As Dream continues to move forward in the wake of the downturn of Japanese MMA and the disastrous tsunamis that struck earlier this year, the promotion is striving to evolve to not only remain relevant itself, but help its fighters adapt so they can climb to the top of the sport.
On hand for the most recent Dream 17 event taking place late last month, HDNet’s Michael “The Voice” Schiavello spoke to MMAWeekly.com about the company and the changes they’ve made as they head into a possible New Year’s Eve later this year.
MMAWeekly: Firstly, Michael, tell us your overall impressions of Dream 17.
Michael Schiavello: It was one of the best Dream events yet. I don’t think there was one boring fight on the card, and there were some marvelous battles and super finishes. This was really a highly watchable event.
MMAWeekly: This was the first Dream event contested under the three five-minute round rules. What do you think about this rule change and do you think it had an impact on the evening’s action?
Michael Schiavello: I am a fan of the marathon first round of 10 minutes, to be honest. I like the way that true submission artists –many of which fight on Dream cards – can take the full 10 minutes to set up their submissions without having to keep an eye too closely on the clock.
That said, the action and pace of this entire card was exceptional, so perhaps having the three five-minute rounds structure was a good implementation. It certainly brings Dream and their fighters into alignment with what all the other major organizations are doing, which can only help Dream fighters who will go on to compete in other organizations.
MMAWeekly: As far as the bantamweight tournament goes, how will the evening’s results with Rodolfo Marques, Masakazu Imanari, Bibiano Fernandes, and Antonio Banuelos advancing set up for the remainder of the tournament?
Michael Schiavello: To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to the bantamweight tournament that much and it totally blew me away. Every fight was enjoyable and everyone went in with a game plan to fight, finish, and entertain.
Fernandes’ win was so quick and just so impressive; I mean, how many times have you seen a referee lift a fighter’s arm only for it to go limp! That was a beautiful submission and I think it solidifies Bibiano as the tournament favorite. I thought Tokoro had just edged out Banuelos, but the judges gave it to Banuelos, which says something for a foreign fighter fighting a Japanese darling like Tokoro. Banuelos is certainly a dark horse with his aggression, experience, and resolve. Imanari’s transitions were slick. He consistently transitioned from one sub attempt to the next in one of the finest performances we have seen from “The Master of the Leg Locks” in a long time. This tournament is just all round quality.
MMAWeekly: Do the losses by Kazushi Sakuraba, Caol Uno, and Joachim Hansen signal that it may be time for these fighters to retire, or do you still see a future beyond this year for them?
Michael Schiavello: Sakuraba needs to hang up the gloves. He got beaten easily by (Yan) Cabral. In fact, he should never have been matched with Cabral. I know a lot of general fans don’t know who Cabral is, but if you’d done your homework you’d see that he is the real deal, a very accomplished BJJ fighter and undefeated at 9-0. Sakuraba has nothing to prove. It is sad to see the remains of a once great, great fighter – top 10 of all time – finish his career losing to guys he would have wiped the floor with a few years ago. I don’t think it is the end for Hansen or Uno. They still have plenty left to give, particularly Hansen.
MMAWeekly: For Tatsuya Kawajiri and Shinya Aoki – whom have both had problems against American-style opposition – how big of a statement did they make with their respective wins?
Michael Schiavello: Aoki was impressive, sure, (with his) last-second submission, but Kawajiri was the show-stealer for me. I wondered if he could still retain his legendary strength and power at a lower weight for the first time and not only did he retain it, he seemed to increase it. He is huge at this new weight and I think he will shake things up. Maybe it is a move he should have made earlier? Keep an eye on him.
MMAWeekly: Thanks for your time and insight, Michael. In closing, tell us how you feel Dream 17 worked as a lead-in to a possible Dynamite show on New Year’s Eve.
Michael Schiavello: Is Dynamite even official? I don’t think it is and I have heard that while there may be a Dream New Year’s Eve event, there may not be Dynamite as such. However, if you’re saying as a lead up to a Dream NYE event then it was very, very good. It was everything you wanted from a Japanese MMA show and augurs well for NYE. We can hopefully look forward to Aoki, Kawajiri, Takeshi (Inoue), Ikuhisa Minowa, as well as the finals of the bantamweight tournament. That makes for a very good New Year!