Dissection of the DREAM.18 fight card

While people around the globe are preparing to usher in the New Year, there’s a huge spectacle that awaits Mixed Martial Arts fanatics on New Year’s Eve. DREAM, a promotion that’s based in Japan, is set to showcase its 18th event at the Saitama Super Arena situated in Tokyo, Japan.

Fans were left devastated when DREAM ceased its operations on June 3rd of this year (2012). After 17 spectacular events, both critics and supporters felt that the promotion had ran its final course, and revival was highly unlikely. Now, however, the Japanese organization is back thanks to the financial backing of Kickboxing promotion, GLORY Sports International.

GLORY recently partnered with ONE Fighting Championship, Asia’s largest and most prestigious MMA organization. As such, fighters like Shinya Aoki and Bibiano Fernandes were given the nod to cross-over and fight under the DREAM banner once again.

With a stacked fight card that features Japanese MMA superstars and a who’s who of MMA veterans, DREAM.18 may perhaps be the perfect way to cap off 2012.  After all, DREAM’s fight cards have always been blissful and not short of rambunctious action.

In the main event, Evolve MMA’s very own Shinya Aoki will be facing former MFC Lightweight champion, Antonio McKee. Elsewhere, reigning DREAM Featherweight champion Hiroyuki Takaya will be locking horns with former Bellator veteran, Georgi Karakhanyan.

With that said, let’s get right to it:

Satoru Kitaoka vs. Will Brooks

Satoru Kitaoka (30-11-9) has been a staple in the Japanese Mixed Martial Arts scene for over a decade. And with a resume that includes wins over the likes of Paul Daley, Carlos Condit, Takanori Gomi and Kurt Pellegrino, the 32-year-old Japanese superstar is no slouch by any standards. Kitaoka is renowned for his grappling prowess, which has helped him gain 15 submission victories to date. A former Sengoku Lightweight champion, Kitaoka has competed in various promotions over the course of his career and is 4-1 in his past 5 outings. The lone defeat came at the hands of Shinya Aoki at DREAM: Fight for Japan.

Will Brooks (7-0), in the meantime, will have to set up the barricades when he makes his way into enemy territory on New Year’s Eve. The 26-year-old is currently unbeaten in his MMA career thus far, and has finished 6 of his 7 professional bouts. However, Brooks has not faced a fighter of Kitaoka’s credentials before so it’ll be interesting to see how the American fares in this one.

All in all, I expect Kitaoka to win this one comfortably. He has faced some of the best fighters in the world and I just can’t see Brooks pulling off an upset here.

Verdict: Satoru Kitaoka wins by Submission in Round 2

Marloes Coenen vs. Fiona Muxlow

Much like Satoru Kitaoka, Marloes Coenen (20-5) has been in the MMA scene for a very long time. She entered Zuffa-owned Strikeforce with a record of 16-3, and marked her promotional debut with a submission win over Roxanne Modafferi. She gained the Strikeforce 135-lbs strap at Strikeforce: San Jose, when she defeated Canadian Sarah Kaufman via Armbar in the 3rd stanza.

Fighting out of the Golden Glory camp that’s based in the Netherlands, Coenen’s grappling abilities has led her to 14 submission wins. The 31-year-old was last seen at Invicta FC’s inaugural event in April, where she defeated Romy Ruyssen for the 2nd time. New Year’s Eve will be Coenen’s 15th fight in Japan.

Fiona Muxlow (6-1) is relatively unknown amongst most MMA fans, but a win over Marloes Coenen could change everything. The 35-year-old Australia-native is on a 3-fight win streak, and has competed primarily in the New Zealand-based Princess of Pain promotion. She suffered the first set-back of her career in 2008, when she was submitted by American Cindy Hales.

Having faced top competition during her 3-2 stint in Strikeforce, Marloes Coenen should have this fight within her grasp. Coenen’s grappling and experience edge should be enough for a successful promotional DREAM debut.

Verdict: Marloes Coenen wins by Submission in Round 1

Phil Baroni vs. Hayato Sakurai

Admit it. If you have been a fan of this crazy sport called ‘MMA’, you must know who these veterans are.

Hayato Sakurai (36-12) is a legend in the Japanese Mixed Martial Arts scene and in fact, was at one time considered one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters on the planet. Sakurai kicked-off his professional MMA career in 1996 and remained unbeaten for a period of over 5 years. He suffered the first set-back of his career against none other than the current consensus pound-for-pound king – UFC Middleweight champion, Anderson Silva. After a Jekyll and Hyde stint in PRIDE and various other promotions, the 37-year-old suffered 4 straight defeats against Marius Zaromskis, Akihiro Gono, Nick Diaz and Jason High. The BJJ Black-Belt, however, managed to snap that losing run in his most recent outing at DREAM: Fight for Japan, where he decisioned Ryo Chonnan in Saitama. With a resume that includes wins over the likes of Shinya Aoki, Mac Danzig, Jens Pulver and Joachim Hansen, Sakurai is certainly a handful for any top MMA athlete.

