TOKYO -- A smiling Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto, clad in large sunglasses, calmly expressed feelings of resignation and resolve to the Japanese media Wednesday after dropping a close split decision to MMA upstart Joe Warren in the semi-main event of Dream 9.
“Well, he was often on top of me, and I was under him, so I thought that that can’t be good. A loss is a loss, right?” Yamamoto said with a wry smile.
“He was a good wrestler, more so than I’d expected. My arms were really tired just in trying to keep up with him, so I think my inability to score punches led to my loss. It’s been a while since I’ve fought, and a while since I fought a bout this difficult, but I thought it was good.”
Warren cited his supportive family and friends in addition to his mental toughness and conditioning as the factors that contributed to his win.
“You can’t get me tired, bottom line. My leg hurts. I’ve never ever worked on stopping a kick -- that’s probably the next thing on the game plan here,” chuckled Warren. “But outside of that, I’m fine. I’m happy and confident, just looking forward to the next fights.
“I’m a champion, I never plan on losing. I understand it’s only the second fight of my career, and I’m really honored to beat a champion like [Yamamoto]. I know my technique is not as solid as it should be, but I’m working hard, and the most dangerous thing is that I get better every single day.”
The Greco-Roman world champion also thanked Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez in addition to his Team Quest peers in helping prepare for the bout. Warren also entertained the idea of Yamamoto helping him now that he has been eliminated from the featherweight tournament.
For years an uncrowned king in the featherweight division, Yamamoto was returning to action Tuesday for his first bout in approximately 512 days. Ten-minute rounds weren’t the only new obstacle for his Dream debut either; the Japanese star felt that the fight was a perfect storm of firsts for him.
“I have almost no experience of being on the bottom, and no real experience grappling with my opponents. I played his game, and I didn’t want to lose by grappling. I’ll brush up on my wrestling. I showed a lot of holes today, but next time, I’ll be solid,” he promised with a grin.
When Warren was asked if he’d felt that he had already won the tournament by beating the favorite in Yamamoto, the American was quick to reply that he had not.
“This was just a quarterfinal match,” he said. “I’m very excited to get the win, but we’re putting it behind us and concentrating on winning those belts over the next two fights. Kid Yamamoto’s been on top for a long time. I respect him a lot, but [his] crown is [the] past.”
Mayhem-Jacare III already in the works?
“I’m very disappointed. I wanted to give the Dream audience a great show. I think I did, but in the wrong way,” said a disappointed Jason "Mayhem" Miller of his no contest middleweight title match against Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza. “I wanted to show that Dream was the number one show in the world and that we have a true champion here in the middleweight division. And now, I’m going to make us wait.”
Given the anticlimactic ending to the main event, Dream event producer Keiichi Sasahara said that he would like to reschedule a third encounter between Miller and Souza for the recently vacated middleweight title.
“I’d like to set up a rematch for the title as soon as possible. Now there seems to be a grudge between them, so it will be an exciting fight,” Sasahara said.
Both fighters showed distaste for each other over the course of the brief bout, but while Miller hasn’t forgotten the heated exchange of words, Souza already has.
“He didn’t really say anything. I was so concentrated on the fight. I really wanted to continue, so that’s why I acted the way I did,” Souza said of his recollection of their heated verbal exchange.
Said Miller: “In the staredown, he said that he would break me, and I said, ‘We’ll see.’ Then later in the fight, I said to him, ‘What are you gonna break? What are you gonna break?”
Miller also guffawed at Souza’s comments that he had Miller in trouble on the feet.
Kawajiri one step closer
As one of Japan’s stalwart MMA patriots, Tatsuya Kawajiri saw his victory over Gesias Cavalcante as one step closer to his actualization of the MMA ideal.
“Despite this fight going to the decision, in my opinion, I thought it was a performance true to MMA, where I interweaved striking to my takedowns to smash into my opponent and take his will,” Kawajiri said. “Though it was a decision, this is the style that will eventually allow me to take submissions, so I think this performance is a step in the right direction for how I want to fight in the future.”
Cavalcante showed great respect in defeat, accepting the decision without reservation.
“Yeah, I think he won,” he said. “I’m not going to complain. I come to fight, so whatever happens, I’m gonna be OK. I love this shit. I’m gonna be back, I know my way. Victorious people in life have a long way. If you overcome all those [obstacles], you will be victorious. I know who I am inside. I know what I gotta do, and I know what I’m gonna’ get.”
Kawajiri said he’s now waiting on Joachim Hansen’s return.
“Today’s fight was to determine a title challenger, so now that I’ve become a frontrunner, my image is one where I’d fight in a big fight on New Year’s Eve for the title,” he said. “But it all depends on what Dream and the fans want.”
Aside from another foray into the K-1 ring to take on fan favorite Masato in July, Kawajiri looks to be next in line to challenge Hansen for the title. Kawajiri’s peer, Shinya Aoki, will take on Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro on the Dream 10 card rather than the rumored Aoki-Hansen rubber match.
Dream hits ratings goal
Dream event producer Keiichi Sasahara made good on his promise of delivering a 15 percent or better average rating for Dream 9’s tape-delayed broadcast on the Tokyo Broadcasting System.
Immediately following Daisuke Naito’s defense of his WBC 112-pound title against China’s Zhao Zhong Xiong -- which pulled a comparatively weak 20.4 percent compared to Naito’s last defense against Shingo Yamaguchi that pulled a rating of 25.6 percent -- the Dream 9 broadcast maintained a reasonable 16.2 percent average, peaking at 19.1 percent for the Warren-Yamamoto bout.
“I feel relieved that it was so successful. Insofar as passing a ratings goal, it’s a huge success. I feel confident that we can now declare a victory here, in terms of ratings,” said an elated Sasahara.
“I’m very, very happy. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to sleep so well.”