Japanese combat sports have a much different flavor than the MMA seen in North America, but it's a refreshing change if the music, production, and commentary of the UFC have become a little bit repetitive to your ears.
The year-end Dynamite!! show in Japan is nothing less than a spectacle, but unlike most events, this one features a mixture of MMA and kickboxing bouts, which is another refreshing thing to watch. The only problem with Japanese MMA is that the fights don't start until the wee hours of the morning for those of us watching in the western hemisphere.
In previous years I've waited to catch the replay at a later time, but this year my sleep schedule is all messed up, so I decided to stay up and watch the fights, document the experience as it happens, and update the article as I go along. It's like a live blog—for dummies.
The first things worth noting about Dynamite are the commentators that will not be familiar to those who have only watched American MMA.
This year the English commentary was done by Michael Schiavello, Guy Mezger, and Jason "Mayhem" Miller. Perhaps not the sturdiest or most consistent commentators, but they're guaranteed to provide some interesting quotes.
There is some definite visual appeal to Dynamite events. The entrance stage looks more like something that would be seen at a pop concert than at an MMA event, with some big flashy screens with vibrant colors.
Dynamite!! opens with a long, opening ceremony with music and a dramatic speech.
The first big surprise of the night came in the finale of the "Superhulk Tournament" that began earlier this year, and featured a freak-show list of competitors from Hong Man Choi to Jose Canseco.
The finale pitted former UFC fighter Rameau Sokoudjou against the colorful pro wrestler Ikhisa Minowa "Minowaman," the smallest fighter in the competition, who sported his trademark red shorts.
In the early action, Sokoudjou did a good job of beating down Minowaman, while Minowa attempted to go for leg locks.
Sokoudjou looked a lot more tentative than he has in previous bouts, as though he's been trying to find a way to avoid fading as he has in his previous losses to Machida, Cane, and Mousasi.
Part of the slowed pace might be due to Sokoudjou being wary of Minowaman's submission skills, and that fear is justified when Minowaman nearly finishes a knee bar at the end of the second round.
The third round is a bizarre standoff, with both fighters simply standing across each other for minutes and receiving multiple warnings from the referee. When they finally engage, Minowaman buckles Sokoudjou with a combination of punches, forcing the stoppage.
It was a shocking finish, as Minowa is not known for his punching power. Hardly anybody thought he had a chance against Sokoudjou, but he proved us all wrong.
For a guy who had a 1-8-1 start to his MMA career, Minowa has fashioned a strange and amazing legend for himself, having fought the likes of Rampage Jackson and Wanderlei Silva, and having beaten giants like Hong Man Choi, Bob Sapp, Eric "Butterbean" Esch, Giant Silva, and Kimo Leopoldo.
Maggie Hendricks is blogging right now, and wrote, "Minowa showed that in MMA, size does not matter." That's not entirely true. Size does matter in MMA, but so do skill, tenacity, and Minowaman craziness.
For you UFC fans who think I'm anti-UFC, I have a question for you: Do Minowa's victories over Sokoudjou and Hong Man Choi make Mousasi and Fedor's victories over those two look less impressive? Don't ask a Fedor fan if you don't want to absorb a stiff lecture! :)
The occasional wide shot of the arena shows that the stadium is a massive one, and full to capacity. The MMA attendance record in Japan dwarfs the attendance record in North America, although the attendance record doesn't really speak to paid attendance, or gate revenue.
Considering the size of the crowd, the stadium seems awfully quiet in the early fights. When the fighters really start to engage, though, the crowd does start going.
5:40 At this time, I thought it might be fun to start documenting the time as I write down my thoughts. :)
5:45 Having commentary in a language I can understand really makes the fight easier to watch—luckily I've got Schiavello and Mayhem here this morning. My brain seems to turn off a little bit when I'm watching a fight on a small screen with no English commentary.
5:47 Think I'm being non-hardcore about those language remarks? Try watching the "BJ Penn vs. Lyoto Machida" fight without English commentary. I usually end up falling asleep trying to watch it, but, as uneventful as the fight was, I'm sure that Joe Rogan could have kept me at least semi-conscious.
5:52 Hiroshi Izumi may be one of the few humans with a head larger than mine.
5:55 The commentators have done a good job letting the viewer know that the judges in Japan tend to score a lot differently than the judges in America. Fewer points for a takedown, or a short offensive outbreak, and more points for overall offense over time.
5:58 The card tonight features a series of bouts pitting DREAM fighters against Sengoku fighters. Most people believe that Sengoku may already be a dying promotion, but there could be a fair bit at stake if one promotion has a lot more success than the other.
