Still, there is plenty on the line on Saturday: Gegard Mousasi and Hiroyuki Takaya will defend their belts against Hiroshi Izumi and Kazuyuki Miyata, respectively, Masakazu Imanari and Hideo Tokoro will clash in the finals of the Bantamweight Japan GP and of course, DREAM will fight its continued financial woes.
After the break, predictions so accurate that I'll probably be accused of match fixing.
What: DREAM - Fight For Japan: 2011 Bantamweight Japan Tournament Final
When: July 16. Live on SkyPerfect TV in Japan. Broadcast schedule for HDNet has not yet been decided.
Where: Ariake Coliseum, Tokyo, Japan.
DREAM Light Heavyweight Championship
Gegard Mousasi vs. Hiroshi Izumi
Let's be honest. We all know that Hiroshi Izumi is no legitimate challenge for Gegard Mousasi. Izumi was a brilliant judoka, but his MMA record is padded with pro wrestlers and questionable decisions. We are still unsure how improved Mousasi is since the Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal loss, but Mousasi is just too much too soon for the stocky judo stylist.
Izumi has been working on his wrestling lately, and although that is definitely Mousasi's weakness, don't expect Izumi to stick to a wrestling based game plan. The DREAM light heavyweight champion will sucker Izumi into a striking match after he defends a couple takedowns and then the KO comes easily for Mousasi.
Pick: Mousasi by KO.
DREAM Featherweight Championship
Hiroyuki Takaya vs. Kazuyuki Miyata
The most compelling bout on the card and one of the best fights that can be made in the featherweight division outside of the UFC.
Although he is undefeated as a featherweight and riding a six-fight win streak (plus one win in K-1), Kazuyuki Miyata is still hugely underappreciated – the hype instead falling on former schoolmate Michihiro Omigawa and recent UFC signee Hatsu Hioki. Vastly improved striking, and submission defense along with his incredible suplexes, make the Sydney 2000 Olympian an extremely dangerous opponent for a rather one-dimensional striker like Hiroyuki Takaya.
Expect Miyata to play to his strengths and wrestle the belt away from the champion. Takaya only needs one opportunity to finish a fight, but since the brutal four-second Norifumi "KID" Yamamoto knockout loss in 2006, Miyata very rarely gives strikers a shot at his chin.
One thing worth watching for: Miyata has apparently been working on a suplex with Rings creator and pro wrestling legend Akira Maeda that is so dangerous for his opponent (although legal) that he hasn't been willing to use it yet. The inner cynic in me thinks it's just hype. The inner Street Fighter fan in me screams "Zangief ultra combo!"
Pick: Miyata by Decision.
Bantamweight Japan Tournament Final
Masakazu Imanari vs. Hideo Tokoro
Bantamweight Japan GP finalists, former two-time Deep ace Mazukazu Imanari and perennial excitement machine Hideo Tokoro, have actually competed in the past – a 2002 grappling match which should be required watching in preparation for this bout.
In their first meeting, Tokoro's attempts to fight aggressively were thwarted by Imanari's relentless submission attempts and that's exactly how this upcoming bout will play out.
The problem with Tokoro has traditionally been that he is too aggressive and too willing to give up position for any chance at a submission. Imanari's has traditionally struggled when opponents are completely unwilling to engage him on the ground and his striking is effectively non-existent.
Given their fighting styles, Tokoro is the perfect opponent for Imanari. Knee implosion imminent.
Pick: Imanari by Submission.
Tatsuya Kawajiri vs. Drew Fickett
Former Shooto champ and recent Strikeforce and DREAM title contender Tatsuya Kawajiri is in a strange position.
"The Crusher" was very impressive in his victory over Josh Thomson at Dynamite but he recently suffered two completely one-sided losses. Looking at the losses, you might reason that Kawajiri's time as a top lightweight is over, but the win over Josh Thomson throws a spanner in that theory as he fought like he was in his prime. It's the kind of inconsistency we are not used to seeing from Kawajiri.
Drew Fickett had a terrible run from 2008 to 2009, going 4-8 and not training for bouts due to the birth of his daughter and a lack of interest in MMA. A 28-second knockout loss resulting in a fractured orbital bone led to Fickett again taking his MMA career seriously and the results have been positive: he put together a five-fight win streak including an eight-man one-night tournament win before a questionable stoppage loss to Brian Cobb in June of this year.
As Fickett pointed out in his pre-fight press interview, he actually fights in a similar style to DREAM ace Shinya Aoki. It is only fitting then that Kawajiri stopped in at Nippon Top Team to train with arguably the best submission artists in MMA: Aoki and former Sengoku champ Satoru Kitaoka.
It is still somewhat unclear whether Kawajiri or Fickett are still on top of their game, but Kawajiri is always difficult to submit. It should be Kawajiri's fight to lose.
Pick: Kawajiri by Decision.
Marius Zaromskis vs. Eiji Ishikawa
Grabaka's Eiji Ishikawa makes his promotional debut and comes in on two days notice to take on the DREAM welterweight champion in a catchweight bout. Only in Japan.
Although he has been consistent in Japan, Marius Zaromskis has been unable to buy a win in the West. A rematch with Hayato Sakurai was unusual given that "Mach" was riding a four-fight losing streak. This bout with Ishikawa, who will be known only to hardcore JMMA fans, is only happening so that DREAM doesn't have to cancel another fight.
Ishikawa is tough and experienced but the Deep and Pancrase veteran is simply not at the same level as Zaromskis.
Pick: Zaromskis by KO.
Bantamweight Japan Tournament Third Place
Keisuke Fujiwara vs. Kenji Osawa
Although it is being billed as the "third place" match in the Bantamweight Japan GP, it really isn't. Atsushi Yamamoto suffered an eye injury in his quarterfinal match and was unable to fight and so ZST champ Keisuke Fujiwara, who lost to Imanari in the quarterfinals, fills his shoes.
Fujiwara's loss to Masakazu Imanari highlighted his biggest problem as a fighter. He has the ability to knock people out but he is nowhere near aggressive enough. His opponent, Kenji Osawa, is a much more aggressive fighter but his lack of finishing options lead to close bouts - as his two recent split-decision wins over Yoshiro Maeda and Takafumi Otsuka illustrate.
I expect it to be a frustrating bout, but I like Fujiwara to claim the upset win. Osawa's aggression should push Fujiwara to fight back enough to get the decision.
Pick: Fujiwara by Decision.
Tatsuya Mizuno vs. Trevor Prangley
Tatsuya Mizuno's remarkable victory over Melvin Manhoef in the DREAM Light Heavyweight GP was ended with a reality check: Mizuno should be a middleweight. As luck would have it, his opponent, Trevor Prangley, should also probably be a middleweight so let's just say that there is no size advantage to either party.
The skill advantage though, is firmly with the Strikeforce and UFC veteran Trevor Prangley.
The former freestyle wrestling Olympic alternate will be far too good for Mizuno – winning a dominant decision.
Pick: Prangley by Decision.
Eiji Mitsuoka vs. Bruno Carvalho
Bruno Carvalho carries a four-fight winning streak into his DREAM debut including and has finished his last three foes, two of them coming inside the first round due to punches.
A recent Sengoku evacuee and also making his DREAM debut, Eiji Mitsuoka's submission and wrestling skills have brought him impressive career victories over Gleison Tibau, Joachim Hansen, Brian Cobb and Rodrigo Damm.
Carvalho is still inexperienced and mostly unknown outside of his native Brazil, having only fought abroad once. Mitsuoka should take a decision in a tough fight.
Pick: Mitsuoka by Decision.