Frustration Turns to Joy for Aoki


In a match that appeared to be cursed by fate since its announcement late last year, the Dream lightweight semifinal bout between Japanese grappling wizard Shinya Aoki (Pictures) and two-time Hero's lightweight tournament champion Gesias Calvancante (Pictures) came to a definitive close Tuesday.

Advancing over the man many pundits pinned as the favorite in the competitive tournament, Aoki returned from adversity early in the bout to execute a masterful display of grappling that essentially neutralized Calvancante's overwhelmingly physical game.

The Brazilian surprised by shooting for a takedown in the early moments, essentially opting to engage Aoki in his own element. Calvancante later expressed that it was a perfectly normal tactic given the nature of the game.

"Yeah, part of my game is to do everything -- do MMA, fight standup, fight on the ground, ground-and-pound, takedowns. I come to do everything," said Calvancante.

This tactical maneuver, however, played right into Aoki's plans, said the elated "Tobikan Judan."

"My game plan was to demonstrate meticulous submissions, and to concentrate on grappling," Aoki said. "I think I'm the strongest fighter in the world when it comes to grappling technique, and I was happy to be able to show that tonight."

Sharing similar high regard for Aoki's grappling pedigree, "JZ Calvan" stated, "I always said that he's probably the best grappler in Japanese MMA, and also, in the world."

When asked what he may have thought Calvancante's reasoning was for following him into his realm, Aoki said, "I don't know much about his motivations, but I think he realized in our last fight that I'm also good at standup, so that's why he wanted to fight me on the ground."

"I expected him to fight in his usual style: striking on the feet and punching from the top a lot."

Calvancante did indeed attempt to land heavy strikes from top position during the few opportunities he could find entangled in Aoki's guard. However, the Japanese fighter was quick to tie up the Hero's champ and throw out submission attempts, at first capturing a leg, followed by rear-naked choke, and finally, an omoplata.

"I thought I could finish him with a leg lock, and I heard some popping, but he escaped after all was said and done," remarked Aoki about the first attempt.

Calvancante later contradicted that comment: "About the leg, I didn't feel anything or hear any noises."

Furthermore, Calvancante also answered questions regarding the condition of his left leg, which in the past gave the Brazilian lightweight trouble, requiring surgery that was said to be the reason for the postponement of the original bout on New Year's Eve.

"About the influence [of my left knee on this fight], I don't want to talk about that, y'know, because if I came here to fight. I came here to fight," he said. "It doesn't matter what happened or what my situation was. If I step in the ring, I feel ready to do what I have to do. I don't ever talk about injuries or stuff like that. If I come to the fight with my mind and my heart, it's enough to do what I have to do."

It was during the leg lock attempt that Aoki received several hard heels to the face. Looking as if he was hurt and purely reacting, Aoki absorbed several more punches to the face before rallying and bringing the fight back to standing, where he eventually captured the Brazilian's back in the clinch.

"I took a lot of punches and I felt like I was going to die," Aoki said.

However, the lanky submission artist managed to tough it out and capture Calvancante's back, where he threatened with chokes and punches to the side and back of the head.

"I was aiming for his head," said a smiling Aoki, "This was my reply to him for having attacked me there before. I wanted revenge for him attacking my neck last time."

Be that as it may, Aoki was unable to finish the fight in that position; Calvancante eventually extricated himself from the precarious position to begin the onslaught from top once again. This carried on well into the second round before Calvancante found himself in a tight omoplata.

Apparently due to the number of submission attempts, and his ability to otherwise stifle his opponent's offensive offerings, Aoki eventually walked away a unanimous decision winner -- a decision that "JZ" agrees with.

"I feel like I didn't win," said the American Top Team lightweight. "He did better than me -- he controlled the fight."

Said a contented Aoki, summing up his emotions after the fight: "I wanted to be able to smile after this fight, since the last one was so frustrating. Thanks to my teammates and the other people supporting me, I've made it and am smiling now.

"I really enjoyed the fight. I was fighting an opponent with great destructive punching power, so I was wondering how it was going to turn out. But in the end, I had fun."

Calvancante, light-hearted and apparently unperturbed by the decision loss, once again mirrored his opponent's sentiments. "I feel good," he said despite the result. "It was a good fight. I did everything I had to do to come to the ring and fight, and do what I love to do."

With his victory Aoki advances to the next round of the lightweight grand prix to face Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling silver medalist Katsuhiko Nagata (Pictures) on May 11 -- just under two weeks removed from Tuesday's bout.

That is the plan however.

Notwithstanding the well-laid plans of mice, men, and fight promoters, the injury bug could once again derail Dream's ambitions for a smooth transition into their next event.

Upon the conclusion of Dream 2, event producer Keiichi Sasahara made mention that Aoki may not be able to fight on the next dream card due to injury. Aoki's medical condition was slated to be ascertained early Wednesday, but with the Japanese grappling ace no showing for Wednesday afternoon's post-fight presser, no light has yet been shed on Aoki's current condition or his readiness for next month's card.

Be that as it may, Sasahara had broached the possibility of recommending Calvancante to take Aoki's place should the Japanese fighter be unable to proceed due to injury, reported Japanese sports news Web site sportsnavi.com.

While Sasahara mentioned with some trepidation that "the possibility is very slim," one does indeed exist that could put the Brazilian fighter back in the Dream lightweight tournament picture.

"Yesterday, Aoki ate a fair amount of punches," Sasahara said. "So we'll have to proceed with caution due to the injury."

"I had asked Aoki where he was injured, but being a fighter, he didn't want to say," Sasahara continued. "Of course, in boxing, a knocked out fighter would be suspended, but in [Japanese] MMA, there is no such rule, so it falls to the promotion to be responsible for the lives and safety of the fighters. Thus, I want to proceed with caution.

"I believe Aoki has returned home to his parents, and will soon go to the hospital. Time is short, so of course we must proceed with caution. He put on an amazing fight yesterday, and we would love to see him return for the second round, because Aoki is the fighter that helped us to open the door for Dream."

Whether Aoki-Nagata occurs in two weeks or not, the remainder of May's second round tournament matches are set. Dream announced on Wednesday that Tatsuya Kawajiri (Pictures) will face "Buscape" Luiz Firmino (Pictures), while stablemate Mitsuhiro Ishida (Pictures) takes on second round seed, Caol Uno (Pictures). First round standouts Eddie Alvarez (Pictures) and Joachim Hansen (Pictures) will also meet in what promises to be an exciting matchup.

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