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DREAM.10: Full Results and Review

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Although Not as Important as UFC 100, DREAM.10 Still an Impressive Milestone

While UFC 100 represented the most important landmark in the history of the company, another Mixed Martial Arts promotion recently celebrated an important milestone of its own with a fantastic night of fights: Japanese-based MMA promotion DREAM went into the double digits on July 20, celebrating their tenth event with several highly-anticipated “superfights” and what would go down as a stunning finale of the DREAM Welterweight Grand Prix.

While not as well-known to fight fans as the now-defunct PRIDE Fighting Championship, many consider Fighting and Entertainment Group’s DREAM to be the spiritual successor to PRIDE. Many former PRIDE personnel have made their way from Dream Stage Entertainment (the parent company of PRIDE) to DREAM, and the promotion carries on PRIDE’s legacy of flashy entrances and gaudy production values, even including the famous ring announcer and "PRIDE Crazy Lady" Lenne Hardt.

So what’s all the fuss about? Let’s find out as MMAFigs.com and PdW2kX proudly present an in-depth analysis and review of “DREAM.10: Welter Weight Grand Prix 2009 Final Round”.

Welterweight Grand Prix Reserve Bout: Seichi Ikemoto vs. Tarec Saffiedine

Both men come out firing, with Ikemoto continuously trying to nail this crazy double-punch thing and Tarec having none of it. Ikemoto has some success on the ground, but the brunt of the marathon ten-minute first round sees Tarec out-striking Ikemoto on the feet. The end of the round sees Tarec launch a particularly hard onslaught, nailing several shots that has Ikemoto scrambling to clinch up, but Tarec seems too winded to go in for the kill. Tarec is once again the dominant striker in Round 2, even getting Ikemoto in mount, but Ikemoto hangs on and it goes to the judges, all of whom give the win to Tarec Saffiedine.

Winner by Unanimous Decision: Tarec Saffiedine

Commentator and MMA veteran Guy Mezger summed this one up perfectly: Ikemoto didn’t actually do anything wrong, but a clash of styles led to a dominant performance by Tarec Saffiedine. Ikemoto is more of a one-hit power-puncher, while Tarec stakes his claim firmly in the land of the combination. A one-two assault of countering early and often and pressing the pace effectively neutralized Ikemoto’s stand-up, giving Tarec a decidedly impressive win. While it wasn’t the most exciting fight in the world, those that like seeing a technical fight will be impressed at Tarec’s ability to impose his gameplan and nullify his opponent’s.

Welterweight Grand Prix 2009 Semi-Final Bout: Hayato Sakurai vs. Marius Zaromskis

While fans of technical contests will enjoy the last fight, this one is definitely for the fans of all-out wars. Many pegged Hayato “Mach” Sakurai as the eventual winner of this tournament, having easily and gruesomely dispatched Shinya Aoki in under 30 seconds to qualify for the Semi-Finals. His opponent, Marius Zaromskis, displayed some considerable talent in his Unanimous Decision win over Seichi Ikemoto. Marius may also have one of the best entrances in Mixed Martial Arts: not only does he come out to “The Final Countdown”; he has a habit of coming out dressed as Street Fighter character Akuma and jumping off the entrance steps.

Marius may be the actual, literal equivalent of Akuma in this match, since he completely decimated a person that many thought was one of the toughest guys walking the planet, and not only that, he made it look easy. Both men come out throwing bombs, which the crowd loves. It’s a toss-up on who is doing more damage, since both men get caught with their fair share of punches. A cut above Hayato Sakurai’s eye is looked at for several minutes, but it is eventually ruled that “Mach” can continue. Shortly after the fight is restarted, Marius catches Hayato with a huge head kick, following it up with punches, and pulls off the upset. The crowd goes wild, as much with bewildered excitement as with genuine happiness.  

