SAITAMA, March 15, 2008 -- Returning to one of his favorite venues, Mirko CroCop made it look easy tonight. The cool but lethal Croatian mixed martial arts superstar required a mere 56 seconds to dispatch Tatsuya Mizuno by KO at the DREAM.1 Lightweight Grand Prix 2008 1st Round. Held before a sellout crowd at the Saitama Super Arena -- with millions of Japanese television viewers watching live -- DREAM.1 featured seven qualification bouts in the DREAM Lightweight (70 kg/154 lbs) class, along with a trio of open-weight fights. This was the inaugural DREAM production -- but such is the talent on tap that fans have already dubbed DREAM one of the world's finest mixed martial arts productions.
All bouts were fought under Official DREAM mixed martial arts rules, with a 10 min first and 5 min second round.
Probably the most highly-anticipated fight on the card featured 33 year-old Mirko CroCop, who took on Japanese judo fighter Tatsuya Mizuno. CroCop wasted no time here, firing in the low kicks from the bell, stepping forward to lock up Mizuno's right arm then pumping in uppercuts and straight punches to deposit his opponent on the canvas in a heap of pain. CroCop leapt atop the unresponsive Mizuno for a ground and pound finish, leaving the referee no choice but to jump in and call it.
"A lot of fighters refuse to fight me these days, but he had courage and he accepted," said CroCop afterward from center ring. "For my next fight, I will need a stronger opponent, so anyone is welcome!" Who will answer the call?
The evening's Main Event was a DREAM Lightweight Grand Prix 2008 elimination bout matchup featuring last year's HERO's Middleweight Champion, J.Z. Calvan of Brazil; and Japanese judoka Shinya Aoki. Calvan is widely regarded as the man to beat in the DREAM Lightweight class, and the jiu jitsu fighter's protracted, chummy-rapper ring entrance bespoke both his feel-good nature and his total confidence.
Calvan threw a couple of straight punches from the opening bell, and thrice Aoki went to the canvas. There the Japanese fighter waited, but other than passing with a single punch, Calvan declined the invitation to approach, prompting breaks and standing re-starts. A Calvan straight left punch got through, and a high kick sailed just high before Aoki dove in the Brazilian's legs and held on. The cornered Calvan now dropped a series of hard blows onto Aoki's back, and with the elbow apparently making first contact, the referee stepped in to call time.
A distressed Aoki was given three minutes to recover. After that, the unhappy Japanese fighter, still showing pain, conferred at length with the referee and ringside doctor and was given more time. Meanwhile Calvan, alone in a corner with his towel draped Druid-like over his head, repeatedly raised his arms slowly toward the heavens -- looking to be either practicing taichi or praying to aliens. The silent crowd waited.
Alas, after all this, the ringside doctor stepped up to announce that Aoki still had prohibitive numbness in his arm from a blow to a nerve, and so would not continue. Calvan knelt and bowed to his opponent. A tearful Aoki expressed his disappointment to the crowd, after which Calvan also apologized for the incident.
Under official DREAM Rules, elbow strikes to the head, neck and spine are forbidden. As it stands, the bout has been ruled a no-contest.
The first of the card's Lightweight Grand Prix 2008 1st Round tournament elimination bouts saw lean, mean Norwegian shooto fighting machine Joachim Hansen step in against Japanese striker Koutetsu Boku. Hanson got an early fist in and the pair went to the mat to grapple. Boku was good in guard before Hansen managed a rear mount and began to put the punches in, looking for the armbar but instead seeing Boku twist free and to his feet. The fists flew now, both men connecting, neither falling. Hansen took a clinch to a down and side mount before again finding a rear mount. But for a bit of face-washing in transition, Boku did not get the ground attacks going. The round ended with Boku in guard and out of danger.
Some strikes to start the second before Boku again settled into open guard, which Hansen could do little to pass. After a re-stand, the Norwegian got a dandy straight left through to drop his opponent, and moved in but could not finish. After the final bell a unanimous decision went to the hard-working Hansen.
