsmakers may have that assumption wrong in this match-up.
Izumi hasn't displayed anything in the ring resembling greatness as a mixed martial artist, but he still has the know how in the Judo department to stifle Minowa's attempts to control him on the ground. He isn't glass jawed by any means either, so a precision striking game isn't going to cut it for Minowa. No, the old "tuck and roll" may be Minowa's only chance in this battle, and I think Izumi's weight advantage and grappling credentials will prove to be a combination that he can't overcome. I hope Minowa proves me wrong as I can't get enough of the fist pumping and flailing braids of mullet hair in the excitement of a victory.
DREAM Featherweight: Hideo Tokoro (26-23-1) vs. Kazuhisa Watanabe (1-4 K-1): This is seriously a MMA Rules bout? Wow. Obviously, Tokoro is the main attraction in this fight, and Watanabe's only chance is in the opening moments of the fight before Tokoro takes him to the ground and runs a grappling clinic on one of his limbs. Don't bank on that happening. Tokoro via submission, round 1.
DREAM Featherweight: Caol Uno (25-13-5) vs. Kazuyuki Miyata (10-7): Uno returns to Japan after his nostalgic trip back to the UFC in 2009 and 2010 was unsuccessful. Losses to Spencer Fisher and Gleison Tibau highlighted his lackluster effort to suddenly become the dangerous submission grappler he was in the early days of his career, and we may be getting close to a period in time in which Uno thinks about teaching rather than fighting. With only one victory in his last five appearances, Uno needs a victory badly to gain some confidence.
Miyata is going to provide a rugged gameplan of constant pressure, explosive takedowns, and controlling top control, but he has holes in his game that could give Uno opportunities to win. While I think Uno has a good chance at pulling off a submission from his back, Miyata's strength will be hard to counter. If Uno get a hold of Miyata's back, it could be over quickly, but I'll bank on Miyata grinding out Uno in this affair.
IGF Rules: Bob Sapp vs. Wakakirin: Open palm strikes only make this a rather comical addition to the line-up. Wakakirin was the sumo wrestler who was busted for cannabis in February of last year and subsequently thrown out of Sumo wrestling for good. I suppose in some parallel universe, someone thinks that matters as sumo wrestlers slap all the time during their matches, but the idea isn't to knock the other guy out with them. Bas Rutten was probably one of the best at inflicting massive damage with palm strikes during his days in Pancrase, but neither Sapp nor Wakakirin probably have a clue on correct technique. Let's hope we don't see Sapp crying this time.
Celebrity fight: Katsuaki Furuki vs. Andy Ologun: Ologun has actual K-1 experience, although he was never a successful fighter under their banner. He was 2-5 in his career, never knocked out, and actually beat Yuya Yamamoto in the 2008 Japan Tournament. Those credentials would lead me to believe he will win via KO, but his inexperience in the MMA ring might make this a rather sloppy affair.
The only experience former baseball player turned MMA fighter Furuki has is in an exhibition bout against Akira Shoji at DEEP 50. I thought I had never actually watched the fight, but once I saw it attached to DEEP 50 -- I had to access the memory reserves. From what I remember, it was a sloppy, sloppy affair. Ologun should win with superior striking.