Japanese MMA proved it was alive and well with the showing of DREAM's New Year's Eve 2011 show, titled "Genki Desu Ka!! Omisoka!! 2011" and translated as "How are you! New Year! 2011."
No, seriously, that's the translation of DREAM's latest "Fight For Japan" event, which for those of you fluent in Japanese is expressed as "元気ですか!! 大晦日!! 2011."
Anyway, UFC 141 got all the media hype and attention before the lengthy nine-hour fight card, but those who were able to watch the card in any fraction of its entirety laid witness to one of the most electrifying cards of 2011, and one of the two most fitting ways to close out the year 2011 in MMA.
Helping the excitement level of the Fight For Japan card was DREAM's inaugural Bantamweight Grand Prix, which saw former WEC and quietly released UFC bantamweight Antonio Banuelos advance past Masakazu Imanari to face Bibiano "The Flash" Fernandes, who defeated Rodolfo Marques.
Banuelos and Fernandes met in the finals later that night after respective decision victories, with Yusup Saadulaev waiting in the wings if neither man could compete, but Saadulaev's highlight-reel slam over Hideo Tokoro would be the only appearance of the Russian prospect on the card.
Fernandes scored the first round TKO by showing vast improvements in his striking arsenal, and landed a left high kick followed by a two-punch combination that shook Banuelos enough to cause him to slip while backing up and fall victim to some heavy ground and pound, giving Fernandes the final win of his GP stint and the DREAM bantamweight championship.
Though often associated with the Nova Uniao Jiu-Jitsu Academy, which has housed Marques as well as UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo, former SRC featherweight champion Marlon Sandro, and rising UFC bantamweight Renan Barao, Fernandes trained with the Revolution Fight Team for a time prior to the announcement of the DREAM Bantamweight Grand Prix and relocated to Matt Hume's AMC Pankration for the duration of the Grand Prix.
One year to the day that Hiroyuki Takaya defeated him for the DREAM featherweight title, Fernandes is back on the top with a roughly predicted 12 pounds of bantamweight hardware around his waist, and as we break ourselves into 2012, Fernandes will only ascend further and further until the day comes when he is finally UFC-bound.