The year 2012 finished in Japan in a way that it has been for more than a decade: with a major show involving mixed martial arts and kickboxing.
This year, it was a co-promoted effort between Dream and Glory Sports International, the owners of kickboxing promotion GLORY. Both Dream and GLORY would hold shows at Saitama Super Arena with Dream going first.
Shinya Aoki finished Antonio McGee in a fashion that is very familiar to Aoki's fights: submission. The difference in this case is that it was a submission by punch.
After a first round that was mostly on the canvas, Aoki began the second round by unloading with a right to McGee's face that sent him partially through the ropes. McGee submitted while still between the ropes. The shot may have landed right on McGee's left eye as that is where one of his hands went right after the shot landed.
McGee's lone bright spot was having a guillotine choke on Aoki during the final 30 seconds of the first round, but it didn't appear serious and seemed more like a way to neutralize Aoki than defeat him. The rest of the opening round was Aoki wearing McGee down with takedowns, takedown attempts, or from the defense he would exhibit when McGee was in top position on the canvas.
A shock to many that were watching had to be Georgi Karakhanyan's upset victory by split decision over Hiroyuki Takaya. Even though Takaya was Dream's featherweight champion as of their last show, this was a non-title bout.
Karakhanyan knocked Takaya down in first 15 seconds of the bout with a right punch. From there, Karakhanyan had control of Takaya on the ground for a solid minute, throwing plenty of strikes and landing some. Things evened up to a degree when the fight got back standing, though Karakhanyan showed better bits of offense when standing, most notably his knees while in the clinch.
Karakhanyan's lone mistake in the second round was whiffing on a flying knee with two minutes left in the round. There was no reason to throw the knee, but he did. This provided proof that Karakhanyan's luck was on his side in this bout. Immediately after the whiff, Karakhanyan almost locked a triangle choke on Takaya immediately after he hit the canvas.
The standing exchanges remained fairly even through the bout, though it was frequently Karakhanyan that landed the more effective shots. Also, Karakhanyan's best shots simply had more on them than the majority of the standing blows that Takaya landed. Takaya landed some very nice shots and had his best chance to win the bout when it was standing, but even there it seemed he was edged out by Karakhanyan.
What likely won this bout for Karakhanyan was his domination of the third round. Karakhanyan dominated by taking Takaya to the ground early and spending the majority of the round on the ground in control of his opponent. Both men were working and eventually got back to their feet, but Karakhanyan refused to give up control and kept it for basically the entire final round. In a close fight, which this legitimately was going into the final round, control like Karakhanyan displayed will make the difference with the judges. It did for him at least.
In the main-event of the Dream card, Tatsuya Kawajiri won a unanimous decision over Michihiro Omigawa. Kawajiri earned the victory primarily through his ability to take the fight to the ground and keep it there. Kawajiri didn't do much of anything when the fight was standing other than some wild punches and attempting to score takedowns. In the first round, Omigawa didn't do bad at all with Kawajiri above him and did show some nice defense. As the fight went along, Omigawa began to fatigue and put up less and less of a fight when on his back. To his credit, Omigawa was able to keep Kawajiri from submitting him during the large portion of the fight that was on the ground with Kawajiri in control. At the same time, it didn't appear that Kawajiri was going for the submission too aggressively.
Two very familiar names to Dream fans, Bibiano Fernandes and Yoshiro Maeda, engaged in a bout that ended quickly once it got to the ground.
Around 35 seconds into the bout, Fernandes scored his first takedown and from there had complete control of the fight. He worked toward a rear-naked choke, but when Maeda got out of his grip, Fernandes transitioned into a triangle choke. Maeda immediately slammed Fernandes, trying to pry him off, but to no avail. Maeda added a good amount of hammerfists, but Fernandes countered that by getting a hold of Maeda's head with both hands and pressing down into the choke. Maeda blacked out soon after and the bout was stopped 1:46 into the opening round.
From the beginning, it was plain as day that Brooks' standing game was far beyond what Kitaoka was bringing. He was crisper with his punches, looked better on his feet, and was the only fighter landing shots with any significance or real impact. Brooks' best shot of the opening round was a right with less than 45 seconds left in the round that caught Kitaoka and sent him to the canvas. Kitaoka had just missed a looping punch and was a sitting duck for a quick shot, which Brooks provided.
The highlight of the bout for Brooks was a dazzling slam he executed on Kitaoka around two minutes into the bout. He got a hold of Kitaoka from behind and gave him what was, in wrestling terms, a belly-to-back suplex.
Kitaoka was going for Brooks' legs right from the beginning. During the first minute of the bout, Kitaoka was down, but when Brooks approached, Kitaoka nearly locked on a leg lock of some kind. This type of flash submission attempt would continue from Kitaoka for the rest of the fight without success, including after Brooks scored the knockdown in the final minute of the first round.
Round two was basically the same as round one, though a bit of irony ended up dooming Kitaoka in the bout. Both men were on the mat with Kitaoka trying for a leg lock on Brooks' right leg. His left leg was open and was used for kicks to Kitaoka's face. This ended up forcing Kitaoka to loosen the hold. Brooks then gained mount position, eventually got Kitaoka's back, and scored with enough punches that the fight was stopped 3:46 into the second round.
In the card's only female bout, Marloes Coenen submitted Fiona Muxlow the three and a half minutes. The taller Coenen started out with leg kicks before transitioning to knees when she got a hold of her opponent. Once things got to the ground, Coenen positioned herself and locked on an armbar. Muxlow struggled and forced Coenen to momentarily go for a triangle choke, but Muxloweventually submitted to the armbar.
Melvin Manhoef took care of Denis Kang in only 50 seconds after nearly starting their bout a day early. After a feeling out period that lasted around 30 seconds, both fighters began to trade punches before Manhoef landed a knee to the body that sent Kang to the canvas in a heap. Referee Kenichi Serizawa stopped the bout immediately.
At the weigh-ins the day before, Kang had problems getting down to the proper weight for the bout. On his first attempt, Kang weighed in almost a pound and a half over. Manhoef apparently wasn't pleased by this and attempted to start a brawl with Kang at the scales. Kang got another try two hours later and was on target.
In a bout between two names familiar to longtime MMA fans, Hayato Sakurai won a unanimous decision over Phil Baroni.
Along with Dream 18, GLORY had a one-night, sixteen-man kickboxing tournament as part of the massive New Year's Eve double-header. The tournament was the largest one-night kickboxing tourney ever in Japan.
Semmy Schilt emerged the winner of the $400,000 grand prize by going through his four opponents with little trouble. Schilt started with a second round knockout of Brice Guidon, then decision wins over Rico Verhoeven & Gokhan Saki, and finally a TKO win over Daniel Ghita in the first round of the tournament final.
The tournament was also filled with upsets. Many familiar names to Pride and K-1 fans went down early as Sergei Kharitonov, Errol Zimmerman, and Peter Aerts all lost in the first round. Also, multiple time K-1 World Grand Prix winner & finalist Remy Bonjasky was surprisingly eliminated in the second round. This writer's prediction going into the tournament was a Schilt/Bonjasky final with Schilt taking it all.
In other noteworthy kickboxing bouts on GLORY's card, Jerome Le Banner scored a third round knockout of Koichi Pettas while Yuichiro Nagashima, known for his cosplay and anime inspired entrances, lost by unanimous decision to Robin van Roosmalen.Tags: Bibiano Fernandes, DREAM, Georgi Karakhanyan, GLORY, Hiroyuki Takaya, Marloes Coenen, Melvin Manhoef, MMA, Semmy Schilt, Shinya Aoki, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Will Brooks