Although the featherweights were thought to be the center of attention for Dream 9, parent company Fighting and Entertainment Group has added another tournament focal point on the other side of the scales.
In a true Japanese mixed martial arts-style spectacle, FEG has announced its second tournament series of 2009: an eight-man open-weight competition that includes Major League Baseball bad boy Jose Canseco and has been christened the Super Hulk Tournament.
Four quarter-final bouts are slated for Dream 9 on May 26 at the Yokohama Arena in Yokohama, Japan, pitting fighters of all shapes and sizes against one another.
The opening round of the Super Hulk draw will see middleweight Ikuhisa Minowa play a familiar David role against Goliath Bob Sapp; Pride Fighting Championships and UFC veteran Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou will square off with K-1 veteran Jan Nortje; former Dream middleweight titleholder Gegard Mousasi will meet 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix champion Mark Hunt; and South Korean super heavyweight Hong Man Choi will face Canseco.
Minowa (41-30-8) is coming off of a disappointing decision loss to professional wrestling convert Katsuyori Shibata at Dream 8, while Sapp (10-3-1) has not seen action since he stopped amateur wrestling convert Akihito Tanaka -- under his now-infamous Kinniku Mantaro costume -- on New Year’s Eve. Sokoudjou (5-4), loser of three of his last four, was submitted in the second stanza by Renato "Babalu" Sobral at Affliction’s “Day of Reckoning” in January. The 6-foot-11 Nortje (2-5), despite being stopped in consecutive K-1 bouts by Peter Aerts and Bjorn Bregy, was victorious in his last MMA venture in February 2008, as he stopped fellow tournament competitor Sapp in 55 seconds inside the Strikeforce promotion.
The 23-year-old Mousasi (24-2-1) -- one of MMA’s hottest prospects after his 6-0 blitz in 2008 that saw him take Dream’s middleweight grand prix by storm -- recently vacated his Dream 183-pound throne in order to move up to 205 pounds and beyond. He has not fought since winning the crown by polishing off Melvin Manhoef and Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza in September. Hunt (5-5), 35, has lost his last four MMA bouts. He was shockingly knocked out by the aforementioned Manhoef in just 18 seconds on Dec. 31.
New Year’s Eve also marked the last action for the 7-foot-2 Choi (1-2), who was chopped down with leg kicks by Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic in the first round. Canseco, 44, has never competed in MMA, despite reported backgrounds in tae kwon do and muay Thai. The steroid whistleblower’s most prominent combat sports forays have come in celebrity boxing exhibitions. Canseco was knocked out in the first round of his bout with former NFL special teams maven Vai Sikahema in July and fought to a three-round majority draw with former child star Danny Bonaduce in January. He played for seven teams in his 17-year career in the major leagues and ranks 32nd on the all-time list with 463 home runs.
Dream event producer Keiichi Sasahara did not reveal any additional details on the tournament’s structure and scheduling for future rounds. However, Sasahara did promise a 15.0-percent television rating for Dream 9, the promotion’s first primetime broadcast of 2009 on the Tokyo Broadcasting System. In the promotion’s inaugural year, Dream garnered only paltry ratings in a flagging Japanese MMA market, pulling ratings of 8.9, 10.0 and 9.0 for its three primetime broadcasts. The strongest ratings star of Dream’s last two primetime broadcasts was Yoshihiro Akiyama, who has since left the promotion and signed with the UFC.
The Dream 9 telecast will be supported by a boxing lead-in, which will feature Japan’s most popular combat sports commodity, Daisuke Naito, defending his WBC 112-pound title against China’s Xiong Zhao Zhong. Naito has routinely drawn in the 25.0 rating range since he took his title from Thai rival Pongsaklek Wonjongkam in July 2007. Naito’s last defense, an 11th-round stoppage of countryman Shingo Yamaguchi in December, drew a 25.6 rating on TBS.