Japan’s DREAM organization is slowly releasing the complete lineup for their New Year’s Eve extravaganza. Before we take a look at the MMA fights, some of which are quite compelling, let’s skim the non MMA side of the card. There are two kickboxing bouts, but it is the pro wrestling side of the card that might be of moderate interest to MMA fans due to the appearance of many known MMA athletes. As expected, Josh Barnett will appear in a pro wrestling bout, as allowed by his Strikeforce contract. Japanese legend Kazushi Sakuraba returns to his roots in a tag team match, and old Iron Head Kazuyuki Fujita is booked as well.
The card has a good mix of international fighters mixed in to a heavy Japanese presence. The main event of Satoshi Ishii and Fedor Emelianenko is moderately compelling. If he loses, it could be the last time we see Fedor, however a loss is unlikely. Ishii has a Judo gold medal to pull in the fans, however he has been underwhelming in MMA. There are several more compelling matches on the card.
The 4 man Bantamweight tournament featuring Rodolfo Marques Diniz taking on Bibiano Fernandes and Antonio Banuelos facing Masakazu Imanari is intriguing, with my money being on Fernandes to face Imanari in the finals. I would like to see Imanari win, as he is one of the most exciting fighters in the world today, but suspect that Fernandes may be a bit too strong on the ground.
On the women’s side, Megumi Fujii, who has a 24-1 record and may be the best pound for pound fighter among the women, takes on Europe’s Karla Benitez. Benitez is from Europe and comes with a 6-1 record. If she has a chance, she will have to extend Fujii, and not get caught quick. Fujii has finished more than half her fights in the first round. Also, in international grappling competitions such as ADCC, Fujii has not been as dominant as she has in MMA, and when she has lost, it has been to fighters who can slow her down.
I like the match between veterans Ryo Chonan and Hayato Sakurai. Both are exciting veterans with a lot of experience. Both are unlikely to return to UFC at this point in their careers, but the fight still has ‘fight of the night’ type potential. My heart says Sakurai is the more skilled of the two, but ‘Mach’ hasn’t fought in over a year and Chonan has a small 2 fight winning streak started. This one is a pick em type of fight, in my opinion.
The show will also have two DREAM titles up for grabs. Shinya Aoki defends the lightweight strap against Satoru Kitaoka in what has the makings of a true grudge match between two high skill fighters. In the featherweights, titleholder Hiroyuki Takaya faces Takeshi “Lion” Inoue, and I expect fireworks. I’m looking forward to seeing the odds on these!
If I was in Japan, I would definitely watch the show on TV rather than attend. With all the other matches under different rules, and the usual spectacle of lights and sound, the show is too long for my attention span!