Winner via KO (Head Kick and Punches) in Round 1: Marius Zaromskis

What a fight! This one brought everybody to their feet. From the opening bell, both men landed some very powerful punches and turned this thing into an all-out war. Marius really impressed me with his ability to take Sukarai’s assaults and answer back. There were multiple times in that fight that I think Sakurai could have legitimately finished any other person if he had hit that much offense. I’m very glad the cut was tended to and didn’t prevent this fight from the stellar ending that happened. Marius put an exclamation point on a fantastic performance that showed his heart, determination, and punching power. I’ve said before that everyone loves a comeback, but guess what? Everyone loves a Dark Horse. And while they don’t get much darker than Zaromskis, who virtually no one thought would win this match, none can deny that the man made the absolute most out of this opportunity.

Welterweight Grand Prix 2009 Semi-Final Bout: Jason High vs. Andre Galvao

This is a classic fight between a wrestler and a BJJ guy, and it doesn’t disappoint. In fact, one of the major highlights of the entire event comes from this match: Jason High quickly shoots for a takedown with just a bit of a slam to it, bringing down Galvao hard, but Galvao flips him over into mount, only for High to sneak out the back door and get back into a dominant position. High gets in a little Ground and Pound, but Galvao keeps working and eventually transitions to a standing position with his arms around High’s back, but he’s unable to do much of anything and the referee breaks it up. High continues to Ground and Pound, but Galvao comes within an inch of tapping out High with a foot hold. High eventually breaks it, but Galvao gets back on top. This leads to a long, stalemated period of Galvao transitioning from Mount to Back Mount repeatedly, never being able to either submit or pound out High. Round 2 sees High really let loose with his striking, and while Galvao does get in a few choice shots, High clearly dominates Round 2. Although it’s not without controversy, High earns a Split Decision victory to advance to the finals.

Winner via Split Decision: Jason High

Many fight fans will argue that Galvao’s ground dominance for much of Round 1 was more than enough to overcome the stand-up dominance of High in Round 2: not only did Galvao dominate longer (since DREAM bouts feature a marathon first round of ten minutes and then a second round of five minutes), he came close to getting in a fight-finishing submission several times. Yet fights aren’t scored round-by-round in DREAM, so the judges must have felt that High was, overall, the better fighter. Personally, I’m in a bit of a gray area here. High certainly dominated Round 2 and didn’t get schooled until near the end of Round 1, but he got schooled pretty hard by Galvao. I believe what held Galvao back and what most likely cost him this fight was the BJJ expert’s inability to submit his opponent. It was a tough, entertaining fight no matter how you look at it, but I would like to see a rematch somewhere down the line so we can get a more definitive answer on who’s the better fight.

Lightweight Bout: Andre Dida vs. Katsunori Kikuno

Dida catches Kikuno with a big punch in the opening seconds and follows it up with a quick flurry and a nice Muay Thai knee, but Kikuno more or less shrugs it off. Kikuno adopts an incredibly peculiar kyokushin fighting stance and, for some reason, has this dumb smile on his face for the entire round. Maybe it’s intended to get Dida to take him lightly, but it comes across really stupid-looking on camera. Kikuno doesn’t do much of anything for the next several minutes…until he suddenly swarms Dida, mounts him, takes his back, and finishes him off with some nasty Ground and Pound. Talk about your unexpected twist-endings.

Winner via TKO (Punches) in Round 1: Katsunori Kikuno

I’m not gonna lie…that was a pretty boring fight until Kikuno finished it. Kikuno’s attitude puzzles the hell out of me: if he’s that good at swarming and annihilating an opponent, why plod through the match and barely do anything other than dodge? And what the heck was up with that weird stance and goofy smile? All I can think of is that Kikuno was playing mind-games with Dida, trying to lull him into overconfidence before pouncing and taking advantage of it. If I was Dida, I certainly wouldn’t have expected Kikuno to suddenly try and go for the kill after several minutes spent chasing him around the ring. If that was Kikuno’s gameplan then you can’t really fault him for it, since it obviously worked beautifully. I just would have liked to have seen even a glimmer of Kikuno’s ability to finish a fight before he actually finished the fight.

