Photo courtesy of Fight Entertainment Group.
A new era of Japanese mixed martial arts started last week when World Victory Road hosted their first-ever event. With the demise of PRIDE behind them, officials from Dream Stage Entertainment have paired up with Fight Entertainment Group, discontinuing the K-1 Hero’s brand and giving birth to DREAM, which will hold it’s first show tomorrow.
The event features a mix of stars and veterans from both former brands. As if it wasn’t feeling like a new version of PRIDE already, the first-round of a lightweight grand prix highlights the card. Shinya Aoki, Gesias Calvancante, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Joachim Hansen, and Mitsuhiro Ishida include the notable names participating in the tourney.
We’re done yet though. Fan favorites Hayato Sakurai and Ikuhisa Minowa will be in action. Oh yeah, Mirko Cro Cop too.
So how about a quick preview? Let’s get started…
Lightweight Grand Prix Opening-Round
Obviously the most-anticipated bout is between Aoki and Calvancante. The winner of the fight will quickly shoot up towards the top of the lightweight rankings. The two were booked to face each other at Yarennoka! but the bout was scrapped after Calvancante re-injured his surgically repaired knee during training.
While Calvancante was recovering, Aoki took on judo expert Bukyung Jung at the event and struggled towards a decision win. Jung will also be part of the tournament, facing a very tough test in Mitsuhiro Ishida.
As far as the fight itself goes, Aoki would be smart to quickly try and take the fight to the ground as his striking skills are far inferior to what Calvancante brings to the table. While Aoki has the ability to submit anyone within seconds, attempting to lock a submission from the bottom might prove to be the wrong decision against Calvancante’s ground and pound attack.
Eddie Alvarez will be making the trip overseas to fight Andre Dida. Gilbert Melendez, who was advertised as competing at the event, will not. He’s revealed that contrary to popular belief, he has not signed a contract with the promotion and is strictly with Strikeforce as of right now. Caol Uno and Vitor Riberio actually did but will be unavailable due to injury.
The opening round of the tournament will also pit Tatsuya Kawajiri against Kultar Gill, Katsuhiko Nagata against Artur Oumakhanov, Joachim Hansen against Kotetsu Boku, and Luis Firminho against Kazuyuki Miyata in separate bouts. There are a total of seven opening-round fights scheduled to take place in all.
My picks to advance to the next round: Gesias Calvancante, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Joachim Hansen, Luiz Firmino, Artur Oumakhanov, Mitsuhiro Ishida, and Eddie Alvarez.
After originally stated that he would be facing Yoshihiro Nakao in his first fight for DREAM, Mirko Cro Cop was given Pancrase veteran Tatsuya Mizuno. The move came after various sites connected to the Japanese mixed martial arts scene reported that the Yakuza (Japanese mafia) had made threats against Nakao if he chose to fight the former PRIDE heavyweight title contender.
The fight will be Cro Cop’s first since going 1-2 in an unsuccessful stint with the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The Croatian is currently on a hiatus from competing in the promotion. UFC President Dana White has stated that he believes Cro Cop will be returning before the end of the year.
Mizuno dropped two out of his three bouts in 2007. He was stopped with strikes by both Thiago and Assuerio Silva in consecutive fights but managed to rebound with a win over Masayuki Kono in November.
Look for an easy knockout win for Cro Cop to get him back on track.
Hayato Sakurai will look to extend his current four-fight winning streak against Hidetaka Monma in a non-tournament bout. The fight will take place at a catch-weight of 168 lbs. A
Ikuhisa “The Punk” Minowa will still be in action as planned. FEG officials announced that he would be facing last-minute opponent Kwan Bun Lee, who will help Minowa continue his quest to fight opponents three times the size of him.