Marius Zaromskis (left) | Daniel Herbertson/Sherdog.com
While Sengoku Raiden Championship has gone the sporting route, assembling an all-day, 28-fight martial arts festival for its Dec. 30 show, K-1 and Dream parent company Fighting and Entertainment Group has remained true to their philosophy of creating a spectacle on New Year’s Eve.
The 15-bout card for Dynamite: The Power of Courage 2010 includes everything from an expelled sumo to a former bad boy boxer, a fashion model, and even a former pro-baseball outfielder -- all entering the ring to entertain a live crowd of 40,000-plus and many millions more watching on Tokyo Broadcasting System.
Mixed in among those attractions, however, are a number of compelling bouts in various weight classes. To get you up to speed on what promises to be a six-hour night (or morning) of fights, here are a couple questions that should be both asked and answered at this year’s “Dynamite.”
Has the drop to welterweight come too late for Sakuraba?
It is no secret that, at age 41, beloved Japanese veteran Kazushi Sakuraba is nearing the end of the line as an active competitor in MMA. One of the sport’s staunchest pro-wrestling proponents, Sakuraba’s grappling prowess made him Japan’s biggest star around the turn of the millennium. While Sakuraba’s time as a top-level threat effectively ended with his jump from Pride Fighting Championships to Hero’s in 2006, many fans and pundits have wondered how the “Gracie Hunter” would have fared if he had dropped down to a weight class which better suited his body frame.
Competing in the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions at about 190 pounds, Sakuraba was drubbed by violent foes such as Wanderlei Silva, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and Ricardo Arona during his prime. Despite the establishment of 161- and 183-pound divisions with Pride’s “Bushido” series in 2003, Sakuraba remained on the main show, battling opponents who outweighed him by 30 pounds and more. Now, 13 years after his MMA debut, the “IQ Wrestler” will fight at welterweight for the first time.
Standing across the ring from Sakuraba at “Dynamite” will be Dream welterweight champion Marius Zaromskis. While the Lithuanian knockout artist has suffered back-to-back knockout defeats stateside at the hands of Nick Diaz andEvangelista “Cyborg” Santos, Zaromskis’ sterling record in Japan remains intact. The “Whitemare’s” Japanese ledger stands at a perfect 4-0, including a trio of spectacular head kick knockouts. More than 10 years Sakuraba’s junior, the London Shootfighter will help ring in 2011 with the classic “striker versus grappler” dynamic which Sakuraba has seen numerous times before against the likes of Vitor Belfort, Igor Vovchanchyn and, most recently, Zelg Galesic.
Can the ‘Bancho’ pull the plug on the ‘Flash?’
In a back-and-forth October 2009 affair, Bibiano Fernandes narrowly defeated Hiroyuki Takaya to become Dream’s first featherweight champion. The fight’s split decision was so close and controversial that, 15 months later, the duo gets to dance again.
Fernandes has competed only once in 2010, sitting on the shelf for the past nine months due to a dispute over non-payment stemming from a March title defense against Joachim Hansen. Takaya has managed two fights in Dream’s four events this year; the “Streetfight Bancho” scored first-round knockouts over both Hansen and Chase Beebe.
In their first encounter, Takaya respected Fernandes’ takedown ability too much in the early going, allowing the Brazilian to alternate between landing solid leg kicks and bringing the fight to the floor. Although he was unable to hold the Japanese fighter down for any length of time, Fernandes did put Takaya in awkward positions, such as a standing back-mount, with his excellent grappling. During direct striking exchanges, Takaya landed the cleaner and harder shots. If Takaya can keep the fight standing for even longer in the rematch, chances are the title could change hands.
Can Ishii avoid the hands of Le Banner?
One year after his much-anticipated MMA debut, 2008 Olympic judo gold medalist Satoshi Ishii’s impact inside the square circle has been underwhelming. The 24-year-old’s world-class judo skills have not transitioned well into the world of fighting, despite Ishii’s vigorous efforts. His recent performances against Ikuhisa Minowa and Katsuyori Shibata could be best described as “workmanlike.” Now, Ishii has been booked against Jerome Le Banner, a world champion kickboxer with over 100 bouts and 60 knockouts to his credit.
Although Le Banner has just one MMA fight more than Ishii, the Frenchman has trained MMA on and off for the past 10 years with greats such as Fedor Emelianenko and Georges St. Pierre. While Le Banner is unlikely to show off any flying armbars or cartwheel guard passes, the 38-year-old’s ground game and takedown defense proved solid enough to defeat Yoshihiro Akiyama in 2005. Even after 15 years in the fight business, Le Banner’s right hook remains one of the most dangerous weapons in combat sports.
The main point of criticism with Ishii so far has been his wrestling skills, or lack thereof. His inability to take down Hidehiko Yoshida cost the younger judoka a win in his debut last Dec. 31. In his fights against Minowa and Shibata, Ishii managed to either corner his opponents or charge forward throwing wild strikes before dragging them down -- two tactics unlikely to work against a seasoned veteran like Le Banner. If Ishii hasn’t learned to execute a decent double-leg takedown, he could be in for a very long, or short, night against “Geronimo,” depending on whether Le Banner can land one of those hooks.
Will Kawajiri get punk’d, or will Thomson be crushed?
The match-up of top-15 lightweights Tatsuya Kawajiri and Josh Thomson is the most compelling bout of the night from a sporting perspective.
Kawajiri holds big wins over the likes of Yves Edwards, Vitor Ribeiro and Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante in his 10-year MMA career. Former Strikeforce title-holder Thomson has an equally impressive list of achievements, with noteworthy victories against Hermes Franca, Duane Ludwig and Gilbert Melendez. While Kawajiri holds the edge in experience, Thomson’s upside lies with his size, his collegiate wrestling experience, and the fact that he is part of one of MMA’s top camps, American Kickboxing Academy.
As far as intangibles are concerned, “Crusher” will hold the home field advantage and has been victorious in three consecutive New Year’s Eve appearances. The American “Punk,” meanwhile, will be making his “Dynamite” debut and his first appearance on Japanese soil in over five years.
After having several fighters, including top lightweight Shinya Aoki, defeated by Strikeforce competitors in 2010, Dream needs Kawajiri to win this fight and restore some luster to the brand.
How much preparation did Duffee get?
There have been few, if any, hotter heavyweights than Alistair Overeem in the past three years. The hulking “Demolition Man” has steamrolled nearly every opponent thrown before him in the past 36 months, whether under MMA or K-1 rules. With “The ‘Reem,” the question is not one of whether he will knock his opponent out, but rather when. Consequently, both Strikeforce and Dream have had tough times finding opponents for the Golden Glory standout.
While names Bobby Lashley, Tim Sylvia and Semmy Schilt were initially mentioned for Overeem’s “Dynamite” date, former UFC prospect Todd Duffee has instead stepped in to take the fight on 10 days’ notice. Duffee had been slated to fight on a regional card in Kansas on Jan. 29, but it remains to be seen what kind of shape the Indiana native will be in after seven months on the shelf. If Duffee was taking his scheduled fight with “Ultimate Fighter 10” alumnus Abe Wagner as seriously as his UFC bouts, chances are good that Duffee already had four to six weeks of training under his belt when he signed on to face Overeem.
The crucial factor will be whether Duffee’s boxing style matches or clashes with Overeem’s muay Thai approach. Similarly important will be the manner in which Duffee reacts to powerful leg kicks and flying knees delivered by somebody his own size.
With 13 of their combined last 15 fights ending inside the first round, chances are good this will not go the distance.
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