DREAM 9: Featherweight GP Quarterfinal Matches

On May 26, DREAM 9 promises to deliver a bona fide MMA extravaganza.

First, a lightweight superfight between Tatsuya Kawajiri and Gesias Cavalcante pits two top 10 ranked fighters.

Jason “Mayhem” Miller and Ronaldo “Jacare” De Souza will once again step into the ring for a rematch.  Will Mayhem deliver the beatdown this time around, or will Jacare once again celebrate with his patented alligator walk at the end of the fight?  We’ll see.

The Super Hulk Tournament looks to set the new bar in the quest for the ultimate freakshow.  Once the video of Jose Canseco getting pummeled by Hong Man Choi makes its way to YouTube, I see a hot new viral video on the way.

Finally, let’s not forget the quarterfinal matches of the Featherweight Grand Prix.

Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto makes a much-anticipated return to the ring after a 17-month hiatus.

He is a charismatic figure in Japanese MMA who makes girls swoon and guys pump their fists in front of the TV.

The GP quarterfinal is chock full of intriguing match-ups.  Without further ado, here goes the fight-by-fight preview.

Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto vs. Joe Warren

On paper, this seems like a blatant mismatch: One of the most popular and successful fighters in the division takes on a Greco-Roman wrestling convert with one professional fight under his belt.  Yet, the uncertainty of Kid’s condition after a prolonged inactivity and Warren’s world class Greco-Roman wrestling pedigree add some intrigue to the match.

Warren’s professional debut against Chase Beebe has shown that he has more than a flash of potential.  His superlative wrestling clearly gave Beebe fits.  While his striking and ground game have plenty of room for refinement, he seemed light on his feet, firing quick jabs and managing to land a devastating knee strike that opened a gash on Beebe’s forehead.  Moreover, his triumph through the baptism of fire attests to his heart and mental strength.

Having lauded Warren’s potential, his challenging Kid Yamamoto is premature.  The only foreseeable way for him to win is to take Kid down and exercise top control or control him from the clinch.  The challenge, of course, lies in bringing himself to the favorable positions: Here, Warren will likely face an uphill battle.

Warren’s wrestling skill may help him outmuscle Kid for a take down.  However, Kid is no slouch at wrestling, as his pedigree qualified him to try out for the 2008 Olympics.  Also, standing at 5’4″ his low center of gravity adds to the difficulty of taking him down.  Furthermore, in his fight against Beebe, Warren seemed awkward in setting up his take down attempt — a major challenge he has yet to conquer in adapting his wrestling skills to MMA.

Like many wrestlers transitioning to MMA, Warren has yet to grasp the nuance of the stand-up fight.  While he managed to tag Chase Beebe with a few punches and a knee strike that ultimately forced an end to the fight, he was hit numerous times when trying to close the distance. Two months realistically does not afford him enough time to sufficiently fine-tune his striking to hang with someone like Kid.

In any case, his closing the distance to force Kid into clinch while absorbing strikes does not bode well for him.  While Kid does not have the fastest hands, he possesses a one-punch knockout power: A well-timed power shot from Kid could end Warren’s night.

Hiroyuki Takaya vs. Yoshiro Maeda

Whether one is a dedicated MMA enthusiast or a casual fan, who does not love a good slugfest?

These WEC veterans never shy away from lighting up the fistic fireworks and there is no reason to dampen our expectation this time.

Takaya is coming off a TKO victory over a MMA newcomer, Jong Won Kim in the first round of the grand prix.

He steps into the ring every time with one objective: Knock his opponent out silly.  While he can send his opponents crumbling to the floor when his strikes connect, in his recent fights, he has struggled to find his rhythm.

During his unsuccessful stint in the WEC, Leonard Garcia knocked him out before he can settle into his groove, while Cub Swanson outworked him in a three-round battle.  In his first round match against Kim, he managed to find his rhythm in the second round, when his punch stunned his opponent en route to a finish.

Yoshiro Maeda’s epic war with Miguel Torres at WEC 34 still lingers in MMA world’s collective memory.  Maeda’s strength lies in piecing together crisp combinations, and he possesses good KO power.  His first-round fight against Micah Miller was a decidedly lackluster affair in which he passively fended off Miller’s submission attempts.  Fortunately, Takaya will welcome him back to his elements.

Maeda’s six losses in his career split evenly among submissions and TKOs.  With Takaya as his opponent, he has no concern about getting trapped in submssions.  Aside from his TKO loss to Miguel Torres, Maeda has made the painful blunder of walking right into knock outs by Charles Bennett and Daiki Hata.  Considering Takaya’s KO power, a similar lapse will be fatal for Maeda.

Expect both fighters to let their hands go and one of them to hit the canvas before the final bell rings.

Masakazu Imanari vs. Bibiano Fernandes

This clash of submission wizards can either turn into a compelling jiu jitsu clinic or a numbingly stultifying affair.

Imanari is MMA’s premier leglock master known for deliberately falling on the mat to prey on his opponents’ legs.  His modus operandi will not be as effective on Fernandes as on some of his previous opponents, given Fernandes’ jiu jitsu pedigree.

In the first-round of the grand prix, neither Imanari nor Fernandes looked particularly impressive, as they both struggled to push the actions on the ground against their respective opponents.  If this fight hits the ground, the two may test each other’s grappling prowess or entangle each other in a pretzel-like formation, only to pause for the camera.

On the feet, the edge goes to Fernandes.  While Fernandes’ striking has much room for improvement, Imanari’s striking is virtually non-existent.  The fight is bound to hit the mat eventually, as Imanari will try baiting Fernandes into ground game or take the initiative on his own.

If Fernandes’ world-class jiu jitsu skill shines, he may garner the honor of becoming the first fighter to submit Imanari.

Hideo Tokoro vs. Abel Cullum

Despite losing to Daiki Hata in the first round of the grand prix, Tokoro proceeds to the quarterfinal as a replacement for Hata, who was forced to withdraw due to an injury.  Despite his lackluster record of 21-16-1, Tokoro never fails to put on an exciting performance, thanks to his aggressive, offensive style of grappling.

Abel Cullum is a 22 year-old submission specialist who outworked Akiyo Nishiura in the first round of the grand prix.  In his last fourteen fights, he has lost only once, when he dropped the final of Elite XC’s ShoXC Elite Challenger Series to Wilson Reis.

Though Cullum pales Tokoro in experience, the fight promises to be competitive.  Both fighters will vie for submission, and we may be in treat for some striking exchange as well.

Currently on a three-fight losing streak, Tokoro faces a do-or-die situation.  We can only hope that the pressure will not make Tokoro gun shy.  In this fight, erring on the side of caution could turn out to be a mistake for him: If Cullum busies himself as usual with constant submission attempts and good agility in his attacks, a passive approach will backfire for Tokoro on the judge’s score card.

If Tokoro sets an aggressive pace as usual, expect a fast-paced match on the feet and on the ground.  The fight may go to the judge’s decision, but a fifteen minutes of action will be worthwhile.

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