The UFC isn't the only major show on the radar of the hardcore mixed martial arts fans this weekend. DREAM will hold their first event of the new year on Monday, March 22nd from the Yokohama Arena in Tokyo, Japan. The card will feature some great lighter weight class match-ups including a championship bout between Bibiano Fernandes and Joachim Hansen. You won't want to miss this action on Monday morning, and it will be presented in HD LIVE on HDNet at 3:00 AM EST. Make sure you set the alarm clock!
The main event of the evening will pit the 2009 DREAM Featherweight Grand Prix champion Bibiano Fernandes (7-2, 4-0 DREAM) against the 2008 DREAM Lightweight Grand Prix champion Joachim "Hellboy" Hansen (19-8-1, 3-2 DREAM) in a championship showdown for the DREAM Featherweight title. Fernandes is currently enjoying a four-fight win streak with the promotion that includes his 2009 DREAM Featherweight Grand Prix wins over Takafumi Otsuka, Masakazu Imanari, Joe Warren, and Hiroyuki Takaya. Hansen is coming off a loss to Shinya Aoki at DREAM 11 in a lightweight championship battle.
There are a number of factors that make this battle very interesting. First and foremost, this will be Joachim Hansen's first cut to featherweight. While some may believe that's a cause for concern in the lead-up to the fight, Hansen regularly tipped the scales at roughly 150 pounds in his lightweight contests, and he weighed 150.3 pounds at the DREAM 11 weigh-in.
With the weight concern likely a non-issue, we can focus on the tools Hansen possesses that will provide some unique challenges for Bibiano Fernandes. At 5'10", Hansen will be nearly 3" taller than Fernandes with a good reach advantage over the Brazilian. That may signal a propensity for Hansen to try to maintain this fight on the feet, but Bibiano's Brazilian jiu-jitsu credentials combined with Hansen's horribly lacking takedown defense have probably formulated that strategy for Hansen already.
Bibiano's primary offensive weapon is his highly-decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu background. He's a multi-time Brazilian Mundials and Pan-Am Games champion, but he's also managed to improve his striking ability over the last couple of years as well. In fact, Fernandes has been able to become a fairly impressive specimen in the featherweight division as he's rather bulky in his build and can produce solid power in his boxing. With a little refinement in his accuracy and form, Fernandes could become a double threat with a solid ground and striking skill-set.
Hansen's takedown defense is the huge question mark in this fight. Trainer Jack Hermanson has been helping Hansen with the cut down to featherweight, but he also happens to possess a strong Greco-Roman wrestling background. If Hansen can solidify his weakness in being taken down, he'll have a good chance to bomb Fernandes with his dynamic striking skills on the feet. If not, Fernandes could take this fight to the ground repeatedly and control Hansen on his way to a decision victory.
While I believe Hansen has the tools to win here, Fernandes may have the complete toolbox if his striking has continued to progress. He won't provide the dynamic abilities in the stand-up game that Hansen possesses, but Hansen's aggressiveness combined with his poor takedown defense will give Fernandes ample opportunities to put Hansen on his back. Hansen is good enough to avoid the submission, but Fernandes will control and damage enough from the top to win. I'll take Bibiano Fernandes via decision.
Another interesting match-up taking place on Monday will be the lightweight showdown between Kyokushin Karate fighter Katsunori Kikuno (12-2-2, 1-1 DREAM) and former UFC fighter Kuniyoshi Hironaka (16-6, 1-0 DREAM). Kikuno is coming off a loss to Eddie Alvarez at DREAM 12 while Hironaka is riding a four-fight win streak with his most recent win coming against Won Sik Park at DREAM 12.
Most fans will remember Kuniyoshi Hironaka's time in the UFC as being very underwhelming. He competed in the UFC's welterweight division, battling Jon Fitch, Forrest Petz, Thiago Alves, and Jonathan Goulet over the course of a year-and-a-half with the promotion. While Fitch and Alves were future contenders, his loss to Goulet, a fighter known for possessing one of the glassiest jaws in mixed martial arts, was a sure sign that the promotion would cut his contract. Hironaka returned only three months later, but he began battling at lightweight instead of sticking to the welterweight match-ups with the exception of his loss to Hayato Sakurai at DREAM 6.
Kikuno's unusual "zombie" stance coupled with his speedy delivery of crescent kicks and punches should surely give him the edge in the stand-up game, but he remains rather deficient in his ground skills along with having some issues with his conditioning. Hironaka isn't going to provide top flight boxing skills, but he is competent enough to down opponents with his fists and follow it up with a ground and pound attack to finish. He's managed to TKO his last three opponents, and Kikuno could be next.
