Aoki, Manhoef Advance to Grand Prix Finals


Shinya Aoki submitted former Olympic wrestler Katsuhiko Nagata with a modified gogoplata Saturday night at DREAM.4 in Japan. Photo courtesy of Fight Entertainment Group.

Those who predicted an easy victory for Melvin Manhoef over Japanese legend Kazushi Sakuraba in the main event of DREAM’s latest effort Saturday night in Japan saw their thoughts become reality as Manhoef quickly smashed Sakuraba en route to an early first-round stoppage to move on to the finals of the organization’s inaugural middleweight grand prix.

The 14,037 in attendance at the Yokohama Arena saw Manhoef knock down Sakuraba with a right hand after stunning him with a head kick in the bout’s opening moments. Manhoef pounced on Sakuraba, who despite being able to pull guard, was unable to stop much of the punishment Manhoef was dishing out. Manhoef eventually transitioned to side control where he landed a number of unanswered hammer fists that forced the referee to jump in and save the longtime veteran.

“Sakuraba has been my hero, and he still is my hero. I’m sorry I had to beat him up for you,” Manhoef told the crowd after the fight. “I was prepared for 15 minutes, so it was my plan to start relaxed. But he wanted the takedown, and when he moved his head I caught him with a punch and then I kicked him. I knew when he went down, and we had practiced that, if he was in the ropes of the referee would stop and he could rest, that’s not what I wanted so I pulled him out from the ropes then punched again.”

In the night’s opening bout, grappling wizard Shinya Aoki submitting former Olympic wrestler Katsuhiko Nagata with a modified gogoplata from the mount position, a technique likely never seen before in a professional bout.

Aoki was able to sweep Nagata to the canvas early on in the bout but Nagata’s wrestling skills quickly allowed him to stand back up. Aoki then switched to a body lock and used surprising strength to muscle Nagata to the ground, where he quickly moved to mount after a scramble. After landing a couple of punches, Aoki attempted a failed guillotine before pulling off the gogoplata seemingly out of nowhere.

With the win, Aoki moves on to the finals of the promotion’s first-ever lightweight tournament where he will face former UFC contender Caol Uno. Philadelphia Fight Factory product Eddie Alvarez will take on tough wrestler Tatsuya Kawajiri in the other semi-final bout on July 21st in Japan.

Also moving on to the finals of the middleweight tournament along with Manhoef was another grappling phenom, multiple-time jiu-jitsu champion Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza who used constant submission attempts and slick striking on the feet to earn the nod from the judges in the form of an unanimous decision over former ICON Sport middleweight title holder and fan favorite Jason “Mayhem” Miller in the night’s co-main event.

Despite holding a huge advantage on the ground, Souza was unable to submit Miller, who showed impressive submission defense that has likely come from years of experience.

After spending the beginning of the first round on the feet, Souza put on a grappling clinic in the second half of the stanza, catching Miller in an armbar and heel hook as well as taking the colorful veteran’s back on more than one occasion. Miller looked as if he would be able to steal the second round after catching Souza with a mix of punches and kicks standing but Souza scored a takedown with a minute left in the final round, securing his hard-fought victory.

Rising international star Gegard Mousasi and Croatian striker Zelg Galesic were also victorious in their quarterfinal grand prix bouts. Mousasi defeated Dong Sik Yoon by unanimous decision while Taiei Kin was forced to bow out of his bout against Galesic after dislocating his elbow.

Reigning Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem picked up his second win in a row, needed just 36 seconds to knock out Tae Hyun Lee. The rest of the night’s bouts saw Ralek Gracie submit Alavutdin Gadzhiyev and Hideo Tokoro win a decision over Darren Uyenoyama.

Complete results from the event:

Shinya Aoki def. Katsuhiko Nagata - Submission (Modified Gogoplata)
Alistair Overeem def. Tae Hyun Lee - KO (Punch)
Ralek Gracie def. Alavutdin Gadzhiyev - Submission (Armbar)
Hideo Tokoro def. Darren Uyenoyama - Unanimous Decision
Gegard Mousasi def. Dong Sik Yoon - Unanimous Decision
Zelg Galesic def. Taiei Kin - TKO (Injury)
Ronaldo Souza def. Jason Miller - Unanimous Decision
Melvin Manhoef def. Kazushi Sakuraba - TKO (Strikes)

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