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DREAM 14 preview and quick picks for May 29 in Saitama


The weigh-ins are in the books and DREAM 14 is all set for late tonight/early tomorrow morning (May 29) from the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.

The event will air live on HDNet at 3 a.m. ET.

Strikeforce welterweight champion Nick Diaz will headline the show opposite feared Japanese striker Hayato "Mach" Sakurai. 2008 DREAM lightweight grand prix winner Joachim "Hellboy" Hansen will also be in action against Hiroyuki "Streetfight Bancho" Takaya.

MMA legend Kazushi Sakuraba will be featured in tonight's co-main event. The man referred to as "The Gracie Hunter" will take the sixth fight of his career against a member of the Brazilian family. This time it will be Ralek Gracie stepping up to defend his family's honor.

To help get you better prepared for the festivities, I've given some quick analysis and predictions for the three most anticipated fights on the card. Check it out below.

170 lbs.: Nick Diaz vs. Hayato "Mach" Sakurai

This fight has been talked about for a couple years now, but for whatever reason it's always fallen through. Now that it's finally happening, though, my outlook on it is much different than it would have been maybe two years ago when Elite XC and DREAM were co-promoting and trying to make it happen.

Back then I would have been convinced that Diaz would look for any opportunity to get the fight to the ground where he could use his jiu jitsu and avoid "Mach's" power on his feet. However, Diaz's striking has evolved and taken his overall game to a whole new level over the last couple of years.

This isn't the same fighter who was out-punched by KJ Noons or needed a split decision to beat Mike Aina. This is the guy who picked apart and dotted up Frank Shamrock, Scott Smith and Marius Zaromskis, who are all quality strikers. I have no reason to believe this new and improved Nick Diaz won't have similar success with his unorthodox and innovative striking style against Sakurai, either.

He's been steamrolling his competition, while "Mach" recently dropped back to back fights for only the second time in his career. And it's no secret that Diaz loves fighting in Japan. I'm sure he's licking his chops over being in a main event fight like this over there against a top Japanese name. We're going to see a Nick Diaz at the top of his game in this fight.

I like the momentum he has coming into this one. I think he wears Sakurai down with his boxing and eventually goes on to get a submission finish sometime in the second round.

Final prediction: Diaz via submission.

170 lbs.: Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Ralek Gracie

This fight can be summed up in two words: "Gracie Hunter."

Sakuraba literally made a name for himself early in his career by beating members of the Gracie family. In a span of just under thirteen months, Sakuraba handed losses to four Gracie fighters, including two by submission over Renzo and Royler. He also beat Royce by TKO and Ryan by decision.

Of course, that was ten years ago.

Royce went on to avenge his defeat in the summer of 2007, even though the win was marred by a failed post-fight drug test for steroids from Gracie. Sakuraba has gone on to win five of seven fights since then, including back to back first round stoppages in his two most recent bouts.

Ralek is obviously well credentialed in the art of Brazilian jiu jitsu. He's a black belt under Rorion and Helio Gracie, and he's won both of his professional mixed martial arts matches by submssion. But even with that being so, when you stack his two fights up against Sakuraba's forty, you have to consider how much the lack of MMA experience will hurt him in this fight.

His debut was in 2007 and he fought one other time during the summer of 2008. Meanwhile, Sakuraba, despite getting up there in years (he's 41 now,) still managed to average three fights a year over the last three years. And his only losses were the decision to Royce, an early knockout from a red hot Melvin Manhoef, and a decision to Kiyoshi Tamura.

I like Sakuraba to school Ralek here and rack up his third submission win over a Gracie.

Final prediction: Sakuraba via submission.

145 lbs.: Joachim "Hellboy" Hansen vs. Hiroyuki Takaya

"Hellboy" is a really well rounded fighter with a lot of ways to win, while Takaya basically prefers to stand and bang with his opponents. I don't think Hansen will have much of a problem with that early on, but once he gets a chance to take this fight to the ground, he'll probably jump all over it.

Hansen is an aggressive striker, though, and it's certainly possible he could knock Takaya out on his feet. Afterall, half of Takaya's eight career losses have been by TKO.

Still though, Hansen's best way to win is on the ground where he has a solid ground and pound game and a clear advantage with submissions. Either way, this should be a fun fight for the fans. But for the fighters, both are coming off two straight losses and a win is very important.

Because of that, I think "Hellboy" comes out extremely focused and wins this fight by some type of stoppage. He'll either drop Takaya with strikes and pound him out, or he'll end up on the ground where he could potentially notch his sixth career submission win.

I'm leaning towards a knockout.

Final prediction: Hansen via technical knockout.

That's a wrap. Check back in early tomorrow morning for the DREAM 14 results and recap.

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