6:02 Jason Miller: "With the judges, who knows!" What? Somebody expressing confusion about MMA judging? I never would have thought I'd see the day...
6:03 The judges made the right decision for Izumi, who notches the first victory for Sengoku by dominating the final round.
6:15 For those of you who haven't realized yet, I'm not writing a direct play-by-play for the action. I'm far more interested in the general experience of the broadcast. If you really want to know what happened minute by minute, you can find the fights on the Internet later.
6:20 Michhiro Omigawa starches Hiroyuki Takaya. It's a beautiful thing to watch, if you like knockouts. After a storybook run in the DREAM featherweight grand prix, and an impressive-looking performance by Takaya against Bibiano Fernandes earlier this year, this loss brings Takaya crashing back down to earth.
6:24 Of course, UFC fans are going to take note of the fact that Omigawa went 0-2 in the UFC.
6:26 If you haven't seen an Akihiro Gono ring entrance before, you're missing something. Even Jason "Mayhem" Miller is jealous, and he says so.
6:36 "Hayato Sakurai vs. Akihiro Gono" is a fight that should have happened years ago. Better late than never? We'll see.
6:37 Guy Mezger and Jason Miller don't like scoring rounds, or they don't have short-term memory lasting five minutes, or both.
6:44 Schiavello calls a live body "the carcass."
6:45 Not a good performance from Sakurai, as he gives up the submission to Gono. Sakurai has fought just about everybody in the business, but the future looks uncertain.
6:51 This card is stacked! "Kazuo Misaki vs. Melvin Manhoef" next. Misaki is another one of those guys who has fought everybody. He's beaten Dan Henderson and knocked out Akiyama, and now he's doing a crazy dance on the electric stairs on the uber-flashy entrance stage. Gotta love those entrances here.
6:67 Manhoef wins via TKO. The referees tonight are a bit trigger-happy with the stoppages. Misaki was still very alert at the time of the stoppage.
6:68 You can see why people love Manhoef. The guy just goes running in with his arms swinging. It may not be the most technical looking display, but it's pretty exciting, and is sometimes effective.
This fight is probably a letdown for those who were expecting a real war. Too bad, but such is MMA.
6:69 Manhoef puts DREAM on the board, and the score is now 3-1 for Sengoku.
7:03 There are some hardcore fans out there who are dedicated Wikipedia editors. The fight records of the competitors tonight are getting updated faster than Schiavello can say "the big kibosh!" If somebody knows the line Schiavello says for "faster than ____" please post it in the comments for my amusement.
7:04 Some people don't like Schiavello's one-liners, but I'd rather be inconsistently entertained than consistently bored (e.g. "He's been mounted more times than Jenna Jameson"). Don't ask me when he said that. I heard it on the Internet. You can find a lot more of his quotations there; it will be as easy as bitch-slapping a baby.
7:12 The commentators don't know much about Hideo Tokoro's late replacement opponent, Jong Man Kim, despite Kim having over 30 fights. Goes to show that even the big MMA fans can't follow everything. A quick check shows that he once fought a guy named Do Hyung Kim, who isn't the same as Dong Hyun Kim.
7:16 If Do Hyung Kim eventually fought Dong Hyun Kim, it would be far less ridiculous than the Super Hulk tournament.
7:17 An awesome flying triangle attempt, and some awesome transitions to opposing arm bars by Hideo Tokoro. Really exciting stuff! FIND IT AND WATCH IT! Jong Man Kim hangs on, and escapes the first round.
7:27 Kim is 0-5-2 in his last seven fights, but he's putting up a great fight especially as a late replacement. I haven't seen a ton of Korean MMA, but such fights make me think that it's probably a lot of fun.
7:29 Schiavello: "This is awesome!" I'll agree.
7:30 Schiavello said something about "folding him in half like a piano..." importer? I'll have to listen to that one again later.
7:32 Tokoro brings the tally to 2-3 for Sengoku, but more importantly, it was a fun fight, although Daisuke Naito got nearly as much screen time as the fighters.
7:45 "Yokota vs. Kawajiri"
7:45 Yokota's wheelbarrow escape is strange, and the commentators are getting a little bit of a kick out of it. Mezger feels uncomfortable.
7:49 Kawajiri really dominating from the mount. Some people think Kawajiri is a really bad stylistic matchup for Shinya Aoki. I'm sure we'll see this fight sometime in the near future.
7:51 Guy Mezger gets upset with a fighter whenever he doesn't come close to a finish.
7:52 Rings aren't nearly as cool as cages; it's a fact. Plus, it's pretty funny to see the Japanese ring officials holding onto the ropes to try to stabilize the ring.
7:54 Kawajiri has some pretty great mount control, but he's no BJ Penn from the mount. Few are.
