The illusion couldn’t have been better.
It had been four years to the day since Fedor Emelianenko’s last fight in Japan. He made his return at Dream’s Fight For Japan: Genki Desu Ka Omisoka 2011 looking like the Fedor of old while going through a fighter that was guaranteed to make him look that good.
Experience doesn’t necessarily mean everything in the fight game, but in many cases it can be the determining factor in the fight’s result. This was the case with Fedor/Ishii. Satoshi Ishii has been fighting for exactly two years and while he has shown improvements and positives in his latest fights, it just wasn’t feasible to believe that he, Olympic gold medal or not, was going to be able to beat Fedor on this night. Fedor immediately asserted his will with leg kicks and combination punches, many of them landing. Ishii seemed overwhelmed quickly and when Fedor landed his final combination, at 2:29 into the fight, Ishii didn’t make any attempt to get up.
The win gives Fedor two wins in the final six weeks of 2011, semi-erasing a three-fight losing streak that ended with him cut from Strikeforce earlier this year. It only semi-erases that streak because that streak was against a higher caliber of opponent than his recent two wins have been. Ishii is still a work in progress and Monson (who Fedor beat in Russia November 20) didn’t possess the standing game to keep up with Fedor if their fight became a standing one; it did and Fedor dominated things.
If Fedor stays in Dream, he will be back in a place where he is one of the most famous and revered mixed martial-artists in the country and treated like the legend that he is. However, that would also mean he would be fighting in a weight division who’s talent pool in Dream is almost non-existent. Fedor’s fights could then end up taking on the aura that Mike Tyson’s fights in the later part of his career took on: nostalgia acts in glitzy wrapping that are promoted as being much, much more than they actually are, but made money. If a Fedor run through some tomato cans equals money for Dream, they will do it because they need some kind of spark. No doubt FEG is hoping that Fedor’s presence back in Japan can provide it.
Shinya Aoki made his second successful defense of Dream’s lightweight title with a unanimous decision win over former World Victory Road lightweight champion Satoru Kitaoka. Aoki dominated things with his ground game while never allowing Kitaoka to gain any type of momentum when the fight wasn’t on the mat.
Hiroyuki Takaya successfully defended Dream’s featherweight title with a unanimous decision win over multiple time Shooto lightweight (143-lbs.) champion Takeshi Inoue . The win was Takaya’s second successful defense since being made Dream’s first featherweight champion when they established bantamweight and featherweight divisions (mentioned earlier) after his win on this date one year ago. Takaya’s five-round dominance was more well-rounded than Aoki’s, and plenty effective.
A 365-day journey for Bibiano Fernandes ended exactly where it started. In just 81 seconds, Fernandes was able to stop Antonio Banuelos and win Dream’s Bantamweight Grand Prix and become the promotion’s first bantamweight champion in the process.
The journey began last New Year’s Eve when Fernandes lost the promotion’s featherweight title to Hiroyuki Takaya. Fernandes had won a controversial split decision over Takaya earlier in the year and this was Takaya’s revenge, and Fernandes’ first loss in over three years. Starting in 2011, Dream was going to establish separate bantamweight (134-lbs.) and featherweight (145-lbs.) divisions instead of just having a 139-pound division. The fighters were actually given the choice as to which division they wanted to fight in; Takaya would become Dream’s featherweight champion and Fernandes would move to Bantamweight. The choice of champion Takaya to move to featherweight meant that Dream would have a bantamweight tournament in 2011 to crown their first champion, culminating on New Year’s Eve. The tournament began at Dream 17 in September to create the final four that would decide a new champion to end 2011. Fernandes breezed through his first round fight, choking out Takafumi Otsuka in forty-one seconds.
That domination would continue for Fernandes after Banuelos inexplicably stumbled to the mat early on. Fernandes pounced and didn’t let up. Banuelos didn’t see it coming and couldn’t put up any kind of defense before the fight was stopped.
Both men got to the final via decision wins earlier in the night. Banuelos outlasted Masakazu Imanari to a split decision win while Fernandes’ decision win over Rodolfo Marques Deniz was unanimous.
In the tournament’s reserve bout, and the show’s opener, Yusup Saadulaev scored a quick win over Hideo Tokoro thanks to a charging start from Tokoro backfiring instantly. While it has been the product of several memorable flying knee knockouts, this approach of charging at your opponent (and maybe throwing a flying knee) has more often resulted in quick knockouts on the man charging or some very early and unnecessary punishment dished out to the same man. Tokoro charged at the moment the fight started, went for a flying knee, didn’t get it, and got wrapped up Saadulaev. Both men got to their feet while Saadulaev maintained a grip on Tokoro’s body. He then executed a hard slam with Tokoro’s head hitting the mat first, knocking him out. Saadulaev landed a few strikes after, but that was only because referee Moritaka Oshiro didn’t seem to believe Tokoro was knocked out instantly.