Phil Baroni (15-15), in the meantime, has had his fair share of ups and downs in his MMA career too. The 36-year-old UFC veteran is currently training at the renowned American Kickboxing Academy based in San Jose, California alongside the likes of Gray Maynard & Josh Thomson. In his post-Zuffa era, Baroni is 2-2 in his past 4-fights that includes a 2-bout stint with the Singapore-based ONE FC. The former PRIDE star dropped a unanimous decision in his promotional debut against Yoshiyuki Yoshida, but soon made amendments a year later when he TKO’ed Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion Rodrigo Ribeiro just 0:60s into the 1st stanza at ONE FC 5: Pride of a Nation. Baroni’s TKO win over Ribeiro also marked the American’s first stoppage win in over 4 years.

This is indeed a tough fight to call, and I like both fighters. But, there can only be one winner and I reckon it’s going to be Hayato Sakurai. I don’t fancy the Japanese veteran, however, to finish Baroni.

Verdict: Hayato Sakurai wins by Split Decision

Denis Kang vs. Melvin Manhoef

Manhoef and Kang have a combined total of 90 professional MMA bouts. Both fighters were recently competing in Asian MMA promotions.

Melvin Manhoef’s (26-9-1 [1]) rise to stardom has been somewhat conspicuous. A deadly and malignant striker, Manhoef is the only fighter to have ever KO’ed UFC veteran Mark Hunt in MMA competition. The 36-year-old Dutchman, who also trains at Mike’s Gym, is a former Cage Rage Light Heavyweight champion; a title he garnered when he KO’ed Fabio Piamonte in London, England at Cage Rage 13 – No Fear. After going through a rough patch under the Strikeforce banner, Manhoef is now unbeaten in his past 3 fights. He recently snapped a 4-fight winless run at ROAD FC 009: Beatdown, where he was awarded a split-decision win over Jae Yong Kim. Known for his speed and power, the Dutchman was then tasked to fight Ryo Kawamura at ONE FC 6: Rise of Kings. After a series of unorthodox movement & stances from his opponent, Manhoef unleashed a brutal right-hand that signalled ‘Lights-Out’ for Kawamura. That also marked Manhoef’s first knockout finish in three years.

Once the owner of a 21-fight winning streak, Denis Kang is one of the true pioneers in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts. The former UFC, PRIDE and Spirit MC veteran has seen it all, and has certainly done it all. The 35-year-old won his first championship gold in the now defunct Spirit MC promotion, when he defeated Kim Jae Young for the Spirit MC Heavyweight strap back in 2008. The American Top Team native is 4-5-1 in his past 10 outings, and is 1-2 in his stint with the South Korea-based ROAD Fighting Championship. He was last seen at ROAD FC 008: Bitter Rivals, where he managed to snap a 3-fight winless streak when he KO’ed Hae Suk Son in the 1st stanza.

Both guys are very experienced, but I believe Melvin Manhoef’s power may just be too much for Denis Kang to handle.

Verdict: Melvin Manhoef wins by TKO in Round 2

Georgi Karakhanyan vs. Hiroyuki Takaya

Georgi Karakhanyan (19-3-1) may be a familiar face to most MMA fans, having competed in Seasons 2 and 4 of Bellator’s 8-men Featherweight Tournament. The 27-year-old Armenian-American was eliminated by eventual finalists Joe Warren and Patricio Freire. Karakhanyan is currently riding high on a 5-fight winning streak that includes a Tachi Palace Fights Featherweight title-tilt win over Isaac DeJesus at Tachi Palace Fights 11. Despite having 3 losses, Karakhanyan has never been submitted in his professional MMA career thus far.

Unlike his opponent, Hiroyuki Takaya (17-9-1) has competed in DREAM before. In fact, he gained the DREAM Featherweight Championship belt in his 8th bout with the promotion. But Takaya also holds an edge in fight experience, having faced some of the best talents that Mixed Martial Arts has to offer. With a resume that includes bouts with the likes of Bibiano Fernandes, Hatsu Hioki, Gilbert Melendez, Leonard Garcia and Cub Swanson, Takaya is no slouch by any standards and is undoubtedly the hardest test to Georgi Karakhanyan’a fledgling career. The former WEC, Shooto and 1-time Strikeforce veteran is 5-1 in his past 6 bouts, holding stoppage wins over the likes of Joachim Hansen and Chase Beebe.

Both guys have great momentum on their sides and it’s really hard to predict a winner here. Since I have to make a bold prediction, I’d reckon that Takaya will win a close decision.

