In typical K-1/Japanese MMA fashion, this card makes very little sense as anything aside from a spectacle. There’s the usual parade of giants, freaks, variety show hosts, fighters fighting far out of their natural weight or primary rule set, legends long past their prime, and exciting fights with real divisional importance.
As a disclaimer, I don’t follow K-1 kickboxing that closely, so any predictions I make for K-1 rules bouts should be taken with a large grain of salt.
* indicates a bout to be fought under K-1 kickboxing rules.
Due to the pro-wrestling feud, you’re supposed to care a lot about this match between two of the most accomplished elder statesment of Japanese MMA. Sakuraba is plainly a shot fighter at this point, a chinny shell of his former self. Tamura has taken fewer horrible beatings, despite having fought Bob Sapp, so he must be favored here. Tamura, like Sakuraba really has a very impressive record of fights with (and victories over) MMA pioneers, especially legends from the Rings circuit.
Tamura has always been vulnerable to submissions from sneaky grappling specialists, but Sakuraba’s shot knees have taken almost all of the spring out of his once-effective takedowns. Tamura has pretty good kickboxing, and Sakuraba no longer has the chin to withstand any amount of punishment, even from Tamura, who is not usually regarded as a big hitter. Kiyoshi Tamura TKO round 2.
At +120 odds of Sakuraba being totally shot, I have to make a play here.
Prior to getting swamped by Shinya Aoki’s ground game, JZ looked prepared to establish himself as the top lightweight in Japan, smashing all opposition in front of him with such vicious striking and ground and pound that more than a third of his wins have come in under one minute. JZ has demonstrated a phenomenal chin, taking an absolute shellacking in a K-1 rules match with 155lb ace Masato without seeming overly hurt. Aside from the recent loss to Aoki, where JZ looked confused and tentative (which wasn’t helped by the fact that he had a bad knee injury) JZ’s only other loss was to none other than Joachim Hansen. In that fight (Which JZ took on very short notice) Hansen controlled the entire fight with his grappling, and Calvancante simply looked lost on the mat.
While JZ is at a career low with his injury, loss, and inactivity, Hansen is at a career high after his Steve Jennum like victory in the Dream lightweight tournament. Hansen is a fan favorite because of his exciting and hyper-aggressive style. He isn’t the most technically refined striker, but throws hard enough to make up for it, and he has a fantastic chin that lets him walk through punches (provided they aren’t thrown by a bomber like Eddie Alvarez). On the ground, Hansen maintains this aggression, but works a very technical and advanced submission game, with rubber-guard work and cool helicopter armbar attempts. In this fight he’s going to have to be at peak form in both areas, since JZ will be throwing with intent to kill, as usual.
Much of this fight will depend on how recovered JZ is from his injury. I think that Hansen can’t win on the feet, because JZ will have a crisper standup game and the toughness to not be unduly concerned with Hansen’s power. If Hansen can regularly score takedowns and maintain top position (which is almost never his MO) then JZ will be in for a very long night. Their first meeting was only JZ’s third professional fight, and I think JZ’s grappling has improved to the point where he will be able to better maintain top position and deal damage from the guard, which should seal him the victory. JZ Calvancante by decision.
JZ opened at -170, but quickly moved to his current position at -105. I’ve learned the hard way that, due to his exciting style and fan-favorite status, Hansen is almost always overvalued in the odds. I think -170 is the correct line for the fight, so -105 is a very juicy proposition. Hansen still has the skills to win this fight, so it’s not a huge play, but I think that there’s a significant edge at -105.
Another mix-and-match of the top non-UFC 155lbers in the world, the winner of this fight SHOULD be next in line for the lightweight title currently around Joachim Hansen’s waist, but knowing Japanese MMA, there’s probably a talk show host or corporate-sponsored food item in line for a shot.
Alvarez had a huge year in 2008, coming from ‘hot prospect’ status to immediately make a bid for top honors in the world. His style is impetuous, even if his defense is not impregnable, and the kid certainly has dynamite in his hands. He has that rare kind of discombobulating power that can change the course of the fight at any point. He’s very fast and athletic, and has plenty of strength, which he uses to help his wrestling to let him force a standup fight. On the ground against Hansen, he often floundered and seemed somewhat desperate, but he did manage to avoid submissions and soundly win the fight.