Middleweight Bout: Paulo Filho vs. Melvin Manhoef

I’d be lying if I said that the train-wreck appeal of this match wasn’t the main reason I wanted to watch it. Once a top-ranked Middleweight, Paulo Filho has fallen from grace about as hard as one can fall. Just about everyone wanted to know if the old Filho would be back in this match or if Melvin Manhoef, long known for his vicious striking, would be pounding Filho’s face into the same type of jelly that must have been in Filho’s brain when he fought Chael Sonnen, a fight best known for Filho showing up several pounds overweight and apparently drugged out of his mind.

The opening minutes of the fight don’t look good for Filho at all, as Manhoef repeatedly swarms him and comes dangerously close to turning out the lights of Paulo Filho. Filho survives again and again, but appears to be understandably hurt, and repeatedly fails to score a takedown. Filho gets rocked and dropped with a heavy, heavy left hand, and Manhoef falls into Half-Guard for some Ground and Pound. The fight is stood up after a brief lull, and Melvin swarms once again, but Filho finally takes him down and quickly mounts him. One Armbar later and Paulo Filho is the recipient of a hard-fought come-from-behind submission victory.

Winner via Submission (Armbar) in Round 1: Paulo Filho

It’s tough to definitively say that Paulo Filho is “back”, but I will say this: this is certainly one fight where no one would have questioned him staring off into random directions. Manhoef brought the pain hard and he brought it early, and Filho had nothing for Manhoef’s impressive stand-up. There’s no doubt that Filho can take a punch, though, since Manhoef was really brutalizing him almost every single second of the fight until Filho finally managed to bring it down to the ground and get on top. I would have liked to see more of Paulo Filho than just him getting his head smashed in before pulling out the submission, but there’s not a lot more I can ask for considering how badly Filho performed in his last fight. While I disagree with the announcers claiming that Filho is officially “back”, I will say that I see the whisperings of a comeback in this fight. The biggest compliment I can give to Filho is that, next time, I won’t be watching his match purely to see a train-wreck. I’ll be watching with guarded interest, but interest nonetheless, and hoping that the former submission machine has a better gameplan than “block his punches with your face until you get the takedown”.

Middleweight Bout: Dong Sik Yoon vs. Jesse Taylor

Taylor immediately comes out looking for a takedown, and gets it about 20 seconds into the fight. However, Yoon lands weird and apparently injures his ankle. The ground game mixed with the adrenaline of fighting off of his back prevents Yoon from ending the match right then and there, but almost immediately after getting up and putting weight back on his leg, Yoon falls, makes the “time-out” motion to stop Jesse from pouncing on him, and gives up the fight. Jesse Taylor, one of the biggest bad-boys to ever come out of “The Ultimate Fighter”, displays considerable sportsmanship post-fight, checking on Yoon and even apologizing to him despite the fact that it was a freak injury.

Winner via TKO (Injury) in Round 1: Jesse Taylor

I’m personally not too familiar with the antics of “JT Money”, having just gotten back into watching “The Ultimate Fighter”, but if what I’ve read is true, this fight is a night-and-day difference from the Jesse Taylor that wrecked a limo. It appears that Taylor does indeed have his life together, as he displayed impressive ground control and takedown ability. Dong Sik Yoon is famous around the internet underground for the “Dongbar”, his Armbar submission, so I think this fight could really have been something if it had played out on the ground. I am a bit left down, but it’s hard to fault DREAM, Yoon, Taylor, or anyone else for a freak injury that can happen to anyone. I think I would enjoy the prospect of a rematch between these two.

Lightweight Bout: Vitor Ribeiro vs. Shinya Aoki

One of the darling boys of DREAM, Shinya Aoki is known as one of the best ground grapplers in Mixed Martial Arts. While not as well known, Vitor Ribeiro is also considered a master of the ground game. So it’s easy to see why this match was hyped as one of the biggest of DREAM.10, with people practically salivating to see who would win an epic chess-match of positioning, control, reversals, and submission attempts.

