SAITAMA, Japan -- Japanese mixed martial arts fighter
Held before a sellout crowd of 19,528 at the futuristic Saitama Super Arena, the FEG mixed martial arts production featured a dozen of the world's best under-63-kg/139-pound fighters in a sextet of elimination matches. The winners earned the right to advance toward the ultimate prize -- the first-ever DREAM Featherweight GP championship belt.
Imanari, known for his leg submissions, had his hands full with speedy countryman Atsushi Yamamoto, who fights out of the revered "Kid" Yamamoto's Krazy Bee gym. (The Kid will join tonight's winners in the next round of the Lightweight GP.)
The contest started with Yamamoto bouncing on his toes, and Imanari standing center ring with open arms, inviting his peppy opponent to close before finally affecting a mocking bounce of his own. Imanari rarely raised his guard through the entire bouts, and Yamamoto passed early on, to smack him in the face with a right. Imanari then took the fight to the mat, where, characteristically, he would spend much of the bout working from the guard. While Yamamoto pestered his opponent's head and body with close punches, Imanari, meanwhile inched his legs up Yamamoto's back and round his neck, looking for the elusive gogoplata chokehold. Yamamoto's defense against this maneuver was however sound.
After a re-stand, Yamamoto landed a nice left, but this did not deter Imanari from further antics -- doing the crab walk, playing the loosey-goosey, and swaggering in a manner part
"I couldn't finish the fight early, and I got tired," said Imanari afterward. "Yamamoto is cool. I did mean to focus on leg attacks. I just went with the flow of the fight. Afterward, Kid Yamamoto came over and said it was a good fight!"
• In another featherweight GP elimination contest, world-class striker
The boys stayed on their feet through most of the first, trading punches while Takaya launched the occasional low kick, both connecting but neither bringing the hurt. Finally Kim grabbed a leg and pushed for a clumsy takedown, wrapping his arms round Takaya's waist and pushing to the corner where Takaya forced a stalemate. More sparring after the re-stand, as Takaya landed a hard low kick and some solid tight hooks.
And then, early in the second, both fighters threw right straight punches at the same moment. Both were on target, but Takaya's hit the bull's eye. Kim stumbled backward, and likely would have fallen if not for the ropes. Takaya closed quickly with more fists to put the Korean on the mat, then came in from above, firing punches to prompt the referee to stop it. An aggressive fight and KO finish from Takaya.
"I've been having a hard time finding my distance lately, and I couldn't find it tonight in the first round," said Takaya in his post-fight interview. "So, I just fought my own fight, and I was able to get inside with punches, so this was a good step toward my future."
• Twenty-seven-year-old Japanese Pancrase fighter
"I was nervous," admitted Maeda later, "because it's been a while since I fought in Japan. I tried to use the experience I gained fighting abroad, which helped me, but I wasn't aggressive enough so I'm not satisfied. I feel bad that I couldn't show the audience a more exiting fight."
• A highly anticipated matchup pitted slugger
And aggressive Cullum charged in from the bell with a straight punch before manhandling his opponent to the canvas. Nishiura ended up on top, but could do little to gain an advantageous position, and soon the pair was scurrying around the ring in the clinch. Cullum got another takedown, going to half mount, but Nishiura twisted a tumble, and came out on top once more. Here, Cullum patiently worked an armbar, but could not finish against the wily Wicky. Terrific action, plenty of ups and downs and reversals on the ground, Cullum thrice failing in the armbar, Nishiura landing a number of solid punches and knees, both fighters indefatigable, showing excellent agility in both attacks and evasions. Late in the round, Cullum took a full mount and scored with punches before Nishiura could wrap his legs round in defense. Cullum persevered, moving to side mount them back to full mount, slamming in more big fists to end the round.
In the second, Cullum again initiated, charging in with punches before getting a takedown and partial back mount. Nishiura rose and slammed to briefly reverse, but Cullum worked harder -- positioning better, threatening and landing more on the mat. Spirited action right to the final bell, Nishiura scoring promisingly with a late right hook, but Cullum's go-to style earning the cowboy the decision.
"I was only looking for a KO or submission," said Cullum in his post-fight interview. "Wicky is a great fighter, both physically and mentally, and I know he's good with counters, so I stayed close and tight to avoid them. I was happy to fight in front of Japanese fans, now I'll go back to New Mexico and train even harder, so I can come back even stronger."
• American choke sleeper specialist
"I'm a wrestler, so this was all new to me, but now I'm very confident, and I believe in myself." Warren told the media afterward. "My mind is very strong and my techniques will be 100% better next time. I'm here for the belt, and anything that gets in my way now is just an obstacle I'll overcome."
• In the last of the featherweight GP matchups, Japanese wrestler
The pair went to the mat early, where Fernandes landed a few fists to the head from half mount before standing to pass with punches. The boys fought on their feet through the remainder of the first, Otsuka evading most of his opponent's roundhouses, hot-dogging, and sinking some decent counters, also scoring by foiling Fernandes' leg takedown attempts. After piggybacking in rear mount for a spell, Fernandes pumped up a knee that was the strike of the second round and stunned Otsuka. Fernandes unfortunately did not exploit, allowing the Japanese fighter to ride out the round. A unanimous decision in favor of Fernandes.
"He was strong, and a good fighter," said Brazilian afterward. "I trained a lot for striking, I trained with Black Mamba and his team. And in the next lightweight Grand Prix event, it doesn't matter at all to me who I fight, I will fight whomever I face."
There were three other bouts on the card.
• In a welterweight superfight, Japanese MMA ace
From the opening bell, Aoki went for the leg takedown. But Gardner caught an arm, twisted his opponent to his side, and delivered a number of rights. Unfazed, Aoki twisted round to a back mount, whereupon the pair bobsledded uneventfully for a time. Gardner escaped a triangle attempt, and the fighters started again on their feet. In no time Aoki had another takedown and another back mount. When Gardner curiously raised one of his arms as if to signal or wave, Aoki wrapped round the rear naked choke for a submission victory.
"I think David was waving his hand to the audience, saying 'Hello Japan' during the fight," speculated Aoki. "Maybe he thinks he's on vacation? But I'm here to get the job done, so I choked him and finished him. Hello Japan!"
• In a lightweight superfight, it was a couple of experienced and competitive Japanese --
"It was not a brilliant fight," said Ishida afterward. "In the second round, Nakamura was aggressive, but I couldn't find my form. I wasn't happy with that."
• Also at lightweight,
"I know that my opponent got this fight only a week ago, but once you take an offer, as a professional you should be able to make the weight. He weighed in over, and it was a very slow, boring fight. I won but it finished before I was able to explode."
This is the first-ever DREAM Featherweight GP. The opening ceremony included a moment of silence observed in honor of Brazilian jujitsu founder and mixed martial arts legend
The DREAM.7 Featherweight Grand Prix 2009 1st ROUND attracted a sellout crowd of 19,528 to the Saitama Super Arena. It was broadcast live in Japan in HD on Pay-Per-View, and on the TBS national network.