YOKOHAMA, May 26, 2009 -- Greco-Roman wrestling champion Joe Warren upset local favorite Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto today at the DREAM.9 Featherweight Grand Prix 2009 Second Round. "Kid Yamamoto is a champion, and I respect him," said the 32 year-old American from the winner's circle, "but a lot of these champions have been on top for a long time, and it's my job to crush them!"
Yamamoto, who had not fought since New Year's Eve 2007, got a bye in the Featherweight GP's first round. His return to action from knee surgery was the big story on tonight's card -- but Warren had his own ideas regarding the ending. The tone for this one was set during the referee's pre-fight instructions, when Yamamoto appeared ready to hug his opponent. Warren accepted a handshake but swatted away Yamamoto's second hand. This was a hard-fought bout that went the distance.
Warren started light on his feet, and Yamamoto sent him reeling with an early front kick. The American reset, and closed with uppercuts before getting the first of his throwdowns from the clinch. Repeatedly, Warren the wrestler closed for takedowns. Yamamoto, who has a pretty good ground game himself, elected to stand and strike here, and made a strategy of meeting his opponent's advances with kicks, knees and the clinch. Warren accepted, going into the over-and-under clinch and trading knees with the Kid.
When he did get the fight to the mat Warren was mean -- frequently guillotining and mashing Yamamoto's face then standing to slam. By midway through the first Yamamoto was bleeding from the bridge of the nose, by the end of the bout more blood was flowing from a gash under his left eye.
Yamamoto too often waited for Warren to close then tied him up, and the Japanese fighter was shown a yellow for this. A solid right hook and right straight punch scored points for Yamamoto, but Warren was overall more intrepid; and had the better stuff on the mat, particularly when he managed side mounts to bring the knees in and hammer down punches.
Yamamoto was still very much in this going into the second, but again he let his opponent control the flow and pace. Yamamoto's dandy right hook might have turned the tide, but Warren shook the blow off, smiled and continued pressing. One judge did give it to Yamamoto, but the other two went with Warren.
"It's a win, we'll take it!" beamed Warren in his post-fight interview. "I'm honored to beat a champion like Kid Yamamoto! This was the Featherweight GP quarterfinal, so now we'll put this win behind us and concentrate on coming back and winning those other belts!" Continued Warren: "I know my technique is not as solid as it should be, I need to learn how to stop some kicks, but I'm working hard, and the most dangerous thing is that I get better every single day!
"It was a split decision," sighed Yamamoto his post-fight interview, "but he was on top of me a lot, so I admit I lost the fight. He's a very good grappler, and I couldn't punch him as much as I hoped. But I hadn't fought for a long time, and I learned a lot tonight."
Warren vs Yamamoto was one of four elimination bouts in the 63kg/139lbs DREAM Featherweight Grand Prix 2nd Round -- the marquee attraction at tonight's mixed martial arts event. The Yokohama Arena also hosted four "Super Hulk" David vs Goliath battles; a Lightweight contest featuring Brazilian MMA star JZ Calvan; and, in the Main Event, a DREAM Middleweight title match between Ronaldo Jacare and Jason "Mayhem" Miller.
Also in the Featherweight tournament, Brazilian jiujitsu master Bibiano Fernandes took on Masakazu Imanari of Japan.
Fernandes, in a crouch, repeatedly went for the leg takedown here. And repeatedly, Imanari dropped to defend with bicycle kicks, which Fernandes grabbed and kicked at some but was otherwise reluctant to pass. Plenty of tension but an overall lack of engagement through the first until Fernandes ducked a flying knee and took a side mount with a minute remaining, putting in only a few off-target uppercuts and knees to end the first frame.
A similarly listless second -- Fernandes got the win, but the fighters lost the room.
Happily for the crowd of 15,009, there were thrills galore when Japanese grappler Hideo Tokoro took on Abel Cullum, a 22 year-old American with a postmodern penchant for sideburns and cowboy hats.
Spirited sparring to start before a clumsy Cullum leg takedown attempt left the pair tied up in what can only be described as the pretzel position. Plenty of creative twisting and tumbling through an unorthodox first, Tokoro getting close to a triangle choke at one point, Cullum approaching a heel hook when they went north-south for a spell. Neither could finish but both had great chances, reversals and strikes.
Cullum started the second with a single leg takedown but Tokoro ended up with a good rear position that the fatigued Cullum could not break. With Cullum's corner shouting for a sweep, Tokoro tightened his grip, and when his opponent attempted to stand brought up the arms for a rear naked choke to force the tapout.
In the final Featherweight GP contests, Yoshiro Maeda of Japan tangoed with compatriot Hiroyuki Takaya.
Maeda took an early half mount here but Takaya's defenses were sound and soon the pair were standing and striking, both getting a few punches in on target. Maeda had better results with his second mount, passing with punches and knees. When the boys got back on their feet it was Maeda again with the superior stuff, and now Takaya was bleeding badly from above the eye. With the clock running out on the first Takaya was stuck in the corner and Maeda was pumping in knees -- when in a flash everything changed.
Takaya dodged a blow, and, with Maeda going the other way, ducked out of the corner and to his feet. Maeda turned and followed with fists but Takaya landed a devastating right cross on a counter. Maeda's knees buckled and he went down in a heap. A revitalized Takaya leapt in to hammer at his unresponsive opponent, bringing the referee forward to stop the fight just 20 seconds before the bell.
