Yesterday, we republished Wade Keller’s full detailed report on the Pride PPV ten years ago this weekend. Today, we republish Randy Rowles’s in-depth analysis of the ramification of the happening at that event featuring a parade of legendary big-name fighters. This article was published originally ten years ago today (9-13-2006).
In the United States, the UFC is currently riding on a monster wave of success. In Japan, the PRIDE organization is struggling for its very survival. For most of the past decade, PRIDE has been the biggest MMA promotion in the world, drawing crowds of up to 67,000 people to single events. Over 91,000 people were in attendance for a PRIDE co-production with K-1 in August of 2002. While the UFC struggled over the better part of the past decade, PRIDE ruled the MMA world.
Despite all of their success, the PRIDE promotion was dealt a major blow in June 2006, when their television contract with the Fuji Network was terminated. The Fuji Network is one of Japan’s largest networks, where PRIDE had enjoyed great success in the past. The Fuji Network claimed breach of contract, as PRIDE is entrenched in scandal due to reported financial connections to the Yakuza, or Japanese mafia. In Japan, PRIDE currently airs only on SKY PerfecTV, a pay-per-view channel. With revenues significantly down, it is possible, perhaps even likely, that the PRIDE promotion may not be able to sustain itself for much longer.
Besides spectacle, the likes of which could have put the WWE to shame at times, the PRIDE promotion is most notable for holding some of the most talent-laden tournaments in the history of MMA. This tradition continued Sunday night, as the 2006 PRIDE Open Weight Tournament came to a conclusion in historical fashion at PRIDE Final Conflict Absolute. Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic captured the tournament crown from a group of four elite fighters that included two of the absolute best MMA fighters ever, Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, along with one of the top rising stars in the sport, Josh Barnett, who many had favored to win the tournament. Cro Cop has solidified his legacy in MMA as one of the greatest fighters ever.
Since Wanderlei Silva lost to Vitor Belfort via TKO in his UFC debut at UFC Ultimate Brazil in 1998, Silva has only lost three fights, and all three were via decision. Silva lost a unanimous decision to Tito Ortiz at UFC 25, lost a split decision to Mark Hunt at PRIDE Shockwave 2004, and lost a unanimous decision to Ricardo Arona at PRIDE Final Conflict 2005. Since the Belfort match, in eight years of MMA matches, where he compiled 26 wins, Silva was never beaten by knockout or submission. That all changed Sunday night, as Mirko Cro Cop landed a head kick to knock out Wanderlei Silva.
In the other semi-final match, Josh Barnett won a split decision over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Barnett’s win is only the fourth loss in the career of Nogueira, who has never lost by anything other than decision in his seven year MMA career. Nogueira has never been knocked out or submitted in a MMA match. Meanwhile, he holds victories over Jeremy Horn, Volk Han, Gary Goodridge, Mark Coleman, Heath Herring, Bob Sapp, Semmy Schilt, Dan Henderson, Ricco Rodriguez, Sergei Kharitonov, and Mirko Cro Cop. Although he holds a victory over Cro Cop, Nogueira was unable to get by Barnett on the judges’ scorecards and lost a close one to end his tournament run, one match short of Cro Cop.
Mirko Cro Cop, with this tournament win, has positioned himself in line for a PRIDE Heavyweight Championship match against Fedor Emelianenko. The two have fought before, with Emelianenko winning a unanimous decision over Cro Cop at PRIDE Final Conflict 2005. Emelianenko is undefeated in PRIDE, and has only ever lost once in his entire six year MMA career, and that was via referee stoppage for a cut, in the RINGS promotion. Emelianenko has beaten Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira two times in PRIDE via unanimous decision. Fedor Emelianenko is the real deal, and with Mirko Cro Cop winning this tournament, a rematch between the two will be one of the biggest matches ever in MMA.
Another huge match likely determined by PRIDE Final Conflict Absolute is Wanderlei Silva vs. Ricardo Arona in a rubber match for the PRIDE Middleweight Championship. Ricardo Arona took down fellow contender Alistair Overeem to position himself in line for a title shot. In 2005, Silva and Arona split victories over each other with Arona beating Silva by unanimous decision at PRIDE Final Conflict 2005, and Silva winning a split decision over Arona in a rematch at PRIDE Shockwave 2005. A third match must be booked to settle this feud and to determine who should be wearing the PRIDE Middleweight belt. Ricardo Arona may be one of the only middleweights who is able to take the title away from Silva, who has held it since 2001. Arona has seemingly always been on the verge of superstardom, but has tended to lose momentum at pivotal times in his career. A victory over Wanderlei Silva could be the answer Arona has been looking for.
There is no shame in getting KO’d by Mirko Cro Cop. Wanderlei Silva has had a career like few others, striking fear into the hearts of men who had never previously known fear, that is until they felt the stare of death from Silva before a fight. Silva is called the Axe Murderer for a reason.
Few men could go toe-to-toe with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira for two rounds and then even think about stepping into the ring with Mirko Cro Cop. Josh Barnett did just this, giving everything he had to come up just a little short. Nogueira, on the other hand, narrowly lost his bout with Barnett. If Cro Cop were to unseat the seemingly unbeatable Fedor Emelianenko, Nogueira should be one of the first in line to receive a title shot.
Of the four men who competed in the semi-finals of the PRIDE Open Weight Tournament, none were losers. One, however, was a clear winner. Mirko Cro Cop stands atop the PRIDE mountain today, staring across at Fedor Emelianenko, who himself stands atop a mountain with his PRIDE Heavyweight Championship. When these two giants collide, the planet will tremble.
PRIDE is about more than the people who have promoted it, as it was the fighters and their battle who gave life to PRIDE. There has never been a shortage of skill or a lack of effort from the PRIDE fighting roster. While the management could and should have been replaced, there is no substitute for the talent that has stepped inside the PRIDE ring. Let’s hope PRIDE is able to find its way again, like the UFC was able to with new promoters, so that we may bear witness to the resolution of the many current unresolved rivalries that are sure to produce matches that will enrich the PRIDE legacy. There are just too many great fights left for PRIDE to be going away yet.