Assuming Shinya Aoki gets past Katsuhiko Nagata (the general consensus) at Dream 4, three of Japan's top lightweights -- including two who are considered among the best in the world -- will have a chance to walk away with the Dream crown on July 21.
No offense to Nagata, but let's map out the semis as if Aoki did what he's expected to do: Aoki meets Philadelphia's Eddie Alvarez, and Caol Uno faces sudden rival Tatsuya Kawajiri. Because the tournament champion must win twice in the same night, Alvarez is an interesting case as the American could conceivably defeat a twin bill of Aoki and Kawajiri. Along with his exciting decision over Joachim Hansen late Saturday at Dream 3, Alvarez would extend his record to 16-1 and his ranking from unmentioned to middle of the top 10.
But does the American really have a chance to take the whole thing?
While the bout could easily go the distance, Aoki, unlike Kawajiri, isn't the kind of fighter that enjoys wailing away from the canvas. Athleticism and experience should help Alvarez survive, but against Aoki there's certainly no guarantee he'll stay safe in the fight.
Of the four men remaining (again, sorry to Nagata for looking past him), both Kawajiri or Alvarez appear to be the guys you'd like to stay away from as action heads into the semis. In fact, I'm not too fond of any of the remaining fighters against Kawajiri. Tournaments aside, a one-off bout between, perhaps, the best ground-and-pound fighter in MMA and Alvarez, who relies on quickness and a nice whizzer to stay off his back, just doesn't bode well for the Nagata at this point.
Alvarez has a lot to gain if he can keep up his current pace, particularly with contracts from Dream, EliteXC and Adrenaline already in play. His first post-tourney destination would be on a ProElite-promoted event in September. And that could easily mean a primetime spot on CBS.
(By the way, I put Kawajiri in the finals because I don't believe Uno would have much of a shot if they tangled. Both former Shooto champions at 154 pounds, Uno-Kawajiri is a potentially historic fight in Japan, but beyond that, Uno deserves to be a sizable underdog.)
Uno's surprising win over Mitsuhiro Ishida meant a reprieve from difficult choices for teammates Ishida and Kawajiri. Now "The Crusher" can fight with a clear conscience, as well as a little fire in his belly after seeing Uno win by choke. He'll end up on the bottom and gut out a 15-minute fight, making sure neither side of the brackets has easy entry into the finals of the Dream lightweight grand Prix.
Remaining five in order of likely tournament victory:
1. Tatsuya Kawajiri2. Shinya Aoki3. Eddie Alvarez4. Caol Uno 5. Katsuhiko Nagata
For anyone not named Katsuya Inoue, Nick Diaz's performance in Tokyo couldn't have gone better.
Beyond the distractions of his on-again, off-again bout, Diaz delivered the kind of punching power at Dream 3 on Sunday that few thought he was interested in dishing out. Looks like those long hours in the gym sparring with 2004 Olympic gold-medalist boxer Andre Ward have certainly made a difference.
Going to the body as much as the head, Diaz was diverse in his attacks. He worked takedowns when it suited him, but Diaz has always been, and will continue to be, a guy who prefers to stand and fight. Still healthy in the aftermath of the one-sided affair in Japan, Diaz is officially in line to fight Muhsin Corbbrey on June 14 in Honolulu.
Once again, expect Diaz's boxing to be on display against the punch-happy Corbbrey. During Sunday's Dream telecast on HDNet, Bas Rutten criticized Diaz for always moving forward. He should deliver three strikes and back away, Rutten said throughout the fight. That, however, has never been Diaz's style, and when he felt Inoue presented minimal danger on the feet, Diaz turned up the punching output.
Diaz's manager Cesar Gracie said he expects the Stockton, Calif., fighter to compete between 160 and 170 pounds four times in the next five months. He also said there's a possibility that Diaz will move up to middleweight for a fight in Strikeforce, which would make three signed contracts for three promotions at three different weights.
But the major key for Diaz's ability to fight regularly will come from surgery that shaved down bone and removed scare tissue around his eyes. Against Inoue, Diaz's face held very up well. Based on his disposition in the cage and how much he gets hit, the aftermath of the surgery could make or break Diaz going forth.
Remembering what FEG's first effort with ProElite looked like last June for the ill-fated "Dynamite! USA" card in L.A., I wouldn't get too excited about the companies' recently voiced relationship.
Discussed heavily during the negotiations over Diaz's appearance on Dream 3, the idea is essentially a fighter exchange played out over several events. While EliteXC eyes the likes of Melvin Manheof and Gesias "JZ" Calvancante, further negotiations would be required before any fighters step into the cage or ring, especially with any sort of title on the line.
FEG-contracted fighters competing for an EliteXC belt would depend a great deal on the kind of options ProElite negotiated for itself.
It was nice to see Jason Miller return, but, let's be honest, he got a free pass. Miller completely outgunned Katsuyori Shibata, who dropped his fourth fight in six contests. Along with Diaz's rout, the two Dream 3 bouts may have reminded some fans that not all MMA out of Japan is a good thing.