Bright and early tomorrow morning, DREAM 10 takes place from the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.
While the headlining acts are the semi-finals and finals of the Welterweight Grand Prix, perhaps the most interesting bout on the card pits Dutch knockout-artist Melvin Manhoef against one of MMA's greatest enigmas, Paulo Filho.
A year and a-half ago, Filho was undefeated, with a record of 16-0, and had successfully defended his WEC Welterweight title for the first time. The man was on a roll.
Then the wheels fell off.
Controversy surrounded his first title defense, as Chael Sonnen argued that he had never tapped to the arm-bar Filho had locked in tight, so a rematch was slated for WEC 34. However, the fight would be postponed as Filho had, apparently, checked into rehab.
Two months later, and 11 months after their first fight, Filho resurfaced in horrible shape, failing to make weight, and changing the title rematch into a three-round anti-climactic end to the WEC Welterweight division.
Sonnen dominated from the opening bell, as Filho looked confused and uninterested in fighting. That was the last time Paulo Filho was seen in the ring, creating a number of intriguing questions for tomorrow morning's tilt with Manhoef.
Exactly which Paulo Filho is going to show up? Will it be the guy who stormed to the 16-0 mark already mentioned with wins over the likes of Ryo Chonan, Kazuo Misaki, and Murilo "Ninja" Rua or the out of shape, unimpressive version that collected his first career loss the last time out?
My guess is that the old Paulo Filho shows up, ready for action and refocused on his fighting career. Sending any other version into the ring with a striker as dangerous as Manhoef would be a real mistake.
Unfortunately, the truth is that your guess is as good as mine, and we won't know until tomorrow morning whether Paulo Filho is back to being a forced to be reckoned with at 155 or a cautionary tale of things gone wrong.
The return of Filho against Melvin Manhoef might be the most intriguing match-up on the Dream 10 card, but it is far from the only fight of note.
Welterweight Grand Prix Semi Finals
Jason High (7-1) vs. Andre Galvao (3-0)
High made quick work of Yuya Shirai in the opening round, but going to the mat against Galvao would be a big mistake. The Team Nogueira fighter is a submission specialist with terrific Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, having stopped all three opponents via armbar thus far in his career.
As much as I like Jason High and think he has a bright future, Galvao's star is shining a little bit brighter.
Hayato "Mach" Sakurai (35-8-2) vs. Marius Zaromskis (9-2-0)
All you need to know is this: Sakurai crushed Shinya Aoki in 27 seconds in the opening round, while Zaromskis earned a decision over Seichi Ikemoto. When in doubt, stick with the guy with the proven track record coming off the dominating win.
Should things shake out the way I think they will, Galvao will be a solid test for Sakurai in the finals, but I still favor the veteran.
Vitor "Shaolin" Ribeiro (20-2-0) vs. Shinya Aoki (20-4-0)
If you want to see sick submission attempts and top-notch grappling, this fight will deliver in spades.
While I'll never be completely sold on Aoki until he performs some of his slick submissions without his Magic Grappling Pants, there is no questioning the flexibility and skill set possessed by "The Tobikan Judan" or "Shaolin" either for that matter. Ribeiro's two losses are to Gesias "JZ Calvan" Cavalcante and Tatsuya Kawajiri, whom he also holds a victory over.
Their most recent fights would indicate an advantage for Ribeiro, as he dominated Katsuhiko Nagata, while Aoki was defeated in 27 seconds by "Mach" Sakurai, but something tells me the return to lightweight and the home-field advantage will play in Aoki's favor.
Additionally, Andre "Dida" Amade takes on Katsunori Kikuno, while Dong Sik Yoon faces The Ultimate Fighter 7 alum Jesse "JT Money" Taylor.