by Tom Hamlin – MMAWeekly.com
Mixed martial arts tournaments are among the most grueling rights of passage for any fighter. When populated with top-tier opponents, a fighter’s ability to make it to the finals is based as much on luck as on skill.
Dream’s fifth installment, a Lightweight Grand Prix held on July 21, underscored this fact again when tournament alternate Joachim Hansen, earlier eliminated by Eddie Alvarez in the quarterfinals, stepped in for an injured Alvarez in the finals and defeated Shinya Aoki to take the tournament.
Aoki, 25, was a front-runner in the tournament, and largely fulfilled expectations by submitting his way through most of the contest. But after emerging victorious from a long grappling match with Caol Uno in the opening round of the semi-finals, the physical toll of the tournament began to show.
“For me, the final round was kind of secondary,” he explained to reporters after the event. “The first round was that big. I was so sore in my body as well. He was very strong and powerful. I have never complained about him, but to be honest with you, he is very strong.”
Aoki had Uno’s back for a good portion of the fight, and fought for every inch of positional dominance. Though he took a few shots when Uno was in his much-vaunted guard, his control of the ground game was the key to victory.
Hansen had submitted Canadian Kultar Gill relatively easily in his earlier alternate match, and entered the ring with Aoki a fresher man. Aoki could tell something was wrong from the outset.
“I tried to close in,” he said. “I was tired from the Uno fight. My legs didn’t move. I was trying to go straight after him and got punched.”
Flat on his feet, Aoki felt there was little he could do to sway the outcome of the fight.
“I saw that nothing was going to stop him from doing what he did,” he continued.
After rushing to pull guard in the opening minute of the first round, Aoki’s exhaustion caught up to him. As he tried to ensnare Hansen on the ground, Hansen managed to fire off a crushing left hand that rocked him. Several right hands later, Hansen was the tournament victor.
The format was new for Aoki, and lessons have been learned. He said participation in future tournaments will not be based on his opponent, but whether he feels up to eventually facing two men in a single night.
“It’s not a matter of the opponent,” he said. “I was tired from the fight with Uno. After the fight with Uno, I just felt like I didn’t have the fight in me. It’s very difficult to tell. After the semi-final, how much have you rested physically and mentally?”
To fight the world’s best in one night — that’s the luck of the draw.