Sweet DREAMers: Japanese MMA League on Rise

Kevin LeongContributor IIJune 3, 2008

With the dissolution of Pride FC and FEG's HERO, Japan's DREAM organization has emerged in full strength. Signing high-profile fighters from both organizations, DREAM is trying to show it can compete with other organizations like the UFC.

Already popular with its Japanese audience and hardcore MMA fans, it will be only a matter of time before it catches on with everyone else, making their fighters household names. Here are few fighters worth checking out:

Dennis Kang: Despite a disappointing loss to Gegard Mousasi, Kang showed improved wrestling skills and powerful striking. Had it not been for DREAM's allowance of knees on the ground (which Mousasi was throwing effectively from the bottom), Kang may have gotten the early Kimora after a beautiful take-down and transition into side control. Still, Kang showed he was a strong competitor at 185 lbs.

Notable Victories: Murilo "Ninja" Rua, Akihiro Gono (with a torn bicep).

Kazushi Sakuraba: Widely popular amongst Japanese MMA fans for his showy entrances and jovial personality, Sakuraba is a dangerous fighter from the ground. Known as the "Gracie Hunter," Sakuraba first made his name taking on and beating several members of the Gracie family. In a recent rematch with Royce Gracie (whom he had previously beaten), Sakuraba suffered a unanimous decision loss, though later it was found that Royce Gracie tested positive for huge amounts of anabolic steroids. Unfortunately for Sakuraba, the California State Athletic Commission does not overturn decisions based on drug test results, so his loss remains in the record books. Sakuraba went on to win his next three fights to compile a 23-10 career record (with one draw and two no-contests).

Notable Victories: Royler, Renzo, Royce, and Ryan Gracie, Guy Mezger, Ken Shamrock, Quinton Rampage Jackson, Kevin Randleman.

Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto: Kid Yamamoto is well-known in the K-1 HEROs realm, but is relatively unheard-of everywhere else. Though an accomplished wrestler (he tried out for the Japanese 2008 Olympic wrestling team before being forced to leave due to an injury), Kid Yamamoto has also ended may of his fights standing with his vicious strikes and kicks. Yamamoto has compiled a 17-1 record (one no-contest, his loss coming from a referee stoppage due to a cut on his forehead). Fighting in K-1 as a lightweight, he plans on fighting in DREAM at his more natural weight of 145 lbs (featherweight).

Notable Victories: Royler Gracie, Genki Sudo.

Nick Diaz: Known for his high intensity and volatile personality, Diaz recently signed with DREAM and won his debut in DREAM 3 over Katsuya Inoue. Nick Diaz has solid jiu-jitsu skills and is a strong striker with quick hands. He received his black-belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from Cesar Gracie and is unafraid to take the fight to the ground. Nick Diaz should be a force to be reckoned with in DREAM's welterweight division. 

Notable Victories: Chris Lytle, Robbie Lawler, Drew Fickett.

Other notable fighters: Mirco "Crocop" Filipovic, Jerome LeBanner, Alistair Overeem.

Can DREAM consistently provide fans with competitive match-ups, powerful KOs, and smooth submissions? Only time will tell, but hopefully they won't keep us dreaming.