Four of the promotion's top lightweights traveled to Osaka, Japan, hoping to claim the inaugural DREAM Lightweight Grand Prix Championship. But the best of the bunch failed to live up to their rankings as alternate Joachim Hansen captured the title over tournament favorite Shinya Aoki.
Still stunned after his title-clinching victory Monday, the 29-year-old Hansen could only respond to his performance with: "I had a great night."
A replacement for Eddie Alvarez, who could not continue due to injuries sustained in his semifinal contest against Tatsuya Kawajiri, Hansen was required to win two fights in the tournament finals to capture the belt.
"I begged the doctors to let me fight and give me a few minutes just to try, and they said no," Alvarez said, squinting out of his swollen and bruised right eye. "So, it's unfortunate, but I wouldn't have anyone other than Joachim Hansen to replace me."
After submitting Kultar "Black Mamba" Gill with an armbar in the first round of the reserve match, Hansen was granted the title shot against Aoki.
The former 154-pound Shooto champion was knocked out of the tournament after losing to Alvarez in a potential "Fight of the Year" in May, but Hansen (19-7-1) put himself in position to capitalize should one of the advancing lightweights be too injured to continue.
His championship foe Aoki went the distance in his semifinal bout against Caol Uno, but the submission maven came out of the bout unscathed by the determined Uno. Wearing a black band around his left bicep in honor of his recently fallen trainer, Uno (25-11-4) shed tears while walking to the ring.
Uno, a surprising semifinalist after a submission victory over Mitsuhiro Isihda, failed to put together any meaningful attacks against Aoki, who, meanwhile, locked in a deep triangle in the middle of the opening round that appeared destined to elicit a tapout. Following the 15-minute contest, during which Aoki (17-3, 1 NC) largely prevented Uno from finding his rhythm, the judges awarded the Aoki a unanimous-decision win.
For Alvarez (15-1), who was matched with Kawajiri (22-5-2) after impressive an impressive win against Andre Dida in the opening round, the joy of advancing gave way to the pain of a battered eye. Waging a slugfest against the Japanese powerhouse, Alvarez went down more than once.
But so did Kawajiri, as each fighter came back from trouble to switch momentum. It was Alvarez who refused to give in, seizing control of the fight only at its conclusion. The Philadelphia-bred "Beast From the East" pressed the tough Japanese wrestler against the ropes after serving him a terrific combination.
Alvarez's triumph was short lived, though, after doctors ordered him not to fight Aoki in the finals because of his enlarged blueberry for an eye. But the injured fighter was given a promise by the newest DREAM champion: his first title defense will be against Alvarez.
Daisuke Nakamura def. Andy Ologun via submission (armbar) at 3:41 of Rd 1
Joseph Benavidez def. Junya Kudo via submission at 2:42 of Rd 1
Kuniyoshi Hironaka def. Motoki Miyazawa via TKO (cut) at 8:57 of Rd 1
Hideo Tokoro def. Takeshi Yamazaki via unanimous decision
Yoshihiro Akiyama def. Katsuyori Shibata via submission (choke) at 6:34 of Rd 1
Alistair Overeem def. Mark Hunt via submission (keylock/shoulder lock) in Rd 1
Lightweight GP Semifinals:Shinya Aoki def. Caol Uno via unanimous decision
Eddie Alvarez def. Tatsuya Kawajiri via TKO (strikes) at 7:35 of Rd 1
Lightweight GP Tournament Reserve Match:Joachim Hansen def. Kultar Gill via submission (armbar) at 2:42 of Rd 1
Lightweight GP Final: Joachim Hansen def. Shinya Aoki TKO (strikes) in Rd 1