The Dream promotion crowned new lightweight and featherweight champions this week, capping an Oct. 6 fight card from Yokohama that drew passionate crowd response and encouraging television ratings.
Dream 11 saw the end of an eventful featherweight grand prix tournament, taken by decorated competition grappler Bibiano Fernandes, who bested Joe Warren and Hiroyuki Takaya. In a firecracker of a final, the heavy-handed Takaya garnered serious emotion from spectators by throwing power salvos and cutting Fernandes over the right eye. But Fernandes landed a huge right hook to drop his opponent in the second and rode his back for a significant duration. Both fighters stood in front of each other and fired punches until the bell sounded.
Fernandes was awarded the fight via split decision and then presented with a jumbo check worth about $300,000 for his 139-pound tournament win. Earlier in the evening he had derailed the red-hot Joe Warren by latching an armbar from the bottom in the first round after Warren slammed him. Warren did not appear to tap, but he looked trapped in a limb-busting position when the referee stepped in. It was the first pro loss for Warren, a wrestling champion who was on track to having one of the best breakout years the sport has seen. Takaya had made it to the finals via a thrilling TKO win over Hideo Tokoro.
Elsewhere, leggings-wearing grappling whiz Shinya Aoki claimed the Dream lightweight belt in a rubber match against Joachim Hansen. With the win, Aoki became the first Japanese fighter to capture a Dream title.
The tilt was dull until a lightning-fast finish by Aoki in the last 10 seconds of the fight. Hansen had actually gone for more submissions than Aoki until the Japanese star attained mount late in the second round and worked a guillotine attempt and then an armbar. Aoki held it calmly and suddenly closed off the hold when Hansen went to knee his head. Hansen, who was likely winning the fight up until that point, tapped with four seconds remaining.
The next test for Aoki is unclear. Earlier that night, Dream fed an overmatched Melvin Manibusan to top lightweight Tatsuya Kawajiri, whom the “Crusher” dispatched by first-round TKO. The promotion was pushing an Aoki vs. Kawajiri title fight for New Year’s Eve, but Aoki was cool to the idea in post-fight interviews, instead conspicuously referencing UFC fighters he’d like to face.
The two title bouts capped a card before some 14,000 fans. The show aired as a primetime special on Tokyo Broadcasting System in Japan and on HDNet in the United States. The event drew a 12.7 percent share rating on TBS, the second-highest rating the promotion has drawn on Japanese television. The number was down from the record 16.2 rating for the last primetime TBS event, Dream 9 in May. That card was bolstered by top Japanese draw Norifumi Yamamoto competing in his first bout since December 2007 and a high-profile boxing fight that aired beforehand.
Dream officials credited the rating to the allure of the infamous "Super Hulk" open-weight tournament, the final of which was set on the card.
Ikuhisa Minowa, the grizzled sentimental favorite, found a way to scale the 7-foot-2 frame of Korean kickboxer Hong Man Choi to tap him with a heel hook in the second round. Minowa was giving up 150 pounds in the fight. Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou had an easy time with Bob Sapp, getting an early takedown and raining punches for the TKO. Sokoudjou faces Minowa in the “Super Hulk” Finals on New Year's Eve.
In other Dream 11 action, Olympic wrestler Kazuyuki Miyata scored with diligent takedowns to contain and control Daiki Hata en route to a unanimous decision win, and Japanese legend Kazushi Sakuraba defeated debuting boxer Rubin Williams with a kimura.
Dream will shake things up significantly for its next event, Dream 12, on Oct. 25. Fights on that card will be contested inside a new, six-sided white cage and follow the three, five-minute round structure. The format change is a temporary, potentially annual, experiment. The card will feature Eddie Alvarez vs. Kastunori Kikuno, Melvin Manhoef vs. Zelg Galesic and Paulo Filho vs. Dong Sik Yoon. The rumored main event is Kiyoshi Tamura vs. Gilbert Melendez.