Success for Sakuraba in Saitama

Held at the Saitama Super Arena, the event opened this year’s DREAM Middleweight Grand Prix series. Fourteen of the world’s top mixed martial arts fighters battled for the right to advance to a final elimination tournament on June 15 and a chance for a spot in September’s DREAM Middleweight GP Final. SAITAMA, April 29, 2008 — Veteran mixed martial arts fighter Sakuraba weathered an early challenge then rallied to beat Andrews Nakahara by submission tonight at the DREAM.2 Middleweight Grand Prix 1st Round.

Held at the Saitama Super Arena, the event opened this year’s DREAM Middleweight Grand Prix series. Fourteen of the world’s top mixed martial arts fighters battled for the right to advance to a final elimination tournament on June 15 and a chance for a spot in September’s DREAM Middleweight GP Final. Bouts were conducted under Official DREAM Rules, (1stR x 10 min, 2ndR x 5min) in an 84 kg/185 lbs weight class.

The Main Event featured Japanese living legend Kazushi Sakuraba, who took on Brazilian Andrews Nakahara, a kyokushin fighter 14 years his junior. From the start, Sakuraba threw a couple of kicks then dove in, looking for in the leg takedown. Nakahara however was determined to remain on his feet, and managed to do so with some fancy footwork. Sakuraba made further takedown attempts soon afterward, but again and again was unsuccessful. Nakahara meanwhile was scoring points with kicks.

Finally, Sakuraba got the fight onto the mat, where he assumed a side mount. The veteran threw in punches and knees to the body and head before twisting round for a rear mount. Sakuraba now brought the arm round for the rear naked choke and the win by submission.

“I’m exhausted,” said Sakuraba afterward. “Nakahara has good balance, and he’s still young, with a bit more practice of sure he’ll be a great fighter. I’m glad it could beat him today, before he gets a lot better!”

Popular Canadian fighter Denis Kang met Dutch boxer Gegard Mousasi in the card’s highly-anticipated penultimate bout.

An aggressive Kang threw the first punches, connecting with a left, before diving in for the leg takedown and side mount. The Canadian could not get much going and soon was back on his feet, where he passed Mousasi’s bicycle kicks with punches. The Dutch fighter, however, got hold of an arm and pulled Kang’s head down, brought up the legs and in no time had a triangle choke and the tapout win.

“My game plan was not to be on my back, so it was dangerous,” said Mousasi in his post-bout interview, “but if there’s one submission I’m good at its the triangle choke, and luckily I was able to get it.”

Japanese pro-wrestlers Kiyoshi Tamura and Masakatsu Funaki went at it hard. Nothing but strikes in this one, Tamura on the receiving end of a hard kick to the chin before delivering some payback with his fists. Tamura belted Funaki soundly several times to put him in serious trouble, then knocked the wobbly fighter to the canvas, leapt atop and began to hammer at the face. A half-dozen blows went unanswered before Tamura turned and looked at the referee, who came in to stop the beating.

Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter Ronaldo Jacare entertained American wrestler Ian Murphy. Jacare a chased his opponent down aggressively, and it wasn’t long before both the pair were on the mat. Jacare attempted to extract an arm before switching tactics and taking a rear mount. The Brazilian pestered his opponent with punches to the side of the head, before wrapping the arm round and submitting with a rear naked choke. An impressive victory for Jacare.

Zelg “Benkei” Galesic of Croatia stepped in against Russian Magomed Sultanakhmadov. This one went to the mat fairly quickly, with Sultanakhmadov in guard. Galesic however brought the leg over and pulled out an arm. Sultanakhmadov stood, but could not shake Gelsic’s juji-gatame, the hyperextension eliciting a submission.

In a battle of judoka, South Korean Dong Sik Yoon faced Shungo Oyama of Japan. Yoon with the first takedown, passing Oyama’s guard with punches before finding the side mount and twisting into full mount at the round’s halfway point. Oyama got out of trouble and both fighters were re-stood. A number of strikes but no damage before Yoon got a single leg takedown to end the round.

In the second, Yoon once more got the takedown to the rear then full mount to work the fists from close, getting some height late in the round to deliver a proper pounding. A unanimous decision for Yoon.

The evening’s first middleweight matchup saw Seidokaikan fighter Taiei Kin of Japan take on flashy compatriot Minowaman. Kin was effective in guard through the early going, and when the pair went to their feet, it was Kin with the hard kicks, although Minowaman did manage a good straight punch.. Minowaman executed a double leg takedown, Kin again took guard until the two were re-stood for lack of action. Kin’s low kicks bothered Minowaman, who dove in again for the takedown, with another stalemate resulting.

More of the same in the second, but for a period at the midpoint and another in the last minute when the pair stood and exchanged strikes, Kin landing a knee but Minowaman showing a good chin. A unanimous decision for Kin.

There was also a DREAM Lightweight (70kg/154lbs) match on the card, with HERO’s 2007 Champion J.Z. Calvan of Brazil taking on Shinya Aoki of Japan. This was a rematch of the pair’s March 15 fight, which was declared “no contest” after a first-round foul rendered Aoki unable to continue.

Exciting first round action on the mat, Aoki getting a grip on Calvan’s foot, the Brazilian breaking the hold with the series of vicious heel kicks before taking superior position and pounding punches round to his opponent’s head. Aoki got to his feet and spent much of the remainder of the round riding Calvan’s back. The Japanese fighter repeatedly attempted to work a chokehold, but Calvan was never seriously threatened. The round ended with Aoki on his back, striking with bicycle kicks.

In the second, Aoki went to the rubber guard position, and soon had effectively locked up Calvan’s right arm. Aoki very nearly managed an armbar here, but Calvan deftly flipped his body over Aoki’s legs to reverse. Calvan passed with a number of punches, but again Aoki effectively controlled the fight, and was rewarded with a unanimous decision. A tremendous upset win for the 24 year old judoka.

The DREAM.2 Middleweight Grand Prix 1st Round attracted a crowd of 21,397 to the Saitama Super Arena. It was broadcast live in Japan on SkyPerfect pay-per-view, and will be rebroadcast on the TBS national network. For delay-broadcast information in other countries, contact local providers. As always, visit the K-1 Official Website ( for comprehensive coverage of this and all FEG productions.

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Monty DiPietro