Lesnar and Gracie Win at Historic Dynamite!! USA

Brock Lesnar and Royce Gracie came out best in their main event matchesLOS ANGELES, June 2, 2007 — Brock Lesnar and Royce Gracie came out best in their main event matches, but the real winners at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum tonight were the estimated 54,000 fans who made history by setting a new attendance record for a mixed martial arts event in the United States.

A unique coalescence of martial arts showdown and California laid-back, Dynamite!! USA started under sunny skies and proceeded without a hitch through a cool summer evening, ending with a dazzling fireworks display. MC’d by local radio personality “DJ Hopper,” there was, along with the fighting, an acappella rendition of the American national anthem by pop group “All for One,” a couple of taiko drumming performances, and ring appearances by Korean fighter Hong-Man Choi, Japanese singer Yoshiki, and NBA star Dennis Rodman, who bellowed, “UFC? Hell no! K-1 has come to LA!”

First on the card was defending Hero’s Middleweight champ J.Z. Calvan Brazil facing California-based Nam Phan in a 155lbs/70kg weight class bout. The pair of jiu-jitsu fighters circled only briefly before Calvan got the takedown, moving quickly to a ground ‘n pound to get the referee stop and the KO win at just 26 seconds.

Another couple of lightweights in the second bout, Isaiah “Problem Child” Hill of the USA and Katsuhiko Nagata of Japan. Hill was the more aggressive from the bell, punching and kneeing to bloody his opponent’s face, prompting a doctor check. After resumption it was Nagata with a couple of takedowns and mounts, but the Japanese was unable to effect significant damage. The second saw Nagata again get the early mount but Hill was still excellent in guard, pumping bicycle kicks for a reversal midway through. The fight stayed on or near the ropes through the balance of the round, neither fighter able to work an advantage.

In the third Hill got a couple of punches through, and this put him up on one judge’s card, but soon Nagata had another easy takedown and once again the fight went to the mat, Nagata on top and Hill in guard, and another stalemate. This pattern played up to the bell and a split decision for Nagata.

They brought out the big boys for the third bout — American heavyweights Tim “Big Perm” Persey and Jonathan Wiezorek. Persey hails from Irvine, California, which got him some vocal crowd support against his Illinois opponent.

A good long session of hugging to start this one before the referee separated for a restart. But again the grunts went to the clinch, stumbling round awkwardly, eliciting boos from the crowd until another restart was called. Now Persey got the takedown, but Wiezorek tied him up from the guard before extracting and working the left arm in the hope of submitting. Persey got out of trouble and rose to his feet for another clinching display before Wiezorek twisted for a takedown at the clapper to end the round.

Persey jabbed twice to start the second, but Wiezorek soon got the takedown to rear mount and tossed in the punches to the side of Persey’s head. The referee implored the Californian to fight back, but he did not, and so the bout was called in Wiezorek’s favor.

Next up was another Californian, Jake Shields, who showed his stuff against fellow jiu-jitsu fighter, Ido “The Hebrew Hammer” Pariente of Israel.

Shields, who has trained with Chuck Liddell and more recently with the Caesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu team, started with a nice takedown and was aggressive in the mount, maneuvering for the rear naked choke and a submission sleeper at just 2:06 of the first. A dominating performance and impressive win for Shields.

Said the happy fighter from the winner’s circle: “I was trying to finish it as quick as I could to show the world I have what it takes to be number one, just give me a guy and I’ll beat him!”

Former NFLer Johnnie Morton of the United States and Bernard Ackah of Cote d’Ivoire followed. Morton, who hails from Torrance, California, was another of the favorites for the crowd today. This was Morton’s mixed martial arts debut, not expected to be much of an issue as his opponent Ackah had but one professional fight under his belt.

Morton came out like a loaded gun, rushing Ackah with strikes, looking for the takedown. Ackah just missed with a high kick, but was being seriously out-hustled here. Morton powered his way through Ackah’s clinch, plowing the African fighter across the ring and into the ropes in an attempt to force the fight to the mat.

Things were not looking good for Ackah, but as we’ve seen so many times before, in a fight everything can change in one second. With the two on their feet, Morton threw a left, but — and the cliché never seemed more appropriate — Ackah beat him to the punch. It was a quick right cross landing hard on the jaw, and Morton was out before his body crumpled to the canvas. Ackah threw his arms in the air, the happiest man in the place, and maybe among the more surprised as well. Morton was taken from the ring in a stretcher to California Hospital for tests and was expected to be released the same evening.

A bout of particular interest to K-1 fans was the matchup between California-based two-time K-1 GP champion Mighty Mo and Ruben “Warpath” Villarreal, a Native American from the Kipawa Nation.

Warpath told the media pre-fight that he hoped to “see with the eyes of a hawk and summon the warrior spirit.” Mo simply wanted to land one of his devastating right hooks.

