(Our bud Carcass happens to have the good fortune of living in Japan, so he spent yesterday at the Saitama Super Arena rocking out to DREAM 10. Now here’s his review of the events as seen from a sea of creepy silent Japanese people.)
The lights went out. Explosions rocked the arena, growing louder and louder. Fireworks flashed, sirens wailed and searchlights swept the crowd. Old PRIDE highlights flashed up, the audience cheering each of the big names as they roll by – Fedor, Mirko, Igor, Sakuraba. A title flashes up in Japanese – “The age of Charisma, 1997-2006” The screen darkens then fades into another title: “But we`re still here!” Then…nothing.
A familiar voice slashed the silence and the crowd roared its approval – the screaming PRIDE lady was in the house and DREAM was truly standing up to its nickname.
Zombie PRIDE was awesome and the unrepentant fanboy inside me screamed along with the mad woman.
Sherdog panned this card, complaining of the lack of superfights, of true “star power,” snidely observing that there was little to tempt all but the most hardcore fans to attend. This is all true, however, with the ironic exception of the only `star` fight on the card, all the night`s bouts were truly entertaining.
The full live DREAM experience must be seen to be believed. The 6-hour telecasts can feel like being strapped in the dentist`s chair, desperately waiting for that musical-number intermission to be over as one would endure a root canal. However, in the flesh, it’s a wonderful experience. I was lucky enough to attend the bout with a colleague from the hospital, Dr. Takaharu Kato, who was at PRIDE 1, saw Fedor fight Cro-Cop and has been a ring doctor for the past few years in Saitama Super Arena. The reason he went to Pride 1 was because he supported Takada from UWF against Rickson. Apparently there were many people crying in Suidobashi station the night that “Rickson by Armbar” became legend…
He reminded me that all of PRIDE`s production (and, hence, DREAM’s) stems from their connection with UWF wrestling and it does show. The lights, the epic musical interludes, the fireworks, the pre-fight videos…someone has obviously put a lot of thought into this and it begs the question, why can`t the world`s biggest fight organization follow suit? Are they afraid of the association with Pro-Wrestling? If so, then, frankly, that`s rather immature. The fights are real. The blood, the knockouts, the injuries, none of it is fake. Then what on earth is the problem with dressing it up a little, why the stubborn insistence on some pseudo-spartan ethic of “less is more”? Even for the biggest UFC fights I have seen live, I never jumped up and down or got excited by the fighters just walking to the cage like I did even for the undercard fighters tonight. Its all to do with the production…
The fights themselves offered excellent entertainment. This card saw the culmination of the DREAM welterweight tournament, the return of Paulo Filho to Japan and the return of Shaolin Ribeiro against everyone`s favourite pantyhose model, Shinya Aoki.
There were brutal KOs. There was an incredible back-from-the-dead submission. There were even some in-ring cameo appearances from Minowaman, Kawajiri and Sakuraba, all of whom sent the crowd nuts with adulation, especially busted old Saku who treated the nerds in the crowd with a little Evangelion reference (“I mustn`t run away…I mustn`t run away”) before promising another fight in Dream.
In the first bout of the evening, the tournament reserve fight, Belgian Terec Seffiedine showcased his Team Quest heritage with some excellent wrestling coupled with sharp boxing to shut out Seiichi Ikemoto completely on the judges cards. Ikemoto was heckled by the crowd for trying to use his trademark “double punch” to absolutely no effect while eating strikes from Seffiedine. Things got briefly dangerous when the Belgian was swept onto his back but he recovered well to stand again and resume battering the Japanese fighter.
A beautifully shot (again, the PRIDE influence) video introduced the Mach Sakurai vs Marius Zaromskis fight. Candid interviews, wonderful settings, good character insight…are you listening Dana? Zaromskis only got about 5 seconds of reference though – no secret who they thought was going to win then.
Zaromskis ran down the ramp dressed as Gouki (Akuma in the west) from Street Fighter, looking more ripped and massive than I`ve ever seen him. He dwarfed Sakurai at the staredown and looked to exploit his strength right from the start. He swung for the fences, shoving Sakurai away before throwing hard again. As the bout wore on however, Sakurai began to win the striking battle.
Zaromskis slowed, got taken down but managed to power his way back to his feet, earning applause from the appreciative crowd. An accidental cut stopped the fight for around 5 minutes and Sakurai had the wind taken from his sails. Soon after the restart, Zaromskis landed the 1,2 high kick combo that he`d been looking for all night and Mach dropped as if poleaxed. A quick follow-up was stopped and the victory announced as a KO. I was pretty much the only person in the venue cheering but couldn`t care less.
High versus Galvao was billed as strength versus technique and that prediction was well borne-out by the fight. I was shocked when High shot a beautiful double and took Galvao down – I know he`s a wrestler but do you really want to go to the ground with someone like Andre Galvao? The BJJ man did a good job of stalling High, stopping his momentum then flipped into a kneebar. It looked tight, the crowd was convinced that it was over but High defended grimly and escaped, only to lose his back to Galvao. High defended his neck for 5 straight minutes against a determined assault from a rear-body triangle and was able to last until the bell – perhaps only because Galvao left the possibly fight-ending armbar attempt until far too late. High learned his lesson in the second round and brawled with Galvao, defending the clinch expertly and scoring with his punches, winning 2-1 on the judges scorecards. I was surprised and wondered if this was just because it would make a more interesting Grand Prix final…but that`s just the cynic in me, I guess.
