If you happen to be one of the hardest of the hardcore fans, you undoubtedly tuned in this morning for DREAM.16 on HDNet live from the Nippon Gaishi Hall in Nagoya, Japan.
The card included ten bouts littered with well-known names from the Japanese MMA scene: the legendary Kazushi Sakuraba, lightweight kingpin Shinya Aoki, the always entertaining Ikuhisa Minowa, and featherweights Michihiro Omigawa, Hiroyuki Takaya, Joachim Hansen, Kazuyuki Miyata, and Mitsuhiro Ishida all made appearances.
While a list of names like that normally means meaningful battles, much of the hype surrounding this card was fabricated from wishful thinking on DREAM's part. In the lead-up to this event, many of these fights looked rather one-sided. Some within the MMA media argued it would be a good card. Unfortunately, the event panned out predictably. Despite that, the event did, at the very least, set-up some potentially explosive bouts for the future.
-- Gegard Mousasi dominated Tatsuya Mizuno as expected in the main event light heavyweight title showdown. He looked unphased, as stoic as Fedor Emelianenko in his methodical implementation of his gameplan, and solid in his grappling prowess on the floor. He made a couple of mistakes and almost paid for them as Mizuno tried to crank an armbar and kimura at two specific instances, but I'm sure Gegard would say he was never in any danger. Here's to hoping Strikeforce can find him a legitimate challenge soon.
-- I was a bit surprised to hear that some fans were actually expecting Sakuraba to put up a fight against Jason "Mayhem" Miller. Do they realize that Kazushi Sakuraba is well past his prime, has looked awful against the better competition he's faced over the last couple of years, and was set to face a guy who gave Jake Shields a run for his money? The fight went as expected with Mayhem using his reach to stun Sakuraba from top control and eventually grapple his way to victory.
-- Shinya Aoki vs. Marcus Aurelio didn't go as I expected. I felt that Aurelio might actually be a challenge for Aoki, but after Aoki locked Aurelio's legs via a triangle, got mount and pounded on him for 3-4 minutes in the first -- it was apparent that he had improved his striking in ground situations. That didn't bode well for Aurelio, and the fact that he was caught in the exact same position in the second round speaks volumes about Aoki's skills. He seriously caught a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt twice in the same lock. Aurelio's one-dimensional style didn't stand a chance.
-- I have to give credit to Ikuhisa Minowa. I felt that Ishii would simply use his size and Judo toss Minowa around the ring like a ragdoll and eventually finish him off in the first round. While Ishii did, in fact, use his size to defeat Minowa, Minowa gave a solid effort and made Ishii work for the victory.
-- Satoshi Ishii still has a lot of improving to do, but his ground tactics were competent enough to avoid submissions and move to different positions from top control. The use of his Judo was a refreshing thing to watch as well. Unfortunately, his striking game looks abysmal at this point, but I think that may have more to do with Ishii's gameplan coming into this fight rather than his progression. Not an unbelievably convincing performance, but not terrible either.
-- Hiroyuki Takaya is the type of fighter that American fans seeking knockouts can get behind. He truly delivers entertainment, and if he can't knock out his opponent immediately -- he can certainly scrap with the best the division has to offer. Chase Beebe looked okay in the early exchanges, but as Frank Trigg stated after Takaya's knockout -- punches in bunches is a slogan to live by if you're a stand-up fighter. Takaya missed the first two punches in his combination, but landed a devastating left hook to drop Beebe with his third blow.
Photo via Nikkon Sports.
-- A rematch with Michihiro Omigawa might be in the cards for Takaya, but Omigawa looks like he still has the skills to crush Takaya. He took advantage of Cole Escovedo's willingness to move to the clinch to avoid his power, tripped him, and began working from top control. From there, Omigawa peppered him with shots and opened up his neck for a choke attempt. Escovedo reversed, but found his arm in a precarious position near Omigawa's head. Two seconds later, Escovedo was tapping in pain. Impressive reverse armbar from Omigawa. Omigawa's grappling is getting better, and I'm looking forward to seeing what the future holds for him.
-- Joachim Hansen really needed this win after losing his last two fights, and Hideo Tokoro provided the perfect opportunity. While Tokoro is dangerous on the ground, he continues the trend of making significant mistakes in his positioning if he happens to miss an attempt. He also overextends himself quite often in the stand-up game, and Hansen took full advantage.
-- Kazuyuki Miyata's wrestling and Herculean strength is a tough combination for anyone to deal with, and Lion Takeshi is no exception. While Takeshi began to find the mark very late in the fight, Miyata's wrestling controlled Takeshi for most of the fight. While I'm normally not a huge fan of wrestlers controlling opponents without trying to advance position, Miyata did flash some epic suplexes during this fight. I can't exactly complain there. Solid win for Miyata, and he's continuing to move up the ranks and make a name for himself.
-- We've spoken in great lengths on this website about how wrestling could potentially stifle the growth of the sport, and I've been on the side of the argument that fighters battling these controlling wrestlers simply need to learn to break down those types of competitors to win. I hold firmly on that belief, but Mitsuhiro Ishida's performances continue to demoralize me.
Sure, Ishida controlled Akiyo "Wicky" Nishiura for most of this fight, but he had a very tough time advancing his position against the lengthier "Wicky". Furthermore, he found himself on his back after Nishiura was able to reverse a couple of his positions, normally causing him to scramble to the feet to reset for another takedown.
I get it. Your style is effective and it works. It's also boring, ridiculously mind-numbing to watch. I went from hoping we'd see Ishida throw down a rolling armbar of some sort to rooting for Nishiura to pulverize Ishida's chin with a knee in a span of five minutes, and that almost never happens. Sometimes a old dog needs to learn new tricks, and that time is now. How about some leg locks to supplement your wrestling game, Ishida? Legs always seem to be in your face, why not capitalize on that and use your short frame to crack some heel hooks?
-- Is there anything truly constructive to say about James Thompson vs. Yasuke Kawaguchi? Kawaguchi was being dubbed by the HDNet commentary team as a Japanese heavyweight that the promotion was hoping to build some hype around, and even though he won a razor thin decision over James Thompson -- his performance against a human punching bag with almost no defense was abysmal.
Kawaguchi's footwork was his most glaring weakness. Thompson's weak takedown attempts were stuffed by the Judo player, but Thompson would immediately transition to the Muay Thai plum and begin peppering Kawaguchi's midsection with knees. While the power of those knees was obviously weak, Kawaguchi was suckered into the same plum over and over again. Furthermore, his grappling tactics were almost non-existent. Luckily, Thompson gassed himself out in the first five minutes of the bout and had nothing more to offer from top control. Anyone else would have probably crushed Kawaguchi in those later minutes. Japan should probably try to find a new representative in the heavyweight division after that peformance.