Dream 8 Picks and Predictions: Japanese MMA has still got it

By Nicholas Bailey (nbailey@mmaratings.net)

For those of us in North America, this card will take place very early Sunday morning, a nice precursor to the WEC event that night. Surprisingly for an event built around a weight class rightly seen as utterly dominated by the UFC, this card has some real shine on it, and a number of excellent betting opportunities.

In fact, there aren’t any fights on this card that are likely to be unpleasant to watch, so take your no-doze and stay up all night to see some quality fights.

Shinya Aoki (-215) vs. Hayato “Mach” Sakurai (+175)

Bettors should thank the Aoki haters for this one. Despite the fact that a very inexperienced Aoki nearly beat him back when Mach was still in shape and cared about MMA, Aoki was bet down to -175, based primarily on irrationally disliking him.

Aoki may not be able to strike, and he may be a skinny goofy dork, and he may not even be able to wrestle in a traditional MMA sense, but none of that matters. Aoki has shown he can force a grappling match on anyone, he can use trips and sweeps to get good position, and he can threaten from anywhere. He will lose once in a while when someone lands a massive shot on him, but he’s truly a top-of-the-food-chain level fighter. Sakurai is one of the most well-rounded fighters out there, with a mean streak a mile wide and the power to exploit it. Unfortunately, he also no longer has the same drive, doesn’t care about MMA, and often comes in to fights out-of-shape and fights in a lazy, mistake-prone manner. Those sorts of mistakes get you submitted against David Baron, and submitted twice as hard against Aoki (don’t ask me how that works). Shinya Aoki by submission round 1.

Jason High (-160) vs. Yuya Shirai (+140)

Miraculously, Jason High has been revived after being absolutely slain by Jay Hieron. No shame in losing to a hard-hitting veteran, and High should not be overlooked. He trains at Bodyshop with Antonio McKee, and that is becoming a very well-respected camp producing a lot of stellar fighters.

Luckily for High, Shirai doesn’t pack the same kind of firepower that Hieron does, so High can be quite a bit safer flexing his improving standup skills in this fight. It’s an offensive stereotype for young black fighters, but Jason High truly is extremely explosive and athletic, and he is going to need to use those attributes to his advantage, because, while he’s not an offensive star, Shirai is a very durable and difficult-to-finish guy with real staying power.

High, unless he gasses badly, should have the skills to cruise to victory in this fight and leave Shirai pretty beat up. Jason High by decision.

Seichi Ikemoto (+135) vs. Marius Zaromskis (-165)

When Ikemoto opened at +170, it represented one of those wild lines that bettors often look for in Japanese MMA, where two unknown fighters are given semi-random lines that can be exploited. Zaromskis is a legit kickboxer with experience in the since-renamed Cage Rage, with power and some crazy knockouts from spinning kicks and the like. As is so often true of kickboxers in cage rage, and Lithuanian kickboxers in general, he also has absolutely no ground game. Ikemoto is a Japanese journeyman with some skills in every area, and recently improved striking.

If Ikemoto can take this fight to the ground, he has a very good chance of being able to lock in a submission in short order, and Zaromskis is not so dominant a kickboxer that Ikemoto doesn’t have a chance of beating him up on the feet. This should be an exciting fight, and it’s wide-open to whichever fighter comes in stronger. Zaromskis could knock Ikemoto out, since he throws as hard as possible, and Ikemoto could counter him for a KO, gas him out, or submit him. Seichi Ikemoto by submission round 1.

There’s still some value in Ikemoto at +135, but getting on him at +170 was a two-unit play (follow my twitter to get that sort of thing in real-time.)

John Alessio (+110) vs. Andre Galvao (-115)

If you weren’t aware, Galvao is one of the most decorated and skilled pure grapplers of all time. This will be his third MMA fight, and he so far seems to be adapting well to the MMA game, although his striking is thus far lacking, as one would expect from a BJJ convert. Galvao has the potential to be a breakout MMA star, because beyond just his grappling techniques, he has a lot of physical tools, being very athletic and explosive.

Unfortunately for Galvao, he’s being matched up with a very good veteran with a style to foil his skills. Alessio has very good takedown defense and a very technically sound jab. Unless Galvao can immediately monster him to the ground, where I don’t think Alessio would last very long at all, Alessio should be able to mark up his face with that jab, and wear him down as Galvao gets more and more desperate. Galvao is very tough, but Alessio has such a pronounced striking advantage that it’s likely he’ll be able to accumulate damage to the point that Galvao cannot take it anymore. John Alessio TKO round 2.

If you can still get Alessio at +110, he’s a two-unit play. At -110 I like him for at least a unit. Galvao is a superstar in the world of grappling, but he has a long way to go to establish himself as an elite MMA fighter.

