Fighting and Entertainment Group (FEG) — the parent company of Japanese MMA promotion DREAM — announced today that their upcoming welterweight grand prix will feature #9 pound-for-pounder Shinya Aoki, moving back up in weight class from last year’s lightweight GP, in which he was a finalist. Perennial welterweight threat/amateur porn star Hayato "Mach" Sakurai will also participate in the 168-pound tournament (which kicks off April 5th in Nagoya, Japan), and freak show mainstay Ikuhisa Minowa will be on the card in a non-GP match. No other fighters have been named for the grand prix, though the winner of the DEEP 40 bout between Hidetaka Monma and Seichi Ikemoto is expected to join the field.
No word yet if Aoki and Sakurai will have to face each other in the first round of the grand prix, but the two fighters previously met at a Shooto event in August 2005, where the far-more-experienced (at the time) Sakurai defeated Aoki by unanimous decision. Aoki went on to win Shooto’s middleweight (168 pounds) championship the next year — which he still technically holds — before dropping to lightweight in 2007. Both men have won their last two fights, with Sakurai winning a decision against Kuniyoshi Hironaka at DREAM 6 last September and scoring a TKO over Katsuyori Shibata at Dynamite!! 2008 on New Year’s Eve, and Aoki earning quick submission victories over Todd Moore and Eddie Alvarez at the same events.