by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
Normally New Year’s Eve is a loaded night for MMA in Japan, but with the announcement that Dream and Sengoku would be uniting for a one-time-only show, the evening just got bigger.
Over 20 fighters across both promotions will be competing at this year’s Field’s K-1 Dynamite! show at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.
Hoping to make sense of could be the biggest MMA show ever, HDNet’s Michael Schiavello broke down some of the evening’s most important match-ups, provided a look back at HDNet’s year in MMA coverage, and took a look towards 2010.
MMAWeekly: First off, Michael, tell us your reaction to the news that Dream and World Victory Road would be teaming up for this year’s Dynamite show.
Michael Schiavello: I was pleased to be honest. I heard that Sengoku had been in some strife of late financially and I didn’t want to see so many great fighters on their roster fall by the wayside. When I heard that FEG (the parent company of Dream) had acquired many of the Sengoku fighters for Dynamite! it was a relief as we still get to see WVR’s fantastic talents on New Year’s Eve, even if it’s not on their previously planned NYE show at Ariake Coliseum.
MMAWeekly: It’s been stated that this is a one-time-only teaming of the promotions. Do you think that this could happen again?
Michael Schiavello: I believe so and this is a great thing for fans. Inter-promotional battles are always touted but rarely come off. It is fantastic that the two biggest promotions in Japan now square off against one another. We will get to see which promotion has the better fighters and that can only be good for all fans and create tremendous feuds and storylines, which in turn is probably just the shot in the arm Japanese MMA needs.
MMAWeekly: While there will be an abundance of matches on this year’s show, let’s talk about some of the more interesting fights, starting with Hayoto “Mach” Sakurai versus Akihiro Gono.
Michael Schiavello: This is one of the inter-promotional matches that makes this Dynamite! so exciting. Both have had their ups and downs this year, and both have a point to prove on New Year’s Eve. I think Sakurai takes it. It will be a stand-up and drag-out battle as both men are fantastic on their feet. When it eventually does go to the ground I see Sakurai being the one to take it down and getting the win via ground and pound.
MMAWeekly: One of Dream’s key attractions this year was the Super Hulk Tournament. Who do you think will take the finals between Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou and Ikuhisa Minowa?
Michael Schiavello: On paper you’d say Sokoudjou. He is bigger, stronger, more aggressive, has the better striking, has brilliant ground and pound, and very good takedowns. But Minowa is an enigma. You can never write him off. New Year’s Eve is a time of miracles and unbelievable happenings. I will go on record then and say Minowa performs the miracle and becomes the Super Hulk Champion on NYE via a patented crazy submission.
MMAWeekly: Let’s move on to the clash of lightweight champions as Dream titleholder Shinya Aoki takes on the man who holds Sengoku’s belt, Mizuto Hirota.
Michael Schiavello: Obviously on paper Aoki is who most people would tip to win, but Hirota is a guy who knows how to beat champions. Hirota knows how to bang – having won eight fights by knockout – and Aoki doesn’t like hard hitters. Aoki has the superior ground game, better takedowns and better submissions and is improving his stand-up, but Hirota will be tough pickings and now has the chance to launch himself to international stardom should he upset Aoki on New Year’s Eve.
MMAWeekly: Lastly, let’s talk about the evening’s proposed main event that matches up two Olympic gold medalists in Hidehiko Yoshida and Satoshi Ishii.
Michael Schiavello: I think it will most likely be a scrappy and ugly fight. The really interesting thing for me is seeing a current Olympic gold medalist competing. It won’t last long, but it will be exciting and I hope Ishii takes it. He was once the most sought after fighter on the planet with everyone from the UFC to Dream and beyond was trying to get his signature. I’m thrilled we have his debut at Dynamite! and on HDNet, and I am so pumped to be calling it.
MMAWeekly: What fighter do you think will most likely be the evening’s recipient of “The Big Kabosh?”
Michael Schiavello: Yousuke Nishijima. Ray Sefo is going to put him to sleep. Look out for Ray’s patented switch-hit right hand.
MMAWeekly: Looking back on this year, tell us your thoughts on HDNet’s MMA coverage.
Michael Schiavello: This was my first year working with HDNet and it was a blast. I really do believe we have the best team in all of the fight game. I have worked with TV crews all over the world, but these guys know their stuff inside and out and that passion comes across on all of our broadcasts. I have enjoyed every moment of working side-by-side with Guy Mezger and Ron Kruck and all the production staff.
Then of course you have Kenny Rice and the immortal Bas Rutten giving us the best show on TV with Inside MMA every week. We have broadcasted more MMA than any other network in the world this year, including DREAM, Sengoku, Affliction, M-1, Adrenaline, MFC, XFC, Army Combat Championships, K-1 and more. I wish I lived in the United States – I would turn into a couch potato glued to HDNet all the time!
MMAWeekly: And what are your thoughts for next year?
Michael Schiavello: We have a big year coming up in 2010. Once again we will broadcast more MMA shows than any other network in the world and our CEO, Andrew Simon, is in talks with several organizations from the U.S. and around the world to be broadcast on HDNet next year. Also I can’t say too much, but HDNet will have a new original MMA talk show happening next year too.
MMAWeekly: Thanks for your time Michael. Is there anything you want to say in conclusion?
Michael Schiavello: 2009 was a banner year for MMA. What a great time to be an MMA fan! On a personal note, I want to say thank you to all the fans that have sent me so many emails and Tweets and messages on Internet boards all year. This has been my first year true on the American market and I have been overwhelmed by the response and extremely humbled. Thank you so much and keep watching HDNet in 2010 and our team will keep delivering all the action in a way only we can!