I'm an eternal optimist, the sickeningly positive type that can flesh out a few encouraging aspects in even the most dire of circumstances. Normally, I'd be penning a rah-rah piece to escalate interest in this Dream card; perhaps reminiscing about the nostalgia of pulling an all-nighter to catch a live Pride broadcast in the wee hours of the morning as ammunition.
Unfortunately, it pains me to admit that I've succumbed to the foreboding aura surrounding this event. I could be wrong, but this seems to portend a darker stage in the deep decline of Japanese MMA.
On the surface, the lineup was thoroughly ransacked by injuries. Former UFC fighters Todd Duffee and Willamy "Chiquerim" Freire both pulled out, then MMA legend Hayato Sakurai withdrew from his rematch with Marius Zaromskis. Despite being released, Duffee split two fights in the UFC, crushing Tim Hague in highlight reel fashion and handling Mike Russow before eating a Hail Mary punch late in the contest. I wouldn't call him a massive draw, but he still has a solid rep and loads of potential, and was an adequate lure to attract stateside attention. Sakurai is a sentimental favorite for most hardcore followers, even more so in Japan, and the prospect of getting revenge after the uncharacteristic knockout loss to Zaromskis spun an interesting storyline.
While Freire and "Mach" were replaced by Drew Fickett and Eiji Ishikawa, no one filled in for Duffee and the bout was scrapped, making for fairly crippling blows to the card's worth. The worst part is that, after another major promotion has fallen into Zuffa's pockets, the significant flair of roster interchangeability provided by the Dream and Strikeforce alliance will end.
That means, using this card for reference, no more Gegard Mousasi as the headliner or Trevor Prangley to fill up the main, leaving a bleak outlook for the future. There's a chance some Strikeforce fighters will not re-sign with Zuffa, but that option probably won't work wonders for their career.
A few more dreary observations after the break.Sengoku Raiden Championships (SRC) recently lost a litany of their marquee fighters: top ranked featherweight champion Hatsu Hioki migrated to the UFC along with middleweight champion Jorge Santiago and the savage Dave Herman, former featherweight champion Marlon Sandro signed with Bellator, and Kazuo Misaki and Maximo Blanco hooked up with Strikeforce. Throw lightweight star Takanori Gomi in the mix, who also signed with the UFC early last year, and this leaves three of the four titles vacant in the promotion while emaciating their marketability.
The clamor of financial woes and fighters not getting paid does little to inspire hope for Fighting and Entertainment Group (FEG), the parent company of K-1 and Dream. Tonight's (or early tomorrow's) Dream event will not be broadcast live by HDnet nor is any timely replay to be found on their schedule, effectively shutting out the vaunted American audience and deflating what little interest may have arisen.
Don't get me wrong, there are a couple of highly compelling match-ups on this card, namely the Hideo Tokoro vs. Masakazu Imanari contest, which will surely unfold in an appetizing scramble-fest. I'm interested in the Drew Fickett vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri fight, because when Fickett is "on", he's tough for any lightweight. The featherweight championship bout between Hiroyuki Takaya and Kazuyuki Miyata should be a blast, and I'll watch Mousasi fight anyone on any day of the week.
However, I can't remember when fan morale for Japanese MMA has ever been lower, which is just a sad and disappointing condition for the combat sports world.