Verdict: Hiroyuki Takaya wins by Unanimous Decision

Tatsuya Kawajiri vs. Michihiro Omigawa

Michihiro Omigawa (13-12-1) is a grizzled veteran that loves a fight. Despite having 12 career losses thus far, Omigawa is certainly one of the most accomplished Mixed Martial Artists in the Japanese MMA scene. An 8-1 stint over 2 years (that included wins over the likes of Nam Phan, Hatsu Hioki, Hiroyuki Takaya and Cole Escovedo) earned the 37-year-old a ticket back to the UFC’s octagon. However, despite making it back to the biggest stage in all of Mixed Martial Arts once again, Omigawa was unable to impress further, and a combined 1-6 stint eventually got him scrapped from the organization. A 3rd dan in Judo, Omigawa has also faced the likes of Matt Wiman, Thiago Tavares and ‘The Korean Zombie’.

Tatsuya Kawajiri (31-7-2) is a superstar in Japan. A veteran of over 35 professional MMA bouts, Kawajiri is 8-2 under the DREAM banner. Once considered the #1 Lightweight fighter in the globe, Kawajiri has faced some of the best fighters in various promotions. The former Shooto Welterweight champion has fought the likes of Joachim Hansen, Eddie Alvarez, Gilbert Melendez and Drew Fickett. The Japanese fighter is 4-1 in his past 5 outings, with the lone defeat coming against reigning Strikeforce Lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez at Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley. Kawajiri was last seen at ONE FC 3: War of the Lions, where he Triangle-Choked KOTC Bantamweight title-holder, Donald Sanchez.

I fancy Kawajiri to win this one, and I expect this fight to go all 3 rounds. Omigawa is a difficult fighter to finish and even though Kawajiri possesses great striking and grappling expertise, I can’t see him finishing this fight.

Verdict: Tatsuya Kawajiri wins by Unanimous Decision

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Bibiano Fernandes vs. Yoshiro Maeda

A former DREAM Bantamweight and Featherweight title-holder, Bibiano Fernandes (12-3) is certainly one of the best Bantamweight fighters in the world. A multi-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu champion, Fernandes was first dragged into the limelight in his stint with DREAM. And when DREAM ceased its operations, many promotions were eager to grab the Brazilian’s signature. However, due to contractual obligations and what not, Fernandes reverberated his desire to continue fighting in Asia, and snubbed the UFC to sign with the Singapore-based ONE FC instead. He made his promotional debut at ONE FC 5: Pride of a Nation, where he gained a well-earned unanimous decision victory over Gustavo Falciroli.

Yoshiro Maeda (30-11-2), in the meantime, may very have a significant advantage in fight experience. A veteran of over 40 professional MMA fights, Maeda has fought a who’s who of Mixed Martial Artists to date. A former WEC, DREAM and Pancrase veteran, Maeda won the first major championship strap of his career on February 18th of this year (2012), when he submitted Takafumi Otsuka at DEEP: 57th Impact.  The 31-year-old is on a 2-fight win streak.

Maeda may have more to offer in terms of fight experience, but I believe Bibiano Fernandes has more skills in his arsenal to get the win.

Verdict: Bibiano Fernandes wins by Unanimous Decision

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Shinya Aoki vs. Antonio McKee

Prior to Antonio McKee’s (28-4-2) loss to Jacob Volkmann at UFC 125, McKee was undefeated as a professional fighter for over 8 years, holding wins over the likes of Carlo Prater. The 42-year-old won the MFC Lightweight Championship in his promotional debut at MFC 20, defeating Derrick Noble via unanimous decision. Although McKee holds a very respectable record of 28-4-2, the American has not faced any opponent with serious credentials. Shinya Aoki will undoubtedly be the biggest test of his career and it remains to be seen if McKee will be able to pull off an upset.

Shinya Aoki, in the meantime, will need no introductions whatsoever. Often dubbed as Asia’s #1 fighter, Evolve MMA’s Shinya Aoki is one of the best Lightweights in the world today. A former DREAM Lightweight and Shooto Welterweight champion, Aoki’s grappling expertise has taken the MMA scene by storm over the years. With an incredible 20 submission wins to date, Aoki has a resume that includes wins over the likes over George Sotiropoulos, Joachim Hansen, Eddie Alvarez and Rich Clementi. Aoki was last seen at ONE FC 6: Rise of Kings, where he gained a technical submission victory over Frenchman Arnaud ‘The Game’ Lepont.

Shinya Aoki, the grappling maestro or the ‘Tobikan Judan’ as he’s so commonly referred to, holds a significant advantage over Antonio McKee and I expect another submission win for the Japanese superstar.

Verdict: Shinya Aoki wins by Submission in Round 1

New Year’s Eve just got better folks. DREAM has put on a stacked fight card for MMA fans worldwide, and it’s one that you just can’t miss. Happy New Year!

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Follow Thinesh on Twitter (@ThineshJohnMMA), and keep up with the latest MMA news from MMASucka via Twitter (@MMASucka) and Facebook

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