DREAM.17: Aoki vs. McCullough Preview and Predictions

Large-scale Japanese MMA is finally back on Saturday night with DREAM.17, the first numbered event from the leading Japanese promoter in exactly twelve months.

On the card at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, DREAM lightweight champion Shinya Aoki clashes with former WEC champ "Razor" Rob McCullough in a non-title match, perennial top ten lightweight Tatsuya Kawajiri makes his featherweight debut against former Shooto and DREAM champion Joachim Hansen and the DREAM Bantamweight World Grand Prix gets underway with four quarterfinal bouts.

After the break, predictions from the biggest Japanese event of the year.

What: DREAM.17

When: Saturday, Sept. 24, 2010. Live on HDNet on Saturday, Sept. 23 at 3 a.m. ET.

Where: Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan

Shinya Aoki vs. Rob McCullough
The DREAM lightweight champion has spent a significant amount of time working his Muay Thai at the Evolve MMA gym in Singapore but regardless of what he was been saying to the Japanese press, don't expect him to spend any time with the twelve-time Muay Thai champion on the feet.

McCullough, a former WEC champion, has never been submitted in his 26-fight career but it is a challenge that a newly more well-rounded Aoki should be up to. Aoki sinks in the first-round rear-naked choke.
Pick: Aoki

Tatsuya Kawajiri vs. Joachim Hansen
In their first meeting, a 2006 Shooto world title bout, Kawajiri took a devastating kick to the groin only eight seconds into the bout and was unable to recover. Let's hope for the former Shooto champ's sake that that doesn't happen again.

Kawajiri was always a large lightweight so it's mind boggling that he has been able to make the cut to featherweight so well. Kawajiri gets revenge for the low blow and takes the former DREAM lightweight champion down, grinding out an exhausting yet competitive decision.
Pick: Kawajiri

Caol Uno vs. Takeshi Inoue
Both former Shooto world champions, Caol Uno and "Lion" Takeshi Inoue are at similar positions in the featherweight ladder - both recently picking up solid wins but were also both suplexed into oblivion by Kazuyuki Miyata. Powerhouse wrestling will not be making an appearance here though - Uno will be looking to take advantage of the scrambles while Inoue will settle and look for counterstrike KOs.

In an entertaining but scrappy match, Uno takes the decision and wisely avoids any extended time on the feet.
Pick: Uno

Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Yan Cabral
Cabral, a Barcelona-based Brazilian, is relatively unknown in the MMA world but his perfect record of 9-0 with all wins coming by submission does make you sit up and pay attention. Cabral is particularly proficient in the head-arm triangle and although that is the only submission that has brought the aged Japanese legend to tap, his lack of up of stand up ability will prove his downfall.

Sakuraba's striking will give him the winning edge in an entertaining grappling-heavy decision.
Pick: Sakuraba

Satoru Kitaoka vs. Willamy Freire
Freire, a former Shooto world champion, is a dangerous match for the former Sengoku ace.

Kitaoka is incredibly adept at ripping opponent's feet off or attacking their neck, but if he is unable to secure the submission he tends to take a large amount of damage and then implode. Freire pounds his way to a late KO victory after narrowly escaping early heel hooks.
Pick: Freire

Kazuhiro Nakamura vs. Gerald Harris
With Nakamura focused on running Yoshida Dojo and his campaign to promote judo in Japan, his attention to his MMA career has waned and against a hungry and powerful fighter like Harris, that's dangerous. This is Harris' highest profile fight since his surprising cut from the UFC and he will be looking to make a statement. In his pre-fight interview he promised slams but look for Harris to get the TKO via punches on the mat.
Pick: Harris

Ikuhisa Minowa vs. Baru Harn
"Minowaman" versus an inexperienced super heavyweight plays out like this: energetic entrance, heelhook, fist pumping with a Japanese flag cape.
Pick: Minowa

Dream Bantamweight World Grand Prix Quarterfinals
Hideo Tokoro vs. Antonio Banuelos
A difficult fight to predict as we really don't know what kind of bout Tokoro will fight. As he showed in the Bantamweight Japan tournament final against Imanari, he can win big fights if he is focused on winning. Too often though he gets too aggressive and takes too many risks and his record reflects that.

Banuelos has also been inconsistent in the past and in his last bout got jabbed out of the UFC by Miguel Torres – and it just so happens that Tokoro has an excellent jab. If Tokoro can keep pumping his fists in Banuelos' face, he can take the decision.
Pick: Tokoro

Bibiano Fernandes vs. Takafumi Otsuka
Not much has changed since their first meeting in the 2009 Featherweight GP, so expect Bibiano to control the fight with his wrestling and threaten with submissions. Otsuka has limited submission options on the ground and no finishing ability on the feet and so when it inevitably goes to the judges, the former DREAM Featherweight champion gets the nod.
Pick: Fernandes

Masakazu Imanari vs. Abel Cullum
It's not like we don't know the two-time Deep champion wants to win, it's just that it's so hard to stop it. Cullum, a former King of the Cage champ, has trouble fighting disciplined bouts and his loose style will lead to him getting caught in a heel hook by Imanari.
Pick: Imanari

Yusup Saadulaev vs. Rodolfo Marques
Both fighters are new to most fans, Saadulaev competing in regional promotions in the States and Marques in Brazil.

Saadulaev is an extremely well-rounded fighter, bringing his backbone of wrestling from Russia, his Pan American BJJ champion credentials and a dangerous Muay Thai game to the ring. Saadulaev's flawless record must be taken with a grain of salt though, his last win came against a 0-10 opponent.

Marques comes from the vaunted Nova Uniao camp and has faced a high level of competition on the Brazilian circuit, coming out with an excellent 13-1 record.

Marques will prove too great a test for Saadulaev. Although the Russian is a legitimate prospect, his recent inactivity and lack of quality opposition sees him lose a decision.
Pick: Marques


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