Coming off Shinya Aoki's one-sided defeat to Gilbert Melendez, and Yoshihiro Akiyama's shocking loss to Chris Leben, the stock of Japanese MMA has never been lower. This is coupled with FEG's financial worries and presumed future contraction/closing of their MMA brand that hangs over perhaps the last great fight DREAM will put on.
That fight will be DREAM.15's main event, a battle for redemption for two of the sport's most maligned stars, Shinya Aoki and Tatsuya Kawajiri.
For the champion, this stands as another fork in the road for his infamous fragility. For the challenger, it's perhaps his last chance to get over the hump and claim his place among MMA's elite LWs.
When the bell rings to begin this fight, Aoki will need to finally have an answer to the question which plagues all grapple-centric fighters. How can he get this to the ground?
It's a question he could not answer his last time out against Melendez, and he was punished in kind. As Aoki nips at heels, he'll have to maneuver through a minefield of his opposition's best skills.
From the outside, Kawajiri's striking will mean a quick end for the unwilling Aoki. His best bet is to close the distance quickly, forcing a clinch in order to suck him to the floor. What makes even this pursuit a poor one is the fact Kawajiri's clinch is one of his better assets.
Aoki will have to be aggressive, and quickly look to force scrambles. From there, he'll have to keep Kawajiri on the defensive long enough to gain a dominant position to finish.
While no slouch on the floor himself, Kawajiri will have to avoid these moments and prevent himself from being sucked into a ground battle that favors Aoki, as all it could take is one moment of indecision to leave him contorted in a hold of Aoki's choice.
If he can resist this temptation, it's unlikely Aoki will be able to summon something slick enough in the short moments he'll have to catch the aptly named “Crusher.”
In Aoki's desperation he's sure to leave an opening, which I expect will lead to a veritable blitz of aggression, more than enough to leave the "Baka Survivor" in a heap on the mat.
This moment will ultimately decide the fight, as fists rain down and caution is discarded away. The match will hang on an edge of whirling punches and twisting bodies.
In these moments, fortune will favor the brave, and Aoki will be left limp for the fourth time in his career.
Prediction: Kawajiri via TKO(Punches), R1
This wouldn't be a CvC piece without dissenting opinion. For the other side of the story(IE the wrong side) peep Colton Whittemore's rebuttal here.
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