TOKYO -- Although the second installment of Dream was intended to highlight the opening round of the middleweight grand prix, the most anticipated match of the card Tuesday was in fact part of the lightweight tournament: Gesias Calvancante versus Shinya Aoki.
Calvancante, a two-time Hero's grand prix champion, squared off against Aoki, the current Shooto middleweight champion, in the first fight of the night. The bout was a rematch of their first-round lightweight meeting in March. That fight had been ruled a no contest after Calvancante landed some borderline illegal elbows to Aoki's shoulder blades and neck, rendering the Japanese fighter unable to continue.
For the 15-minute duration of their fight Tuesday, Aoki used his jiu-jitsu to basically negate Calvancante's traditionally aggressive fight style. The Japanese grappler tied his opponent up on the ground, often using his renowned rubber guard to go for arm submissions.
Calvancante's best chance at ending the fight came on the ground about halfway through the first, when he used his free leg to stomp Aoki off a leg submission attempt.
From there, the Brazilian scurried to his turtled opponent's back and connected with hard punches to Aoki's face.
For a moment, it looked as if Aoki was fading and the referee was just seconds from stepping in, but the "Tobikan Judan" dug deep and managed to get to his feet.
For the last half of the first round, Aoki essentially piggybacked his standing opponent in the corner and constantly looked to sink in a rear-naked choke. Although he came close a few times, Calvancante defended the onslaught until he eventually escaped to the guard.
Round 2 saw Aoki on his back, where he used his legs to prevent his opponent from connecting with diving punches. When Calvancante eventually entered his guard, Aoki again used his flexibility to go for armbars.
Aoki's strongest rally came in the last minute of the match, when he performed an absolutely awe-inspiring omoplata-to-armbar attempt. Calvancante looked to be in real trouble and had to think fast to get out of the technique and hear the final bell.
Unfortunately for Calvancante, he had fought Aoki's fight and never got his own game going. The judges unanimously awarded Aoki the win.
"My game plan was to work submissions and concentrate on grappling," Aoki said after his victory. "I think I'm the strongest fighter in the world when it comes to grappling techniques, and I was happy to show that tonight."
When asked about his loss, Calvancante stated: "He did better than me. He controlled the fight."
With the win, Aoki will face off in just two weeks against fellow countryman and Olympic wrestler Katsuhiko Nagata in the second round of the lightweight tournament.
Despite the enormous discrepancy in experience -- this was Nakahara's first MMA bout -- the Brazilian fighter did show a relatively good penchant for getting back to his feet after takedowns in the opening minutes of the bout. He even managed to get a wow from the crowd as he connected with a blisteringly fast, albeit grazing, high kick to Sakuraba's head.
After what looked almost like toying with his opponent, though, Sakuraba finally got serious. The Japanese legend scored a takedown and passed to side control. Nakahara eventually turtled to get away from the punches Sakuraba was throwing, exposing his back. From there, Sakuraba made no mistake, locking on a neck crank from behind and forcing the outmatched Brazilian to tap at the 8:29 mark of the first.
Denis Kang looked to be in the driver's seat early against Gegard Mousasi in one of the card's most-anticipated contests. After scoring a takedown, Kang applied a strong kimura attempt from the side, but Mousasi weathered the storm and escaped.
As Mousasi was on his back, Kang grabbed the Armenian's right leg in what appeared to be an attempt to pass his guard. On the way through, Kang threw a hammerfist strike with his right hand, which caused him to fall into a textbook triangle.
Sensing that he had an advantage, Mousasi tightened up the technique and forced Kang to tap at 3:10 of the first frame.
In a battle of old-school MMA veterans, pro wrestler Kiyoshi Tamura and Masakatsu Funaki squared off to settle some old grudges. Funaki, 39, came out brawling, but it wasn't long before he took a hard hook.
With the Pancrase veteran stunned on his feet, Tamura scored the takedown and followed up with ground punches for which Funaki had no defense. Funaki was out on the ground, and the referee came racing in after 57 seconds to stop the fight and give Tamura the TKO victory.
Jacare was all over his opponent from start to finish. The Brazilian started things off with an impressive flying knee that just barely missed connecting with Murphy's face, followed by an armbar attempt as he hit the ground.
Once on the mat, Jacare maintained ground control, going for another armbar attempt, then transitioning to his opponent's back. After some more punches from behind, the Brazilian sank in a rear-naked choke for the tapout at the 2:37 mark of the first round.
After hitting the ground, Galesic briefly had the mount. Before he could unleash any damage, Sultanakhmedov got the reversal. Then, almost the very second Galesic's back touched the mat, the Croatian threw up his legs and locked on an armbar. Sultanakhmedov tried to stand out of the technique, but Galesic held on for the tapout 1:20 into the first.
Korean judoka turned MMA fighter Dong Sik Yoon got all the takedowns and maintained ground control in his bout against Shungo Oyama. He mounted Oyama in both the first and seconds rounds, and Oyama couldn't get any offense going while spending most of his time defending. The bout went the distance, and Yoon took the unanimous victory.
Minowa seemed more willing to stand and trade with his Kyokushin karate-trained opponent in the second, but the welts on his left thigh were beginning to show. By the last minute of the fight, Minowa looked totally gassed, but he kept swinging until the final bell. The judges awarded Kin a unanimous decision.
Jason Nowe is a contributor to Sherdog.com.