Eddie Alvarez (Pictures), Caol Uno (Pictures) and Tatsuya Kawajiri (Pictures) advanced Sunday to the semifinals of Dream's yearlong lightweight tournament.
In what was perhaps the fight of the night, Alvarez defeated Joachim Hansen (Pictures) in a riveting 15-minute war. The fighter from Philadelphia dropped Hansen several times in the bout, only to have the tough Norwegian pop right back to his feet and continue forward.
After the epic battle, both fighters, bruised and fatigued, collapsed against each other in a mutual bow.
"I wrestled in high school, and when you sweat and bleed, and you go through that type of hardship with someone, whether it's against them or with them, you respect each other," Alvarez said. "You can't help but respect that person, so that was my sign of respect to Joachim and that was his sign of respect to me, to let us know that we've been through a hardship together and that we just put on a great show. I just thank him for helping me to put on the great show we had."
The soft-spoken and humble Hansen expressed similar sentiments, saying that Alvarez was the toughest man he had ever faced. Later that evening, Hansen also discussed the moment immediately after the bout.
"[I had] kind of mixed feelings, but I felt we had a good fight," he said. "I'm a little disappointed for not getting further in the grand prix tournament. [He's] very strong, very hard punches. Very tough. I respect him. He is a very tough fighter, and I also got an impression that he would be a very humble person."
Hansen made mention of having felt punch-drunk during the bout -- a surprise given his historically proven chin and also a testament to Alvarez's standup. Yet Alvarez modestly described his own striking ability by saying he didn't think it was "up to par."
"It's good, but … I think I just hit hard," Alvarez said. "I wouldn't consider myself super technical. I leave myself open a lot just to be able to commit and land punches that I land. But I've fought guys who've never been knocked out, and I've fought guys with ‘cast-iron chins,' and I've put them down before.
"I know I can put people away, and I'm confident in my ability to do that. And I was confident in my ability to do it to Joachim. Credit to him though, because he got right back up and kept coming at me, even though I caught him very early in the fight."
Acutely aware that he is now the only non-Japanese fighter in the lightweight grand prix, Alvarez sees the deck as stacked against him.
"I realize that I'm going to have to knock them out or completely dominate them if I am going to win," he said. "I'm in Japan, and it would be the same if they came to Atlantic City."
Alvarez, who apparently suffered an injury to his MCL during training two weeks prior, will now have two months to rest up and prepare for Dream's final lightweight tournament card in July. He plans on getting married soon after the tournament.
"We'll be getting married September 13," said Alvarez, flanked by his fiancée, Jamie. "So I'm hoping that after the tournament, I can wear both my belts to our wedding and then take a little time off and relax."
Kawajiri challenges Uno, then calms down
Just after his main-event tournament win against T-Blood's Mitsuhiro Ishida (Pictures), Caol Uno (Pictures) spoke briefly about his in-ring performance.
"I was really calm and Ishida was as well," Uno said. "You need to stay calm because in MMA, dangerous things can happen at any time. I always thought that so long as I could deliver my game plan, it would be great.
"Mr. Maruyama, my cornerman, told me not to be too defensive," continued Uno. "I can still remember my fight against Joachim Hansen. I was too defensive at that time, so I was ready to go in aggressive in this second-round [tournament bout]. I felt that if I went in defensive, I'd have lost the fight."
Uno put forth an excellent performance against Ishida. He controlled not only the standup but the grappling as well, stifling the stalwart wrestler's best attempts to get him on his back. Perhaps given the nigh-masterful performance, Ishida teammate Tatsuya Kawajiri (Pictures) -- who had already defeated Luiz Firmino (Pictures) to advance in the tournament -- was quick to approach Uno with some strong words that indicated his wish to fight him in the next round.
"Hero's, Pride -- these things don't matter. Please fight me in the next round," said a stone-faced Kawajiri in the ring before passing the microphone to Uno.
"Yes, well, Kawajiri is a strong fighter," Uno said to the crowd. "However, because I've just got done fighting, I'll have to return home and consider this."
A potential semifinal meeting would not be the first between the two fighters. In 2004 they fought an exciting back-and-forth battle in Shooto that resulted in a draw.
Despite Kawajiri's insistence on a definitive ending, Uno showed reserve in not committing haphazardly to a second fight.
"I understand how he feels," Uno said later in the evening of Kawajiri's imposing demand for a rematch. "If I was in the same position, I would have felt the same way."
Kawajiri was also somewhat calmer later than he had been in the moments immediately after his cohort's second-round submission.
"I was a bit too heated up and I probably troubled Uno and his cornermen," Kawajiri said. "But, as a fighter, I would really like to fight him. He's a great fighter, and that's why I wanted to convey that message to him in my own words."
Though he would not comment on whether he would accept Kawajiri's challenge, Uno continued to acknowledge Kawajiri's strength as a fighter and said he would certainly rise to fight him once again should Dream officials match them up.