that will get any MMA fan on board with the latest new kid on the block -- insert "Hangin' Tough" reference here.
Impossibly saccharine musical confections aside, Dream is giving its lightweight grand prix some proper accompaniment with a solid undercard highlighted by the leader of the "Mayhem Monkeys" and muay Thai's answer to Wesley "Two Scoops" Berry.
So read on and get up to date on my latest round of horribly inaccurate predictions. At this point, I might as well start looking for prognostication advice in my bowl of Cheerios.
Alvarez vs. Hansen
Nordic metalhead meets hyperactive All-American wrestler. Unfortunately, it's not the latest midseason sitcom, but it does make for the most intriguing second-round matchup in Dream's lightweight grand prix.
Coming off equally impressive first-round performances, Joachim "Hellboy" Hansen and Eddie Alvarez (Pictures) have quickly become the gaijin sleepers in a tournament dominated by local heroes. Not surprisingly they've been slotted against each other thanks to Dream's "doodles on Post-It notes" system of bracketing.
Not that either man will be bothered by Dream's business-by-way-of-George-Costanza approach, especially not Hansen, who has excelled as a foreign competitor in the land of fuel-efficient cars and pixelized pornography.
First coming to prominence by treating Rumina Sato (Pictures)'s head the same way "Pacman" Jones treats second chances, Hansen (17-6-1) enjoyed a brief run as Shooto welterweight champion at Takanori Gomi (Pictures)'s expense before moving on to Pride, where illusions of another title run were quickly put to rest.
Hansen's slide down the lightweight rankings turned into a plummet when Eiji Mitsuoka (Pictures) scored an upset win over "Hellboy" in his return to Shooto. Thankfully the loss seems to have had a Lazarus pit effect on Hansen, who enters this fight having put together a pair of spectacular wins over Kazuyuki Miyata (Pictures) and MMA's answer to Mike McCallum, Kotetsu Boku (Pictures).
This would normally be the part where I get into Alvarez's (13-1) lightweight resume. But the Philadelphia-born phenom actually started out as a diminutive welterweight, getting by on his natural ability and a style that owes more to Clubber Lang than Rocky Balboa.
Simply running through your opposition only works when your opposition is overmatched, though. Nick Thompson (Pictures) exposed the holes in Alvarez's straightforward style by dragging him into a trench war that the undersized Alvarez was ill prepared for.
Those days of little man syndrome and mass overcompensation are long gone for Alvarez. He burst onto the lightweight radar with an impressive ground and pound drubbing of Andre "Dida" Amade, who had been considered the foreign sleeper after having reached the finals of the K-1 lightweight grand prix as a Harry Truman-level underdog.
The same ground and pound strategy may not be in Alvarez's best interests this time around, however. Hansen has the sort of slick jiu-jitsu game designed to nullify wildly aggressive wrestlers. Further complicating matters is Hansen's unorthodox southpaw striking style, which relies almost entirely on power shots thrown at unusual angles with shocking accuracy.
Victory will mean treading lightly for Alvarez. He is undoubtedly the better wrestler and would do well constantly changing the tempo on Hansen by switching from striking to grappling. That sort of up and down approach would keep Hansen from settling into a groove and would also create the openings Alvarez needs to score offense of his own.
Hoping for, never mind expecting, such discipline from Alvarez is beyond unrealistic, though. The more likely outcome is Hansen scoring on the feet against Alvarez's suspect defense until the bout eventually hits the ground.
For all his prodigious talent, Alvarez is still rough around the edges and has never had to contend with a grappler of Hansen's caliber. The Nordic moshpit master puts away Alvarez with a textbook armbar transition late in the first round.
Ishida vs. Uno
Old-school cred meets new-school style when stalwart Japanese fashion icon Caol Uno (Pictures) takes on T-Blood's Arn Anderson, Mitsuhiro Ishida (Pictures).
While no one will ever take away Uno's title as MMA's Tim Gunn, the question on the lips of many an MMA fan has been whether the one-time Shooto ace can still hold his own against the next generation of lightweight talent.
Recent history suggests otherwise. Uno (24-10-4) has padded his record against fringe contenders like Kultar Gill (Pictures) and Ali Ibrahim while consistently coming up short against quality competition. Putting on quality scraps in defeat will endear you to fight fans the world over, but Uno is starting to look like an out of season pair of Manolo Blahniks.
Sure, they're still good, but they've lost a bit of their value. Like Urkel. This grand prix may be Uno's last chance to once again be en vogue on the MMA scene and perhaps reclaim the success he enjoyed in his vintage Shooto days.