Daiki “DJ.taiki” Hata (-110) vs. Hideo Tokoro (-110)

DJ Taiki takes on MMA’s other janitor in what should be quite an electrifying match. Hata is a good striker and an action fighter, and Tokoro always brings excitement with his extreme aggression in submission attempts and constant scrambling. Tokoro is also exciting because he has a poor chin. After nearly being KO’d by 125lb Darren Uyenoyama, one has to think that a polished striker like Hata has a great chance of putting him to sleep. Tokoro is an aggressive and skilled grappler, and he has a chance of using his advantage there to get a submission, but Hata is also well-served by Tokoro’s complete lack of takedown ability and physical strength. Hata’s fists will find their mark before Tokoro can find a way to make this a grappling match. Daiki Hata by KO round 1.

Betting against Tokoro’s chin at -110 is a good investment. There’s a lot of variance here, since Tokoro has a real shot of winning, but the value is there.

Sergei Kharitonov (-260) vs. Jeff Monson (+215)

What happened to Sergei Kharitonov? The guy used to look like the chief goon in an action movie, all gigantic and russian and muscled-up… now he looks like some kind of broken-down farmer. He was already slow, and since getting fat he’s become even slower, which is pretty terrible, considering his biggest problem has always been that he’s hittable and somewhat fragile. Luckily for him, Jeff Monson’s arms are about half as long as his, so he should be able to explode Monson’s face without taking undue punishment.

Realistically, Sergei should be able to walk over Monson here with his reach advantage, punching power, and decent grappling acumen. Unfortunately, Sergei is so broken down and poorly trained that it’s possible Monson could knock him over and run a train on him on the ground. Stay away from betting on this one unless you’re a big Monson believer. Sergei Kharitonov by TKO (cut) round 1.

Riki Fukuda vs. Murilo “Ninja” Rua

There are no odds publicly available for this fight, which is too bad, because Fukuda would probably be a large underdog due to having no name value and being such a late replacement. Ninja has some good skills, namely very good grappling and the ability to look very impressive beating up guys that cannot strike at all. However, he is something like 0-7 against fighters that can punch hard, and Fukuda, while not an A-level talent by any means, can crack. There’s a very good chance of this turning into the typical Ninja gong show where he gets busted up and flails around the ring for a few minutes before finally being put away permanently. Ninja has a good shot if he can get this fight to the ground, but I think we’ll see the ‘upset’ here. Riki Fukuda by TKO round 1.

Katsuhiko Nagata vs. Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro

No public odds are available on this fight either, because Shaolin is going to arm-triangle choke Nagata in 3 or 4 minutes. Nagata is sadly a waste of athletic ability and wrestling acumen, when it comes to MMA, since he’s never been able to put his Olympic-silver wrestling skills to use, probably because he was matched up against top-tier fighters from the inception of his career, giving him no chance to grow and develop as a true MMA prospect. Also he has that really funny old-looking face.

Shaolin, coming off of a severe (and nearly career-ending) eye injury suffered in his absolute mugging by JZ Cavalncante. The guy is a lethal combination of dominant wrestling and technical, high-level, finish-oriented Jiu-Jitsu. Don’t be shocked if he comes in and immediately puts Nagata on his back and arm-triangle chokes him unconcious in under a minute combined. This is a good fight for Shaolin to get off the ring rust and start contending for the top spot in the division again. Fans should hope for a rematch with Joachim Hansen as a sure-fire gem of a fight. Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro by submission round 1.

Andrews Nakahara (-240) vs. Shungo Oyama (+190)

It’s pretty amazing to think that this time last year Nakahara was a completely unknown “karate guy” that was -700 to Sakuraba. Now he’s a -240 favorite over a pretty decent fighter in Shungo Oyama. This could be an exciting fight; Oyama has always had some power in his hands, and he has the unusual distinction of having fought a ton of K-1 Kickboxers in MMA rules (if you can email me with someone that’s fought more K-1 guys under MMA rules, I’ll name you in my next article). Andrews has shown a natural ability to defend on the ground, as well as pretty good athleticism. Oyama is pretty old and broken down at this point, and he won’t be as sharp on the feet as Nakahara, so unless he can land a huge shot or really force a ground fight and get a sub early, I think Nakahara will eventually beat him up enough to get the nod. Andrews Nakahara by decision.

Ikuhisa “Minowaman” Minowa (-455) vs. Katsuyori Shibata (+375)

Shibata must have naked pictures of some Yakuza or something, because it’s amazing that a guy as bad as he is continues to get fights on this stage, but that’s really the glory of Japanese MMA. Few fighters embody the strangeness and unique charm of Japanese MMA better than unrepentant oddball/basket case Ikuhisa Minowa. He should stomp Shibata without too much effort, adding to a fight record that is truly hall-of-fame worthy, for its breadth if not its quality of wins. With Minowa, there’s always a chance this fight turns into something very strange and stupid, like when he decided to play footsies with a Funaki that could barely stand on his own instead of exchange punches. Nevertheless, Minowa should dispose of Shibata within the first period. Ikuhisa Minowa Submission Round 1.

1.1u on Alessio at -110 to win 1u
1.1u on Hata at -110 to win 1u
2u on Ikemoto at +170 to win 3.4u
1.75u on aoki at -175 to win 1u

What Do You Think of This Fight/Event?