Best of Pride 2002
1. Carlos Newton vs. Jose "Pele" Landi (Pride 19) - An awesome fight with each man showing their strengths fully. Newton struggles to get Pele down, but finally does and the excitement begins. Landi, always game, makes some great escapes and then delivers some hard shots. Newton some how gets him down and locks an armbar and gets the tapout. Pele displays his lack of sportmanship, while Newton cuts a promo in Japanese. Again my prediction was just right with Pele fending off Newton's matwork, until he can no longer.
Rating: ****3/4 (Combo/Combo)
2. Antonio Noguiera vs. Enson Inoue (Pride 19) - After being put on two-year probation for stuff I won't get into, Inoue looks to get a huge win here. Noguiera uses a butt-scoot unsuccessfully early. Inoue is caught in an entangled kimura, but impressive brutes out, then gets a mount and punches away. Noguiera reverses it and puts Inoue through Submissions 101, Inoue really shows his escape skills. Finally the champ locks on his signature Triangle Chokehold and Inoue goes out. I picked the Noguiera, though I thought Inoue could take it the distance, he choose to give us an exciting fight.
Rating: ****1/4 (Ground/Combo)
3. Don Frye vs. Ken Shamrock (Pride 19) - A big money main event with some nice pro-wrestling hype and this is a career match for both men. The first round is heated at first with Frye outstriking early, then Shamrock successfully attacks the ankle. Then we get the infamous second round rest. The third round picks up with more Frye strikes and more Shamrock heel hooking. An exciting fight that delivered when "legends" matches seldom do, much better than Ortiz-Shamrock. They are both totally blown up, but embrace to a huge pop as the decision is pending. Shamrock hugs his girlfriend Alicia (the former Ryan Shamrock) and heads to the back. Frye apologizes for things he said, for not training harder and says he thinks his ankle's broken. Shamrock's best fight of the 3-fight deal with Pride.
Rating: ***1/2 (Combo/Combo)
4. Mario Sperry vs. Murillo Rua (Pride 20) - The first high-caliber meeting between Brazil's Top Team and Chute Boxe Academy. Representing BJJ and MTK respectively, Sperry and Rua give us one of the most epic fights of all-time. Sperry is the veteran, who was a whiz in his younger years and can still hang with the best in pure grappling. Murillo "Ninja" is an up-and-coming Brazilian fighter with great striking ability and respectable ground techniques. This fight just great in every area with only a resting second round to bring it down slightly. They roll around and do some great submission work, they stand and slug it out. I think this was the best technical fight of the year.
Rating: ****3/4 (Combo/Combo)
5. Vanderlei Silva vs. Mirko "Crocop" Filopovic (Pride 20) - Two of the premier strikers in their fields go head-to-head. Vanderlei might be devastating in MMA, but he knows he can't hang n' bang with Crocop. This is a great war from the promos to the staredown to the strategic battling and it's all good. Silva shuts up by the skeptics by not only not getting decaptiated, but showing he can execute great technique. He gets the better of the Crocop, using more effective standup and taking him down with skill. The other side of the "Axe Murderer."
Rating: **** (Standing/Striking)
6. Don Frye vs. Yoshihiro Takayama (Pride 21) - After a lackluster undercard, these two sometimes pro-wrestlers sometimes fighters have a donnybrook. Head-grabbing boxing fun with each landing a barrage of punches. Frye explodes Takayama's face. Takayama bloodies Frye. This is fast, furious fun and a must-see for sure. While not the FOTY, this is probably the most exciting on here and if the early UFCs had had stuff like this they'd be rich.
Rating: ****1/4 (Combo/Striking)
7. Jerome Le Banner vs. Don Frye (Pride/K-1) - I guess if you can obliterate a bigger man you can take out a top kickboxer in his own game...what was Don thinking? The most decisive loss of Frye's career, K-1's representative makes Pride's babyface tough guy look like a chump.
8. Antonio Noguiera vs. Bob Sapp (Pride/K-1) - Better drama than any fight this year, the 2-0 monster fights the heavyweight champ. Noguiera looks tough as nails here and every bit the world class talent he is as a bigger, stronger man gives him the fight of his life and he weathers the storm. After running the big man down, a battered Noguiera puts him away with technique. A great story in a fight that made Bob Sapp and told everyone that Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera is the best heeavyweight in the world.
