Dream 15 weigh-ins (click for gallery): Taro Irei/Sherdog.com
TOKYO -- Heavy is the head that wears the crown, and Dream lightweight champion Shinya Aoki is no exception to the rule. His solemn face shadowed by the brim of a hat, the normally brash and mercurial champion whispered clipped answers to the local media's questions on Thursday.
Several days removed from the online broadcast of the title bout signing ceremony, Aoki reiterated that he would still give his all for the impending showdown with Tatsuya Kawajiri at Dream 15 inside the Super Saitama Arena in Saitama, Japan. Be that as it may, Aoki also admitted to be fighting a separate battle before July 10.
“I feel like I'm fighting a lot of things so that I can focus on this fight,” said Aoki.
When pressed by Sherdog.com as to the specific obstacles to his focus, the champion cracked a wry smile, replying cryptically, “Everything. Plus, some things that I can't really talk about.”
In contrast, the challenger in Kawajiri was ebullient over the impending title fight, claiming, “I'm excited. I'm actually emotionally unstable. Sometimes I feel nervous, sometimes I feel excited.”
At the next day's weigh-ins, however, there was a little more bantering from the two.
“I don't really like to take a look at men's bodies, so I didn't really look at him. He said he'll surprise the fans. I'll make sure ours will be a shocking fight,” said the challenger.
“I like both men and women,” retorted Aoki, running with the gag Kawajiri gave him. “His body is a nice body, and if we both fight with men's spirit, we can have a fight that everyone wants to see.”
Since Dream's inception, Aoki has been positioned the event's marquee lightweight. Aoki has since captured the lightweight title and represented the promotion in Strikeforce in a losing effort against their lightweight champion, Gilbert Melendez. With the upcoming title fight essentially determining Japan's lightweight representative to the world, challenger Kawajiri stated, “Tell the American fans that I'll become the representative of Japanese MMA, and to wait for me to come over and throw down.”
Cavalcante Ready For Kikuno's Karate
Climbing their way up the lightweight ladder for an eventual shot at Saturday night's winner, a returning Gesias "JZ" Cavalcante will be looking to derail the crescent-kicking Katsunori Kikuno.
“I'm not feeling any pressure, I think the pressure is on him. I'm coming back from two losses, and it's been like one year and two months off. So he's on the spot,” said a confident Cavalcante.
Cavalcante expressed no mysticism or particular wariness toward Kikuno, whose unique karate stylings have brought him great success lately.
“He's an unorthodox fighter. I'll just adapt my game to work on that. His sword is my sword. I'm going to use his strength against him,” said Cavalcante. “(It's) not difficult to fight against him, but you gotta' be really smart to prepare for him.”
While Cavalcante views this bout as the start of a comeback tour, Kikuno views it as a fight to prove himself, commenting at the weigh-ins that, “This is not a challenge match, this is a match to prove myself. Of course, I will knock out Cavalcante.”
Kikuno was also complimentary of Cavalcante's faith, stating, “Non-Japanese fighters often times ask and say that God blesses them, and that's an attitude that I completely respect. I'm sure that Mr. Calvan trains very hard, so I have a great respect for him, and with that respect, I hope to knock him out tomorrow.”
Mousasi and O'Brien Talk Wrestling
Set to face Jake O'Brien -- who was unavailable at the weigh-ins as Dream officials said he was still cutting -- former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion and former Dream middleweight champion Gegard Mousasi views his April loss to Muhammed Lawal as one in which he gave the fight and his title away to “King Mo” for lack of aggression. However, Mousasi also admitted there being gaps in his overall game, particularly in the realm of wrestling.
“I've specifically done wrestling in a wrestling gym [since the Lawal bout]. I've been working on wrestling aside from MMA. That's something I wasn't doing in the past. I learned that I didn't know a lot about takedowns, so I think that it's a really big gap. I'm catching up and learning a lot. I'm confident in my takedown defense, a lot more, this time than last time,” said a smiling Mousasi.
O'Brien claims that as his and Lawal's wrestling style are similar, he will prove a difficult style match for Mousasi, even despite the former champion's recent attempts at shoring up his takedown defense.
“I actually think (Mousasi) has pretty good takedown defense, but against high-level wrestlers like myself and King Mo, you know, he may be training wrestling, but that fight was only a couple months ago. It's not long enough a time to get that much better at it to stop my wrestling,” said O'Brien.
Both Mousasi and O'Brien expressed a desire to advance to September's Dream 16 in order to get a shot at becoming the promotion's first light heavyweight champion. Mousasi framed such an achievement as being second to and similar to that of Dan Henderson becoming a two-division champion in Pride in 2007.
Sasahara: 8-Fight Card Officially Knocked Down to 7
Several days removed from Alistair Overeem declaring that he would not fight Ricco Rodriguez at Dream 15 stemming from his dissatisfaction with Dream's matchmaking practices and the lack of a title shot, Dream event producer Keiichi Sasahara also called off the prospective Overeem – Rodriguez fight from the promotion’s end, officially bringing the planned eight fight card down to seven fights.
Sasahara then gave a long and cryptic explanation of the events behind disintegration of an originally proposed Overeem-Arlovski bout.
“Essentially, Alistair was supposed to fight Andrei Arlovski. They both agreed, and we were ready to make an official announcement when both fighters signed a bout agreement. However, toward the end of the negotiations, because of reasons that I'm unable to tell you about -- it was not a money problem -- the fight could not happen. Although I cannot tell you the reason why, you may be able to guess what the reasons are,” said Sasahara, who claimed later that other matchups were offered to Overeem, but as Arlovski “isn't an easy fighter to find a replacement for,” none was ultimately found.
Reportedly chief amongst Overeem's objections to his planned Dream 15 appearance was the lack of his bout being for Dream's yet-to-be-deployed heavyweight title. Sasahara made brief mention of the title, indicating in no certain terms that the promotion may continue to operate without one.
“The winner (of Overeem-Arlovski) was originally going to fight for the heavyweight championship at Dream 16 in September,” he said. “But, that scenario is now gone. We have to think whether we'll have a championship anyway, or go with plan B. In any case, we would like to work on some other plan for Alistair to fight other fighters in the future.”
While Overeem has stated that his future in Dream is in question, Sasahara comments indicate otherwise, and that as Arlovski will still fight for the Japanese promotion as well, the potential Overeem-Arlovski bout may still come to pass.
Dream 15 Weigh-in Results
Shinya Aoki (70 kg / 154.3 lbs) vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri (70 kg / 154.3 lbs)
Katsunori Kikuno (70 kg / 154.3 lbs) vs. Gesias Cavalcante (70 kg / 154.3 lbs)
Gegard Mousasi (93 kg / 205 lbs) vs. Jake O'Brien (did not weigh in; reportedly still cutting)
Tatsuya Mizuno (92.5 kg / 203.9 lbs) vs. Melvin Manhoef (90 kg / 198.4 lbs) Michihiro Omigawa (64.8 kg / 142.9 lbs) vs. Young Sam Jung (64.8 kg / 142.9 lbs)
Mitsuhiro Ishida (65 kg / 143.3 lbs) vs. Daiki Hata (65 kg / 143.3 lbs)
Kazuhiro Nakamura (83.8 kg / 184.7 lbs) vs. Karl Amoussou (83.5 kg / 184 lbs)