YOKOHAMA, June 15, 2008 -- Dutch kickboxer Melvin Manhoef manhandled Kazushi Sakuraba, using punches and kicks to KO the Japanese mixed martial arts legend at tonight's DREAM Middleweight Grand Prix 2008. The event featured four qualifying bouts, with winners advancing to the DREAM Middleweight GP Final at the Saitama Arena on September 23.
The Middleweight GP contests were fought in the 84kg/185lbs weight class. All bouts were conducted under Official DREAM Rules, with a 10-minute first round and 5-minute second round.
In the Main Event, it was Manhoef and the 38-year-old Sakuraba. Pre-fight predictions had it that Manhoef would prevail if the fighters exchanged strikes, Sakuraba if they went to the mat. The pundits were right.
A tentative start as the pair circled center-ring, sizing each other up. Manhoef threw the first punch, and promptly followed with a devastating right high kick that caught Sakuraba on the upside the forehead and dropped him to the mat. True to form, Manhoef came in hard on his rattled opponent, pounding in punches and a knee. Sakuraba's attempts to ward off the attack became increasingly feeble, and as the Japanese fighter slipped under the ropes, Manhoef grabbed him by the feet, hauled him back into the ring and set to hammering the fists down unanswered. The referee stepped in to call it at 1:30.
Announced Manhoef to the crowd: "Sakuraba has been my hero, and he still is my hero. I'm sorry I had to beat him up for you!"
In his post-bout interview, Manhoef explained, "I was prepared for 15 minutes, so it was my plan to start relaxed. But he wanted the takedown, and when he moved his head I caught him with a punch and then I kicked him. I knew when he went down -- and we had practiced that -- if he was in the ropes of the referee would stop and he could rest, that's not what I wanted so I pulled him out from the ropes then punched again. Right now, I'm glad to have won. But I think tomorrow I'll fully realize what I've done -- I beat a legend to become a legend!! Of course, I'm not there yet, but I'm on my way to the belt and that's my goal!"
The card's penultimate bout had also garnered plenty of speculation. Here, Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter Ronaldo Jacare went up against 27 year old Jason "Mayhem" Miller of the United States. The charismatic Miller's pre-event press conference antics -- blowing kisses to the audience, cracking puns in pigeon Japanese and assuming a karate pose -- did not impress the stoic Jacare, who cracked, "Mayhem is a joke." Jacare however appeared a very happy sort during his ring entrance, touching hands with the audience as he danced in to the Wailers' "Get Up, Stand Up." Miller, meanwhile, sang along from the ring.
Then it was down to business. Jacare threw a couple of straight punches to start then dove in looking for the leg takedown, but Miller would have none of it, and a busy scramble ensued. Jacare finally managed a full mount, but Miller bucked him off and into another scramble. As the Brazilian went fishing for a leg lock, Miller smiled and flashed a peace sign to the ringside photographers before escaping.
With Jacare on his back, Miller passing with punches. As the pair stayed on the mat, Jacare again went for the ankle, then a rear naked show, but the crafty American continued to get out of everything that came at him. From the rear mount, Jacare threw a dozen punches before Miller once again reversed, finding a half mount with a minute remaining in the round. Jacare tied him up, but Miller got a couple of blows through, then went north-south and pumped in a knee. The crowd's reaction bespoke an appreciation of the unorthodox style that has made "Mayhem" so popular. Meanwhile, Jacare was putting up points.
In the second, after a clinch in the corner, the pair went tumbling across the mat once again, Jacare losing his advantage when Miller went through the ropes. Miller threw the jabs, smacking a high kick into his opponent's collarbone, but Jacare was in control more often than not. The Brazilian had a half then full mount through the late going, although at the final bell it was Miller howling and pumping his fists in the air.
For all the American's bravado, Jacare had fought the better fight and took the unanimous decision.
Said the reticent Jacare afterward: "I could do much better, so I will improve myself technically, spiritually -- I will improve everything."
When Croatian fighter Zelg "Benkei" Galesic met Taiei Kin in October 2007, he powered in the strikes to beat the Japanese fighter by TKO in just 36 seconds. In advance of tonight's rematch, Kin had revenge on his mind.
Alas, it was not to be. Galesic came in aggressively to start, Kin locking him up in the clinch. After a restart, Galesic answered another Kin clinch with a throw. The Japanese fighter hit the mat the worst possible way, his outstretched arm buckling terribly at the elbow. A show of good sportsmanship as Galesic quickly pulled away from his wounded opponent, allowing the referee to move in and confirm that Kin was unable to continue.
"I know he's a great fighter, but two times unlucky," said Galesic from the ring, gingerly hugging his opponent. "Thank you my friend!"
In his post-fight interview, Galesic remarked, "I think Kin wanted to neutralize my fast hands and legs with the clinch, so I threw him, but he fell with all his weight on his hand and broke something. Maybe I can fight him a third time? He's a good fighter."
The last of the Middleweight GP quarterfinals pitted Dutch boxer Gegard Mousasi, who made an impressive DREAM debut this April with a submission of Dennis Kang, against Korean judoka Dong Sik Yoon.
