On July 20, DREAM will bring another rendition of its MMA extravaganza to Saitama Super Arena.
This time, there will be no blatant, short-term play for cash and ratings with circus freakshows. While Japanese MMA market has shrunk somewhat and no longer has the same luster from PRIDE's heyday, DREAM 10 has the stacked line-up to keep even some casual fans interested.
The event will feature the semi-final and final matches of the welterweight Grand Prix: The winners of the semi-final matches will fight for the second time on the same night to vie for a chance to be crowned as the inaugural DREAM welterweight champion.
Furthermore, DREAM 10 will see a clash between two submission experts and the return of former PRIDE and WEC standout, Paulo Filho.
With two submission wizards of the highest order locking horns, this fight promises some sublime grappling action.
Shinya Aoki is back at lightweight and seeks to eradicate the bitter memory of the 27-second devastation at the hands of Hayato Sakurai in the preliminary round of the welterweight tourney.
Vitor "Shaolin" Ribeiro made a successful return from a 19-month hiatus at DREAM 8, as he easily dismantled Katsuhiko Nagata.
Aoki possesses excellent flexibility, fluid guardwork, and the ability to seemingly execute submissions from any position. Gogoplata, neck crank, triangle choke, heel hook -- if he sees an opportunity, you can be damn sure he'll go for it.
Ribeiro, a four-time CBJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu World Championship) champion, has made his name as one of MMA's premier submission wizards with wins over Tatsuya Kawajiri, Joachim Hansen, Mitsuhiro Ishida, Eiji Mitsuoka and Daisuke Nakamura in Shooto, Hero's, and Cage Rage.
While both fighters boast superlative grappling pedigree, their styles differ markedly.
Ribeiro complements his jiu jitsu background with solid wrestling skills. His takedowns set him up for impregnable top control, which he uses to work diligently for finishes -- arm triangle choke seems to be his weapon of choice, as it accounts for six of his eleven submission wins.
While Aoki is effective from both top and bottom in grappling, he is well-known for his rubber guard and technical acumen from the guard. He has a slight edge in versatility, as he always seems eager to work for submissions from any position and utilize a variety of tricks in his arsenal (who could have guessed that he would be responsible for two of the three gogoplata finishes in MMA history, with one executed from the guard and another from the mount?)
If Aoki and Ribeiro decide to wage a war using their strongest weapons, expect a spirited back-and-forth action as they vie to seize the pace of the fight and impose their will on each other. A possibility of stand-up action looms if caution restrains them from engaging in a full-on grapple-fest.
While Bibiano Fernandes vs. Masakazu Imanari redux will be every fan's worst nightmare, the scenario fortunately will be unlikely. Aoki and Ribeiro are not strikers by any stretch, but known for aggressively looking for finish in every fight: Lukewarm stand-up exchange will presumably prompt one of them to initiate the grappling action before long.
If any action takes place on the feet, the fighters will likely try to use the strikes to set up takedowns and other means to transition to grappling -- whether the fight takes place on the mat or on the feet at any given moment, keep the eyes peeled for what these two submission wizards pull out of their sleeves.
Paulo Filho ends his hiatus after his ignominious loss to Chael Sonnen in the WEC Middleweight title defense. Prior to the Sonnen fight, he had allegedly struggled from depression and prescription drug abuse, and his mental instability came to unforgiving light during the fight.
Filho looks to get back into the winning column after his loss to Sonnen halted his undefeated streak of sixteen consecutive wins since his debut. Though reportedly healthy, Filho must be mentally and physically primed for the comeback, as he faces a stern test in Melvin Manhoef.
Filho is the more well-rounded of the two, with capable stand-up and Brazilian Top Team-bred grappling. While Manhoef has shown weakness against submissions on the ground, his explosive striking has earned him a 23-5-1 professional record with astonishing 22 TKOs.
Manhoef's punch combinations have been responsible for the utter destruction of his opponents. He likes to feel out his opponent and when he spots an opening, his killer instinct goes into overdrive as he throws power punches in bunches.
While his tendency to leave himself open to takedowns have led him to troubles, his relentless attack has helped shield himself against the attempts to take the fight to the ground.
Filho will not want to trifle with Manhoef's striking. If he can weather the storm and score a takedown, he will have the rein of the fight. Needless to say, in order to take the fight to the ground, he will have to navigate around Manhoef's blitzkrieg of punches and kicks.
Therein lies his challenge: He does not have the fastest shoot and instead of exploding forward off his feet, he prefers to pick his opponents off their feet to slam them down on the mat.
In this clash of styles, the outcome will depend on which fighter ultimately dictates the fight. If Filho allows a lapse in focus, he will succumb to Manhoef's aggression. In order to negate Manhoef's attack, Filho needs to put the pressure on Manhoef with persistent takedown attempt, and if the chance presents itself, use Manhoef's forward momentum against him to take the fight to the ground.
Once the fight ends up on the mat, he can utilize his stifling top control to subdue his opponent and look for a submission win.
DEEP Lightweight champion Katsunori Kikuno steps up to the big stage as he faces the Chute Boxe brawler, Andre Amade. A sort of striking/stand-up counterpart to the Aoki vs. Ribeiro fight, this match features an intriguing clash of styles on the feet.
