You can say what you want about Japanese MMA, but they still lead the world in event posters.
Going into tonight/tomorrow morning's DREAM.16 I thought I'd throw together a quick preview because it's a pretty promising card, despite its thrown together nature.
Jason "Mayhem" Miller vs. Kazushi Sakuraba
The fact that forty year old Sakuraba is headlining an event for Japan's top MMA promotion in 2010 pretty much says it all. Ten years ago he was the best fighter in the world. Today he's a man whose fans fear for his safety every time he steps in the ring. This is a big break for Mayhem as it will put him in front of a ton of Japanese fans and give him a second chance to make a first impression after his less than stellar series against Jacare Souza.
Here's Sakuraba pulling some of his classic pre-fight interview hijinx on Daniel Herbertson:
Q: Mayhem was saying that he wants to be the first to submit you.
Sakuraba: I talked about this during an interview session with some magazine, but I have tapped out lots of times during training. It's just that nobody has submitted me in a fight. There are lots of fighters who have the ability to submit me. I always try to be one step ahead of my opponent though so I'm not concerned about his comment.
Q: Mayhem said that you are his idol.
Sakuraba: If he means it, he should demonstrate his respect. If he means it, he shouldn't punch me! Punches? Kicks? Throw a knee at me from the top? No way if he respects me from heart! If he does that during the fight, I'm gonna say "Hey, what you are doing right now is not even close to respecting me!" Then I'lI probably throw him on the judge's table.
Shinya Aoki vs. Marcus Aurelio
The story behind this fight is two-fold. First, Aurelio, a former UFC and PRIDE fighter best known for upsetting PRIDE champ Takanori Gomi in a non-title fight in 2006, is the best lightweight opponent that DREAM could come up for their champ Aoki. Katsunori Kikuno's loss to Gesias JZ Cavalcante at DREAM.15 eliminated Kikuno as a challenger. JZ jumped ship to Strikeforce and has already lost to Aoki. The best fights for Aoki would seem to be in Strikeforce, but his embarrassing debut there against Gilbert Melendez have few clamoring to see Aoki back in a cage.
The second story in this fight is Marcus Aurelio's miracle recovery from the elbow injury that kept him out of the Shine lightweight tournament a couple of weeks back. MMA Junkie chronicled the back and forth between Shine and Aurelio:
The UFC and PRIDE veteran raised a few eyebrows when he withdrew from Shine's Sept. 10 fight card shortly after the promotion told him he needed permission to fight Aoki on Sept. 25. DREAM executives officially announced the bout earlier this month.
In an earlier interview, Aurelio said he was sorry to withdraw but maintained his injury was legitimate. Shine Fights' COO Jason Chambers told MMAjunkie.com that his promotion would not move to block the Sept. 25 booking if the fighter could produce documentation of his injury.
Today, Chambers said Shine still is waiting on that documentation and will decide Tuesday whether to give Aurelio the green light.
"After the (Sept. 10) event, I haven't had a chance to discuss that yet," Chambers said. "Contractually, when he signed for our tournament, he has the ability to fight anywhere, as long as its with our approval. We have to discuss whether or not this elbow injury was something that was facilitated to pull out of the tournament or whether it's a legitimate elbow injury.
"My personal feeling is that if he is genuinely injured and he couldn't fight, then that's fine. If he has this injury as a way to get out of doing the tournament because he wants a different situation, I'm not OK with that ethically or contractually."
Presumably Aurelio either got Shine some documentation or isn't concerned with the consequences.
Ikuhisa Minowa vs. Satoshi Ishii
This fight is the last minute Hail Mary pass by DREAM officials to try to add some star power to this card. Nightmare of Battle reports that originally DREAM wanted to borrow several of Sengoku's top fighters in addition to Ishii, including Maximo Blanco, Hiroshi Izumi, and Marlon Sandro but couldn't cut a deal. At the last minute they must've given up something sweet to get Ishii on loan. Steve Cofield summed up the mess:
Maybe Satoshi Ishii had no intent of being a real mixed martial artist. Aside from nationalistic loyalty and some big paydays, he did himself zero favors by spurning the UFC's offer back in 2009 to sign with Sengoku of Japan. The much-celebrated judo gold medalist from the 2008 Olympics decided to start his MMA career in Japan and it's been a mess ever since. He made his debut against Hidehiko Yoshida, a 16-fight veteran and fought only one more time since that loss. Now you can add one more silly fight to the story. DREAM announced today that Ishii will face Ikuhisa Minowa this Saturday.
The fight makes little sense in the progression of Ishii's career. What's the point of once again putting him at rish to benefit a one-time ticket dash? Sengoku already did it once with the Yoshida fight.
Those of us, i.e. me and Jordan Breen, who thought Ishii was making some good career moves by woodshedding in the hinterlands for the last year have to admit we were wrong at this point and Zach Arnold was right. This is a disaster.
Tatsuya Mizuno vs. Gegard Mousasi
Nothing says more to me about the sad decline of Japanese MMA than the fact that this is the finals of the DREAM LHW tournament. Wow. Mousasi is a legitimate top fighter, but his path to the finals was a joke (choking out an overweight and barely trying Jake O'Brien). For his part Mizuno barely survived his first round bout with one-dimensional middleweight Melvin Manhoef. Mousasi talked about the meaning of this fight for him, via MMA Fighting:
"I feel like if I win this belt," Mousasi told reporters Thursday. "It will give me the right to also fight for the Strikeforce belt and winning both belts; I think in Japan and U.S. is an accomplishment that I've always wanted."
The card also features a bevy of really good feather and bantamweight fights. I've covered them here. Should be a fun night of fights. Join us back here at BloodyElbow.com at 2 a.m. ET on Saturday for live results, play-by-play and discussion of the entire event.
Here's the latest DREAM.16 preview video, good chance to brush up on your Japanese