Aoki Promises Groundbreaking Performance at Dream 8

By Tony Loiseleur Apr 4, 2009
NAGOYA, Japan -- A meticulous student of the game and one of Japan’s most progressive mixed martial arts minds, Shinya Aoki vowed to break new ground at Dream 8, where he will meet Hayato "Mach" Sakurai in the welterweight grand prix on Sunday at Nippon Gaishi Hall.

“I’ll put on a great fight to surprise you all,” Aoki said in Nagoyan dialect, much to the local audience’s delight at a pre-fight press conference on Saturday at Oasis 21. “Tomorrow will be the end of the era dubbed ‘vale tudo,’ as sogo kakutogi (Japanese for mixed, unarmed martial arts combat) will become MMA. I will show you all a new kind of martial arts fighting.”

“Generations change is what I mean,” he added. “I’ll be 26 years old this year. I want to do my best to change the era and to be sure that [fighters of] my generation become leaders in MMA.”

The comment was a subtle barb at his opponent and Japanese MMA pioneer Sakurai, indicating that the well-documented bad blood between the two -- stemming from their first meeting in 2005 -- still flows strong. Both of the former Shooto champions were less than enthused and more disdainful when it came to squaring off with one another. As such, they adopted haughty poses of indifference for the cameras of fans and reporters.

“I don’t choose who I fight against. I fight whoever they put in front of me,” Sakurai said. “Aoki is certainly a strong fighter, but if he makes one mistake, there’s a possibility he’ll step into a pitfall.”

Aoki immediately turned the tables on Sakurai, however, and got the last word in their exchange.

“I'll be sure to create pitfalls that’ll make Mr. Sakurai drop that smile on his face,” he said.

While the grudge between the two top Japanese fighters remains legitimate, Deep veteran Yuya Shirai feebly tried to generate his own drama with welterweight tournament opponent Jason High, stepping into High’s personal space before attempting to shove him.

“I’m sure that I’ll finish him,” Shirai said. “Look forward to that.”

Based out of Antonio McKee’s Bodyshop, High took the high road.

“I’m looking forward to introducing myself to the Japanese fans,” he said. “Thanks for having me.”

Deep welterweight champion Seichi Ikemoto, another participant in the eight-man tournament, promised a surprise for the fans.

“I’m thinking of showing off a new technique,” he said, “so please look forward to witnessing it.”

UFC and World Extreme Cagefighting veteran John Alessio expressed exuberance over the opportunity to compete in the grand prix, as well as excitement at the challenge opponent Andre Galvao will pose.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to come here to Japan and fight in the biggest tournaments in the world,” Alessio said. “I have a great opponent in the first round, a really great jiu-jitsu guy, so I’m looking forward to this challenge and looking forward to taking the whole tournament.”

Meanwhile, Hideo Tokoro and Daiki Hata will meet in the Dream featherweight grand prix. A native of neighboring Gifu prefecture, Tokoro talked about the opportunity to finally fight in front of a hometown crowd in the Tokai region.

“A lot of my childhood friends can now come to see my fight,” he said, “so I want to be sure to put forth a great performance to make them happy and not betray their expectations.”

Ikuhisa Minowa, also from Gifu, will face Katsuyori Shibata in a non-tournament tilt.

“This is where I'm from, so I’d like to excite my hometown,” he said. “Mr. Shibata is also from the neighboring Mie prefecture, so he’s also from this area. I’d like for both of us to excite the Tokai region.”

Jumping in at the last moment to replace an injured Dong Sik Yoon, Riki Fukuda will face fellow EliteXC alumnus Murilo "Ninja" Rua in a 196-pound catchweight bout.

“I decided to fight on very short notice,” Fukuda said. “However, I have nothing to be afraid of. I’ll be aggressive from the starting bell.”

In his return to Japan, former UFC heavyweight title challenger Jeff Monson will collide with Sergei Kharitonov in a non-tournament super fight. Kharitonov has fought only once since September 2007.

“This is my first fight in a long time, and I’m very happy to be back in Japan,” Kharitonov said. “Jeff is one of the best fighters out there and is a great opponent.”

Monson was similarly respectful and gracious.

“I’ve been trying to come back to Japan for the last year since I fought Josh Barnett,” he said. “Like I said before, I really appreciate the fans here; they’re very knowledgeable of the sport. To fight Sergei Kharitonov is an honor. He’s well-respected in the United States as one of the great stand-up fighters. He’s a very well rounded, athletic heavyweight.”

Dream 8
Sunday, April 5
Nippon Gaishi Hall
Nagoya, Japan

Dream Welterweight Grand Prix
Hayato "Mach" Sakurai (75.9 kg/167.3 lbs) vs. Shinya Aoki (73.5 kg/162 lbs)
Yuya Shirai (75.7/166.9) vs. Jason High (75.9/167.3)
Seichi Ikemoto (75.7/166.9) vs. Marius Zaromskis (75.5/166.4)
Andre Galvao (76/167.5) vs. John Alessio (76/167.5)

Dream Featherweight Grand Prix
Hideo Tokoro (62.8/138.5) vs. Daiki Hata (63/138.9)

Non-Tournament Bouts
Sergei Kharitonov (116.5/256.8) vs. Jeff Monson (110/242.5)
Murilo "Ninja" Rua (88/194) vs. Riki Fukuda (88/194)
Vitor Ribeiro (69.7/153.7) vs. Katsuhiko Nagata (70/154.3)
Andrews Nakahara (85/187.4) vs. Shungo Oyama (85.7/188.9)
Katsuyori Shibata (86.2/190) vs. Ikuhisa Minowa (87/191.8)
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