Dream appears ready to kick off its first Welterweight Grand Prix in a big way, pitting No. 1 ranked lightweight Shinya Aoki – who has several past welterweight bouts to his credit – against former Top 10 ranked Hayato “Mach” Sakurai. MMAWeekly.com sources confirmed the planned bout on Friday.
The bout is the first known match-up of the opening round of the tournament and should be a popular choice for the fans in Japan. Both fighters are popular, successful fighters with strong followings in their home country
Arguably, these are two of the most skilled fighters in the GP. As much as I would like to see these two men meet in the finals, there would be no guarantee they would both make it. Presumably, the DREAM officials did not want this high profile fight to slip from their grasps because one of an upset, so they made sure it happens by matching them up in the first round.
Aoki, who is the WAMMA lightweight champion of the world, is an early favorite to win the tournament. He is less than a month removed from his last outing where he submitted David Gardner, marking a successful jump up to welterweight. He is one of the best grapplers in MMA, and I expect he will use that fully to his advantage in this fight and throughout the tournament. If he can make his way past the heavy-handed Sakurai, I believe he will have the confidence to win the rest of the tourney.
Sakurai, who has yet to fight in 2009, will be looking for his thrid win in a row, and second over Aoki. Sakurai is known for his heavy hands, so I assume he will want this fight on the feet. Sakurai is no slouch on the ground either, but if thats where the fight ends up I really can’t imagine anything but Aoki tapping him. He needs to implement some sort of a sprawl-and-brawl style so he can work his hands and keep it standing. He has faced top level grapplers and numerous top ten fighters so this should not be unfamiliar territory.
The April 5 bout, at DREAM.8, will take place at Nippon Gaishi Hall in Nagoya, Japan. Other rumored competitors in the GP are Marcelo Garcia, Keita Nakamura, John Alessio and Andre Galvao.