Aoki, Fernandes claim titles at DREAM 11

Dave Meltzer
Yahoo! Sports

dm-dream100609 Two champions were crowned as a hulk-free "Super Hulk" final was set up on Tuesday. By Dave Meltzer Yahoo! Sports Tuesday night's Dream 11 card in Yokohama, Japan already featured several strange scenes, Dream lightweight champion Joachim "Hellboy" Hansen tried to block an armbar attempt by Shinya Aoki with time running out in his title defense, and in the midst of combat, he has a calm discussion with his corner.

But Hansen was in more trouble then he let on, because he was about to get rolled, and with four ticks of the clock remaining, he submitted to the armbar as Aoki became the first native Japanese competitor to win a championship in the two-year old Dream organization.

Aoki (22-4) had lost to Hansen (19-8-1) in the finals of the tournament to crown a first lightweight champion on July 21, 2008. In this rematch, Aoki seemed content to take Hansen down and took little in the way of risks. He was winning on positioning, but doing no damage. Hansen had come the closest to doing something to attempt to finish with a first round armbar attempt.

In Japan, the first judging criteria often used is who worked harder to finish and came the closest, and that would have been Hansen, even though Aoki was on top the majority of the battle. Because of that, it’s not a lock how the decision would have gone had Aoki not secured the armbar as the clock was ticking down.

"I’m sorry I had such a boring fight for you guys," said a teary-eyed Aoki in Japanese after the match.

Aoki had said before the event that Dream, and not UFC, had the best lightweight competitors. After winning the title, he made that claim again.

"It’s not UFC, it’s Dream," he said.

But Aoki, whose stand-up is weak and who doesn’t face fighters who are stronger wrestlers and do more extensive weight-cutting, doesn’t appear to have the all-around game at the level of the top UFC lightweights, even with his rep as the most exciting submission fighter in the game.

Fernandes claims featherweight crown While Aoki's victory was the biggest overnight headline, the last memory of the card could be the war between Hiroyuki Takaya and Bibiano Fernandes for the company's first featherweight championship.

Takaya came into the featherweight tournament that started in March as a prohibitive underdog, coming off losing two matches last year in World Extreme Cagefighting to Leonard Garcia and Cub Swanson and being cut from the organization.

After beating Hideo Tokoro in a semifinal earlier in the evening, he got the better of standing exchanges for most of the fight. However, it was a second-round knockdown by Fernandes that made the difference as the Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion won a split decision in one of the year’s most exciting fights.

Fernandes (7-2), whose only two losses were early in his career to Urijah Faber and Kid Yamamoto and defeated Joe Warren in the semifinals, was unable to mount an offense on the ground as would have been expected. He was bleeding above the right eye, while Takaya (12-7-1) was bleeding from the mouth.

The wild punching exchanges late which favored the Japanese fighter caused the often-stoic Japanese crowd to go wild. In the end, the question on the judges’ minds were whether the lone knockdown of the fight was worth more than consistently doing more damage for the rest of the 15:00.

The featherweight tournament, which in Dream is a 139-pound weight limit, was largely produced to crown a championship on Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto, by far the biggest drawing and most popular of the Japanese fighters.

But on May 26, Warren, the 2007 world Greco-Roman champion who had only one prior MMA fight, won a decision by surviving the stand-up and continually taking Yamamoto, himself a high-level wrestler, down to take the decision. What was shocking is that many felt Yamamoto won, and Japanese MMA companies are notorious for hometown decisions even by the standards generally tolerated in combat sports.

Even with his inexperience, Warren had become the crowd favorite in the tournament. In Fernandes, he was facing the person who would stylistically be his toughest opponent.

In something reminiscent of the first Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir fight, Warren (2-1) came out strong. He scored an immediate takedown, and then a second one, slamming Fernandes hard to the mat. As he was doing ground and pound, Warren posted his arm and Fernandes quickly snatched an armbar.

Fernandes had the armbar tight. It appeared Warren touched Fernandes’ leg three times, looking like a very subtle tap. The ref jumped in to stop the match at 43 seconds. Warren immediately started protesting that he never tapped, which led to Fernandes blowing a gasket, flipping him off, storming out of the ring before the announcement of his victory was made.

In the other semifinal, Takaya went against popular Japanese fighter Hideo Tokoro (23-19-1). Tokoro has been heavily promoted on television as a rags-to-riches story, with footage shown of him working at his job as a janitor that he was still working well into his MMA career. He garnered popularity by giving up 48 pounds to Royce Gracie in a highly-rated New Year’s Eve match three years ago, which ended up as a draw.

Takaya was the stronger fighter standing, and able to neutralize Tokoro’s ground game. Often, Tokoro would miss a shot and end up on his back, and Takaya would stand and kick at his legs. However, late in the first round, Tokoro decked Takaya with a left and was rocking him with punches.

Tokoro jumped on him, and went to his back to try and finish with a triangle. When Takaya escaped, he had the better position and hurt Tokoro badly with seven hard punches on the ground just as the bell sounded to end the first round. Had the bell not sounded, the match likely would have been called off within the next few seconds.

At first Tokoro appeared recovered, connecting with a good punch, but Takaya started getting the better of the exchanges, Tokoro went down and was finished with punches on the ground at :32 of the second round.

"Super Hulk" finals lacks Hulks The first big match for the traditional nationally televised New Year’s Eve car was made clear Tuesday, with the finals of the Super Hulk tournament pitting middleweight Ikuhisa "Minowa-man" Minowa a charismatic cult favorite, against light heavyweight and former UFC fighter Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou.

Minowa won a visually compelling freak-show fight when he tapped out South Korean giant Hong-man Choi.

It was a complete spectacle, since Minowa is 5-foot-9 and 192 pounds, and Choi is 7-2 and 319. Choi had vowed to win in less than one minute, but they went through a 10-minute first round. Mostly Minowa would dance around his slower foe and shoot for takedowns, which Choi mostly sprawled out of. At one point Minowa got side control, and threw some hard knees to the body, but due to the size difference, it appeared not to do any damage.

Due to a lack of action, they actually stood them up from side control. By the end of the round, Minowa looked exhausted from having to deal with the weight difference.

Minowa opened round two with a weak takedown attempt, which Choi sprawled away from. But on the ground, Minowa spun out of Choi’s control and got his back, and in the scramble, hooked a heel hook for the tap at 1:36 in the biggest reaction of the show.

Sokoudjou, at 6-feet and 220.5 pounds, easily defeated 6-4, 342-pound Bob Sapp in the other semifinal. Sokoudjou immediately took Japan’s version of Kimbo Slice down and Sapp was practically defenseless, taking punch after punch on the ground before it was stopped at 1:30.

The card also featured a throwback to the UFC's early days, as Rubin "Mr. Hollywood" Williams, a pro boxer with a 29-8-1 record who once fought Jeff Lacy for the IBF super middleweight title, faced 40-year-old banged up MMA legend Kazushi Sakuraba. It was once again a reminder that these are two totally different sports, and the idea that a boxer could walk in and KO an MMA fighter with those small gloves has a tiny percentage of happening. In fact, Sakuraba got getting the better of the stand-up, connecting with body and leg kicks at will, before getting the takedown, and toying with Williams before finishing him with a Kimura in 2:53.

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