DREAM Japan Bantamweight Grand Prix PreviewDREAM’s inaugural Japan Bantamweight Grand Prix kicks off this Sunday, May 29th, at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. The opening two rounds of the eight-man tournament will take place in one night, with the winners moving on to face off in the final later this year.

The tournament, which is part of DREAM’s “Fight For Japan” charity event, includes WEC and DREAM veterans as well as past and present DEEP champions. Despite a last-minute lineup change, all quarterfinal bouts will proceed. MMARising.com contributor Dean Marchand previews the card.


Kenji Osawa vs Takafumi Otsuka

Osawa is definitely one of the more seasoned fighters in the tournament. A long-time standout in the Japanese Shooto circuit and four-time WEC veteran, Osawa’s fight record looks like a pendulum of wins and losses. As a pretty straightforward kickboxer, Osawa has good straight punches and works well inside the clinch. Like most fighters coming out of the Shooto system, he has some competent grappling, but tends to stay on his feet and fight from the outside.

Otsuka is a fairly young fighter at 25 years old. Arguably one of the best prospects in Japan, he has had some trouble winning fights lately. Otsuka faced a three-fight losing skid last year that began with a controversial decision loss to Kazuyuki Miyata at Dream.14. As a still developing fighter, Otsuka seems to be at the stage where he possesses all of the tools to win, but doesn’t know exactly how to put them all together. His greatest strength is definitely his wrestling and top game. The former DEEP champion knows how to take people down and keep them there.

This is, without a doubt, the toughest fight of the tournament’s opening round. Neither man is known for being a finisher, and that should not be expected to change here. This will be a battle of endurance, with the first fighter to lose focus coming out on the losing end of a decision.

Osawa knows how to keep his range and can use his knees very well, which could help him stave off Otsuka’s inevitable takedowns. The young Otsuka has some good hooks in his arsenal and Osawa has shown serious holes in defense in past fights. Otsuka will most likely come out aggressive and force the takedown, controlling his opponent and earning a decision win.

Prediction: Takafumi Otsuka via Decision


Masakazu “Ashikan Judan” Imanari vs Keisuke Fujiwara

Imanari has become infamous for his stylish leglocks and eccentric personality. His game plan is simple and straightforward: dive for the leglock and finish. This style has proven to be quite a conundrum for Imanari’s opponents; easy to predict, hard to prevent. Utilizing heavy body kicks and jumping attacks, Imanari gets his opponents thinking “high” before he falls to the mat and reaches for a leg. The “Ashikan Judan” possesses slick transitions and can switch from takedown to leglock rather easily. On the feet, Imanari doesn’t offer a whole lot, aside from big power. Everything he does seems to be nothing more than a supplement to his bottom-heavy grappling game.

ZST Bantamweight Champion Fujiwara is the clear underdog in this tournament. Out of 17 professional fights, Fujiwara’s only match outside of the ZST ring was an embarrassing decision loss to Tomoya Miyashita at Dream.12. Against Miyashita, the ZST champ displayed a complete lack of takedown defense and spent the majority of the fight in a front headlock. Fujiwara has a fairly balanced fighting style, though he isn’t particularly strong in any area. In the past, he has displayed KO power and a competent guard, but nothing too impressive.

Simply put, Keisuke Fujiwara is the sacrificial lamb in the grand prix. He lacks any real way to defeat Imanari, or any of the other fighters. Fujiwara’s glaring weakness is his lack of takedown defense, but that should not come into play too much in this fight, as Imanari primarily attacks from the bottom. Regardless, Fujiwara still doesn’t offer much for Imanari and will likely fall into the leglock trap as the fight progresses.

Prediction: Masakazu Imanari via 1st Round Submission


Yoshiro Maeda vs Hideo Tokoro

A powerful slugger from Osaka, Maeda has historically been an inconsistent and unpredictable fighter. Though a proven bantamweight, he still has a tendency to drop fights that he should win rather handily. Maeda is well-rounded, but he tends to rely on his power and likes to brawl. This brawling style often gets the Inagakigumi member in trouble when things should be going his way. Prime examples are his KO losses to Hiroyuki Takaya and Charles “Krazy Horse” Bennett. On top of his powerful striking, Maeda also possesses a decent, though underused, ground game.

Over the last few years, Tokoro has used his exciting, offense-centric style of fighing to become a mainstay on FEG fight cards. Talented on the ground, Tokoro is “flow grappling” personified; constantly moving and setting something up. Like many of the fighters in this tournament, Tokoro is extremely inconsistent. He has beaten bigger, more experienced grapplers like Royler and Royce Gracie, yet struggled on the ground against opponents like Joachim Hansen and Kazuhisa Watanabe.

This fight shouldn’t last long. Hideo Tokoro is a very talented grappler and a fan favorite, but tends to crumble against guys with serious power. Maeda will waste no time in coming after the former janitor and swinging for the fences. This may create a few scrambles, an area where Tokoro will have an advantage, but Maeda is competent enough to avoid any serious danger on the ground. A knockout is inevitable in this fight, and Maeda will move on to the next round of the tournament.

Prediction: Yoshiro Maeda via 1st Round KO


Darren “BC” Uyenoyama* vs Atsushi Yamamoto

Darren “Bone Crusher” Uyenoyama is the only non-native Japanese fighter in the grand prix and really stands out as the dark horse of the eight participants. “BC” has a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and pairs his BJJ skills with strong wrestling to really control his opponents. He works well in the clinch and has displayed an understanding of balance and transitioning that makes him difficult to take down. His biggest weakness is his striking. His punching seems a bit stiff from the outside, though he uses knees and short punches well in the clinch.

A standout from Team Krazy Bee, Atsushi Yamamoto seems to lack the killer instinct possessed by his team leader, “Kid” Yamamoto. Atsushi is content to stay at a distance and strike, or shoot for quick double-leg takedowns and control his opponent. Speed is definitely Yamamoto’s best weapon, as he implements fast combinations and a quick, long-distance shot to defeat his opponents.

The key to this fight is range. Yamamoto likes to bounce around just outside of his opponent’s range; lunging in with fast one-two combinations before backing out again. He has good takedowns and a quick shot, but offers little offense once inside the guard. Uyenoyama showed great balance and takedown defense in the past and also has a great ground game. He recently trained with Satoru Kitaoka and has fine-tuned some dangerous leglocks that could be his trump card. Uyenoyama’s powerful grappling and crafty position game should earn him a spot in the semi-finals.

Prediction: Darren Uyenoyama via Decision

*Note: DREAM has announced today that Darren Uyenoyama has withdrawn from the tournament due to an injured hand, and has been replaced on four days’ notice by Osaka-based knockout artist Yusaku Nakamura (3-0).