Ben Fowlkes
Friday January 1st, 2010

To American fight fans, the New Year's Eve Fields Dynamite!! Event was likely another chance to see the stars of Japanese MMA thrown together on one packed card. Inside the colossal Saitama Super Arena, however, that was all pre-amble to Masato's big night.

The 30-year-old K-1 kickboxer and Japanese crossover star fought his final bout here on Wednesday night. He's the reason the teenage girls turned out in droves for the public press conference outside Shinjuku Station the day before, squealing and snapping frantic photos with their cell phones as their favorite fighting celebrity posed with long-time foe Andy Souwer.

Inside the arena on fight night, a separate program was devoted to chronicling Masato's K-1 career, including his two previous losses to Souwer. Some merchandise stands sold nothing but Masato t-shirts. His fans had the opportunity to buy tickets to a special Masato cheering section, complete with free Masato swag and the chance to chant his name along with other devotees. The section was among the first to sell out.

The uncharacteristically raucous crowd may have played as big a part as Masato's own performance in convincing the judges to hand him the decision, though a second-round knockdown of Souwer helped seal the deal. After the decision victory was announced, an extended in-ring love fest complete with a bouquet of flowers and an enormous banner helped send the fighter/actor off in style.

One can't help but wonder how many American fans, watching the early morning broadcast on HDNet back home, were even still watching.

The portion of the proceedings that interested them may have ended when Dream lightweight champ Shinya Aoki rolled to an easy victory over his Sengoku counterpart via first-round armbar. Aoki had said earlier in the week that both he and his family were "disgraced" by the choice of opponents, implying that Sengoku champ Mizuto Hirota was hardly even worth showing up for.

Aoki showed no more respect for his opponent in the ring, and after easily taking Hirota down and swarming all over him in the first minute of the fight, he secured a hammerlock and wrenched it until Hirota's arm gave way. Aoki's classless celebration included a taunting obscene gesture in the face of his injured adversary, more or less guaranteeing he'd be remembered by fans for something other than his dominant victory.

Another big star of the night, Alistair Overeem, had an even easier time with his opponent. With the proportions of an action figure, a heavily muscled Overeem dwarfed Pride veteran Kazuyuki Fujita. The first round had barely begun when Fujita dropped down directly into a vicious Overeem knee strike. The blow straightened him up against the ropes for a moment, and then he fell already unconscious onto the ring apron, where he lay for several frightening moments, motionless and staring up at the ceiling.

After the bout, Overeem expressed his concern for Fujita's health before immediately detailing his future plans to fight Fedor Emelianenko in May or June of 2010. Asked if this was simply his wish or something already in the works, Overeem replied "both," and flatly ruled out the idea he might fight on Strikeforce's next CBS event in April on the grounds that it was too close to his K-1 obligations in March.

• As expected, Gegard Mousasi had no trouble dispatching MMA journeyman Gary Goodridge in the first round. The bout was a late addition to the fight card and was regarded by many as little more than an easy paycheck for Mousasi. And Goodridge did little to prove otherwise as Mousasi took him down and hammered him with a flurry of punches.

• Olympic judo gold medalist Satoshi Ishii made his MMA debut against fellow judoka Hidehiko Yoshida, and his inexperience with the striking arts became immediately apparent. The elder Yoshida blasted Ishii with hard right hands in the first frame and nearly put him away early on, but Ishii hung on and eventually managed to slow the bout down, thanks in part to a knee strike that accidentally found Yoshida's groin in the second round. Yoshida would go on to win the decision, but limped into the post-fight press conference to acknowledge that it wasn't as exciting a fight as he had hoped for, though he predicted that with time and experience Ishii might turn into a very capable fighter.

Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto dropped his second straight decision, losing to Masanori Kanehara after three close rounds, while Tatsuya Kawajiri, Hideo Tokoro and Hiroshi Izumi also notched decision victories.

• Dutch striker Melvin Manhoef ran right through Kazuo Misaki, dropping him with a flurry of power punches early in the first round before the referee pulled him off at 1:49.

Akihiro Gono entertained fans with an extensive entrance complete with live singing, costumes, and elaborate choreography, and then he followed it up with an impressive second-round armbar submission of Hayato "Mach" Sakurai. Gono said afterwards that he felt Sakurai "went easy on the ground" and may not have been at 100 percent, a claim Sakurai seemed to refute in one of a series of cryptic post-fight comments.

Ikuhisa "Minowaman" Minowa pulled off an upset over Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou to win Dream's first ever "Super Hulk Tournament." The fight didn't turn out to be the fast-paced affair many hoped for. For minutes at a time both men stood almost completely motionless, waiting for the other to make a move. Finally, it was Minowa who ended the stalemate with a brief, but effective explosion of offense in the third round, dropping Sokoudjou and moving in to finish him before the referee stepped in and called a halt to the bout.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.