What we got was two masters of the ground game keeping the fight standing for fifteen minutes. That’s no joke- neither man really ever felt the need to take this to the place where they had made their mark on the MMA world. Both rounds see both men land little more than pestering blows. Aoki gets in a few knees here and there, but the biggest weapon in his arsenal is a left high kick that Ribeiro repeatedly takes on his elbow, resulting in his elbow turning bright red and then purple. The fight goes to the ground in the last few minutes of Round 2, but even then neither man does much of anything. Aoki coasts to a Unanimous Decision win as the crowd suddenly wonders whether or not they’ve entered Bizarro World. Post-fight Aoki jokingly says to the crowd “That was my Muay Thai, did you like it?” and is greeted with a shower of boos. The DREAM crowd booing Shinya Aoki? Yep, we’ve definitely entered Bizarro World.

Winner via Decision (Unanimous): Shinya Aoki

Two let-downs in a row…now that’s a damn shame. You’d have thought that Aoki would have turned it on much more often and much stronger than he did, given the fact that he’s DREAM’s darling boy fighting on a pretty significant show in one of the most highly-anticipated matches on the card. Aoki must have been out to prove that he could stand with people, but I have to ask…why? Why prove something like that when it’s already known that you’re a beast on the mat? Also, why take the risk of getting knocked out standing? I know Aoki’s last fight saw him getting knocked out on the ground, but still…how often does that happen? Plus, the man that knocked him out, Hayato “Mach” Sakurai, is famous for his stiff punches and knees. And let’s not forget that, in this fight, Aoki was fighting at his natural weight class. For all intents and purposes, this should have been the fight of the night. Instead we were treated to little more than a sparring match. While Aoki may have laughed it off, this is nothing short of an all-out blunder.

Welterweight Grand Prix 2009 Final Bout: Marius Zaromskis vs. Jason High

Given the last two fights and the disappointment that mired them, I wasn’t exactly pumped for this fight despite the fact that I’ve enjoyed watching both fighters. Marius comes out once again as Akuma, so at least we have that. There’s a bit of pomp and ceremony to celebrate the final match, but that’s a welcome treat too since it makes the match feel that more important. High looks to immediately take this thing to the ground, and does so, but Zaromskis ends up reversing and getting High on his back. High attempts an Armbar, but it’s more to get Zaromskis off of him than anything else, since High immediately springs to his feet once Zaromskis backs up and frees his arms. High looks to be anticipating a kick to the head, but seems well-prepared for a kick to the body as well, catching it and answering back with a nice counter-punch. Zaromskis lands a one-two before nailing High with a headkick so vicious the snap reverberates throughout the arena. The crowd and the announcers go wild as Jason goes out, unconscious before hitting the ropes. The referee dives in immediately to prevent any further damage, although Zaromskis does get in two additional shots.

Winner via KO (Head Kick) in Round 1: Marius Zaromskis

Ladies and gentlemen…Maris Zaromskis has arrived. Even out of his element, Marius remained cool and calm when dealing with High’s impressive wrestling game. Marius and his one-hit KO power will more than likely make him an incredible threat for whoever he faces. He truly displayed the heart of a champion and the fire to claim the big prize. I wish there was more to say about this fight, but the thing ended so quickly. You’ve got to hand it to Jason High, though: I had him winning the round until Marius nailed that beautiful kick. The best thing about the KO, though, was the fact that High was looking out for it. His stance, the way he was holding his hands, everything pointed to an approach that said “I’m going to do everything possible to make sure you don’t kick me in the face”. Marius looked like he was about to engage in a flurry of punches, but it was an expert fake-out designed to distract High from the incoming missile disguised as a leg. The speed with which Marius hit that kick was amazing- one second he’s punching, the next this flying limb comes out of nowhere, and then Jason High is suddenly staring at ceiling and counting sheep. With this win, Marius Zaromskis claims the DREAM Welterweight Grand Prix Championship and the DREAM Welterweight Championship. For the man everyone counted out, the only thing sweeter than victory must be the feeling he got when DREAM officials put one belt around his waist and another around his shoulder. No longer a “best kept secret”, Marius is on track to become a legitimate MMA sensation. Color me impressed, and if there’s a Marius Zaromskis bandwagon out there, go ahead and consider me a jumper.

