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DREAM.14 Roundtable: 'Mach', 'KID', Cage vs. Ring and More

Norifumi "KID" Yamamoto and Hayato "Mach" Sakurai are on losing streaks. A white cage instead of the ring. A lack of sponsors. DREAM ,and Japanese MMA in general, are certainly at a pivotal point in time.

Michael David Smith and I will discuss the Saturday's Dream.14, looking at the legitimacy of Mach as an opponent for Nick Diaz, the future of KID, cage vs. ring, if Minowa should make a step up to real competition and the state of women's MMA.

1. Is Sakurai a legitimate opponent for Nick Diaz?

Michael David Smith: No. No disrespect to Sakurai, but I believe Diaz is one of the sport's truly elite welterweights, and Sakurai isn't on that level. Unfortunately, there's really no one in either Dream or Strikeforce who's going to provide much of a challenge for Diaz at 170 pounds. Other than Diaz, all the best welterweights are in the UFC.

Daniel Herbertson: Sakurai was once considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, but those days are long gone. Nick Diaz has dominated his opponents for the last two years, and Mach is looking at an all-time low after his loss on New Year's Eve to Gono.

If Sakurai is fit and motivated, he is a dangerous opponent to anybody. Unfortunately, it is rare that we see a fit or motivated Sakurai these days. With recent talk of retirement, I worry that he is already mentally there.

2. Is this a must-win fight for Kid Yamamoto?

MDS: Yes. If you had told me when Kid beat Rani Yahya at Dynamite on New Year's Eve 2007 that we'd be sitting here in the middle of 2010 talking about how he hadn't won a fight since then, I would have said you were crazy. But that's where Kid is in his career. Thanks to injuries he didn't fight at all in 2008, and in 2009, he went 0-2 (and got knocked out in a kickboxing fight as well). If Yamamoto can't beat Federico Lopez, who himself is on a two-fight losing streak, I think you'd have to say that Kid is done as a competitive fighter.

But the good news for fans of Kid is that I feel pretty confident saying that Yamamoto is going to win this fight. Lopez is a hand-picked opponent designed to give Kid a win.

DH: Even today, Kid is still being sold by DREAM as the "Child of God". Japan is famous for forgiving or ignoring losses but if it is four in a row without a win since 2007, it's becoming hard to ignore.

Kid has never been submitted, has excellent wrestling and ridiculous power for his size with technique to go along with it. He has all the physical tools to be a top fighter. Kid's real strength though was the way that he mentally dominated his opponents. His confidence put him on a different level.

Joe Warren was the first person ever to be more sure of himself than Kid and it came at the worst time – just as he was returning from an injury and a long layoff.

Yamamoto needs to regain his mental fortitude and confidence. If he loses this fight, he may never be able to fully get it back. This is certainly a must-win for him.

3. Should Dream move towards the cage or the ring?

MDS: I vote for the cage. Maybe it's my American bias showing, but I just don't think there's any question that mixed martial arts is better in a cage than it is in a ring. Nothing kills the momentum of a fight more than the referee having to reposition two guys who are caught up in the ropes. When FEG puts on shows that include both MMA and K-1 kickboxing, those shows will still have to be done in the ring. But for Dream-only cards that don't have any K-1 fights on them, I believe the cage is the way to go, and I hope Dream does more shows in the cage going forward.

DH: I vote for the ring. I know that MMA in a cage makes sense. The ropes get in the way sometimes. Fighters fall through them. Occasionally we do see them affect the outcome of a fight.

But a massive part of Japanese MMA is the entertainment aspect and the live audience. Where the cage prevents movement, the ring allows it. Where the cage blocks the audience's view, the ring is clear. Where the cage allows for stalling, the ring will shout "Stop! Don't Move", and then move you. The ring is more aesthetically pleasing.

From a strictly sports perspective the cage is the obvious choice. Japanese MMA is a unique beast. Part sports, mostly entertainment. Let Japan be unique.

4. Do you like Minowa in freak shows, or should he be fighting high-quality opponents his own size?

MDS: I'm not completely opposed to freak shows, but I'd prefer to see Minowa challenging himself against good fighters in his own weight class, not wasting his time against 300-pounders with limited MMA skills. Dream is talking about putting together a Light Heavyweight Grand Prix full of legitimate 205-pounders, and I'd love to see Minowa mix it up in there with the Babalus and Mousasis of the world. I'm not holding my breath, though -- I think he'll keep fighting freak shows.

DH: Minowaman serves a very specific role within DREAM. He is there to start the night with a spectacle, to excite the crowd, to show us what it looks like when you throw Zuluzinho. Minowaman is fantastic at his job.

While Minowa is legitimately good, he will never be a top-ranked fighter in any division. But that's OK, there are very few fighters who are capable of that and perhaps not every fighter needs to try. Japanese MMA has its roots in pro wrestling and it is a beautiful part of the culture of sport. Minowa is a superhero first, but a pro wrestler second, and I would love for him to keep doing what he does best: entertain us.

5. Are the best female fighters in the U.S. or Japan? And should Dream have women's fights?

MDS: I believe there are great female fighters fighting in both the United States and Japan, but in general I'd say the top women are the ones fighting in the United States in Strikeforce, Bellator and (at least for one fight last weekend) Moosin. I'm going to be very curious to see how Megumi Fuji does in the upcoming Bellator tournament, and I'm thrilled that Bellator signed her.

As for whether Dream should have women's fights: Definitely. Every promotion should have women's fights.

DH: At the very top level, I think it is quite even. A glance at your pound-for-pound list shows that there the two countries are almost split down the middle.

But on the domestic scene, Japan is leagues ahead of the U.S.

After the collapse of Smackgirl in 2008, Japanese women's MMA was in dire straights. Since Smackgirl was rejuvenated and rebranded as Jewels though, Japanese women's MMA has really come into its own. Along with Jewels, Valkyrie has also popped up as a legitimate promotion and Shootboxing (although not strictly MMA) is bringing a lot more focus to their women's divisions. All three of these promotions are holding events regularly, are selling out venues, developing new stars with tournaments and good matchmaking and organizing sponsorship deals for fighters.

There is now a very real following behind Japanese women's MMA that is not based on just one or two names (or faces). I really don't see this kind of development at a grass roots level in the U.S., but hopefully it is just a matter of time. There is something that America has that Japan doesn't though. America has the big pay days and for the sport to grow, fighters need to have a goal.

I agree that Dream and every other promotion should have women's fights. The ranks are a little thin right now, but that's also just a matter of time.

PS. Can I claim Roxanne Modaferri from Moosin for Team Japan. She lives in Tokyo!

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