DREAM 4 is this weekend and it’s the continuation of the DREAM Middleweight Grand Prix, featuring Kazushi Sakuraba, Jason “Mayhem” Miller, Melvin Manhoef, and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, among others. There’s also a special lightweight attraction with Shinya Aoki being placed on the card in a second round Lightweight Grand Prix bout against Katsuhiko Nagata. Let’s take a look at the main attractions on the card.
Shinya Aoki vs. Katsuhiko Nagata (LW Grand Prix)
Aoki and his Zubaz taking on Nagata will most likely be the co-main event of this card because Aoki is a beloved figure in Japan, but not as beloved as Sakuraba, who is also on the card and will most likely be in the main event spot. Everyone is pretty much calling this fight a wash and has penciled Aoki into the third round of the Grand Prix and they’re likely right. However, Nagata is not to be taken lightly as he has trained with one of the best MMA camps at American Kickboxing Academy and won a silver medal in Greco-Roman wrestling at the Olympics in 2000. That being said, Aoki has an uncanny ability to shut down people’s games, make them play to his strength, and frustrate them with his wacky pants and killer jiu jitsu. I think it’s a tougher fight than most people are giving it credit, but I still see Aoki coming out on top here and moving onto the third round. Alvarez vs. Aoki anyone?
Jason “Mayhem” Miller vs. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (MW Grand Prix)
This is perhaps the most anticipated fight on the card and one that’s very hard to call as Jacare is one of the best pure grapplers in all of MMA and could be considered one of Mayhem’s toughest fights to date. As long as Mayhem doesn’t fool around like he did during his last fight, I think he takes this one. He has the better MMA toolbox. He can strike, he can wrestle, he can submit you, and he can defend submissions. He’s only been submitted once in his MMA career and he’s been in big time fights against the better competition. GSP couldn’t even finish this guy and Mayhem was fighting at a weight class below his normal fighting weight. He knows what it’s like to be in wars and has been in plenty of them. You can’t say the same for Jacare. While Jacare is a blue chip prospect at middleweight and has a scary submission game, he doesn’t have the experience or the total all-around game that Miller does. If it hits the ground for long periods of time I expect Jacare to have a chance but submitting Miller is a tall order.
Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Melvin Manhoef (MW Grand Prix)
Don’t get me wrong, I love Sakuraba. I think if you’re a hardcore fan of MMA you have to love what Sakuraba’s done for the sport in Japan and the way he’s carred himself inside the ring and out. That being said, I think he’s being fed to the wolves here against Manhoef. Sakuraba’s only chance in this fight is to get it to the ground and end up on top. Manhoef’s ground game is not where it needs to be at the current moment and this is where Sakuraba has the advantage. If it’s standing, it’s Manhoef’s game. If Manhoef ends up on top, he can inflict so much damage from that position that it will be hard to submit him. Everything the guy throws, from his leg kicks to his punches, is thrown with seriously bad intentions, on the ground and standing. During some of his fights you can hear his punches cutting the air with a “zing” sound. It’s that powerful. Sakuraba’s age and wear and tear combined with Manhoef’s devastating power are making me lean toward Manhoef here but don’t be surprised when Sakuraba puts up one hell of a valiant effort. Let’s just hope that if it gets out of hand, the ref stops it before anymore of Saku’s brain gets fried.
Gegard Mousasi vs. Dong Sik Yoon (MW Grand Prix)
Yet another intriguing matchup on the card. Sure, Yoon is 4-4 but he lost his first four fights against competition like Murilo Bustamante, Quinton Jackson, and Kazushi Sakuraba. Since that time he’s gone 4-0, submitting the likes of Melving Manhoef, Zelg Galesic, and Fabio Silva. He gets better every time out and gave Quinton Jackson all he could handle in Jackson’s last fight in the PRIDE organization. The guy is talented and he’s only getting better. That being said, Mousasi is a beast in his own right. He can knock you out or he can submit you. MMA Weekly has him ranked as the #9 middlweight in the world and he’s coming off a stunning victory over Denis Kang via triangle choke, a fight that he was probably losing until the turnaround. Mousasi has the edge in experience but Yoon has fought as many quality opponents as he has in a shorter period of time and holds a big advantage over Mousasi on the ground. It’s razor thin close between these two but I am going to go with Yoon here. He continues to improve and I think he takes his game to the next level here by beating Mousasi. This could be a sleeper bout on the card that steals the night away from the big boys.
Zelg Galesic vs. Taiei Kin (MW Grand Prix)
This is perhaps the weakest matchup of all the Middlweight Grand Prix fights but still an interesting one to look out for. It’s a rematch of a previous bout between the two that was stopped only 36 seconds into the first round due to a cut caused from a high kick that grazed Kin’s eyelid and opened a pretty nice cut. Galesic is a great striker and primarily likes to keep it on the feet and has shown a weakness against good grapplers. He has a serviceable ground game but nothing stellar. If he can keep it on the feet here, and I think he will, he should be able to pick Kin apart. Galesic’s hands are unbelievably fast and I don’t think Kin will be able to see the strikes coming, therefore not allowing him to get into a comfort zone to work his own game.
The fallout from this Middleweight Grand Prix may be more interesting than the fights themselves. The potential matchups for the next round are extremely intriguing. Just think of the possible matchups for the next round depending on the outcome:
Mayhem vs. Sakuraba, a fight that Mayhem has called for.
Sakuraba vs. Jacare, a grappler’s dream fight.
Galesic vs. Manhoef, a fantastic display of striking.
Yoon vs. Manhoef, a rematch of a previous fight.
And the list goes on. Sunday morning is going to be a fun morning of mixed martial arts.