Shinya Aoki has similar sudden fight-stopping ability, although he is built like a 13 year old boy rather than a bruising slugger. He’s shocked pretty much everyone he’s fought with his ability to force a ground game and threaten with submissions from any position he finds himself in. Aoki is also one of the worst standup fighters in the game today, choosing to gimp-run into a clinch with his arms out like a zombie instead of exchanging punches. While he’s been diligently working on his standup in Thailand, I don’t expect Shinya to be changing his name to Ramon Dekkers anytime soon, especially since he doesn’t seem to be able to take a lot of punishment.
I think MMA fans regularly underestimate Aoki’s ability to force a ground fight because he doesn’t come in with traditional takedowns and top control, which really doesn’t give enough credit to his judo game and unique style. The fact is that Aoki has managed to force a grappling fight on Olympic wrestlers and other fighters with top-notch defensive wrestling games like JZ Calvancante and Caolo Uno. His willingness to pull guard, combined with very effective sweeps and trips from the clinch, mean that everyone he faces that doesn’t knock him out almost immediately, will have to deal with his submission offense. I think he can get past Alvarez’s hands, and if Hansen gave Alvarez fits on the ground, Aoki will choke him out. With Eddie’s power and Aoki’s poor standup, the chance for a massive KO is there at almost any point in the fight, but I think Alvarez will be too tied up to bring the big guns to bear. Shinya Aoki submission round 1.
I think there’s a slight edge on Aoki as a +120 underdog, and the fight is well-defined enough to make it worth a play.
While this has certainly been one of the most entertaining rivalries in fightsport, it’s also a bit of a head-scratcher. Lebanner has long been making noise about fighting MMA, variously fighting jobbers and being involved in one of the most hilarious gong shows in MMA history, his bizarre ‘mixed-rules’ K-1/MMA bout with Bob Sapp, which featured Sapp crying in between rounds and otherwise being a cartoon. So, in order to scratch Lebanner’s MMA itch, they’ve put him against another K-1 fighter that’s basically going to have a K-1 rules fight with ‘Geronimo’.
Hunt was fat and out of shape (more so than usual) against Semmy Schilt, and I sincerely doubt he’s going to get up and do roadwork for a NYE MMA rules bout. The small gloves work in his favor, since even in his losses he’s knocked Lebanner down with puffy K-1 gloves, which would probably have broken his jaw with 4 ounce gloves. Lebanner is coming off an arm injury loss in early December, which is very difficult to handicap. Nevertheless, he’s beaten Hunt several times, and I expect Hunt to be in even worse shape and lose again, especially considering the longer 5-minute rounds. Jerome Lebanner TKO round 2.
Again, Lebanner should be favored, so there’s an edge here and a good play to make.
Gegard Mousasi vs. Musashi *
I hate this matchup. Mousasi has established himself as the best 185-lb fighter in Japan, and he should be fighting other divisional stars in MMA, not locking horns with giant kickboxers under their own rules. There is a bit of a silver lining to this cloud, however. For one, we’ll really get to see Mousasi test himself, since Musashi is a very talented kickboxer, even if he is on the decline of his career right now. Mousasi is a good kickboxer himself, so he’s more likely to be outclassed than simply squashed. We’ll get to see the game he rarely gets a chance to work in MMA, since everyone he fights takes him down so quickly. The other possible positive outcome from this fight is that Gegard will realize that size matters in MMA and make every effort to compete at 185 as long as his body lets him, instead of foolishly hopping up to 205 where he’d have to fight giant guys.
I expect Musashi to win this fight handily. He’s too much bigger and too tough. His kicks are very powerful and I think he’ll just batter Gegard until he cannot defend himself, and finish him off with punches. Musashi TKO round 3.
This is an interesting fight, sort of. CroCop has looked like a spent force in his last couple of fights, and Hong Man Choi is coming off a loss to Ray Sefo, who is himself a force long spent. Choi had the tumor on his pituitary gland removed this summer (presumably cutting out the huge doses of human growth hormone it casued), and he has lost 35 lbs (and two K-1 fights) since then. I have no idea how to handicap the results of that operation, but I think evidence points towards a weakening of Choi’s fighting abilities.