With their victories tonight, Warren, Fernandes, Tokoro and Takaya advance to the September Featherweight GP semifinals.
There was plenty of action and excitement in DREAM's helter-skelter Super Hulk tournament, as none of the four Openweight bouts made it out of the first round.
Bruiser Bob Sapp of the United States brought a whopping 56kg/123lbs weight advantage to the ring for his bout with Japanese pro-wrestler Minowaman. Everybody loves the underdog, and Minowaman gave the partisan crowd plenty to love in this short-but-sweet performance.
Sapp charged to wrap round a headlock, and soon had muscled his opponent to the ground for a side then rear mount. However Sapp could not sustain pressure, and after absorbing a few punches to the side of the head the crafty Minowaman made his move, reversing to top position and working an achilles lock to force the tapout at just 75 seconds.
"I've fought the big guys before," said Minowaman afterward. "And I learned that I shouldn't stay in the ring with them too long -- one good strikes from them could be very dangerous. So I really wanted to finish the fight early, to avoid that."
Also wildly heterogeneous were Korean titan Hong-Man Choi and six-time Major League Baseball All Star Jose Canseco, 45. These two faced off in a match that had garnered plenty of media interest stateside.
Alas, Canseco just didn't have it in him. The Cuban landed a promising right cross during his early hit-and-run strategy, then threw a couple of kicks before pointing to his right knee and wincing. Now Choi caught up with his limping opponent, tossing him to the ground then leaping atop to rain down the punches. The referee had no chance but to step in and call it for Choi. This one went 77 seconds.
Another pair of strikingly dissimilar athletes were K-1 veteran Jan "The Giant" Nortje and Cameroon judoka Sokoudjou, who fought in the third Super Hulk contest.
Nortje missed with a low kick before the aggressive Sokoudjou closed with a bear hug, looking for the takedown. Nortje however stayed on his feet. Sokoudjou made good with low kicks before taking another bear hug and twisting a takedown to side mount. Nortje's defense was wanting, as Sokoudjou pounded in enough fists to get the referee to stop it. Sokoudjou however did immediately heed the call to cease, and this did not go over well with K-1 veteran Ray Sefo and the rest of Nortje's corner. A bit of shoving and shouting between the two teams the end of this one, and a yellow card to Sokoudjou.
"Nortje was too big, so it was too difficult for me to reach him," said Sokoudjou in his post-bout interview. "My tactics were to clinch, take down, and strike. I was a little emotional at the end, I never intended to keep punching after the referee signaled a stop, so I want to apologize to my opponent."
With a mere 31kg/68lbs weight differential and 8cm/3" of height going the other way, boxers Mark Hunt of New Zealand and Gegard Mousasi of Holland represented -- on the Super Hulk card anyway -- relatively similar physical specimens.
Mousasi came in quickly with a single leg takedown and took side mount, but Hunt defended well against the punches. Mousasi however soon seized the opportunity to extract Hunt's left arm and hyperextend for the submission and victory.
Tonight's four Super Hulk winners -- Minowaman, Choi, Sokoudjou and Mousasi -- advance to the tournament semifinals in September, with the two men victorious there going head-to-head at "Dynamite!" on New Year's Eve.
Topping off tonight's card, the Main Event was a title fight. When Mousasi moved up a weight class he had to leave his DREAM Middleweight belt behind. Here, Brazilian Ronaldo Jacare and American barbarian Jason "Mayhem" Miller fought for the right to claim it. This was a rematch between the pair, Jacare won by decision last June.
The two traded hard strikes from the opening bell, Jacare finding his distance and making good with a straight punch combination before a throw left Jacare down in the corner. In a flash, Miller fired in a kick, opening a nasty gash over the Brazilian's forehead. The foul prompted a time stoppage, doctor check and a Yellow card for Miller. Jacare was cleared to continue, and after resumption got a quick takedown. With Jacare pressing hard for a mount, it quickly became clear he was also flooding Miller's chest with blood. Another stop in this time the ringside doctor decided the cut was too serious and Jacare could not continue. It was announced that under DREAM rules the fight would be ruled a "no contest."
Afterward, Jacare told the media he thought he'd been on the road to victory in the fight, because his punches were landing. Informed of the quip, Miller just laughed. "I'm very disappointed," he said, "I wanted to give the DREAM fans a great show and I think I did, but the wrong way -- baka dakara! (I must be stupid!)"
And finally, a highly-anticipated Superfight in the Lightweight class saw wrestler Tatsuya Kawajiri of Japan take on popular Brazilian grappler JZ. Calvan.
Kawajiri did a fine job of controlling here. The bout started with Calvan in a boxing stance, fists far forward, tagging Kawajiri with the one-two before grabbing a kick and firing in a hard left. The boys then went to the ground, Calvan locking the head and wrapping the legs, but doing little else to threaten. Some sparring after a re-stand before Calvan failed with a leg takedown and Kawajiri hooked up the Brazilian and pumped the knee. Kawajiri landed a nice left before the boys tumbled down and locked up on the mat. No apparent damage to either fighter at the bell to run the first.
The fight went to the mat early in the second, Kawajiri again on top and Calvan locking him up to stay out of trouble. Back on their feet it was Kawajiri with the better strikes, pounding a right onto his opponent's chin. Midway through the second the Japanese fighter landed more tight punches from a side mount. Now Calvan looked tired, and Kawajiri's superior stamina allowed his to ride out the round to a well-deserved unanimous decision.