Kazushi Sakuraba file photo: Sherdog.com
For the second time this year, a Dream event will go head-to-head with a UFC show. Consider it a technicality. Due to the time difference, Dream 16 will only appeal to the night owls among us, as the event will air live on HDNet at 2 a.m. ET/11 p.m. PT.
To cut a long story short, Dream will once again serve up an event for the hardcore fans that are into Japanese judokas, fights taking place inside a ring, bright lights and blue gloves, as well as pompous entrances. Still unsure as to whether or not to tune in? Here are a few questions that could be answered on Saturday at Nippon Gaishi Hall in Nagoya, Japan.
How Much Has Ishii Improved?
The transition of 2008 Olympic judo gold medalist Satoshi Ishii to MMA has been everything but smooth. After winning the heavyweight division at the Beijing games, the then 21-year-old was hailed as a prodigy who could start another Kakuto boom in the Land of the Rising Sun. A seemingly endless struggle for his signature paired with a series of unfortunate interviews killed his buzz as quickly as it had appeared.
His highly disappointing debut loss to Hidehiko Yoshida -- the man who was supposed to be his launching pad to superstardom -- capped his run of negativity. Subsequently, Ishii left Japan and went to Hawaii for an extended training camp at HMC Wahiawa. There, he had a couple of low-profile bouts with mixed success -- one first-round submission and one first-round disqualification. Now, he will return to the main stage to face 84-fight veteran Ikuhisa Minowa.
On paper, anything but a first-round submission will be viewed as a huge disappointment for Ishii, as he will outweigh “Minowaman” by a solid 35 pounds in their open weight contest. He needs a decisive win in order to generate a potential end-of-the-year showdown with Kazuhiro Nakamura.
Can Maximus Do It Again?
Just like Roman soldier Tiberius Claudius Maximus who went to Dacia in 107 A.D. and returned to Rome with the head of King Decebalus, Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Marcus Aurelio went to Tokyo in 2006 and returned home with a victory over lightweight kingpin Takanori Gomi. “The Fireball Kid” was riding a 10-fight winning streak at the time and was considered the alpha male in the lightweight division. Aurelio submitted him in the first round.
Four and a half years later, Aurelio will fight Shinya Aoki. “Tobikan Judan” has won seven of his last 10 fights and holds notable wins over Aurelio’s countrymen, Gesias "JZ" Cavalcante and Vitor "Shaolin" Ribeiro. Aoki remains universally recognized as one of the top five 155-pounders in the game. Can “Maximus” repeat history and upset the current Dream lightweight champion in this non-title contest?
Will Mayhem Submit Sakuraba?
In what likely becomes his third main event appearance for Dream and his sixth overall for Fighting and Entertainment Group, beloved old-timer Kazushi Sakuraba will face Jason “Mayhem” Miller, a younger version of himself. Mayhem, 11 years the Japanese icon’s junior, openly stated in the official event trailer that he has “worked his whole life to make his style the same as Sakuraba’s” and wants to “become the first man to submit” him.
Though it may be a technical impossibility since Sakuraba lost by first-round submission to Kimo Leopoldo in his first bout in 1996 (the legitimacy of their fight remains in dispute), more than 40 other fighters have tried and failed to tap out the Pride Fighting Championships veteran in the last 14 years.
Mayhem’s submission game has proven sharp of late, as evidenced by his near-submission of former Strikeforce middleweight champion Jake Shields, a Cesar Gracie protégé who also wields an “unsubmittable” reputation.
Is The Unprecedented Slide Finally Going To End?
Joachim Hansen had never lost three fights in a row in his career. That held true until he submitted to Shinya Aoki and was knocked out cold by Hiroyuki Takaya. Sandwiched between those two decisive defeats was a highly competitive 15-minute war with Dream featherweight champion Bibiano Fernandes in the Norwegian’s debut at 145 pounds.
Now, “Hellboy” will tackle a natural bantamweight in Hideo Tokoro. “Cinderella Boy” remains wildly popular with many Japanese fans because of his upset of Alexandre Franca Nogueira and his courageous performance against Royce Gracie, a man who outweighed him by some 40 pounds. Still, Tokoro, primarily a grappler, will enter as a heavy underdog to Hansen.
Can Feathers Put Butts In Seats?
In the past, Dream has enjoyed its experiences with featherweights. They are comparatively cheap from a purse standpoint and draw solid audiences. The average crowd for the Dream featherweight grand prix came in at 16,192, significantly higher than its 2010 average of 13,151.
A strong draw at the box office and on television will be vital for FEG moving forward. Dream 16 will be one of those rare events that airs during “Golden Time” (7 p.m. to 9 p.m.) on Tokyo Broadcasting System. The absence of proven draws like Caol Uno and Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto means Tokoro, “Lion” Takeshi Inoue, Mitsuhiro Ishida, Michihiro Omigawa and Hiroyuki Takaya take the spotlight.
• Omigawa picks up his seventh career decision victory over Cole Escovedo
• Chase Beebe pulls off a mild upset over Takaya with another win on points
• Ishida wrestles and grapples his way to a decision over Akiyo Nishiura
• Inoue chokes out Kazuyuki Miyata late in the first round
• Hansen KOs Tokoro badly in the first round using the knee from hell
• Gegard Mousasi TKOs Tatsuya Mizuno and gets strapped again
• Aoki uses superior ring generalship to get the “W” over Aurelio on the scorecards
• Ishii defeats Minowa by Ippon in the first round
• Sakuraba passes the torch to Mayhem, as he drops a decision