In a long-awaited matchup between two of the most popular Japanese fighters of all time, Kazushi Sakuraba (24-11-1) will take on Kiyoshi Tamura (32-13-2) in the main event, while Dream lightweight standouts Gesias "JZ" Cavalcante (14-2-1, 1 NC) and Joachim Hansen (19-7-1) will rematch in a non-title bout.
The confrontation between the “IQ Wrestler” and the first-ever Rings heavyweight champion has been four years in the making and their rivalry dates back even further to their time together at pro wrestling promotion UWF International from 1991-1995. The situation heated up when Sakuraba started calling out Tamura for Pride’s New Year’s show in 2005, but the U-Style star refused to fight him.
Ever since, multiple promotions have worked hard to make this dream bout happen, including the now defunct Dream Stage Entertainment (DSE) with its Pride promotion, FEG with its Hero’s brand and now the coalition between former members of DSE and FEG with Dream.
Although both competitors are already in the autumn of their respective careers and at least five years removed from their sporting prime -- Sakuraba was the undisputed No. 1 Japanese fighter in 2000, 2001 and 2003, while Tamura topped the list in 2002 –- the clash of these two Nippon legends is a worthy headliner for the NYE event and a fight that fans in the land of the rising sun have been demanding for a very long time.
The fight against Tamura will mark an unprecedented sixteenth time that Sakuraba will headline a big show in Japan. He has fought in ten main events for Pride, three for Hero’s and two for Dream, going 8-6 in those bouts with one no contest.
Tamura has headlined no less than seventeen Rings events himself. Thirteen of them have occurred before 2000, however. Rings aside, the 38-year-old’s popularity has only been reflected in three main event appearances: one for Pride, Deep and Hero’s each. Tamura is 10-8-2 as a headliner.
In the co-featured bout, Dream lightweight tournament winner and reigning lightweight champion Hansen will meet again with two-time Hero’s middleweight (155-pound) tournament champion Cavalcante, though no hardware will be on the line.
“The representations made on certain Web sites in regards to this being our client’s first title defense are wholly unfounded and therefore a misrepresentation,” Hansen’s management told Sherdog.com. “This will be a non-title match. The defense of Joachim's Dream lightweight title will not be scheduled until next year of which the opponent is still to be confirmed.”
Hansen earned Dream’s prestigious grand prix title with victories over Kotetsu Boku, Kultar Gill, and then Japanese grappling prodigy Shinya Aoki in the finals, after Eddie Alvarez was forced to step out of the tournament due to a cut he sustained in the semifinals.
Alvarez and Hansen’s first encounter in the tournament’s quarterfinals last May remains a strong candidate for “fight of the year.” Alvarez took a unanimous decision in a crowd-pleasing war.
The bout between Hansen, Sherdog.com’s No. 3 ranked lightweight and Cavalcante, the current No. 6, will be a rematch of their July 2004 meeting in Shooto. A just 21-year-old Cavalcante took his Norwegian opponent down at will in that fight, but was unable to mount any significant offense within his guard. The Brazilian went on to lose a split decision.
Their second clash should be a totally different story, as the American Top Team protégé has become a highly dangerous striker in the past three years, racking up seven of his last eight wins inside the distance.
“J.Z. Calvan” -- the name Cavalcante was dubbed in Japan -- has recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee he suffered in mid-May. The 25-year-old Cavalcante already missed last year’s NYE extravaganza, where he was scheduled to square off against Aoki until the Brazilian pulled out with torn knee ligaments.