OSAKA, July 21, 2008 -- Norwegian shooto fighter Joachim Hansen came out of the reserve bout to steal the Lightweight Grand Prix Belt, and Alistair Overeem beat Mark Hunt in a Superfight tonight at the DREAM.5 Lightweight GP 2008.
Held at the Osaka Jo Hall, the mixed martial arts extravaganza comprised the DREAM Lightweight GP Third Round and Main Event Final, along with a trio of Superfights and three other MMA bouts in a variety of weight classes.
When the DREAM mixed martial arts fightsport production premiered this March, 14 of the world's best MMA fighters went head-to-head in the Lightweight Grand Prix Round One Elimination. In May, more than 21,000 fans at the Saitama Super Arena saw four victorious fighters take another step toward the 70kg/154lbs Championship. Tonight in Osaka, the last man standing would be the first to wear the DREAM Lightweight Belt.
Kicking off the Lightweight GP semifinals were a couple of Japanese fighters -- MMA veteran Caol Uno and judoka Shinya Aoki.
After a tentative start, the spunky Aoki came in with strikes then a takedown to mount, which Uno promptly escaped. Aoki was adept in guard, pulling a leg out then going north-south, where both fighter strove for heel manipulations. After a bit of spirited grappling Uno took a half mount but Aoki reversed, wrapping the legs round in rear mount. Keen to escape, Uno instead found himself threatened with a triangle choke and an armbar. Uno twisted free to end the round standing over his opponent, but could only pass with a couple of weak punches.
Deft legwork earned a half then rear mount for Aoki to start the second. Throughout, Uno was well contained and frustrated, while Aoki only lacked finish.
Aoki didn't do enough to submit, but did enough to earn a unanimous decision and a trip to the final.
The second GP semi pitted American wrestler Eddie Alvarez against MMA and shooto fighter Tatsuya Kawajiri of Japan.
Straight punches from Alvarez to start before an extended clinch prompted a re-start. Spirited punching exchanges here, both fighters getting through, Alvarez also tossing in the low kicks. An aggressive Alvarez smacked in the fists and a knee, but in the melee suffered a cut under his right eye, prompting a time stop and doctor's check.
After resumption Kawajiri made good with an uppercut to drop his opponent, but was tied up well on the mat and despite taking a half mount to a full mount could not get any hurt in before Alvarez broke and the pair went to their feet. Frenzied action here, both fighters swinging with abandon, both getting solid strikes in, both showing great chins. After shaking off a Kawajiri knee, Alvarez put through a damaging right hook, following with an uppercut to drop his opponent. Alvarez thought he'd won and stepped back, but the referee did not call it, so Alvarez dove in with hammer strikes to destroy any doubt.
A KO win and a date with Aoki in the final.
Although Aoki had gone the distance against Uno, he came out of the fight with little apparent damage; while Alvarez had taken more than a few hard punches to the face en route to his semifinal win. Before the final it was announced that severe swelling round Alvarez's right eye would prohibit him from continuing in the tournament.
"What happened was very unfortunate," said a distressed Alvarez to the crowd, "I begged the doctors to let me fight, to give me a few minutes to try, but they refused. I wouldn't want anyone to replace me but [reserve fight winner] Joachim Hansen. And whoever wins tonight, I want to challenge them for the belt!"
Hansen had defeated Black Mamba of India in the reserve, surviving a strong early challenge when Mamba pumped a knee smack up to his chin. Mamba also stung Hansen with a low kick before the fighters went to the mat, where Hansen found his form -- pretzeling into the corner and extracting an arm to hyperextend for the tapout win.
And so it was Hansen versus Aoki for the Lightweight Belt.
Hansen missed with a right and Aoki took an early takedown to half mount. But Hansen hooked the leg and threw punches, prompting Aoki to stand, whereupon the Japanese fighter caught a bicycle kick in the groin. After a recovery-time break and standing re-start, the pair took a clinch to the mat, Hansen on top but tied up by Aoki's legwork before standing to pass with punches. The long-armed Norwegian grazed Aoki a couple of times before pile-driving down a ruinous left. As Aoki twisted to the fetal position, Hansen straddled and pounded in a couple of lefts then a half-dozen rights to bring the referee in to stop it.
A KO win and the DREAM Lightweight Championship -- along with a tall shiny trophy, a jazzy belt and a check for 10 million yen. Not a bad bounty for a reserve fighter!
"This still has to sink in a little," said an elated Hansen afterward. "I am the sort of person who takes one thing at a time, so I concentrated on Black Mamba and felt a little strange going into the final match, so I took my time and looked for the right chance to strike. I had a great night, thanks to my team and everybody who helped me, and next time I hope to defend my title against Eddie Alvarez!"
