Japan’s Fighting & Entertainment Group (FEG) recently announced the pairings for the quarterfinals of its featherweight grand prix, which will take place at "DREAM 9" on May 26 from the Yokohama Arena in Yokohama, Japan.
The event will of course boast the long awaited return of featherweight superstar Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto, who was offered a first-round bye in the tournament in hopes that he will have recovered from a previous injury in time to compete.
Yamamoto (17-1) was in the midst of a 14-fight win streak, but has been plagued with injuries that have kept him on the sidelines since demolishing Rani Yahya (13-4) at 'K-1 Premium Dynamite' in December 2007.
He was expected to make his DREAM debut last July to face undefeated featherweight prospect Joseph Benavidez (10-0) at 'DREAM 5'. However three days before the fight he attempted a flying knee maneuver while training and landed awkwardly on his right leg. This resulted in a partial tear of his anterior ligament that has kept him out of action up until this point.
Now he’s finally ready to compete and will take on wrestling standout Joe Warren (1-0).
Though still somewhat inexperienced, Warren was able to garner a victory over former WEC Bantamweight division kingpin Chase Beebe (12-4) back at 'DREAM 7' this March, which would serve as his professional debut in mixed martial arts.
Once again he will be thrown into the deep end. Will he swim? Time will tell.
The popular Masakazu Imanari will have his hands full with jiu-jitsu phenom Bibiano Fernandes when they both collide in their quarterfinal bout.
Don’t let Fernandes' 4-2 record fool you. He is a very dangerous fighter who is owner of very slick ground game. His two losses came to Featherweight deities Urijah Faber and Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto and he could easily be considered a dark horse in this Tournament.
Yoshiro Maeda, who some may know for his highly exciting showdown but losing effort with WEC Bantamweight Champion Miguel Torres (37-1) last year at 'WEC 34,' will also be in action.
He takes on Hiroyuki Takaya who earned his spot by thrashing debuting Korean judoka Jong Won Kim in their opening round fight at 'DREAM 7.'
Despite winning his Tournament bout Daiki Hata will not compete due to an eye injury. The man who he defeated, Hideo Tokoro, will now step up and take his spot in the grand prix.
He’ll go to war with BJJ expert Abel Cullum, which should present an exciting showdown.
In non-tournament action will be highly regarded lightweight standout Gesias "JZ" Calvancante who is set to do battle with Japanese mainstay Tatsuya Kawajiri.
"JZ' is coming off a year long layoff, last competing against Shinya Aoki at 'DREAM 2' back in April 2008 where he would end up losing a decision to the "Tobikan Judan". Since than he’s been nursing a torn ACL that required surgery last May.
He was ready to make his return against DREAM Lightweight Champion Joachim Hansen in a non-title bout at 'FieLDS Dynamite!! 2008' on New Years Eve until Hansen failed pre-fight medicals and was forced to pull out of the fight with a mysterious "head injury" just hours before the event, leaving Calvancante without an opponent.
Well now it appears he’s found one in formidable foe Tatsuya Kawajiri.
"Crusher" was last seen at 'DREAM 7' earlier this month where he made short work of BJ Penn student Ross Ebanez (19-7), quickly submitting him with a rear naked choke in the opening stanza.
After the bout in his post-fight speech Kawajiri actually called out Calvancante and lobbied for them to fight in May.
Ask and you shall receive.
Here is the current line-up for 'DREAM 9':
Featherweight Grand Prix quarterfinals:
Norifumi Yamamoto (17-1) vs. Joe Warren (1-0)
Masakazu Imanari (16-6-1) vs. Bibiano Fernandes (4-2)
Yoshiro Maeda (24-6-2) vs. Hiroyuki Takaya (10-6-1)
Abel Cullum (14-2) vs. Hideo Tokoro (21-16-1)
Gesias Calvancante (14-2-1) vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri (23-5-2)
For more on DREAM 9 click here.