7:55 Kawajiri owning Yokota. You can see why he's called "crusher."
7:58 It looks like Yokota just let his arm get broken rather than tap. These Sengoku guys are nuts.
8:00 Kawajiri wins the decision via ground domination. Still, I'm interested in seeing what he could do in the UFC.
8:05 Norifumi Yamamoto needs a win against Kanehara. The highlights for Yamamoto show his attempt to stand by using his head to form a tripod after he was knocked senseless by Jae Hee Cheon.
8:10 You probably need to understand Japanese to appreciate the overly lengthy entrance for Yamamoto...or maybe he just needed to take a pee or something.
8:20 Schiavello on Yamamoto: "So short you can see his feet on his driver's license."
8:21 "Kid" looks tiny beside Kanehara.
One of the interesting things about Japanese MMA is they let you wear wrestling shoes, as long as you agree not to use kicks.
8:22 Kid falls through the ropes. Again with the ropes.
8:25 Kid gets caught and goes all tripod halfway through round two, but somehow survives.
8:32 Tough fight to call between Yamamoto and Kanekara. It looks like it will depend on the scoring of the first round.
8:40 Kanehara wins, and Schiavello is surprised, but Kanehara won the second round definitively, and it looks like he won the first as well, although I haven't seen the score cards, they are using the "10-point must system."
8:45 "Alistair Overeem vs. Kazuyuki Fujita" coming next.
8:46 Overeem is taking a lot of flak in the U.S. for becoming gigantic, and not fighting in the U.S., but he's having a lot of fun in Japan.
8:49 The commentators are convinced that Overeem is even bigger than he was a few weeks ago when he fought in the K-1 Grand Prix, but that's more of a joke than anything else.
It seems like the commentators worldwide are trying to tell everybody that Overeem is on steroids.
Whatever you think about his increase in size, it appears that it has made him a better fighter. He's knocking people around, and isn't wilting as much as he did in the past.
Overeem's defenders will tell you that back when he was smaller, he had to cut a lot of weight to make 205, which affected his stamina, and also that, even when he fought at 205, he walked around at well over 230.
Making the permanent move to heavyweight, changing his workouts, and his diet could easily account for a gain of 15 lbs., but I think that the commentators like the controversy surrounding Overeem.
Overeem knocks out Fujita with a big knee. Fujita is unconscious for minutes. Scary stuff.
8:55 "Gegard Mousasi vs. Gary Goodridge" coming up. Mousasi is getting high praise from Schiavello and Mezger. I'm impressed with his abilities, but more than anything else, I'm impressed with Mousasi's mental strength. He's almost Fedoresque in that regard.
9:00 Nobody expects Goodridge to last long in this one.
9:05 Mousasi wins easily, but there are opponents far more dangerous than the current incarnation of Goodridge.
9:07 Mousasi is a tough fighter to rate. Jason Miller brought up my feelings when he said that he used to think that Mousasi was just lucky, but he's won too many times for it all to be luck.
9:12 "Shinya Aoki vs. Mizuto Hirota" next. A lot of people think this bout is a bad one for Aoki.
9:14 Aoki has awesome control with his legs. It's not just the spandex tights.
9:15 These Sengoku fighters aren't tapping. Hirota's arm is broken in half. Aoki made Hirota look like a white belt.
9:22 "Satoshi Ishii vs. Hidehiko Yoshida" coming up next in a bout of past and present judo gold medalists.
There has been a lot of hype surrounding Ishii, but he's only making his MMA debut, and so there are still a lot of questions about how well he's picked up the MMA game.
A second question is whether one of these fighters will choose to wear a gi during the bout, which is still allowed in Japan.
Surely if Sengoku is going to survive, they're going to need a good performance from Ishii, but Yoshida is a tough debut fight, despite his age. Another fighter at least might not know as much about judo, but Yoshida should be very aware of what kinds of threats Ishii will bring.
9:30 I heard on Sherdog that Lyoto Machida broke Ishii's jaw while Ishii was training in Brazil.
9:40 Ishii is not looking very comfortable on the feet.
9:41 Ishii needs a gi to grab. He's got heart, but he's in real trouble, and the ref looks very concerned.
9:42 This is what happens when you throw an MMA newbie right into the fire.
9:43 Ishii survives the first round, but it was tough going. If Ishii can pull off a win here, he'll be performing a minor miracle.
9:45 Jason Miller plugs the EA Sports MMA game, which will be featuring Hidehiko Yoshida we assume, according to his pants.
9:46 It really seems like Ishii is looking for collar control, as opposed to an underhook. It's hard to get a takedown when you can't get an underhook and you're not looking for the legs.
