It's been awhile since the last Dream show, which wasn't all that compelling, but was highly notable. Tatsuya Kawajiri dominated Josh Thomson, giving some, including myself, the impression he could hang with Gilbert Melendez: an impression that turned out to be impressively incorrect. Hiroyuki Takaya beat the very talented Bibiano Fernandes. Mousasi exposed the sport of K-1 with one fight. Nagashima then exposed all of MMA with one knee (with Frank Trigg wearing the wig to prove it). And Sakuraba took me back to Peter Jackson's early filmmaking years, where the protagonist's mom in the initial stages of becoming a zombie, has her ear fall off into a bowl of custard. Like early Pride at times, the footnotes were more memorable than the fights themselves. So Dream is finally back, and the importance of the event is fully recognized by those in charge.
While it seems positively silly to expect a small MMA event to inspire an entire culture, I can't really argue against an individual's beliefs in the face of tragedy. Keiichi Sasahara truly believes this is a seminal moment not just for Dream (and K-1), but for Japan. For historical context, here's the inimitable Tony Loiseleur:
While many are only now marveling at how calmly the Japanese have accepted and responded to the Great Tohoku Earthquake, this stalwart resilience and perseverance is nothing particularly new for Japan. The immediate aftereffects of World War II left Japan both demoralized and in economic shambles, but within a few decades, the island nation successfully traded in its military empire for a potent economic and technological one.
One inspirational sporting icon who held a particular position of reverence in the revitalization of postwar Japan was professional wrestler Mitsuhiro Momota, better known as Rikidozan. Though ethnically Korean, Rikidozan served as Japan's avatar of strength and moral discipline in the ring. Thanks to professional wrestling's special form of physical theater, Rikidozan showed local audiences that his inherent Japanese spirit would always see him victorious, even against the likes of larger and stronger Western wrestlers. Rikidozan's victories were thus sources of immense inspiration for Japan in a time when the country needed national heroes.
It is perhaps no surprise that Sasahara and company view Rikidozan's contributions to 1950s and 1960s postwar Japan as the example to follow in the wake of March 11's destruction. It is in that tradition that the "Japan Cup Bantamweight Grand Prix," which was rumored to take place at Tokyo Dome City Hall last April, was repurposed into May 29's "Fight for Japan" charity event at Saitama Super Arena.
"We feel very much that we have a responsibility to that legacy," Sasahara says with a hearty laugh. "I think that legacy is our main motivation. We have to keep that history going."
While his ambitions are perhaps beyond his abilities, or the abilities of Dream as a whole, and Loiseleur himself argued as much on Press Row with Jordan Breen, there's a rare cultural subtext to this event that exists, making it more compelling than it has any right to be. Too bad nobody here will get to see it live. Oh...about the fights.