In 2011 Japanese mixed martial arts is a shadow of its former self, just five years prior Japan was the best place to make a living by competing in our sport and hosted some of the biggest fights in all of combat sports.
While the country attempts to recover from the tragedies that shook Japan to its core we got a glimmer of hope for the fight enthusiasts based in the land of the rising sun.
DREAM officials made the announcement today that they would be returning with the opening round of the bantamweight grand prix on May 29th live from the Saitama Super Arena.
The future of the largest Japanese based mixed martial arts organization has been a question mark for several months following a string of performers claiming that FEG, the parent company of the largest kickboxing organization in the world, K-1, as well as DREAM had not paid them.
To date all eight participants have been announced for the bantamweight tournament for May, in this article I will take a look at all of them.
Hideo Tokoro (27-23-1)
Tokoro typically competes at featherweight but has made the cut down to 135-lbs for the tournament, although his record is less than spectacular don’t let that fool you, he is a dangerous fighter who always brings the excitement to the ring. Tokoro made it to the semi-finals of DREAM’s featherweight grand prix before being stopped by fellow rising sun product Hiroyuki Takaya.
Tokoro has been a professional for eleven years and at 33 years of age is nearing his end and is looking to capture the DREAM Bantamweight Championship and end his career on a high.
Masakazu Imanari (21-8-2)
Imanari enters the tournament as a clear favorite, he is the current reigning and defending DEEP Bantamweight Champion, a title he has held since 2008 and defended on three separate occasions.
Last time Imanari was in DREAM he lost a featherweight tournament bout to eventual winner Bibiano Fernandes in 2009 and following that defeat he went on a reign of terror in DEEP with five straight victories before eventually losing a non-title bout to Hiroshi Nakamura.
Imanari is known for his submission game and will be looking to take home an arm of a leg as well as another 135-lbs title.
Kenji Osawa (16-9-2)
Osawa may be a familiar face to the American audience after competing in the WEC’s bantamweight division where he has a forgettable 1-2-1 run before returning home to Japan.
Upon arrival he returned to his winning ways be defeating Pancrase Inagakigumi product and fellow tournament participants Yoshiro Maeda on year ago.
May 29th will be exactly one year since he fought, will such a long lay-off be too much for him while walking into an elite tournament like this? Only time will tell.
Darren Uyenoyama (6-3)
Uyenoyama enters the tournament as a dark horse that could leave with his hand raised when all is said and done, after taking fights in Japan and the United States looking to get his name out there Uyenoyama had a less than thrilling record when he was offered a non-title shot at Shooto’s 135-lbs title carrier Shuichiro Katsumura last year.
Uyenoyama shocked the Japanese crowd when he stopped the Champ in the second frame but since then hasn’t fought.
After a return match with Katumura never materialized, a return bout with Masakatsu Ueda never happened and being rejected for the next season of the UFC’s Ultimate Fighter reality series he is here to return to action and impress the world.
Keisuke Fujiwara (11-2-4)
Fujiwara has split his attentions between a career as a mixed martial artist, kick boxer and grappler over his career and has finally made the choice to stick with MMA full time.
Fujiwara is the current ZST Bantamweight title carrier which he captured in 2009 and has defended it twice.
Fujiwara enters the tournament as a bit of an unknown despite competing in combat sports since 2006 and having 23 fights under his belt he has never competed in one of the elite MMA organizations.
Fujiwara will be looking to show the world that he is a top level bantamweight when he walks into the tournament in a few months.
Atsushi Yamamoto (14-6-1)
Yamamoto enters the tournament having not competed in 18 months but has experience fight three of the seven other participants.
Training at the Krazy Bee gym he is known for having an exciting and dynamic fight style and never likes to leave it in the hands of the judges.
Yamamoto comes in on a high having won three of his last five bouts including a decision over Hideo Tokoro is Shooto.
Takafumi Otsuka (11-7-1)
Otsuka comes into the grand prix to get his career back on track following a less than spectacular 2010.
Otsuka made a name for himself in Japan early in his career with a string of impressive performances in DEEP and Fury FC before entering the big league in Japan.
Between DREAM and DEEP in 2010 he strung together a 2-3 record with his most recent outing resulting in a victory over Tomohiko Hori at DEEP 51.
Yoshiro Maeda (28-9-2)
By far the biggest name in the tournament bracket in Yoshiro Maeda after his fight of the year nomination in 2009 when he faced the seemingly unstoppable Miguel Torres.
Maeda is an eight year veteran fighting out of the Pancrase Inagakigumi team who would be considered the favorite of the bracket.
Maeda is currently riding a two fight win streak, most recently destroying former Sengoku Featherweight Champion Masanori Kanehara a little past the one minute mark of the opening round.
Maeda will look to keep on his winning ways with three straight victories to capture the title and add another achievement to his already impressive career.
But that’s not all fight fans, DREAM executives also indicated that Japanese stand out’s Mitsuhiro Ishida, Joachim Hansen, Shinya Aoki, Akiyo Nishiura, Katsunori Kikuno, and Caol Uno are all expected to be in action on May 29th as well.
All the action will begin in May and will be availiable for everyone based in the United States with a HD television on HDnet, be sure to follow me @justinfauxmma for all my thoughts and analysis leading up to the event.