For the second year in a row, K-1’s New Year’s Eve show had a special rules fight featuring Yuichiro Nagashima. Nagashima has gained a cult following in Japan due to his participation in K-1 kickboxing as well as pro wrestling, along with his anime themed entrances.
The bout was two rounds with the first round being three minutes under K-1’s kickboxing rules and the second round being five minutes under Dream’s MMA rules.
Last year’s bout saw Nagashima knock Shinya Aoki out cold with a knee just seconds into the second round as Aoki went for a takedown. This year was different as Nagashima came into the fight with a significant size advantage primarily due to his involvement in pro wrestling for most of this year. It wouldn’t be a major factor in the fight.
Nagashima’s opponent, Katsunori Kikuno was all too willing to make the kickboxing round a full on brawl. Nagashima obliged, but would regret the decision. Kikuno sent Nagashima to the canvas with a hard right less than a minute into the bout. He would continue to dominate and nearly finish Nagashima for the better part of two minutes. Then, with just over 30 seconds to go in the round, a left hook from Nagashima evened the knockdown count at 1 to 1. It was obvious from the beginning of round two that Kikuno was more at ease when the fight switched to MMA rules. Nagashima wasn’t completely a fish out of water, but his reliance on the flying knee did show himself to be at a big disadvantage with the instant change to rules and time of the round. When Kikuno was able to wrap up and take down Nagashima, he proceeded to get Nagashima’s back and force a stop with a continuous flow of strikes around half way through the second round.
Two Japan vs. Japan fights were polar opposites in that one fight was made up of two men familiar to older MMA fans in Japan, and the other was made up of two men familiar to new MMA fans in Japan.
The elder statesmen were represented by Hayato “Mach” Sakurai and Ryo Chonan, fighting in a rematch from eight years ago. On that night in September 2003 Chonan was the victor thanks to a doctor stoppage. On this night it was Sakurai’s turn, winning by unanimous decision.
Two of the most familiar names to Dram since its inception in 2008 have been Tatsuya Kawajiri and Kazuyuki Miyata. Both men came into their fight needing the win to help them rebound from setbacks: Miyata lost his shot at Takaya’s featherweight title in July while Kawajiri was brutalized by Gilbert Melendez when he challenged for Melendez’s lightweight title in Strikeforce earlier this year. It would be Kawajiri’s night as he was able to wrap up Miyata away from the ropes and submit him via an arm triangle-choke with just six seconds to go in round two.
Woman’s MMA was represented proudly at the show as Japanese phenom Megumi Fujii got to flex her skills with a quick submission win over Karla Benitez. “Mega Megu” moved to 25-1 with the win, an armbar submission at 1:25 into round one, and is still arguably the best pound-for-pound woman’s fighter on the planet.
As has always been the case, the show featured a few kickboxing matches, this year they were two K-1 MAX fights.
The first saw Yuta Kubo extend his winning streak to eight with a third round knockout of Nils Wildlund in a fairly competitive fight. The end came when a well placed left high kick from Kubo dazed Widlund, and a knee sent him to the canvas not to even make an attempt to beat the count by this point. Widlund was fighting on ten days notice.
In the second, it was a battle of youngsters (another New Year’s Eve tradition with K-1) as Masaaki Noiri (age 18) took on Kengo Sonoda (age 20). The two fighters brought with them the records of less than experienced fighters: Noiri entered the fight 6-2, Sonoda entered the fight 3-2. Noiri won a unanimous decision victory in a fight that featured plenty of activity from both.
The show even featured pro wrestling with MMA or K-1 fighters involved in all matches. These matches were promoted by Antonio Inoki’s IGF promotion, which routinely employs mixed martial-arts fighters for pro wrestling matches. The promotion’s style is a mix of American-style pro wrestling and shoot-style pro wrestling, as the wrestlers and matches themselves tend to blend the two. On this night the MMA involvement wasn’t without reason as Kazuyuki Fujita and Josh Barnett currently wrestle for IGF, and Kazushi Sakuraba & Katsuyori Shibata are MMA fighters with pro wrestling experience in at least one major Japanese pro wrestling promotion. There were four pro wrestling matches, with one (LeBanner/Sylvia) made at the last minute. Fujita faced K-1 fighter Peter Aerts, Barnett faced pro wrestler Hideki Suzuki, Sakuraba & Shibata faced IGF projects Atsushi Sawada & Shinitchi Suzukawa in a tag-team match, and LeBanner faced former UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia. The last match was made due to work visa issues causing a planned MMA fight between Sylvia and Brett Rogers to be canceled. Results: Barnett beat Suzuki, Fujita beat Aerts, Sakuraba submitted Sawada, and LeBanner beat Sylvia. Note: this wasn’t Sylvia’s first pro wrestling match as he and Barnett had a quick one on an IGF show last year.
Tags: DREAM, Fedor Emelianenko, Josh Barnett, Kazushi Sakuraba, Mixed Martial Arts, Peter Aerts, satoshi ishii, Shinya Aoki, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Tim Sylvia