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
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
"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
"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
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
(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
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
"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.