SAITAMA, September 23, 2008 -- Gegard Mousasi has made a terrific transition from boxing to MMA, and tonight the 23 year-old Dutchman capped a winning year in fine style, dispatching two opponents to capture the DREAM Middleweight 2008 Grand Prix Championship Belt.
Held before a boisterous full house at the Saitama Super Arena, DREAM's biggest-ever event finished the fightsport production's inaugural season. One-match contests in every weight class complemented the evening' showcase -- the 84kg/185lbs DREAM.6 Middleweight 2008 GP Final Round.
Up early on the card were a couple of semifinal bouts, with winners there fighting for the belt in the Main Event.
The first semi pitted Mousasi against Dutch kickboxer Melvin Manhoef.
Mousasi dove in with the first takedown attempt, and although Manhoef the striker scrambled to stay on his feet, the pair eventually tumbled to the mat, where Mousasi needed little time to turn a rear mount into a triangle choke. Manhoef stood and slammed but could not break free, and had to tap out just 88 seconds in.
The second semifinal saw Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter Ronaldo Jacare taking on multidisciplinarian Zelg "Benkei" Galesic of Croatia.
A quick start and a quicker finish. From the bell the action went to the mat, Jacare taking a side then full mount. Galesic bucked the body, looking for a reversal, but instead found himself on the wrong end of an armbar. Jacare with the submission for a spot in the final.
A couple of fighters with first-rate ground games, Mousasi and Jacare were both fresh for their DREAM Middleweight GP Championship showdown.
An early sloppy double-leg takedown almost backfired on Jacare, who after improvising a hoist and slam got good ground position and began maneuvering. After standing to pass, however, Jacare made a second misjudgment, and this one cost him dearly. As the Brazilian dove down to deliver big right punch, he was met by a perfectly timed kick, which caught him square on the jaw. Jacare's trajectory slammed him face first into the canvas, where he lay motionless. As Mousasi readied to attack his unresponsive opponent, the referee stepped in to call it.
An outstanding performance by Mousasi, who, along with the DREAM Middleweight 2008 GP belt, picked up a cool ¥10m (65,000 Euro/ US$95,000) in prize money.
"I trained hard on my conditioning for this tournament, because I thought it might go the distance in both fights," said Mousasi in his post-event interview. "After the first fight, when I won quickly, I was very confident and I thought I had a very good chance of winning the tournament. It was dangerous what Jacare did because there's always the chance of catching him with a triangle or with a kick to the face. I'm very happy that I didn't win on points, because knockouts and submissions are always better. I want to thank all the fans, I want to thank my team and my brother and my friends and Fedor and everyone else who helped me -- I couldn't have achieved this alone."
Asked about his future plans, Mousasi said, "I'd like to move up a weight class, that's the next challenge, to fight heavier. Then I can also fight in K-1, for a another challenge!"
Highly-anticipated on tonight's card was a bout featuring Mirko CroCop. A steely demeanor and lethal fighting style have made CroCop a fan favorite in Japan and around the world. No one was surprised when the former Croatian special forces officer handily won his March DREAM debut by first-round KO, as in this ring he clearly is the man to beat.
Meanwhile, Alistair Overeem had spent the summer telling anyone who would listen that he was exactly the man to beat CroCop. The Dutch fighter proved his worth by winning his two '08 DREAM bouts in the first round, and tonight he got the chance he'd been waiting for, squaring off with CroCop in a Heavyweight contest. Refusing to be intimidated by CroCop's reputation, Overeem instead took the role of intimidator with a fair bit of pre-bout trash talk.
This was a nasty dance, in which CroCop was assessed one yellow card and Overeem two. After an intense center ring staredown during the referee's pre-bout instructions, the fighters went to it with gusto. Overeem capitalized on an early CroCop slip to wrestle the fight to the mat, then passed guard with dangerous punches to the head and body. A cut opened over CroCop's left eye, prompting a time stoppage and doctor's check.
After resumption, Overeem again put in punches. CroCop managed to briefly get to his feet and launch a high kick, but Overeem got hold of the leg and again took the fight to the mat. Hammering the fists down, the brutish Overeem looked very much in control of this one. With more blood flowing from CroCop's face, a second time stoppage was prescribed. After resumption with a re-stand, Overeem pumped in the knees. CroCop caught one in the gonads, prompting another, longer delay.
Starting now from the standing position, the fighters went to the clinch, where Overeem remained relentless with the knees. CroCop answered in kind, but during one exchange was struck low and hard, resulting in yet another time stoppage. While doctors and ringside officials attended CroCop, the crowd shared the pain as the video monitors displayed replays of the strike and close-ups of the distressed Croatian. Some five minutes passed before CroCop managed to get his knees, but he could not stand up. It was determined he could not continue, and the result was announced as "no contest."
Afterward, CroCop did not appear in the interview space, but Overeem dropped by with some fighting words.
"CroCop has one style, but I can fight many ways, so it's easy for me to adapt to him," boasted the Dutchman. "Tonight I was kicking his ass, I destroyed him. The first knee was in the crotch but the second was not -- CroCop just didn't want to fight anymore. I think he underestimated me, but if he wants to fight again, I'll fight him again. I'd like to finish him!"