In addition to enjoying a long reach for a lightweight, Amade boasts tremendous power in his hands and unorthodox strikes. He has gone toe to toe with the likes of Eddie Alvarez and Gesias Cavalcante, and one needs not look far to find evidence of his power: his wayward power shot has sent his opponents, including Alvarez and Caol Uno, to the mat.
In his recent outing at K-1 MAX tournament, he displayed a spirited action against the two-time K-1 MAX world champion, Buakaw Por Pramuk, forcing the bout into an extra round. In the bout, he scored a knockdown against the highly regarded Pramuk.
Kikuno has been steadily rising through the rank in the Japanese promotions, DEEP and ZST. Having amassed an impressive 11-1-1 record and earned a DEEP Lightweight title, he looks to make a splash in his DREAM debut.
Kikuno possesses a background in full contact karate and an improving submission game courtesy of Japanese MMA legend, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka. His karate training has endowed him with snappy kicks, including low kicks and a crescent kick, which is rarely seen in MMA.
He has also demonstrated a great use of range to pick apart his opponents from a distance with kicks and quickly move inside with precise strikes when he sees an opening.
In this match between a hyper-aggressive kickboxer and methodical, precision striker, a pendulum could swing in favor of either fighter. However, Kikuno has a better chance here if he can weather Amade's flurry of strikes early, as Amade is not known to possess a large gas tank.
Kikuno has all the tools to defeat Amade and will have his hands raised at the end if he stays out of trouble. As long as the nerve and jitter of fighting on the big stage do not rattle Kikuno, he will adhere to his usual, cerebral approach to control the distance and pick apart Amade on the feet and on the ground.
Hayato Sakurai, a veteran of more than 40 professional fights, collides with a rising star and Cage Rage stalwart, Marius Zaromskis.
Zaromskis has made his name in UK's Cage Rage circuit as a versatile, powerful striker who is eager to throw a variety of strikes: Flying knee, high kick, spinning reverse roundhouse kick, and the inexplicable somersault he demonstrated against Seichi Ikemoto in the first round of the Grand Prix.
Though he is still a relative unknown, having earned seven of his nine wins via TKO, he poses palpable danger with his strikes.
After a few uninspired wins against substandard opponents and upset loss against David Baron, Sakurai looked past his prime and easing his way to retirement ... until he faced Shinya Aoki in DREAM 8. With newly refined killer instinct, Sakurai gave Aoki no time to work his submission magic and pummeled him en route to a 27-second TKO victory.
Both fighters have a large arsenal of kickboxing, boxing, and muay thai techniques. Sakurai normally resorts to his stand-up unless his opponent takes the initiative to take the fight to the ground.
Zaromskis likely will set a relentless pace and turn the fight into a stand-up war. He throws a flurry of punches without sacrificing techniques and has the conditioning to survive a fifteen-minute war.
Sakurai's advantage lies in his wealth of experience and a well-rounded skill set. He boasts a high-level grappling pedigree (runner-up in the Absolute Weight Division of ADCC in 1999) and Zaromskis has never faced a potent wrestler or submission specialist.
If Sakurai implements a smart strategy for the fight, he will look to keep Zaromskis' aggression in check by varying his attacks. While he does not have the most nimble footwork and head movement, he can stay technical and pick his shots on the feet.
Introducing grappling, ground-and-pound, and low kicks into the mix should present Zaromskis with a diverse threat and keep him off balance -- Zaromskis has displayed the habit of not checking leg kicks, so Sakurai can count on his low kicks to cumulatively inflict damage like he did against Jens Pulver in PRIDE.
Two relative newcomers square off in hope of reaching the Grand Prix final and making their presence known on the world stage.
Jason High, a former collegiate wrestler who fights out of the Antonio McKee-led Bodyshop Fitness Team, made a quick work of Yuya Shirai in the first round. Though the fight only lasted 59 seconds, he displayed his power and explosiveness by dropping Shirai with quick strikes and sealing the victory via rear naked choke.
High fought and suffered his first and only loss thus far against Jay Hieron at Affliction: Day of Reckoning earlier this year. He has gone to the decision only once and holds two TKO and four submission wins in his 7-1 career. With a solid wrestling background and athleticism, High is a promising albeit raw up-and-comer.
Andre Galvao is a world class jiu jitsu practitioner and two-time Mundials winner. He has had a smooth start to MMA career with three submission wins, the latest of which came against UFC/WEC veteran, John Alessio.
In addition to his jiu jitsu pedigree, he possesses decent strength and takedown; however, as his inexperience suggests, he has a long way to go to round out his game. His chin has yet to be tested, and against a powerful fighter like High, he may be in for a rude awakening if he is not ready to absorb strikes.
Galvao will no doubt want to take the fight to the ground. High has never faced a submission specialist of Galvao's caliber in his short career, and once the fight hits the mat, Galvao's superior jiu jitsu will steal the fight. Taking down High will be a tough challenge, however, given High's strength and wrestling skills.
In the striking department, both fighters have room for improvement. Though not yet a polished striker, High has shown power and willingness to let his hands go. He will likely be the aggressor in the fight and bully Galvao. His wrestling skill will also help him dictate where the fight takes place.
As for Galvao, he will be forced try to lure High into his domain. Whether he ends up pulling guard or resorts to some other means to take the fight to the ground, Galvao will, like any other jiu jitsu practitioner turned MMA fighters, face the challenge of making his submission savvy shine in the MMA arena.