I had thought that Andre Galvao had the gayest entrance music but Kikuno proved me wrong, mincing out to the ring to the strains of `We Are The World.` His fight against Dida was billed as Karate vs Muay Thai and thus the defence of Japanese honour against nasty foreign types. Dida played up his role as heel for the day, getting in Kikuno`s face during the staredown then…nothing.
I don`t want to stereotype karate fighters but Kikuno did a Machida. He pretty much threw nothing and ate punches as Dida circled. Both fighters were repeatedly cautioned and eventually Dida threw one kick too many. Kikuno struck like a cobra, shooting a perfect takedown straight into mount and opened up with some vicious GnP, leaving the referee no choice but to stop the fight. Smart (if a little boring) fight, props to him.
Manhoef vs Filho was a fight I was truly stoked for. Was the old Filho back? Had he learned to wrestle? Would Manhoef stand long enough to clean his clock? Well, Yes, No and very nearly…
The combination of psychotic musclebound black dude and the tattoo-covered recovering junkie struck me as the nightmare of the Japanese immigration services – how on earth did they even get let in? Regardless, this was going to be an awesome fight.
Manhoef had the right gameplan from the start – he got in the pocket and threw bombs then backed out as soon as there was any sniff of a clinch or a shot. It worked and Filho was in serious trouble, being smashed in the corner of the ring. The crowd was on its feet, the end was near but Filho managed to pull guard and defend himself long enough to collect his wits and force Manhoef to back out of his guard and stand him up again. A headlong charge to rival the Light Brigade right into Manhoef`s firepower netted Filho a clumsy takedown and from there it was all over, swiftly snagging an armbar from the mount. Melvin defended gamely but it was useless. This triumph of technique and foolhardy bravery over strength earned rapturous applause from the Japanese crowd and excited chants of “JIU-JITSU! JIU-JITSU!” from the Brazilians in the audience. FOTN in my book.
After a brief intermission and some dancing by the ring card girls (wooh, tittays!) we were to be treated to a late addition to the card as Jesse “Pee-Pants” Taylor was being fed to Yoon-Sik Dong. I was looking forward to seeing Taylor`s retarded face twisted in pain as he got dong-barred but it was not to be. No amount of subtle mockery in Taylor`s pre-fight video can make up for the fight ending prematurely with a possible broken ankle for Dong, sustained during an attempted belly-to-back suplex by Taylor. It was an accident and admittedly, Taylor looked good while the fight lasted but its still a shitty way for things to turn out. Props to Taylor for looking so concerned for Dong and annoyed that he won that way. My hatred for him is no longer quite so burning…
Before the Grand Prix final, the superfight was coming – Aoki vs Shaolin. The pre-fight video hyped Aoki`s mentor Yuki Nakai being beaten by Shaolin in a gi match 10 years ago – was Shaolin the man to beat Aoki on the ground? Well, we never got to find out. Both these guys hyped their ground games so much that they were afraid to grapple with each other and, like so many times before, we saw two amazing grapplers showcase their utterly mediocre striking skills for a stultifying 15 minutes. Minowaman was shown on the big screen looking visibly disgusted with the whole performace. Aoki even had the gumption to shout “Hey, isn`t my muay Thai awesome” after spending the entire match throwing tappy-lappy weak kicks (more like TKD) and occasionally grabbing Shaolin in a weak Thai plum. Shinya, 4 weeks in Thailand doesn`t make you a Nak Muay. Stick to grappling. Thankfully, Kawajiri came into the ring and called out Aoki, much to the approval of the restless crowd. If Aoki tries that shit with Kawajiri, he`s going home in a body-bag and that makes me happy.
The final was set – Zaromskis vs High, striker versus wrestler. A visibly swollen Sakurai looked on as the title that was meant to be his was decided inside the ring. Yuji Shimada was the referee and got the loudest boos of the night which really says something after the shitfest of a fight we had just sat through!
Both showcased good wrestling and again Zaromskis surprised many by getting back to his feet from under High then dropping him into a slam. Both fighters were back on their feet and High was keeping a high guard, obviously worried about the same vicious kick that had felled Sakurai but it was to no avail. High disastrously dropped his hands defending a jab-cross and Zaromskis` shin exploded onto High`s chin and the American went straight down out cold. A brutal, brutal KO, High was intubated in the ring for several minutes and it was only his eye movements that convinced me that he wasn`t comatose. Eventually they pulled the oropharnygeal airway out and he sat up but it was a good five minutes after the bout ended. Definite KO of the night.
So there you have it. Zombie Pride might smell a little bad but its still alive – when they forget the freak fights, they can still put on a great show. Sure, the “star power” might have been thin on the ground but while Aoki and Shaolin sucked it up, Zaromskis and Manhoef and Filho were kicking ass and taking names.
If you loved PRIDE, if you want excitement, if you want excellent live production or if you simply miss knees to the head on the ground, try and catch a live DREAM show. You won`t regret it.
Hopefully I`ll make it to SENGOKU`s Featherweight Grand Prix on August the 2nd as well. Looking forward to see how Japan`s “serious” promotion handles things compared to DREAM.