DREAM and Satoshi Ishii: Japanese MMA's Problem with Making the Sport a Circus

Matthew HemphillCorrespondent IINovember 27, 2011

It seems that DREAM is going to continue to not only put on fights, but keep its tradition of putting on a fight card on December 31.

Luckily, UFC 141, which will headline with former DREAM star Alistair Overeem, will take place one day before its fight card.

Unofortunately, DREAM has decided to do what it always does, which is to turn the sport into a circus with mismatches based on how well they might draw.

DREAM will put on some competitive fights throughout the night, but there will be some exceptions.  Like every year, it will somehow manage to take a great sporting event and give it a more theatrical feel.

This year, one of those fights will be Satoshi Ishii versus Fedor Emelianenko.

Chances are, if you are reading this article, you know who Emelianenko is. It's hard to be an MMA fan and not know about the heavyweight who, until recently, seemed to dominate the MMA pound-for-pound rankings by not having lost in nine years.

He may have only just beaten a faded Jeff Monson after being on a three-fight losing streak, but he is still a tough customer for anyone who might underestimate him.

He is being paired against Satoshi Ishii, who won a gold medal in judo at the 2008 Olympics. Ishii is 24 and has six pro MMA fights. Four of them are wins.

Ishii is impressive in some ways, as he is a brilliant judoka and holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. His last fight, which was a draw with Paulo Filho, was considered by many to be a robbery which Ishii should have won.

Other than that draw, Ishii only has one other blemish on his record. It was in DREAM's 2009 New Year's fight card against Hidehiko Yoshida.

There was no controversy in the loss.

Yoshida, who also won a gold medal in judo at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and had mixed success in his MMA career, still had enough experience to beat Ishii, who was making his MMA debut, by unanimous decision.  

Ishii was thrown into a fight he wasn't ready for because it might draw in TV ratings and would get press. It hurt Ishii's career and it might still be something that affects him.

It isn't the first time DREAM has damaged its credibility by making a fight that had more to do with being sensational than being technically sound.

Last year at its 2010 New Year's show, it matched Alistair Overeem with Todd Duffee, who had lost his last fight by knockout and before that had the distinction of having the fastest knockout in the UFC.

His record was just 6-1 at the time with him being 1-1 in the UFC. The fight itself wasn't even close to an intriguing matchup, but both men were massive heavyweights. Duffee was easily dispatched in the first round by Overeem.

This is the same company that, back in 2008, had Bobb Sapp on yet another New Year's card fight in a match with an opponent dressed as Kinnikuman. Kinnikuman is a character from a Japanese comic book about a pro wrestler who wears a mask. Sapp's opponent came into the ring, mask and all, and proceeded to lose by KO in the second round.

Spectacles like these have kept Japanese MMA from being anything more than a comical event mixed with serious fights. Future stars have been sacrificed, joke matches made and mismatches put together just so DREAM could turn a profit.

It has cost Ishii some of his star power and DREAM's ability to really profit with him. It has cost DREAM the chance to be seen as a top MMA promotion.

And it's cost Japan a chance to see high-level MMA.

When UFC 144 does come to Japan, DREAM is in trouble.

And it has no one to blame but itself.