Despite a few hiccups here and there, DREAM.10 is a fantastic start to double-digit DREAM events. Tarec Saffiedine put on a powerful performance, while Paulo Filho proved that his career is far from over. While questions linger on Filho’s ability to really mix it up, instead of just absorbing blows and sneaking in a submission, he’ll most likely find himself with considerably less detractors after withstanding the repeated onslaughts of Melvin Manhoef. Kikuno, despite some bizarreness, finished his fight quite suddenly and quite viciously, so I’ll keep an eye on him as well. Jesse Taylor showed a whole hell of a lot of promise, but his match ended so soon that I can’t say much other than I’d like a rematch to happen somewhere down the line.

But the big story of DREAM.10 will forever be the relative unknown with a flashy entrance and feet of concrete knocking out the heavily-favored Hayato “Mach” Sakurai in the Semi-Finals en route to winning the entire tournament. There can be a whole lot of variables and mixed emotions when a virtual unknown pulls out the MMA equivalent of a Cinderella story- some would argue that the unknown either got lucky, fought when his opponent was weak, or simply didn’t deserve to advance. All of this usually comes from decision victories late in the tournament, when everyone is tired and not at their best. Zaromskis faces no such critiques- he fought “Mach” at his best, took some of Mach’s biggest shots and most powerful blows, and not only did he keep coming, but he turned the tide and sent Mach to the dressing room wondering just what in the hell happened to him. Jason High would share Sakurai’s fate, and quite literally said in his post-fight interview that he had no idea what had happened to him.

DREAM.8  and DREAM.9 were both great events (reviews of them will be forthcoming), but I truly think it’s DREAM.10 that has made me a firm fan. Despite the fact that DREAM has little tried-and-true MMA superstars to boast to casual fans, any who give the promotion a chance usually come out stunned at what they see. While not “stacked” in terms of big-name draws and super-fights, DREAM consistently pulls out the “sleeper hit” and the “cult classic”: two guys you’ve never heard of end up having a fantastic fight. So, suddenly, you’re interested. You don’t know who’s fighting who since you’ve never heard of anybody before, but if the next one is as good as the one you just saw, nothing else really matters. While DREAM.10 is far from perfect- I’ve already listed several issues I had with it- overall I had a strong feeling that the best is yet to come for this upstart promotion.

Moving ahead, we’ve got the Super-Hulk tournament to look forward to and a Lightweight Championship rematch pitting current DREAM Lightweight Champion Joachim Hansen against the man he beat for the belt, Shinya Aoki (who will hopefully be un-Bizarro’d by the time this fight rolls around). Both men hold a victory over each other, so the “rubber match” should be a stellar one. The Featherweight Grand Prix is also set to wrap up by DREAM.11, and it’s highly rumored that Ronaldo Souza and Jason Miller will also meet at the event, attempting to once again crown a Middleweight Champion after Gegard Mousasi vacated the belt to move to Light Heavyweight and the first Middleweight Championship fight between these two ended in a No Contest when Miller accidentally kicked Souza in the face when Souza was on the ground, creating a huge gash and causing the referees to stop the fight. And of course, given his performance, fight fans are undoubtedly waiting with eager anticipation to see who the first man will be to challenge for Marius Zaromskis’s Welterweight Championship.

So while there were a few hits and misses, DREAM.10 ultimately excels as an event and, while not as important as a 100th show, still marks an impressive milestone for the fledgling promotion. It’s also a great “gateway” show, with the notable KO’s easily able to draw in the casual fans.

Find it, watch it, buy it- any way you can. It’s more than worth it.

 

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