Another much-anticipated one-match contest saw 25 year-old DREAM Lightweight GP 2008 finalist Shinya Aoki of Japan take on Todd Moore, a 24 year-old American wrestler who had pledged to bring "the pride of Texas" to his DREAM debut.
Aoki made this one look easy -- spidering up unto the unsuspecting Moore's back, wrapping legs round the trunk then arms round the neck to lock a rear choke. Faced with asphyxiation or submission, Moore opted for the latter. An exquisite win, Aoki simply outclassing his opponent.
In a Middleweight bout between a couple of ageless Japanese veterans, judoka Yoshihiro Akiyama met seidokaikan karate fighter Masanori Tonooka.
Akiyama had good evasions on Tonooka's early punching attacks before grabbing his opponent at the waist and throwing for a side mount. Locking both arms, Akiyama pounded a half-dozen lefts to his opponent's face before moving to a high mount. The twisting Tonooka briefly found his feet but an Akiyama sweep soon dropped him again. Deft transitions by Akiyama, who got an arm out and hyperextended for the submission.
Japanese fighters Hayato "Mach" Sakurai and Kuniyoshi Hironaka went at in a Welterweight bout.
A series of straight punches and low kick exchanges through the first round with neither fighter scoring to advantage. Hironaka with a takedown early in the second, but unable to mount. The cumulative effect of Sakurai's low kicks slowed Hironaka as the second wore on, and now Sakurai picked up his attacks. A late left hook was the strike of the fight, dropping Hironaka. Sakurai leapt in with hammer punches, scoring enough points to secure a unanimous decision.
A Middleweight contest saw the event's senior fighter, 39 year-old Masakatsu Funaki, take on pro-wrestler Minowaman, 32. The pair went to the mat early, both looking for heel hooks. Funaki got his first, forcing a tapout to finish it at just 0:52.
In the Featherweight class, speedy Japanese fighter Hideo Tokoro took on countryman Atsushi Yamamoto. Tokoro has long wanted to fight Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto, and tonight's bout against the Kid's Krazy Bee teammate was a qualifier for that eventuality.
Tokoro thrice answered Yamamoto's early advances with smart straight punches, then commenced to snapping in the low kicks. But Yamamoto then barreled forward with a punching barrage of his own for a down. Some spirited grappling before the pair re-stood, and now Yamamoto's guard and evasions were better. After plenty of back-and-forth and another uneventful visit to the mat, both fighters stood and scored points with fists, and Tokoro's nose was badly bloodied as the bell ended the first.
More quick and creative strikes in the second before it went to the ground with Tokoro nimble in guard. Superb fighting spirit from both combatants, Tokoro finally getting a reversal, bringing the legs up and round Yamamoto's chest but unable to exploit the position before time expired. Showboating a lack of fatigue or damage, Yamamoto executed a backflip then dropped for 20 push-ups before being named the winner by unanimous decision.
Another Team Krazy Bee fighter, Brazilian Adriano Martins, stepped in at Lightweight for a one-match bout with Japanese MMA fighter K-Taro Nakamura.
Martins tagged his opponent early with a straight punch, and landed a couple more minutes later before the pair went to the mat. From a half mount, Nakamura repeatedly pushed upward on his opponent's chin up, as if contending with a giant Pez-dispenser, while passing with the occasional fist. An errant elbow opened a cut beside Nakamura's eye, but the ringside doctor cleared the fighter to continue. Tentative striking to end a lackluster first round. Not a spectacular second either, as the boys only exchanged punches. Both fighters' faces were bruised and bloodied, but some in the crowd felt they had suffered more, and the final bell elicited scattered boos. Nakamura by split decision.
Russian samba fighter Sergey Kharitonov was supposed to face off with Mighty Mo in a Heavyweight one-match, but the Samoan slugger had to cancel due a back injury. The late substitute was Jimmy Ambriz, an American grappler who lost to Jerome LeBanner in a 2006 HERO's bout.
Kharitonov passed his opponent's guard at will, peppering the American with punches to the face and body. It wasn't pretty when Ambriz collapsed in the corner, absorbing fists while desperately tapping the mat.
In the Middleweight GP tournament reserve match, it was submission specialist Dong Sik Yoon of South Korea and Brazilian kyokushin fighter Andrews Nakahara.
Yoon's attempts to gain position were stymied by Nakahara's defensive groundwork, and but for a few early punches from the standing position and Nakahara kicks late in the first, there were no serious threats until Nakahara laid in with the fists to start the second, connecting with left and right straight punches to drop Yoon, then jumping atop the Korean and pounding away to prompt a referee stop.
During the event's intermission, Russian MMA maestro Fedor Emelianenko appeared in the ring to announce his desire to fight in Japan this New Year's Eve. DREAM Lightweight GP 2008 Champion Joachim Hansen of Norway also took the ring, revealing he will fight a yet-to-be-announced opponent on New Year's Eve.
K-1 '07 and '08 Heavyweight Champion Badr Hari, no stranger to controversy, made waves when he was offered the ring microphone: "I came here to see great fights," he cracked, "but the only thing I saw is a little bit of hugging and kissing! If you want real fights and real knockouts, you are at the wrong address. I will tell you the right address: K-1! All this hugging is nothing, I challenge all the fighters here, come and fight me in the K-1 ring! Everybody who fights me gets knocked out!"
Not surprisingly, the MMA crowd answered Hari with a mixture of cheers and boos.