While the casual fan hunkers down in anticipation of this Sunday’s UFC debut on the Versus network, the hardcore cognoscenti are stocking up on Red Bulls in anticipation of a long night of MMA thanks to the quality Dream 13 seems set to deliver Monday morning on HDNet.
Whether you’re champing at the bit for Bibiano Fernandes’ title defense against Norwegian horror movie Joachim Hansen or consider yourself an unashamed fan of the physical comedy that is Ikuhisa Minowa’s fighting style, this is a card anyone can get down with.
With the violence approaching, here is a breakdown of all the angles to look for and a bit of insight into what this show means for Dream and MMA both. As always, be sure to send your donations to the “Tomas Rios Beer Run Fund” to me personally as I can’t have the ‘Dog taking a cut of the action.
Dreaming of Better Days
Pride’s downward spiral and eventual annexation by the UFC left an Akebono-sized void on the other side of the Pacific as Japan was suddenly without a fistic force. Many have failed spectacularly to fill that void. Dream is one of the few with any hope of reviving the kakutougi boom that Pride rode to prominence.
With Zuffa’s death grip on talent tightening faster than California’s budget, time is running out for Dream to establish itself as a legitimate alternative for the ever-growing collection of all-universe fighters up for grabs. Just put aside the quality and consequences of this fight card and think of all the drama Dream has been through since its inception. Financial instability, poor ratings and often nonsensical matchmaking have hounded the organization. Yet the success of Dream’s grand prix tournaments and ongoing alliance with Strikeforce has kept Dream in the hearts and minds of the ever-faithful hardcore audience.
With a quality main event and solid undercard bouts to back it up, this may be one of Dream’s last chances to win over the masses and stake its claim as the rightful heir to Pride’s legacy.
A Tattooed Norwegian Walks Into a Bar
The realness is off the charts for Brazilian mat shark Bibiano Fernandes’ defense of the Dream featherweight strap against Norwegian brain-bomber Joachim Hansen. After years of hearing fans scream in chorus for him to drop down a weight class, Hansen’s timing has proven impeccable: A win over Fernandes would land him a spot among the featherweight elite.
While the bulk of the world’s featherweight talent resides in the WEC, this could be the fight that gets Dream’s featherweight division pointed in the right direction. The bout itself is one of the best matchups to be made in the featherweight class. Fernandes and Hansen are two of the slickest grapplers in the game, and neither man is afraid of putting his brain cells on the line in a striking exchange.
Jose Aldo and Urijah Faber will still be the star attractions of the featherweight class after this weekend, but every MMA fan alive owes it to themselves to watch this fight. An evenly matched bout between top-tier fighters is rare enough. Throw in a style clash that has it tabbed as a pre-emptive Fight of the Year candidate, and there’s no reason why everyone shouldn’t consider switching to Japanese time.
Noons Back from Boxing
After a regrettable decision to pursue professional boxing, the razor tag champion of MMA, K.J. Noons, makes his return to the game against Brazilian bomber Andre “Dida” Amado.
Undoubtedly best known for his merciless shredding of Nick Diaz’s visage in ElteXC, Noons lost an awful lot of hype after walking away from the sport so abruptly. He is still a ready-made contender, though, and given the flexibility in his contract, he could become a force in both the Strikeforce and Dream lightweight divisions.
Just how much that nearly two-year layoff has affected his game is the question on everyone’s mind. Amado is hardly a free “W” considering his wins over quality fighters like Caol Uno and Hiroyuki Takaya. Although Amado is hardly some Noons’ equal as a technical striker, he’s proven in both defeat and victory that he’s as game as it gets.
Considering Noons doesn’t have an excess of kill-shot power, this is going to be a far more competitive fight than most fans give it credit for. Any time two reasonably sound strikers mix it up, it’s must-see MMA and this is one of those fights that more people need to be hyped up about.
The Brief, Wondrous Fistic Life of Josh Barnett
You’d be hard-pressed trying to sum up the career of Josh Barnett with anything less than a full-blown thesis-length document. Undoubtedly one of the best heavyweight prospects anyone has ever seen, his career has involved everything from title reigns to failed drug tests.
The ongoing drama surrounding Barnett has unfortunately reached its breaking point. His upcoming fight with Siala “Mighty Mo” Siliga is almost certainly Barnett’s last chance to reclaim legitimacy in a heavyweight division no longer quite so starved for talent. While there is little doubt that Barnett will beat Siligia, he can’t afford a lackadaisical performance against an opponent he is expected to dominate.
If Barnett looks like the same fighter who labored to stop a shopworn Gilbert Yvel at Affliction “Day of Reckoning,” the fan base he still has will likely abandon all hope of a renaissance for “The Baby-Faced Assassin.” A shame considering that the most mocked heavyweight in MMA was once the prototype for a next generation mixed martial artist.
Kyokushin Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop
One of the nouveau striking styles being adopted into MMA has a chance to shine on this card as both Katsunori Kikuno and Andrews Nakahara employ the brutal beauty of Kyokushin with a brilliance rarely seen in the sport. Although Kikuno is facing a stern test in the form of Kuniyoshi Hironaka and Nakahara has to deal with the veteran savvy of Ryo Chonan, both men have a reputation for bringing the violence in spades.
While neither fighter is a hands-down favorite, and justifiably so, there are few fistic experiences as worthwhile as watching a quality Kyokushin fighter snap high kicks that defy the laws of physics. Considering both Hironaka and Chonan have lost a step or 20 in recent years, here’s hoping Kikuno and Nakahara both rock the Brazilian kick so it can take the Superman punch’s place as the technique of the moment.
Let’s not be trite here: MMA is fun to watch because there are few joys as visceral and universal as two fine-tuned athletes recreating the kung-fu movies of our youth. If any of you ever stayed up late to watch a 2 a.m. airing of “Bloodsport,” do yourself a favor and watch Nakahara and Kikuno do their thing big time.
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