by Monty DiPietro (Courtesy of FEG)
SAITAMA, Japan – Veteran mixed martial arts fighter Sakuraba weathered an early challenge then rallied to beat Andrews Nakahara by submission on Tuesday at DREAM.2. In a highly anticipated lightweight rematch, it was Shinya Aoki who bested Gesias “J.Z.” Calvancante.

Held at the Saitama Super Arena, the event opened this year’s DREAM Middleweight Grand Prix series. Fourteen fighters battled to advance to a final elimination tournament on June 15 and a chance for a spot in September’s final. Bouts were conducted under DREAM rules, with a 10-minute first round and 5-minute second round, in the 185-pound (84-kilogram) weight class.

The main event featured Japanese living legend Kazushi Sakuraba facing Brazilian kyokushin fighter Andrews Nakahara. From the start, Sakuraba threw a couple of kicks then dove in, looking for the takedown. Nakahara, however, was determined to remain on his feet, and managed to do so with some fancy footwork. Sakuraba made further takedown attempts soon afterward, but again and again was unsuccessful. Nakahara meanwhile was scoring points with kicks.

Finally, Sakuraba got the fight to the mat, where he assumed a side mount. The veteran threw in punches and knees to the body and head before twisting round for a rear mount. Sakuraba now brought the arm round for the rear naked choke and the win by submission.

“I’m exhausted,” said Sakuraba afterward. “Nakahara has good balance, and he’s still young, with a bit more practice … he’ll be a great fighter. I’m glad I could beat him today, before he gets a lot better.”

Popular Canadian fighter Denis Kang met Dutch boxer Gegard Mousasi in a highly anticipated bout.

An aggressive Kang threw the first punches, connecting with a left, before diving in for the takedown and side mount. The Canadian could not get much going and soon was back on his feet, where he passed Mousasi’s bicycle kicks with punches. The Dutch fighter, however, got hold of an arm and pulled Kang’s head down, brought up the legs and in no time had a triangle choke and the tapout win.

“My game plan was not to be on my back, so it was dangerous,” said Mousasi in his post-bout interview, “but if there’s one submission I’m good at it’s the triangle choke, and luckily I was able to get it.”

Japanese pro-wrestlers Kiyoshi Tamura and Masakatsu Funaki went at it hard, nothing but strikes in this one. Tamura was on the receiving end of a hard kick to the chin before delivering some payback with his fists. He belted Funaki soundly several times to put him in serious trouble, then knocked the wobbly fighter to the canvas, leapt atop and began to hammer at his face. A half-dozen blows went unanswered before Tamura turned and looked at the referee, who came in to stop the beating.

Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter Ronaldo Jacare faced American wrestler Ian Murphy. Jacare chased his opponent down aggressively, and it wasn’t long before the pair was on the mat. Jacare attempted to extract an arm before switching tactics and taking a rear mount. The Brazilian pestered his opponent with punches to the side of the head, before wrapping the arm around and submitting him with a rear naked choke.

Zelg “Benkei” Galesic of Croatia stepped in against Russian Magomed Sultanakhmadov. This one went to the mat fairly quickly, with Sultanakhmadov in guard. Galesic, however, brought the leg over and pulled out an arm. Sultanakhmadov stood, but could not shake Gelsic’s armbar, the hyperextension eliciting a submission.

In a battle of judoka, South Korean Dong Sik Yoon faced Shungo Oyama of Japan. Yoon scored the first takedown, passing Oyama’s guard with punches before attaining side mount and twisting into full mount at the round’s halfway point. Oyama got out of trouble and both fighters were re-stood. A number of strikes were thrown, but no damage done before Yoon got a single leg takedown to end the round.

In the second, Yoon once more got the takedown, moving to the rear then full mount to work the fists, getting some height late in the round to deliver a proper pounding. The bout was scored a unanimous decision for Yoon.

The evening’s first middleweight matchup saw Seidokaikan fighter Taiei Kin of Japan take on flashy compatriot Ikuhisa Minowa. Kin was effective in guard through the early going, and when the pair went to their feet, it was Kin with the hard kicks, although Minowa did manage a good straight punch. Minowa executed a double-leg takedown. Kin again took guard until the two were re-stood for lack of action. Kin’s low kicks bothered Minowa, who dove in again for the takedown, with another stalemate resulting.

More of the same in the second, but for a period at the midpoint and another in the last minute when the pair stood and exchanged strikes, Kin landing a knee, but Minowa showing a good chin. Kin won the unanimous decision.

There was also a DREAM Lightweight (70kg/154lbs) match on the card, with Hero’s 2007 champion Calvancante of Brazil taking on Aoki of Japan. This was a rematch of the pair’s March 15 fight, which was declared a “no contest” after a first-round foul rendered Aoki unable to continue.

Exciting first round action on the mat, Aoki getting a grip on Calvancante’s foot, the Brazilian breaking the hold with a series of vicious heel kicks before taking superior position and pounding punches round to his opponent’s head. Aoki got to his feet and spent much of the remainder of the round riding Calvancante’s back. The Japanese fighter repeatedly attempted to work a chokehold, but Calvancante was never seriously threatened. The round ended with Aoki on his back, striking with bicycle kicks.

In the second, Aoki went to the rubber guard position, and soon had effectively locked up Calvancante’s right arm. He nearly managed an armbar here, but Calvancante deftly flipped his body over Aoki’s legs to reverse. Calvancante passed with a number of punches, but again Aoki effectively controlled the fight, and was rewarded with a unanimous decision.

DREAM.2 attracted a crowd of 21,397 to the Saitama Super Arena. It was broadcast live in Japan on SkyPerfect pay-per-view, and will be rebroadcast on the TBS national network in Japan and on HDNet in the United States.

-Kazushi Sakuraba def. Andrews Nakahara by Submission (Neck Crank) at 8:20, R1
-Gegard Mousasi def. Denis Kang by Submission (Triangle Choke) at 3:10, R1
-Kiyoshi Tamura def. Masakatsu Funaki by TKO (Strikes) at 0:57, R1
-Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza def. Ian Murphy by Submission (Rear Naked Choke) at 3:38, R1
-Zelg Galesic def. Magomed Sultanakhmedov by Submission (Armbar) at 1:40, R1
-Dong Sik Yoon def. Shungo Oyama by Unanimous Decision, R2
-Taiei Kin def. Ikuhisa Minowa by Unanimous Decision, R2
-Shinya Aoki def. Gesias “J.Z.” Calvancante by Unanimous Decision, R2