Kikuno should win this fight on the feet, but this really isn't a bout that's an easy pick. Hironaka is a solid grappler with an arsenal of submissions and enough strength to put power on an opponent's limb. He possesses a black belt in both jiu-jitsu and Judo, so he's good enough to give Kikuno problems on the ground. It's just a question of whether he can move the fight there. I'll take Kikuno, but Hironaka is an intriguing upset bid.
Lightweight: K.J. Noons (7-2) vs. Andre "Dida" Amade (6-3-1) -- Dida has certainly went from being a potential superstar in the Japanese mixed martial arts scene to being a puncher who's fallen off the radar from a fan perspective. Some fans would recall his wins over Caol Uno and Hiroyuki Takaya, but many believe his quick losses to Eddie Alvarez, Gesias Cavalcante, and Katsunori Kikuno signal the end of the hype surrounding him. Fighting only twice in mixed martial arts in two years certainly doesn't help his case either. He did, however, manage to take K-1 MAX star Buakaw Por. Pramuk to extension rounds at the Final 16 of the 2009 K-1 MAX tournament.
Noons has the hands to compete with Dida in a stand-up war, but Dida's K-1 training could be an interesting part of his skill-set. The major difference is that this is MMA. Smaller gloves won't allow Dida the opportunity to eat a lot of blows, especially from a proven knockout threat like Noons. Dida hasn't had a phenomenal chin over the last few years in MMA, and Noons will likely land on that chin and begin his comeback to face Nick Diaz at some point in the future.
Welterweight: Ryo Chonan (16-10) vs. Andrews Nakahara (2-1) -- The continued move by FEG to give Nakahara the proper grooming continues as they've matched him up with PRIDE and UFC veteran Ryo Chonan, a fighter who's definitely fallen on some bad times as of late. Nakahara will clearly be the superior striker in this battle with a highly-decorated karate background in his arsenal, but Chonan could prove to be a pest if this fight hits the ground.
Nakahara is the slight favorite with odds-makers, and it may be warranted. It's clear that Chonan has suffered a drop off in his overall skill. At 33 years old, he has surpassed that peak in his career as a fighter... and this may simply be a bout in which Nakahara can gain some credibility. I'll buy into it and take Nakahara here by superior striking.
Openweight: Ikuhisa Minowa (44-30-8) vs. Jimmy Ambriz (14-12-1) -- Despite this being your standard circus fight with the legendary Minowaman taking on everyone's favorite fill-in heavyweight in Jimmy Ambriz... this isn't exactly a pushover battle for Minowa. While Minowa will have the grappling acumen to be a threat on the floor, Ambriz isn't a typical "can" win for Minowa. Ambriz's losses are mostly against solid mid-to-upper tier heavyweights, and most of them are top 25 fighters today.
I'm going to pick Minowa for the simple fact that he's an obsession along with Melvin Manhoef for me, but Ambriz will be a formidable test for Minowa in this battle. Sure, he has an ugly record that doesn't inspire confidence in picking him, but he has actually remained quite consistent in crushing regional competition while being defeated by the better fighters up the ranks. With that said however, WAR MINOWA!
Featherweight: Yoshiro Maeda (26-7-2) vs. Cole Escovedo (15-4) -- Cole Escovedo will bring some Brazilian jiu-jitsu wizardry to this fight, and he's also riding a four-fight win streak. He'll have to wade through Yoshiro Maeda's striking ability to get the win here, and unfortunately -- I don't think he has the chops to do it. Maeda absolutely picked apart Chase Beebe, and he was surprisingly good in getting back to his feet and transitioning to Beebe's back. I think that performance will carry over to this fight, and he'll take this bout.
Heavyweight: Josh Barnett (24-5) vs. Siala "Mighty Mo" Siliga (3-1) -- I saved the worst for last... unless you've been living under a rock for ages, it's pretty apparent how Barnett will win this bout. Barnett should probably wrestle Mo to the floor, submit him, then turn to the camera and "throat slash" for the fans. Remember, Barnett has no qualms about doing the same thing at a local regional jiu-jitsu tournament, so don't expect him to hold back in Japan.
Mo has one chance to win, and it relies on him keeping his feet under him and bombing Barnett with hooks until one flattens Josh. That's the only chance, and I doubt it'll come to fruition. Josh Barnett via submission.