A boisterous welcome for Mo from the partisan crowd. At the start Warpath closed to clinch, looking to wrestle his opponent to the mat. But the stocky Mo, with his low center of gravity, proved impossible to bring down, and instead the two stood toe to toe and exchanged punches. This was disaster for Warpath, as Mo landed first a left then a right to drop his opponent. The prone Warpath scrambled in vain toward Mo’s legs, attempting again to bring him down, but it was no good — Mo circled behind and countered with an uppercut to the chin that rattled Warpath, bringing the referee in to stop it at 1:33. A convincing performance from Mo, who notched his third KO win in three mixed martial arts bouts.

The Coliseum’s north stands hosted a huge contingent of Korean-Americans who brought the noise when judo stylist Dong Sik Yoon of South Korea stepped into the ring for his 205lbs/93kg match with Melvin Manhoef, a Dutch K-1 and mixed martial arts fighter. Manhoef endeared himself with the crowd to some degree by peppering his ring entrance with spirited dance steps.

This was a thrilling fight, one of the best on the card. Manhoef commenced well with low kicks and aggressive punching attacks, Yoon eating a few of these before getting a rest with a clinch, which the gumptious Manhoef wrestled into a takedown and mount. There followed a series of exciting reversals, Yoon making a good attempt at an arm lock. Soon Yoon was in full mount, and it was Manhoef showing his grappling skills, looking very capable in guard. Yoon got another chance to work the armbar here but Manhoef slipped free, and the pair finished the round on their feet.

The second saw Manhoef aggressive again at the start with strikes, deftly meeting Yoon’s leg takedown attempt with a knee. But the Korean somehow managed to get to the mat and into a side mount. Manhoef twisted but did not make a clean escape, and now found himself on the wrong side of a dangerous rear mount. Twisting again, Manhoef got in worse trouble still, as Yoon flipped round, found purchase on an arm and hyperextended for the tapout win. The crowd went wild.

Brad “One Punch” Pickett of the UK then sashayed into the ring for his 155lbs/70kg date with Hideo Tokoro of Japan. A couple of lightweights, the pair stayed on their feet jabbing for awhile, when they went to the mat it was Tokoro who had the leglock. Pickett showed some spunk going for the reversal, but Tokoro stayed one move ahead. A smart fight for the young Japanese, who worked position well on the mat to get an armbar and submit his opponent.

There was a living legend ringside — Helio Gracie, the 93 year-old co-founder of the jiu-jitsu style that bears his name. Gracie came to Los Angeles with his son Royce, who took on Kazushi Sakuraba in the one of the most highly-anticipated bouts on the card. For the Gracie family, this was not just about fighting, this was about honor.

The last time Royce Gracie and Sakuraba met was seven years ago. The bout, regarded as one of the most intense in mixed martial arts history, went on for an incredible 90 minutes before Royce’s leg gave out and his corner threw in the towel. A total of four victories over the illustrious fighting clan earned Sakuraba the nickname “the Gracie Hunter.” Tonight, Royce and family came looking for payback.

The two started tentatively, testing with low kicks, before Sakuraba landed a dandy right hook to put Gracie on the ground. Sakuraba circled above while Gracie kept him at bay with bicycle kicks before the Japanese raced in to wrestle. With Gracie in guard and the action stalled the fighters were re-stood. A tight clinch now, Gracie behind, Sakuraba relentless with his grip on Gracie’s left arm. The Brazilian slipped out of trouble with great effort and got a solid low kick in to end the round.

The second was a measured affair, bringing scattered booing from the crowd. The pair spent most of the round in a close clinch against the ropes, Gracie occasionally managing punches, Sakuraba using the knees. The third started with Gracie coming in for a leg takedown, Sakuraba stymieing him with a knee. Again both men spent a long time locking up the other’s arms and clinching against the ropes. Gracie managed the best strikes of the round, a series of rights to the side of Sakuraba’s head, and after a late re-stand the fighters once again locked up to finish. A cautious technical fight, judges giving it to Gracie by unanimous decision.

The last bout featured the mixed martial arts debut of American Brock Lesnar, a stellar college athlete turned three-time WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) champion and fightsport athlete par excellence. Lesnar faced South Korean Min Soo Kim, who won a silver medal in judo at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and had emerged victorious in his last two Hero’s bouts.

It didn’t take long for Lesnar’s athleticism to make an impact here — the American charged in with a takedown, which might have been somewhat sloppy but did the trick. Now Lesnar had a half mount and was putting in the punches, out-muscling Kim’s endeavors to get out from under him. The South Korean wrapped his arms round Lesnar’s waist and held on tight in the hope of stopping the barrage, but a cool Lesnar pried Kim’s head from his chest and pumped in the right then the left. The only way away from the pain was a tapout, and that’s what Kim did after scarcely a minute.

“It was fun,” said Lesnar from the winner’s circle, “I absolutely enjoyed myself, and I want to keep on fighting and I hope I can get to fight the guy with the big head [Choi], we’ll see what happens next!”

The initial attendance estimate from the LA Coliseum was 54,000, a final official tally will be available soon. The Dynamite!! USA event was broadcast live in the United States on Showtime (the first three bouts for free, the balance as pay-per-view), in Japan on the TBS Network, and in Korea on CJTV. For broadcast in other areas contact local providers. For official results for this and other Hero’s and K-1 events, visit the K-1 Official Website (www.k-1.co.jp/k-1gp)

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Monty DiPietro