Few fighters have a cult following like Ikuhisa Minowa, better known to fight fans worldwide as Minowaman. The man with the tight red Speedo's, unashamed mullet hair cut and a ring entrance to match Hulk Hogan circa 1987 has always been a fan favorite, even having his own dedicated team of internet supporters known as the Kinnikuman Top Team (KTT). In fact such is the unbridled love the KTT minions have for their idol, they sell a range of T-shirts and have an online Pledge of Allegiance to Minowaman.
If you wonder what it is about Minowaman that so attracts fans and stirs passions you need look no further than DREAM's Super Hulk tournament of 2009, which will end on New Year's Eve when Minowaman clashes with Sokodjou in the final. Indeed Minowaman's run to the final has been nothing short of epic and a win for him on NYE could overshadow the MMA debut of Olympic gold medalist Satoshi Ishii or the retirement of K-1 star Masato as the night's most celebrated feature.
In making his way to the final on NYE, Minowaman dismantled the Super Hulk tournament's two biggest competitors in thrilling fashion. At DREAM 9 on May 26, it took only 1:15 to submit Bob Sapp with an Achilles lock that brought the crowd to their feet. Minowman was outweighed by almost 200 pounds and gave away seven inches in height.
At DREAM 11 on Oct. 6, in one of the most thrillingly dramatic finishes of the year, Minowaman took 1:27 into to second round to get the world's largest professional combat athlete, Hong Man Choi, on the canvas and submit the giant with a heel hook. Minowaman was outweighed by 123 pounds and gave away an incredible 1' 5" in height.
In defeating both Sapp and Choi, Minowaman proudly flew the flag of technique, speed and skill over size and strength. In a day and age where size has become such a major factor for martial arts success (look at Brock Lesnar in UFC, Semmy Schilt in K-1), Minowaman is a fighter in the mold of Fedor Emelianenko - smaller than the rest, technically gifted and enormously exciting in his ability to finish fights with crazy submissions. Indeed in his 81 career fights spanning Pancrase, DEEP, Pride, Hero's and DREAM, Minowaman has submitted 27 opponents and felled many a giant including Butterbean and Giant Silva. He also has wins over Don Frye, Phil Baroni and Gilbert Yvel, came close to submitting the great Kazushi Sakuraba, took Ryan Gracie to a split decision and quickly ended the MMA hopes of K-1 stars such as Stefan Leko (sub in 27 seconds) and Errol Zimmerman (sub in 1:01).
At Dynamite, the odds will again be stacked against Minowaman when he takes on an opponent who most pundits agree will have the upper hand in striking, ground and pound, takedowns and overall strength. Minowaman will give up three inches in height and eight pounds in weight, as well as eight years in age.
But if there's one thing Minowaman will have going for him it's the support of 35,000 screaming fans at the Saitama Super Arena and the legions of Minowaman devotees watching around the world. While this support may seem inconsequential compared to the physical advantages, youth and technique of Sokoudjou, for a fighter like Minowaman who, perhaps more than any other fighter in the world fights predominantly for his fans, the massive adrenaline charge of the live crowd on NYE could be a secret weapon to give his Cinderella run to the final a true fairytale ending.
Michael Schiavello is a guest columnist and is an announcer for HDNet's MMA coverage. For more information, visit www.hdnetfights.com.