This Day in MMA History: May 11

By Ben Duffy May 11, 2020

When Pride Fighting Championships was dissolved in July 2007, a few months after its acquisition by Ultimate Fighting Championship parent company Zuffa, its star-studded roster scattered to the four winds. However, the distribution of that talent was not exactly random. While there were plenty of exceptions, the general tendency was for fighters in the heavier divisions—middleweight and above—to head to America, while the lighter fighters remained in Asia. Of the Japanese promotions that reaped the windfall of stars fleeing the sinking ship, none benefited more than Dream.

Formed by a coterie of executives from former Pride parent company Dream Stage Entertainment in conjunction with K-1, which folded its K-1 Hero’s MMA brand into the new promotion, Dream sprang up in the vacuum left by Pride’s departure and endeavored to offer fans a similar experience. Everything from the choice of familiar venues like Saitama Super Arena and the brilliantly lit white ring to the chill-inducing shriek of house announcer Lenne Hardt was pure Pride.

Whether Dream amounted to a reverent continuation of beloved traditions or an inferior knockoff was largely in the eye of the beholder, but in one aspect, the new promotion surpassed its predecessor. Thanks to the incorporation of K-1 Hero’s, which featured an outstanding lightweight roster in its own right, Dream’s lightweight division was even deeper and more talented than that of Pride. When Dream launched in March 2008, it promptly launched single-elimination tournaments—another Pride staple—in the lightweight and middleweight divisions, but it was the lightweight grand prix that showed off the best that the new promotion had to offer.

Dream 3, which took place on May 11, 2008, featured the second round of that tournament. Among the fighters who had advanced were some of the best to have competed in Pride (Tatsuya Kawajiri, Shinya Aoki), K-1 (Caol Uno) or both (Joachim Hansen), as well as prized free agents like Eddie Alvarez, who had been drawn by the competition and compensation. Kawajiri and Uno advanced, as did Alvarez by eliminating Hansen. However, in the kind of unforeseeable twist that seems to occur more often than not in single-elimination MMA tournaments, Hansen would re-enter the grand prix as an alternate and wound up winning the whole thing, knocking out Aoki at Dream 5 in May and becoming the promotion’s first lightweight champion.

Also of note on the card was the first appearance of Nick Diaz in the Dream ring. The once and future UFC contender was just over a year into his rise to MMA anti-hero status, as his gogoplata submission of Takanori Gomi at Pride 33 and the subsequent reversal of that result due to a positive test for cannabis had elevated him from a slightly eccentric action fighter to one of the sport’s true stars. On that night, Diaz busted up Katsuya Inoue until the Japanese veteran’s corner threw in the towel, but rather than stick around for the welterweight grand prix Dream would launch in 2009, he headed back to the United States, where he competed primarily for EliteXC and Strikeforce before signing with the UFC once again in 2011.
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