Crocop in good fighting shape is extremely fast and powerful, which should let him punish the lumbering Choi, especially with kicks to the legs and body. I don’t expect the fight to go to the ground, but Crocop is a much more well-versed grappler than Choi, so he should be able to defend himself somewhat against the giant.
There’s every chance that this fight is a total gong show of horribleness, and it would be sad to see if the deflated, defeated Crocop we saw against Alistair Overeem is all that the Croatian sensation has to offer the fight world these days. I will remain hopeful, and say that Crocop will perform well and win the fight, but I would strongly advise against betting on this fight, since there are so many unknowns. Crocop by TKO round 2.
Badr Hari (-220) vs. Alistair Overeem (+190)
What a great way for Overeem to get embarassed and derail the momentum he had built up in the longest undefeated streak he’s had since 2003. Hari tried playing by MMA rules in his last K-1 fight, so the response is to… put him in another K-1 rules match against an MMA fighter? Okay.
Hari is really in the prime of his fighting career and among the best fighters in K-1 at this time. He is very very quick and has tons of power. Overeem has questionable gas and no ability to take punishment. If Hari can put a couple shots on target, this fight could be a 40-second affair. Badr Hari KO round 1.
This is an easy play for me – Hari is easily the winner here, and should be much more favored.
Tatsuya Kawajiri vs. Kozo Takeda *
This is probably the best of the ridiculous crossover matches. There was a time when Kozo would simply steamroll a wrestler like Kawajiri, but Kozo is long past his prime days, although he’s still a threat, and Kawajiri has been working very hard on his striking. This means we get to see Kawajiri test out his newly developed skills in a relatively safe environment. The fight doesn’t mean anything for either fighter, although a knockout loss would be embarrassing to either one of them. Just think of it as a yardstick by which to measure Kawajiri’s improvement.
I think the most likely result is that Takeda works low kicks and a point-fighting game to cruise to a decision over a surprisingly game Kawajiri. Kozo Takeda by decision.
Hayato “Mach” Sakurai vs. Katsuyori Shibata
Embarassing. Mach won’t have to cut for this fight, so expect him to be overweight and fight like garbage. Shibata is awful, though, so Mach should still find a way to finish him off without having trained. Hayato “Mach” Sakurai by submission round 2.
Schilt would handle Mighty Mo under pure K-1 rules, and has an even stronger edge over him under MMA rules, since he’s actually got some ground skills. He’s also about ten time’s Mo’s size, so he can just muscle him to the ground if need be. A ridiculous fight, then. Semmy Schilt by submission round 1.
“Kinniku Mantaro” vs. Bob Sapp
I wonder if we’ll ever see something like this in the UFC. Sapp will be fighting a standout amateur wrestler who will be paid to wear the mask of an anime character and fight in character. Sapp is no longer “the beast” and is just here for the paycheck. I expect another horrible, gutless performance by Sapp unless he knocks this guy out very early. If “Mantaro” can land a takedown, or even a good punch, expect another embarrassing loss for Sapp. The guy has lost what little heart for fighting he ever had. “Kinniku Mantaro” by TKO round 1.
Tokoro is extremely overrated because he’s exciting. The guy is borderline retarded, and he’s very small, fragile, open to punishment, occasionally vulnerable to submissions, and very outsized here. Nakamura is a big time sleeper here, being much larger than Tokoro and a more technical, well-schooled grappler. This should be very exciting. Daisuke Nakamura by submission round 2.
I think these odds were set by someone who doesn’t know who Daisuke Nakamura is. He should be clearly favored, so I must make a play here.
Ikuhisa “Minowaman” Minowa vs. Errol Zimmerman
Zimmerman is a pretty good K-1 kickboxer, and Minowa is insane. Minowa should be able to easily run into him, tip him over, and heel hook him. If Minowa exchanges at all, he has a very good chance of taking a nap. I’m going to assume he does the intelligent thing and gets the fight to the ground. Minowaman by submission round 1.
1u on Tamura to win 1.2u
1u on JZ Calvancante to win .91u
1u on Shinya Aoki to win 1.2u
1u on Jerome Lebanner to win .95u
1u on Badr Hari to win .45u
1u on Daisuke Nakamura to win .91u