Although Ishida (16-3-1) never quite reached Uno's first ballot status in Shooto, he used his time in Japan's most enduring fistic enterprise to develop the constricting top-control style that would go on to serve him so well.
First entrenching himself as one of the best on the Pride Bushido circuit, Ishida scored a career-making win over Marcus Aurelio, who was fresh off his strangulation of Takanori Gomi (Pictures). Although Ishida failed to match Aurelio's feat against Gomi, he would prove his worth as the enforcer of the T-Blood camp.
Matched against Gilbert Melendez (Pictures) on the much-hyped Yarennoka card, Ishida excelled where stablemate Tatsuya Kawajiri (Pictures) failed by taking a clear-cut decision win over the previously undefeated Gilbert Melendez (Pictures). Ishida will need to match that form and avoid the sort of lackadaisical showing he put on against Bu Kyung Jung (Pictures) in the grand prix's opening round to move on against Uno.
The flip side of the coin for Uno is figuring out how to stifle an opponent who thrives on shutting down offense like the ‘86 Bears. Uno's grappling is well regarded and rightfully so, but Ishida has proven to be all but impossible to submit and his wrestling is typically enough to frustrate even the most savvy opposition.
Slick as Uno may be, he simply doesn't have the skill set to pose much of a threat to Ishida, who should be able to roughhouse his way to a unanimous decision after two rounds of top control that would make Dan Gable blush.
Although Uno's grand prix dreams will come to an end, he can always take solace in being the best-dressed man alive who gets paid to hurt people.
Kawajiri vs. Firmino
On the way to crowning a grand prix champion, it looks like Dream will also get to settle some bad blood still brewing from its predecessor by giving Luiz "Buscape" Firmino a do-over against Tatsuya "Crusher" Kawajiri.
These two first crossed paths on the Pride Bushido circuit. It was Kawajiri who took home the win, although popular opinion was split on who deserved the winner's purse.
Firmino (12-3) will certainly relish the opportunity to make good on this three-year-old debt considering his once-promising career has floundered since losing to Ibaraki Prefecture's favorite son. The collapse of Pride certainly played a role in Firmino's inactivity, as his win over Nobuhiro Obiya (Pictures) on the last Bushido card marked the beginning of an extended vacation from the world of fistic glory.
Thankfully the emergence of Dream brought "Buscape" out of the shadows, and a win over fellow tournament competitor Kazuyuki Miyata (Pictures) soon followed. Showing no signs of ring rust, Firmino choked out the talented Miyata with ease to set up his second go-round with the "Crusher."
The story of Kawajiri (21-4-2) post-Firmino is one of missed opportunities, as the T-Blood poster boy lost his hotly anticipated showdown with Takanori Gomi (Pictures) in one-sided fashion. That loss was immediately followed by a hollow disqualification win over Joachim Hansen (Pictures).
With the impending collapse of Pride further complicating matters, Kawajiri made another stab at solidifying his resume by taking on SoCal's hula-hoop virtuoso, Gilbert Melendez (Pictures). While Kawajiri more than held his own against the puffy-haired one, the judges' pendulum swung against him and he dropped a hotly disputed decision.
Stringing together a pair of wins over Kultar Gill (Pictures) and Luiz Azeredo (Pictures) has done little to reestablish Kawajiri's place among the elite. However, a strong showing in this tournament could be exactly what vaults him back into the division's upper echelon.
Firmino would simply like to score a high-profile win so he can spend the foreseeable future doing something other than hanging around the BTT gym twiddling his thumbs and trying to come up with a more marketable noms de guerre. It's a tall order for "Buscape" considering Kawajiri holds the edge in the wrestling department and his submission defense is all but impenetrable -- factors that played a considerable role in the first dustup. Unless we've fallen into a MMA logic vortex, not much has changed since then.
Firmino is still a semi-versatile fighter while Kawajiri is still good enough to beat just about any semi-versatile fighter. Especially ones who don't pose a real offensive threat to him.
Given that Kawajiri's effort level of late hasn't been inspiring any Prefontaine comparisons, bank on Captain T-Blood getting his brainpan in order and delivering a performance worthy of his name. Namely, a ground and pound drubbing that comes to an overdue end in the second round.
With that in mind, I'm collecting ideas for Firmino's new nickname, so feel free to send some suggestions. I'm already partial to Luiz "Blast Hardcheese" Firmino. Nice ring to that one, all you MST3K fans out there will agree.