Rating: ****1/2 (Ground/Combo)
9. Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Mirko "Crocop" Filopovic (Pride/K-1) - While not the best fight on the tape, you've got to include Sakuraba somewhere. He was an important part in drawing the monster crowd over the summer and while his days in the sun seem to be two years removed he remains a popular star and always a gifted fighter. Here he tries to defend pro-wrestling against "pro-wrestler hunter" Mirko Crocop. Saku's return isn't a bust with him giving up 30 pounds and he manages to take some good shots, get in one and and get Crocop down. Unfortunately Crocop gets a lucky punch in that breaks Saku's orbital bone and that's that.
Rating: **3/4 (Combo/Striking)
10. Anderson Silva vs. Alexander Otsuka (Pride 22) - Last year Vanderlei Silva underestimated and was taken the distance by Alexander Otsuka. This time he has another smaller Silva and these two put on a clinic. The "Diet Butcher" hangs tough as Anderson tries every submission in the book. He seriously tries about every combo one can think of. The MMA purists like to downplay AO, but the truth is he is amongst the toughest and most tenacious. A great fight can only happen because of two people and to say Otsuka is worthless is a sad comment. My favorite fight from the "worst" Pride show of the year and it's the kind of fight you never see.
Rating: ***1/4 (Ground/Combo)
11. Ryan Gracie vs. Shungo Oyama (Pride 22) - As heated a fight as Pride has ever had. Ryan Gracie is all about attitude and kickin ass, so he always brings an interesting intensity that only Sakuraba can spank out of him. Oyama beat Renzo in a boring decision that Pride wanted to capitalize on in an attempt to make a native star (which Japanese sports always need to be successful). Oyama tried his best to hype up this fight and he wanted to brawl for sure, but Ryan (who brags he's a helluva streetfighter) wanted no part of it and violently armbarred Shungo instead.
Rating: **3/4 (Ground/Combo)
12. Heath Herring vs. Fedor Emelianenko (Pride 23) - When Fedor beat Semmy Schilt in a dull fight, I don't think Pride would think much of it. Here he takes Pride's #1 contender and makes him look like a paper tiger (like Kimo perhaps?) by wrestling him down and rocking him with heavy punches. Herring can be outwrestled, but he looks terribly outclassed here. Fedor might not be as exciting as some, but he's everything Vladamir Matyushenko should be - a ground n' pound red machine.
Rating: ***1/4 (Ground/Striking)
13. Antonio Nogueria vs. Semmy Schilt (Pride 23) - After Semmy lost to Fedor this was made a non-title match and with good reason - Noguiera is in another class. After beating another big man in Bob Sapp, Noguiera takes on a tall man, but has about half the problem.
Rating: ***1/2 (Ground/Combo)
14. Don Frye vs. Hidehiko Yoshida (Pride 23) - As if his last KO loss wasn't enough, here in his first full MMA fight a Judo gold medalist makes Frye look like he trained at the Y. Frye could've probably boxed his ears and evened things up a bit, but chose not to. Like trying to brawl with a K-1 fighter, grappling with an world class judo master is just not smart. Yoshida makes him pay with the armbar (it sounds like Bas called it "arm-believable") that could force the retirement Frye talked about in January upon him, the irony is Frye promised to break Yoshida's arm.
Rating: *** (Ground/Combo)
- The Return of Sakuraba (Pride 23) - The third round of a really boring main event, where an injured Saku reveals a total tomato can, who he humiliates with slaps and half-assed submission attempts. The French fighter lacks defense and Saku can't get anything out of him. The worst Sakuraba fight ever, but that's why I only included a few minutes. But you can dig the music, new mask and Mongolian Chops!
15. Antonio Nogueria vs. Dan Henderson (Pride 24) - A great fight to close the year that will be a strong FOTY for 2003...if people remember it. Noguiera tries to avenge his only loss (from RINGS, which was very controversial) and Henderson tries to put himself in a top spot by fighting the Heavyweight champ. Well his task is accomplished. Noguiera applies every submission in the book and Henderson escapes them all, except one. They do some fun standup and nice wrestling and the size difference makes things more interesting because Henderson makes such a strong showing.