DREAM and SENGOKU, the two Japanese companies at the forefront of MMA in the land of the Rising Sun, have been running tournaments this year as the focal point of their events. Both companies have been running a featherweight tournament, and DREAM has been simultaneously running a welterweight tournament as well. The two have different strategies and theories that went into fighter selection, but as the tournaments come to a close, reactions are mixed and the companies look to go head to head for the rest of the year.
DREAM holds their 10th event this coming July 20th at Tokyo’s cavernous Saitama Super Arena, and with it comes the continuation of their Welterweight tournament with Brazilian Andre Galvao taking on Jason High and crowd favorite Hayato "Mach" Sakurai battling Marius Zaromskis. In support of these solid matchups, DREAM has put together a stellar card. Shinja Aoki, who returns to the lightweight division after losing to Sakurai in the welterweight tourney opener, takes on highly regarded Vitor Ribeiro, who was once considered in the top 3 of the weight class before a long layoff. Also receiving a lot of attention is the return of Japanese favorite Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic as he takes on rising star "Mighty Mo". A third bout featuring another highly regarded Brazilian has Paulo Filho taking on Dutch slugger Melvin Manhoef. DREAM comes off a show where the ‘SUPERHULK’ tournament that had among its participants baseball player Jose Canseco received a lukewarm response, so they have apparently faced the criticisms by putting together one of the best cards in their history.
Shortly after, on August 2nd, SENGOKU answers with their next event also at Saitama, and they will close out their featherweight tournament by holding the final two rounds. SENGOKU had used a competitive field that lacked big names, and the tournament comes down to favorite Hatsu Hioki taking on Masanoru Kanehara and Michihiro Omigawa battling Marlon Sandro. The winner of these two bouts will square off later on the same show. The rest of the show has some intriguing matchups as well, including several of Japan’s recycled bigger names. Popular Kazuyuki Fujita steps into the ring to take on Alexander Ivanov after a layoff of more than a year. The card also features the fight between controversial Judoka Kazuo Misaki and UFC veteran Kazuhiko Nakamura. Misaki will be starting a suspension after the bout, while Nakamura attempts to return after his November 2008 loss to Jorge Santiago.
DREAM returns to Saitama on September 23rd to conclude their featherweight tournament, which is down to Bibiano Fernandez, Hiroyuki Takaya, Hideo Tokoro and Joe Warren in the final four. Warren has been installed as the favorite after his split decision win over ‘Kid’ Yamamoto in the last round. Warren is a Greco Roman world champion who crossed over to MMA while serving a two year suspension for marijuana use. Also planned for that event is the rematch between middleweights Jason "Mayhem" Miller and Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza as well as lightweight stud "JZ" Cavalcante.
Word is that SENGOKU will return with their 10th event on the same day, September 23rd, and the two companies are both starting to plan the traditional New Year’s Eve events behind the scenes, where they will almost assuredly be running head to head again, so it will be an interesting half year for observers of the Japanese scene.