TOKYO, March 14, 2008 -- Dreams do come true. After years of anticipation, tomorrow, thousands of fans will pack the Saitama Super Arena and millions more will watch on television across Japan as the world's best mixed martial arts fighters meet in FEG's DREAM.1 Lightweight Grand Prix 2008 1st Round.
The card features seven qualification bouts in the DREAM Lightweight (70 kg/154 lbs) class, along with a trio of Superfights. This is the inaugural DREAM production, but such is the talent that it is already being hailed as one of the world's finest mixed martial arts tournaments. On the eve of the event, the 20 participating fighters gathered at Tokyo's Hotel East 21 to share their thoughts with local and international media.
The evening's Main Event is a tournament matchup that will feature last year's HERO's Middleweight Champion, J.Z. Calvan of Brazil, and Japanese judoka Shinya Aoki. Widely regarded as the man to beat in the DREAM Lightweight class, Calvan was his usual confident self today.
Said Calvan: "I'm back and glad to be here in this tournament, which I think will be one of the best in the world. I'm happy to fight Aoki, and I want to show how to make a dream come true."
Aoki: "I'm honored to be here and I believe this fight will exceed all expectations. Whatever defense J.Z. uses, I am confident I can finish him!"
Perhaps the most widely anticipated bout on the card features Croatian mixed martial arts superstar Mirko CroCop; who will take on Japanese fighter Tatsuya Mizuno.
CroCop: "It has been a while since I fought in Saitama, I think they are the best audience in the world! I admire the attitude and courage of my opponent, who accepted this challenge on short notice. I watched some of his fight videos last night, and I'm sure he will do his best to put on a great performance!"
Tatsuya Mizuno: "I will give 120%, I will do more than my best!"
In other one-match fights, it will be Hayato "Mach" Sakurai of Japan and compatriot Hidetaka Monma Japan; and Minowaman of Japan against Kwan Bun Lee of South Korea.
Apart from Calvan vs Aoki, there will be six other tournaments bouts, with winners advancing toward his year's DREAM Lightweight Championship.
The first will see the aggressive Norwegian shooto fighter Joachim Hansen stepping in against Japanese striker Koutetsu Boku.
Hansen: "I'm very excited to be a part of this, I trained hard and will do a good fight for everybody!"
Boku: "Tomorrow I will give 100%!"
Next up, Kazuyuki Miyata of Japan will take on the agile and quick Brazilian jiu jitsu fighter Luis Buscape
Buscape: "I trained hard, DREAM will be one of the best shows in the world and I want to be the champion!"
Miyata: "I will show what I can do in the ring."
Wrestler Katsuhiko Nagata of Japan, a silver medallist at the Sydney Olympics, will be going for gold here against Artur Umakhanov, a tough customer who is also a member of the Russian Special Forces.
Nagata: "It is about survival, I know Artur is skilled but I will be more aggressive!"
Umakhanov: "In this fight, I will make a great show!"
Japanese fighter Mitsuhiro Ishida is regarded by many as having a real chance in the DREAM Lightweight GP. Tomorrow he will face Korean judoka Bukyung Jung, who made his mixed martial arts debut last year.
Ishida: "I will make sure we have a heated contest!"
Jung: "I trained hard and I intend to put on a good fight."
Andre Dida of Brazil is an elite fighter. Challenging him tomorrow will be a formidable American puncher, Eddie Alvarez.
Dida: "I feel like a family member here in Japan, and I want to prove I deserve to be here by doing a knockout. I want to stay on my feet and get the KO!"
Alvarez: "As always, I promise the fans a high-paced, violent and very aggressive fight!"
Success-driven Japanese fighter Tatsuya Kawajiri will meet the dynamic Black Mamba of India.
Kawajiri: "Tomorrow is a very important day for MMA in Japan, it is a new beginning and a writing of history, so I want to have a great result at this great time!"
Mamba: "In this weight class, this is one of the best tournaments in the world. I will make an exciting fight -- all my fights are exciting! I will win on the ground, win standing and win wrestling!"
The seven victorious tournament bout fighters will re-converge in Saitama in May, for the right to fight for the first-ever DREAM Championship belt at the DREAM Lightweight GP Final this July in Osaka.
The DREAM.1 Lightweight Grand Prix 2008 1st Round kicks off at 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 15 at the Saitama Super Arena. It will be broadcast live in Japan on the TBS national network. For delay-broadcast information in other countries, contact local providers. As always, visit the K-1 Official Website (www.k-1.co.jp/k-1gp) for comprehensive coverage of this and all FEG productions.