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DREAM 17 Preview: Bantamweight Grand Prix Begins, Aoki Faces McCullough

DREAM 17 kicks off at 3am ET on Friday night/Saturday morning on HDNet featuring the bantamweight tournament headlined by DREAM’s Japan Bantamweight Grand Prix winner Hideo Tokoro, who defeated Masakazu Imanari just two months ago. Also in the Grand Prix are Imanari, former DREAM featherweight champion Bibiano Fernandes, Abel Cullum, and former WEC and UFC fighter Antonio Banuelos, among others.

The event is headlined by Imanari’s Nippon Top Team running mate Shinya Aoki in action against former WEC champion Rob McCullough in lightweight action. This is McCullough’s first fight since getting knocked out by Patricky Freire while Aoki is coming off a submission win over Rich Clementi.

Also on the card, former UFC middleweight Gerald Harris will make his DREAM debut at the event against Kazuhiro Nakamura, former Strikeforce contender Tatsuya Kawajiri will face Joachim Hansen in Kawajiri’s featherweight debut, Caol Uno will face Takeshi Inoue also at featherweight, and Minowaman will face Mongolian Baru Harn.

Finally, Kazushi Sakuraba will return to the ring for the first time after having his ear mostly detached at Dynamite!! 2010 against Marius Zaromskis and will face Brazilian submission specialist Yan Cabral in what will likely be a battle of submissions.

What to watch for:

Clearly the highlight of the card is the beginning of the Bantamweight GP, even though the previous one ended just a couple months ago. Hideo Tokoro should be a favorite to win, although Bibiano Fernandes should be one to watch. He has expressed some disappointment with the promotion in the past and with the problems Japanese promotions have had making sure paychecks make it to the fighters, he could be a candidate to be brought over to Bellator or possibly the UFC when he is done in this competition. Antonio Banuelos should do well, but much of his success will be dependent on how well he makes the transition from fighting in a cage to fighting in a ring. The fact that he is drawn in his opening fight against Tokoro is a problem as well. Imanari is known as the Master of Leglocks and should provide entertainment with his rather unorthodox approach to a fight. He will do anything and everything possible to induce a scramble, when he will grab onto a leg and yank. The fight between Kawajiri and Hansen should be a right scrap between two respected veterans, although how well Kawajiri makes the cut to 145 after having fought at 155 and how well his strength is maintained through that cut should be a factor. Hansen has phenomenal submission skills to try to counteract Kawajiri’s North American style wrestling, so this should be a really good fight.

Professional wrestler Minowaman, quite possibly the absolute crowd favorite at this event will be taking on a Mongolian fighter who has one knockout win, but is labeled a Mongolian wrestler.

I do wish, however, that I knew what to make of Sakuraba’s return to the ring. He has not looked good at all in his last few fights: a decision loss to Ralek Gracie, a submission loss to Jason “Mayhem” Miller, and of course the Doctor stoppage against Zaromskis where he looked terrible up until his ear was nearly kicked off his head. It feels like DREAM went out looking for someone who wasn’t going to try to stand and knock him out, but rather someone who he could use his immense catch wrestling skills against. If he loses, it could very well be his last fight, although he has said he wants to keep fighting. At some point for him, enough should be enough and DREAM should offer him a Godfather deal to stay out of the ring along the lines of the deal Dana White offered Chuck Liddell.

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