One of the major storylines, at least in the eyes of American fans, stemming from Japan's New Year's Eve extravaganza was the surprisingly dominant performance by lightweight kingpin Tatsuya Kawajiri during FEG's K-1 Dynamite!! 2010 card. His opponent, former Strikeforce lightweight champion Josh Thomson, was perceived by many to have the skills in his arsenal to give the T-Blood fight team member a run for his money. In the opening minutes of the first round, it seemed as if that may be true as Thomson's heralded kicking game was successful in keeping Kawajiri at bay.
But Kawajiri's immense strength and wrestling prowess proved to be Thomson's undoing. Although Kawajiri has had problems in the past with mental discipline, he smartly avoided trying to out gun the rangier fighter in Thomson and worked for clinch takedowns when the opportunity presented itself. Surprisingly, Thomson succumbed to Kawajiri's strength on multiple occasions, going so far as to shock commentator Frank Trigg with how easily he was able to gain top control and hold the position. It wasn't the prettiest win, but Kawajiri's grinding style of wrestling may prove to be the key to putting a dent in the notion that American counterparts are simply better.
In an interview with USA Today, Scott Coker expressed the same surprise that Frank Trigg talked about during the broadcast and the possibility that Kawajiri makes his way stateside in 2011:
As you mentioned, you were in Japan for last weekend's Dynamite 2010 show. What did you think of the Josh Thomson-Tatsuya Kawajiri fight?
I thought it was a technical fight. It was world-class mixed martial arts fighting.
I was surprised that Kawajiri was able to take Josh down as many times as he did, and then Josh spent the rest of the round trying to get up. When Josh let his hands go and let his lets go, I thought he did fantastic; I thought he beat him in the stand-up.
But Kawajiri was successful in controlling him on the ground and playing it very safe. He had one submission attempt that looked pretty deep, but Josh survived the choke and went on to complete the fight. But I knew Kawajiri was a tough guy.
So it could be Gilbert vs. Kawajiri in March then, assuming you can get everyone to agree.
The fight would be a rematch of their PRIDE Shockwave encounter that took place roughly four years ago on New Year's Eve in 2006. As you would expect, the fight was an absolute barn burner, and Strikeforce will hope to strike the same gold that PRIDE did with the match-up.
Can Tatsuya Kawajiri do what Shinya Aoki couldn't? In my opinion, Kawajiri will have his hands full against a much improved Gilbert Melendez, but he does have a dangerous skill-set that isn't hampered by a lack of depth. Aoki's only true threat was in his creativity in the submission game, but Kawajiri possesses both the strong striking skills and controlled wrestling ability to be a spoiler in Melendez's title reign.