K-1 World GP 2001 Champion Mark Hunt of New Zealand took on fellow power puncher Dutch fighter Alistair Overeem in a Freeweight Superfight that promised to be a slugfest.
Surprisingly though, this one went to the mat and ended with a submission. Hunt predictably started in with the fisticuffs, making partial contact with a right hook then pushing the off-balance Overeem down and leaping atop. But Hunt could not manage the side mount, and in no time Overeem had wrapped the legs round and worked an armbar, leaving the visibly frustrated Hunt no better option than the tapout.
"I was having a nice vacation, relaxing at a beach in Thailand when I got the call for this fight," said Overeem afterward, "but I'm very happy to be here and glad my fight was quick and exciting and I won! I want to thank my beautiful team, and next I hope to fight [Mirko] CroCop!"
In a Middleweight Superfight (84kg/185lbs), HERO's 2006 Light Heavyweight Champion Yoshihiro Akiyama of Japan stepped in against compatriot Katsuyori Shibata.
A long and often-bumpy road brought Akiyama back to his hometown to meet the no-nonsense Shibata, who conspicuously garnered a more robust reception from the crowd with his manic run to the ring than Akiyama did during his solemn entrance.
At the opening bell, Akiyama held out his glove, but Shibata refused to touch, setting the tone for this fight. Fighting in his judo gi, Akiyama opened with low kicks while Shibata circled, occasionally sailing a punch wide. An Akiyama throw got him into side then full mount, where he used the sleeve to work an ezekiel choke for the submission.
"It was in this venue, Osaka-Jo Hall, that I lost as a judo fighter," said Akiyama in his post-fight interview, "so I wore my judogi tonight to get revenge!
Asked about the scattered boos that met his ring entrance, Akiyama said, "Yes, probably, I was the only fighter receiving boos from the crowd -- if that's to be my role, I'll just have to embrace it, to excite the audience and improve the event!"
A Featherweight Superfight (64kg/141lbs) brought a couple of Japanese -- Hideo Tokoro and Takeshi Yamazaki -- to the ring.
After a bit of sparring Yamazaki came in and swept for a takedown and side mount, but Tokoro held the left arm in defense and soon the fighters were standing again. Tokoro fired in a right straight punch to drop his opponent, and leapt in with hammer strikes, but Yamazaki weathered the storm and got back to his feet to clinch for a re-start. For the second time in the round, a Tokoro kick connected below Yamazaki's belt, prompting a second recovery-time stoppage and a yellow card for Tokoro. After resumption Tokoro landed a couple of rights before Yamazaki got a takedown, but Tokoro again defended well with the legs and Yamazaki could not set anything up.
In the second Tokoro again landed the better strikes. Yamazaki paying a terrible price for his leg takedowns, which returned poor dividends on the mat. A losing strategy for Yamazaki, whose battered face exuded exhaustion as Tokoro's arm was raised for the win by unanimous decision.
Japanese fighter Kodo, a late substitute for the injured "Kid" Yamamoto, met Joseph Benavidez of the United States in a Featherweight (62kg/137lbs) contest.
A dominating performance by Benavidez that saw him quickly diving in for a double leg takedown followed by a couple of slams to start. Denied the full mount, Benavidez took the fight off the mat, then threw Kodo to get the mount before bringing up a front choke for the tapout.
"I want to thank Kodo for taking this fight on short notice," said Benavidez from center ring. "I love fighting in Japan and I love fighting in DREAM, I want to be the champion!"
Japanese grapplers Kuniyoshi Hironaka and Motoki Miyazawa met in a 76kg/168lbs match.
Miyazawa tied up Hironaka in the early going, overhooking and bringing the legs up round the waist. More tight positioning for a stalemate when the pair went to the mat. After a re-stand, the boys began to strike. Hironaka got the better combinations through, scoring with a right straight punch that was the strike of the fight. With Miyazawa's face badly bloodied, the ringside doctor stopped it, giving Hironaka the win.
In the evening's opening fight, Japanese armbar specialist Daisuke Nakamura faced Andy Ologun -- a Nigerian-born, Japan-based television personality and fighter who has competed but once in MMA. Ologun nevertheless made an aggressive start, firing in low kicks and closing with fists, calling out to his opponent to step in and mix it up. But Nakamura got the last word with a takedown and armbar for the tapout win.
All fights were contested under DREAM Rules, with one 10-minute and one 5-minute round.