9:48 Much better round from Ishii so far, as he starts to work the clinch. Ishii is starting to land some punches.
9:50 Illegal groin shot landed by Ishii. That's about as square a shot to the groin as you can get.
9:52 Yoshida's cup is broken, but it looks like there is a spare, and the fight might go on. The fans are hoping, because right now, this isn't exactly the debut that Ishii wanted.
9:54 Yoshida looks really hurt, but is going to continue to please the fans.
9:55 They guys running the show are obviously far more interested in letting the fight go on than they are worried about any five-minute recovery rule. Somebody can explain the ethics behind the rule, but I'm happy to see that they're doing everything they can to continue the fight.
9:59 The fight resumes, and Ishii performs a nice guard pass before the round ends.
That being said, maybe Yoshida doesn't want to hold Ishii in his guard, given the groin damage he's sustained.
10:01 This fight is a prime example of something that a lot of people don't recognize: When you have two masters of the same art, sometimes their strengths are neutralized. In this case, we wound up with a sub-par boxing match, with some clinches.
For another example of this, see "Thales Leites vs. Dean Lister." What was billed as a grappling exhibition turned into Thales Leites repeatedly jabbing Lister, with Lister doing nothing but trying to go for the same knee bar over, and over, and over, and over again.
10:08 Yoshida wins the decision, as Ishii lost the first round, and got a point deduction in the second for the illegal knee.
Aside from the point deduction, it wasn't a bad MMA debut for Ishii, but people simply expected too much from the newcomer, especially going up against another judo expert with far more MMA experience.
10:15 Hopefully Ishii won't be calling out Fedor again any time soon.
The MMA portion of the Dynamite!! card is finished, with the main event being a K-1 kickboxing bout.
10:20 K-1 records aren't like boxing records. Even the best fighters tend to have a few losses.
Semmy Schilt, the most dominant K-1 heavyweight, has a kickboxing record of 35-5-1.
10:25 "Masato vs. Andy Souwer" coming up. This is Masato's retirement fight against a fighter he's never beaten. Souwer has beaten Masato twice: once by decisions, once by leg damage.
10:26 These guys kick hard !
10:27 Unofficial score: 10-9 Masato.
10:28 Schiavello: "His hands are faster than a speeding ticket."
10:29 Masato landing well with his hands, but his legs are taking some damage.
10:29 Souwer lands some good jabs, and a right hand.
Masato again landing combinations. Souwer lands a flurry near the end of the round. Tough round to score.
10:32 This fight is being scored live, and the judges have it 20-19, 20-19, and 20-20 after two rounds.
10:33 Here's my best Mike Goldberg impression: "And remember, this fight is five, three-minute rounds."
10:34 Masato doing well again, and he's landing his leg kick at the end of nearly every combination.
Souwer's lead leg is starting to take some real punishment, but he's still moving well.
Nice knee by Masato.
Close round again, and the judges score the round 10-10.
10:37 Souwer comes in aggressively, and Masato is countering very well, winning the fourth round early.
Chopping leg kicks by Masato. The first minute is dominated by Masato.
Knockdown scored by Masato. I'll have to see the replay, but it looks like it might have been a bit of a slip. Still, it will score, and definitively give the round to Masato.
10:39 Souwer hurts Masato badly with punches near the end of the round. Masato clinching to stay on his feet.
10:40 Two judges score the round 10-8 for Masato, so Souwer needs a knockout to win this one.
10:41 Masato's lead leg buckling a bit with every kick it takes, but he's hanging on, and if he can do it for two more minutes, this fight is his.
Souwer extremely aggressive, but there's too much clinching for him to be able to finish this.
Good combinations from Souwer, and he goes for the head kicks.
10:44 Masato wins. If this is his retirement fight, it's a great way to go out, as he's beaten the last man he needed to beat, and he's won everything he's needed to win.
Great fight, and a great win for Masato, and a good fight by Souwer as well.
10:47 Ray Sefo pointing out over the broadcast that few fighter retirements actually last. Guy Mezger agrees.
This was a great and exciting event. It lasted eight hours, but it was well worth it.
This card was loaded with interesting fights, and it's hard to pin down one moment as being more impressive than the others.
Among the MMA fighters, Aoki's victory might be the most impressive considering the opponent, but it's hard to ignore what the others did.
The most surprising victory was of course Minowa's victory over Sokoudjou. The loss is a devastating blow to Sokoudjou's MMA career, and one wonders exactly where he will go from here; it rhymes, so it must be true.
Ishii will add a loss to his record, but it is not a terrible result, and hopefully he'll get a better stylistic matchup in the future.
Well, it was fun to do this little experiment with live blogging. Thanks for reading!