Next up, wrestler Kazuyuki Miyata of Japan took on the agile and quick Brazilian jiu jitsu fighter Luis Buscape. The pair went directly to the mat, where both seemed content to stay. With Miyata on top, Buscape locked the arms and worked the legs well in guard, and neither threatened or got much through until Miyata passed the bicycle kicks with a left. After taking a half mount in the later part of the first, Buscape passed with a few punches before twisting round to a rear mount to put on the choke for a tapout win.
Wrestler Katsuhiko Nagata of Japan, a silver medallist at the Sydney Olympics, was going for gold here against Artur Umakhanov, a boxer and a member of the Russian Special Forces. Much dancing but few strikes to start, Nagata finally going for the leg takedown only to be met with a knee and flipped over and into Umakhanov's guard. Some fancy fishtail evasions from the Russian when Nagata tried to put punches down. Closing to the rubber guard, the cool Umakhanov stayed out of trouble here, and that's how the round played out.
In the second it was Umakhanov who got the single-leg takedown, and once again assumed the closed guard position, Nagata working hard to pass with punches. A couple of reversals but few good opportunities for either man in this very tight contest. Judges gave it to Nagata by unanimous decision.
Japanese fighter Mitsuhiro Ishida is regarded by many as a contender in the DREAM Lightweight GP. Here he faced Bukyung Jeong, a Korean judoka who made his mixed martial arts debut last year. Ishida low kicks to start before the pair went to the mat with Jeong in closed guard. A trio of stalemates and referee re-stands followed, but, repeatedly the fighters found the same configuration, right through the second round. From his stymieing guard, Jeong came close a couple of times but could not position to submit, while Ishida had a hard time getting strikes in cleanly. A lack of action marring this one, which went to Ishida by unanimous decision
Andre Dida of Brazil is an elite grappler. Challenging him tonight was the formidable American wrestler and boxer Eddie Alvarez. This one was fast and furious. Dida showed some promise in the early going -- decent on his feet, scoring with a right cross. But when the boys went to the mat it was all about Alvarez's mobility, positioning and power. The American's game plan was simple -- get on top and pound away. From the side, rear, half or full mount, Alvarez pumped the fists and the knees without respite.
Dida did his best to weather the storm, but could not lock up his opponent, and instead of starting his own challenges remained ever on the hurting end, until the referee finally came in to call it. An instance of power and aggression overwhelming technique, delivering a convincing win for Alvarez.
Next up, spunky Japanese mixed martial arts fighter Tatsuya Kawajiri met the dynamic Black Mamba of India. Plenty of wrestling here, the pair twisting in the clinch, Kawajiri twice getting on top before finally sweeping to a side then rear mount that Mamba slammed to escape. After more clinching Kawajiri went down into Mamba's closed guard, improved to a side and then another rear mount, but again could not get the choke to work.
Kawajiri was controlling the fight but could not direct it to conclusion, and we had much of the same in the second. Mamba opened with a nice front kick and looked like he wanted to stay on his feet. But Kawajiri dove in for the single leg takedown, and after eating a knee soon had the ground game in play again. Mamba's closed guard and legwork were sound, and there were no real threats through the end of the bout. Judges gave a unanimous decision to the more aggressive Kawajiri.
The night's victorious tournament bout fighters will re-converge in Saitama in May to fight spots in the DREAM Lightweight GP Final this July in Osaka. The last man standing will be awarded the first-ever DREAM Championship Belt.
In other one-match fights tonight, Hayato "Mach" Sakurai of Japan used a ground and pound attack to notch a win over compatriot Hidetaka Monma by referee stop; while the athletic Minowaman of Japan got a takedown to half mount on hulking Korean former professional baseball pitcher Kwan Bun Lee, then extracted the leg for a heel lock and tapout win at just 1:25.