Hideo Tokoro (right) took Dream's Japan bantamweight grand prix Saturday. | Photo: Taro Irei

TOKYO -- Former temp worker-turned-kakutogi star Hideo Tokoro edged former Deep champion Masakazu Imanari in a close 15-minute contest to take first place in Dream's 2011 Japan bantamweight grand prix on Saturday at Ariake Coliseum.

From the outset of the bout, the 33-year-old Gifu native made it abundantly clear that he wanted little to nothing to do with the "Ashikan Judan" on the canvas, keeping just enough distance to land winging counter punches and low kicks and avoid Imanari's various baseball slides and guard pulls. Imanari had one other trick up his sleeve to force the ground battle, however, as he would collapse to his back upon eating Tokoro's counterpunches -- a tactic which worked on the "Fighting Freeter" on several occasions. Tokoro kept his time on the floor as brief as possible, however, dropping single hard punches in an attempt to break free and get back to his feet.

"If I tried to be equal with Imanari [on the ground], I don't think I'd have been able to win, so I wanted to maintain a comfortable distance, and, if I felt I could be aggressive, I'd get into range," Tokoro explained after the bout. "But if it was too risky, I'd pull back. That was my game plan."

While Imanari forced Tokoro to the mat more often in the second frame, thus controlling that round and locking on one of his fearsome leg lock attempts, all three judges -- Matt Hume, Hikaru Adachi, and Kaoru Todori -- still favored Tokoro's opening 10 minutes of counterfighting over Imanari's wily attempts at forcing grappling.

"I don't have a belt now, so I don't feel like a champion, but I am very happy," said the beloved action fighter. "We had some great fighters in the tournament, and I came out on top. I'm very happy.

"My wife had her 32nd birthday yesterday, and we weren't able to celebrate. So I did a somewhat personal thing and wished her a happy birthday [after the fight]," Tokoro added. "Tonight, I think we'll eat some cake."

"I was defeated. He was very strong. He was totally different [from when we trained together]," Imanari confessed about the bout. "I never have game plans; I just have an ad-lib approach to my fights."

The win was the fourth straight for Tokoro, now 30-23-1 in his up-and-down career, having defeated Yoshiro Maeda, Atsushi Yamamoto and Imanari to win the bracket.

By virtue of reaching the final, both Tokoro and Imanari will take part in Dream's slated world bantamweight grand prix later this year; it will determine the promotion's first divisional champion.

Joining them in the bracket will be veteran Kenji Osawa, who netted third-place honors in the tournament and a berth in the world grand prix by earning a unanimous verdict over ZST bantamweight champion Keisuke Fujiwara, a late replacement for Yamamoto, who was forced out of the bronze medal fight after his May bout with Tokoro resulted in a detached retina.

Defying expectations of standing and banging it out with Fujiwara, Osawa instead pushed for and got takedowns, as he controlled the bout throughout both rounds. Outside of perfunctory short punches to the head and body, Osawa also locked up a close arm-triangle choke attempt in the first frame that had Fujiwara bridging and scrambling to escape.

Though Fujiwara landed a few hard punches and knees, particularly late in the second period when he began timing Osawa's takedown attempts, the WEC veteran's overall control gave him an easy unanimous nod from judges Adachi, Hume and Akira Shoji.

A winner of three of his last four, Osawa now sports an 18-10-2 mark, with recent wins over Takafumi Otsuka and former WEC bantamweight title challenger Maeda.

The future of Dream's slated world grand prix is not defined yet, but that is not a cause for concern, according to Dream Event Producer Keiichi Sasahara.

"On the Internet, I've heard people saying that this might be the last Dream. That's an unforgivable comment because it's not true," said a smiling Sasahara. "We'll have another event in September, though we're still deciding on a specific date. Also, there's the New Year's show, and we're thinking of maybe having a show between September and New Year's Eve.

"In September, we're planning to have our first round of the tournament, with eight fighters. We haven't quite decided yet whether this show will be over two or three shows, but one of our plans is to have the finals on New Year's Eve," he finished.

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