Masakazu Imanari (left) will take on Keisuke Fujiwara at “Dream: Fight For Japan.” | Photo: Taro Irei
TOKYO -- At Wednesday evening’s press conference in Tokyo, Dream's bantamweight contestants not-so-randomly drew their bout assignments for the promotion's upcoming grand prix, set to take place on May 29's “Dream: Fight For Japan” card at the Saitama Super Arena.
Each fighter drew random numbers to determine the order in which they would select their own placement, in effect also choosing who they would end up fighting at the event. An absent Darren Uyenoyama had his number pulled by a Real Entertainment official, who later selected his position on the card via instructions relayed by the San Francisco-based fighter by phone.
First to choose and last matched was former Deep featherweight king and current bantamweight champ Masakazu Imanari, who will take on ZST bantamweight champ Keisuke Fujiwara. No stranger to Dream, Imanari returns to the promotion after a May 2009 loss to former featherweight champion Bibiano Fernandes in the semifinals of Dream's featherweight tournament. Fujiwara also returns following a 2009 decision loss to Tomoya Miyashita in Dream's inaugural cage event.
Relaying his selection by phone, Uyenoyama chose to be slotted in the evening's first tournament fight. Norifumi Yamamoto understudy Atsushi Yamamoto shortly thereafter rose to the challenge of facing the only American in the tournament.
The last man to beat Shooto 132-pound world champion Shuichiro Katsumura -- albeit in a non-title bout -- Uyenoyama makes his return to Dream after coming out on the losing end of a 2008 fight of the year candidate to Hideo Tokoro. Yamamoto himself is not only returning to Dream, but also from a year and a half layoff due to two hand surgeries. Yamamoto's last action in Dream was a contentious decision loss to Imanari in the opening round of 2009's featherweight grand prix.
After back to back finish losses to "Wicky" Akiyo Nishiura and Joachim Hansen, Tokoro got back to the winner's circle by dispatching K-1 wildman Kazuhisa Watanabe in his MMA debut last New Year's Eve. The ZST torch-bearer meets former Pancrase featherweight champion Yoshiro Maeda, who himself is returning to Dream after a resounding come-from-behind knockout over former SRC featherweight champ Masanori Kanehara in December's Sengoku: Soul of Fight.
Last but not least, WEC and Shooto vet Kenji Osawa will make his second Dream showing against Takafumi Otsuka. Osawa's Dream debut saw him edge the aforementioned Maeda nearly one year ago at Dream 14. The scrappy Abe Ani Combat Club product in Otsuka will try his luck at gold once more after being eliminated from the promotion's featherweight grand prix by eventual tournament winner Bibiano Fernandes in 2009. His last appearance in Dream was a hotly contested decision loss to Kazuyuki Miyata at Dream 14.
According to Dream event producer Keiichi Sasahara, Dream's bantamweight division will be set at 61 kilograms (134.5 pounds). The new weight class comes from a late 2010 decision by the promotion to split their 63 kilo “featherweight” division into featherweight and bantamweight divisions to be in line with the more internationally recognized 135- and 145-pound weight classes.
As such, Dream featherweight champion Hiroyuki Takaya will continue to reign as the promotion's featherweight champion at 65 kilos (143.3 pounds). As previously mentioned, the quarterfinals and semifinals of the bantamweight tournament will be contested on May 29, with the finals set to be determined at the next Dream event in July.
Dream “Fight for Japan”
Saitama Super Arena
Masakazu Imanari vs. Keisuke Fujiwara
Darren Uyenoyama vs. Atsushi Yamamoto
Kenji Osawa vs. Takafumi Otsuka
Yoshiro Maeda vs. Hideo Tokoro