Dream, Sengoku Begin Tourney Selections; Aoki Eyes 168-Pound Slot

Tourney Selections

By Jordan Breen Jan 29, 2009
After a difficult debut year, Dream has its 2009 schedule sketched out, and it’s not the only major Japanese promotion with tournaments on their hands.

Dream parent company Fighting and Entertainment Group has revealed that its first event of the year will take place on March 8 at the Saitama Super Arena, and will be followed on April 5 with a card at the NGK Insulators Hall in Nagoya. The March bill will mark the beginning of the promotion's featherweight grand prix, while the April card will see the Dream welterweight grand prix kick off.

The promotion has also planned shows for May, July, September and October. While locations are not confirmed, major metropolitan areas such as Saitama, Osaka and Nagoya will be utilized for the majority of the events, though FEG is keen to stage October's card in a more rural city or abroad. The promotion will continue to broadcast events on the Tokyo Broadcasting System, however, as yet, only the May and September events have been designated for primetime airing, while the others will air later in the evening. Whether or not the promotion will broadcast those events live and in full on SkyPerfecTV pay-per-view has yet to be decided.

Dream, Sengoku Start Selections

While it is just over a month away, many of the details of Dream's featherweight grand prix have to be ironed out. While initially conceived as a 16-man tournament, it is now likely that it will be 15-man tournament, as Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto, who the tournament was largely designed for, will likely have to be seeded into the second round.

While FEG and Yamamoto have cited continuing issues with knee injury, a source close to the situation has told Sherdog.com that there are further complications due to many of the promotion's event sponsors being reluctant to champion Yamamoto's return, due to the lingering bad press. In July, Japanese tabloid Shukan Gendai linked the 31-year-old Yamamoto to "marijuana parties" in Tokyo, an allegation with considerable gravity given the strict cannabis control laws in Japan.

It is currently being discussed whether or not the superstar "Kid" will be slotted into the tournament's second round. However, there also exists the issue of the poundage for the tournament. Thus far, Dream's featherweight bouts have been held at catch weights typically between 138 and 141 pounds. Yamamoto, who was to be the cornerstone of the tournament, was originally given input into the weight structure and suggested a 135 or 137-pound cutoff. However, FEG has yet to officially announce the weight contract for the tournament.

Dream producer Keiichi Sasahara stated that he hopes to announce formal details of the featherweight grand prix later this week. Hideo Tokoro and Masakazu Imanari are both expected to be amongst the participants, while former freestyle Olympic wrestler Kazuyuki Miyata has stated that if the weight contract is no lower than 139 pounds, he would be interested in participating, despite the fact that he has had troubles making 154 pounds in the recent past.

Hiroyuki Abe pupil Takafumi Otsuka has been assured his participation in the tournament by FEG, while Deep's Feb. 10 card will feature a featherweight tournament eliminator between "DJ.taiki" Daiki Hata and Shoji Maruyama. Fighters who have also been contacted by FEG to participate, but are thus far unconfirmed, are "Wicky Akiyo" Akiyo Nishiura, Atsushi Yamamoto and Takeshi Yamazaki.

Also, World Victory Road has announced that Sengoku's March 20 card at Yoyogi National Stadium Second Gymnasium will mark the beginning of its own 16-man featherweight tournament, which will be contested at 143 pounds. WVR representative Takahiro Kokuho announced last Friday that he planned to announce 80 percent of the event's participants by this week's end, however, there have been some minor difficulties.

Sherdog.com has learned that WVR has forged a close relationship with leading Shooto promoter Sustain and hoped to utilize several Shooto regulars in the tournament. Featherweight standout Hatsu Hioki is confirmed for the tournament, however, Shooto world champion "Lion Takeshi" Takeshi Inoue is now unlikely to participate as he has been contracted to defend his Shooto 143-pound world title in May, in the middle of the tournament.

Furthermore, WVR had planned to use the winner of Jan. 18's Shooto bout between Shintaro Ishiwatari and Michihiro Omigawa, but due to the bout ending in a draw, the promotion is yet undecided on their inclusion. Also tapped to participate was Deep champion Dokonjonosuke Mishima, who was recently sidelined due to a knee injury sustained in training, and is also due to defend his Deep featherweight crown in early summer.

One boon for the promotion is that undefeated Nova Uniao product Marlon Sandro, the featherweight King of Pancrase, is confirmed for action in the bracket. Sandro is one of the four foreigners official so far, alongside once-beaten Briton Ronnie Mann, Canadian Nick Denis, and American Top Team product Chris Manuel.

Daniel Herbertson/Sherdog.com

Satoshi Ishii need
not rush into MMA.
Couture Opens Up on Ishii Workout

While the most recent fervor of the UFC and a Japanese product is over Kid Yamamoto's video blog appearance with promotional honcho Dana White expressing interest in stateside employment, it has only given temporary reprieve from the ongoing flirtations between Zuffa and 2008 Beijing Games gold medalist and Japanese MMA golden goose Satoshi Ishii.

Ishii, who was expected to make a high-profile debut in Japan on New Year's Eve, made major waves in the MMA world in December when he announced that, in spite of being tabbed as a savior for a flagging big-money Japanese MMA industry, that he felt his future was stateside in the UFC. The Olympic judo king gained even more attention when he showed up in Las Vegas for UFC 92 later that month, and even worked out with Randy Couture at his Xtreme Couture gym.

So, what did "The Natural" have to say about his impromptu workout with the coveted grappler?

“[The UFC] didn’t ask me to evaluate him," Couture told Sherdog.com. "They just asked me to open up the gym and show him around and roll with him. It turned into this whole big workout and other stuff.”

After Ishii's handlers opted against him debuting on New Year's Eve, rumors in the Japanese MMA world surfaced that Ishii, who was awarded a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu almost immediately after beginning to train at Takamasa Watanabe's Axis Jiu-Jitsu academy, had been slow to acclimate to the MMA game. Couture, who had no idea he would be working out with the powerhouse judoka, was able to offer deeper insight into Ishii's ability in the gym.

“He was a great guy. He’s got a tremendous grappler’s pace as I expected and he has a willingness to strike and learn striking,” said Couture. “I think, given the right time and brought along properly, he would be good.”

Zuffa announced in late December that they had entered exclusive negotiations with Ishii, which will likely accelerate following the hyper-busy promotional rush of January and early February. Consequently, discussions have brewed over as to when Ishii could appear in a cage, and more importantly, the Octagon.

“I wouldn’t throw him into the UFC for a year at least. I would have him training and fighting in that year, just not at that level. I think it would be silly to take him and throw him out there in that environment with those athletes and that kind of seasoned competition," explained the former UFC heavyweight and light heavyweight champ. "I think the smarter thing would be to get him some smaller fights and see how he makes the transition. Get his striking up to speed, see how he competes and bring him along; he’s just starting out [in MMA] -- gold medal or not.”
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