Mousasi with low kicks to start before a brief period of grappling came to a stalemate. More Mousasi low kicks before the Dutch fighter got one of his many rear mounts in the fight. The action on the mat was less than electric, and although Mousasi put plenty of punches in, a closed-up Yoon did his best to block. Eventually, the patient Yoon got hold of his opponent's right arm, and coolly wrapped the legs around to extract. Mousasi, however, would not surrender the limb, and made effective counters with his own legs before spinning over to break free at the bell. A good display of power from the Dutchman, the strike of the round a Mousasi knee that caught Yoon on the jaw.
In the second, Mousasi, his legs wrapped round in rear mount, repeatedly punched and hammered at Yoon's head. The South Korean's static defense did not give Mousasi much to hit, but the cumulative effect of the blows was now showing. Yoon again got partial purchase on his opponent's arm, but only briefly, and for the remainder of the round stayed on defense making few attempts to counter. When the final bell came, Mousasi's arm was raised in victory.
Mousasi said afterward, "I knew it'd be tough, Yoon is good at the armbar and I made a mistake in the first round and he almost got me. But I had enough power to escape, and I'm happy with the results, although I wish I could've finished him in the fight. Now I'll train harder than ever to prepare myself to become the champion!"
The card also hosted a DREAM Lightweight GP qualifier. Shinya Aoki of Japan took on compatriot Katsuhiko Nagata for the right to advance to the Lightweight GP Final on July 21 in Osaka. A Silver Medallist in Greco-Roman Wrestling at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Nagata turns 35 this year. Aoki is 10 years younger, and used that here.
Aoki dove in for an early mount, pounding a right punch in on the way to the mat. Nagata proved capable on his back, locking up the arms. But after gaining some height on the body, Aoki smothered up one of his dexterous foot chokes, coercing Nagata to a humiliating tapout.
"I had a problem recovering from the weight loss but I managed," said Aoki afterward. "The fight went almost as I planned, my training paid off."
There were a couple of one-match Heavyweight bouts. In the first, Dutch kickboxer Alistair Overeem of the prestigious Golden Glory Gym stepped in against silium fighter Tae Hyun Lee Republic of South Korea.
A quick start and a quicker end to this one. Overeem opened with a low kick then went uber-aggressive -- a left roundhouse and a punishing right hook, followed by another left and a knee -- to KO the South Korean at just 36 seconds.
Screamed the elated victor from center ring: "Alistair Overeem has come to DREAM, I will be the next champion, and I want [Mirko] CroCop!"
Back in the interview space, Overeem elaborated: "The fight was quick, and in the future I hope to finish fights the same way. I've been weight training for six months, and I've gained weight, so I feel I have more power now."
Also at Heavyweight, Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter Ralek Gracie met Russian sambo stylist Gadzhiev Alavutdin.
Some inspired grappling to start, Gracie's takedown failing, the pair flailing on the ground before Gracie found some space -- Alavutdin declining the invitation to approach. After a re-stand, Gracie pumped in a knee to double Alavutdin over, then leapt atop for the ground position he wanted, extracting an arm to hyperextend for the submission by juji-gatame.
Said Gracie post-bout: "He was tough and very aggressive and it was a good fight. I was practicing mostly for grappling, and it's another notch for the Gracie family, thanks to my brothers and everyone I train with, that's what it's all about! I can't wait to come back here and represent the Gracie family again."
In a Featherweight one-match, it was Japanese grappler Hideo Tokoro versus jiu-jitsu fighter Darren Uenoyama of the United States.
Uenoyama tested with a couple of kicks before Tokoro connected with a vicious knee that caught the American hard on the jaw, sending him to the canvas. The Japanese dove atop his stunned opponent, but rather than continuing with strikes, tried to work an armbar. He almost did, but couldn't -- and this let Uenoyama back into the fight. Soon the American was on his feet, and commenced to punching away fervently. What ensued was a thrilling up-and-down, back-and-forth fight full of punching, takedowns and ground reversals. Uenoyama frequently passed Tokoro's guard with big right punches, but Tokoro had his strikes as well, getting in a knee, this time to the body, taking a side mount and pounding in another knee to Uenoyama's head as the round ended.
In the second, Tokoro went down to his back and Uenoyama stood and kicked, but as he leaned forward to pass with a punch was met by a hard Tokoro heel to the jaw. After another takedown it was Tokoro on top, striving again and again to extract the arm to no avail. Uenoyama had his chances, getting on top and punching to the body and head, but unable to decisively pass Tokoro's guard. A fast fight with plenty of aggression and athleticism, Tokoro taking the win by unanimous decision.
"I won the fight," said Tokoro afterward, "but it was close. This experience will help me take the next step. I'd been practicing striking, it was good that I could use what I have been learning in the ring today. I believe that my level as a fighter has stepped up a little bit, but in DREAM fighters have to have a broad range of techniques to win. I need to keep on working and winning to challenge the best one day."
During the evening's intermission, a draw was held in the ring to determine the matchups for the July 21 DREAM Lightweight GP Final in Osaka. The random selection set Eddie Alvarez (USA) against Tatsuya Kawajiri (Japan) in the first semifinal; and Shinya Aoki (Japan) against Carl Ueno (Japan) in the second.