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Shinya Aoki vs. Hayato Sakurai set to open DREAM 8 welterweight GP

Japanese mainstay Hayato Sakurai (34-8-2) and lightweight superstar Shinya Aoki (19-3) are reportedly set to throw down in the opening round of the promotion’s upcoming Welterweight Grand Prix commencing at DREAM 8 on April 5 at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, according to MMAWeekly.

Aoki, the first-ever World Alliance Mixed Martial Arts (WAMMA) lightweight champion, is coming off a tidy submission victory over David Gardner in the first round of their battle at DREAM 7 on March 8.

He was actually on a collision course with "Mach" at last year’s Lightweight Grand Prix, until Eddie Alvarez got hurt and Aoki ran into finals alternate Joachim Hansen.

"Hellboy" would go on to upset the heavily-favored Aoki and bring home the belt.

The "Tobikan Judan" would rebound from that loss — just the third of his career — and submit Todd Moore via neck crank at DREAM 6 in September before finally getting a crack at Alvarez by year’s end -- and winning via tapout.

Now the very dangerous submission fighter will pack on a few pounds and face Sakurai in a quest for welterweight supremacy.

Mach holds a unanimous decision win over Aoki from their days in Shooto and has gone up against some of the most talented fights in the sport, from lightweight all the way up to middleweight.

In addition to Aoki, he’s competed against UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva, Matt Hughes, Jake Shields, Joachim Hansen, Takanori Gomi, Frank Trigg, Jens Pulver and Caol Uno among countless others.

He’s coming off a gimme fight at ‘FieLDS Dynamite!!’ last December where he thoroughly beat down professional wrestler Katsuyori Shibata, ending it via TKO in the opening round. Having him meet Aoki in the opening round may not carry the same drama as a match in the finals would, but at least this guarantees they get to face one another.

As for Shibata, it appears he was not put off by the loss to Sakurai and will make a return at DREAM 8 against the popular Ikuhisa Minowa -- who has fought every name under the sun (albeit to inconsistent results).

Also in action will be Croatian sensation Zelg Galesic who will duke it out with Andrews Nakahara. Featuring only eight fighters across two events, the 2009 Grand Prix will conclude on July 20 at DREAM 10.

Here is the current line-up for DREAM 8:

Welterweight Grand Prix Opening Round
Shinya Aoki (20-3) vs. Hayato Sakurai (34-8-2)

Non-Grand Prix bouts
Ikuhisa Minowa (41-29-8) vs. Katsuyori Shibata (2-6-1)
Zelg Galesic (9-4) vs. Andrews Nakahara (1-1)

Stay tuned for more updates to Dream 8 as they become available.

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