Friday, November 1, 2013

Pride - Best of 2003

1. Dan Henderson vs. Shugo Oyama (Pride 25)
Henderson is coming off a very strong performance against the Pride champion, Antonio Nogueira, and Oyama is trying to become the native star that Pride is begging for. Both have pretty good rights and are ballsy fighters, but only one can win. Both go straight at one another for the first few minutes before taking it to the mat for a breather. The war continues and the winner is clear.
Rating: ***1/2 (Combo/Striking)

2. Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Elvis Schembri (Pride 25)
The ever-injured Saku and a high-end BJJ fighter. This seemed like a safe fight for Pride's top draw as Schembri isn't much of a striker and Saku has a slight size edge. He really dominates too with standup that has Elvis in major trouble and it almost seemed like Saku might score an unlikely KO. However Schembri scores this knee out of nowhere and follows it up with the strikes to get the job done. An amazing upset that had people calling for Sakuraba's retirement.
Rating: **3/4 (Standing/Striking)

- Vanderlei Silva and Quinton Jackson (Pride 25)
The confrontation that had the fight world buzzing. Following a convincing victory over Kevin Randleman, Jackson called out the champ and they had an intense meeting. We thought they'd meet in the near future, but we had to wait a while...they meet though and it's everything you'd expect.

3. Antonio Nogueira vs. Fedor Emelianenko (Heavyweight Championship) (Pride 25)
A big match here with two of the very best heavyweights you'll ever see. Nog is a submission wiz with good standup and Fedor is a GNP monster. When we look at common opponents: Kohsaka, Herring, Schilt and we get some interesting insight. Fedor lost to TK from a cut, beat Schilt in a snoozer and destroyed Herring; Nog drew TK in a majority draw that he had an edge in, beat Herring in a close decision and handily beat Schilt. Theoretically, Nogueira is the favorite here. Fedor changes all that with his devastating punches and he neutralizes the BJJ completely. Exciting parts, slow parts, but a major fight without question that sees Nog's first loss in Pride.
Rating: ***1/4 (Ground/Striking)

4. Anderson Silva vs. Daijyu Takase (Pride 26)
Silva is a heavy favorite in this one, coming off a win over Carlos Newton and Takase has been fighting on Pride's B-shows. Coming in with Saku-spoof shorts, Takase summons the MMA icon's skill here showing great submission knowledge. A huge upset here in what is the unusual match on this tape, but this is a really good one.
Rating: ***3/4 (Ground/Combo)

5. Quinton Jackson vs. Mikhail Illhoukhine (Pride 26)
Jackson takes on a skilled Russian Top Team Sambo practioner whose RINGS career is impressive and his losses are understandable and he holds wins over Couture, Kohsaka, Han, Vovchanchyn and others of strong skill. However people from RINGS often struggle with loose brawlers like Rampage. Mikhail really struggles with the striking and even half jumps out the ring to avoid it. Jackson shows the depth of his striking ability and he's developing into a war machine.
Rating: ***3/4 (Ground/Combo)

6. Fedor Emelienko vs. Kazuyuki Fujita (Pride 26) After a lengthy absence, Fujita returns to challenge the new champ in what is likely to be the Pride FOTY. Two good wrestlers here with different strengths: power to Fujita and balance to Fedor. Also how will Fujita's iron head work against Fedor's iron fists? This is really fun and shows that GNP fighters aren't all Mark Coleman. Fedor does a Terry Funk stagger that adds a funny spot you seldom see in MMA. Finish is sudden and decisive, but it is fitting of this barnburner. Quinton Jackson is on color too.
Rating: ****1/4 (Combo/Striking)

7. Mirko Crocop vs. Heath Herring (Pride 26) Crocop's first time under Pride rules and he's with a strong opponent. Herring is trying to get back in the mix after being slaughtered by Fedor. This is similar to Rodriguez-Sylvia as you can tell Herring realizes he's in trouble early and is just trying in vain to do anything. Crocop senses this and it is all a matter of time after that point. He's arrived in Pride and he wants the championship.
Rating: ***1/2 (Standing/Striking)

8. Mirko Crocop vs. Igor Vovchanchyn (Pride GP - Total Elimination) Another heavyweight coming off losses, who needs a big win to jump back in the fray. Herring and Vov were about even in a decision, but Herring won and Crocop destroyed him. So what becomes of the hard-hitting Ukrainian? This does not take long and this is even more decisive and we see what we never have before - Igor Vovchanchyn knocked out! Who's next?
Rating: *** (Standing/Striking)

9. Mirko Crocop vs. Dos Caras Jr. (Pride Bushido) Looking at Crocop's past opponents, each had a fighting chance. Dos Caras Jr., despite a 3-2 record is not exactly a world caliber MMA heavyweight. He does have the power of lucha libre on his side though. Dos Caras claims to be confident, despite taking this on two weeks notice, but really this is the fight that will make him an even bigger star. Convincing win though for Mirko and he wants the heavyweight title.
Rating: **3/4 (Standing/Striking)

10. Mirko Crocop vs. Antonio Noguiera (Interim Heavyweight Championship) (Pride GP - Final Conflict) After Fedor was injured a little while before this fight, Noguiera jumped in and we get this so-called "interim" fight. Nog, after looking great last year, has not had an important and decisive since Semmy Schilt (a year prior to this bout). His goal is simple - ground the Croatian killer and submit him. He gets Crocop in his guard early, but he does not get it done as Crocop is too fresh and fiesty. The remaining minutes of the round are spent trying to get things back to the ground and taking a lot of damage in the process and never having success. Then he gets a break in the second round and he ceases this opportunity in a great finale to a dramatic contest. The Crocop train is finally stopped and in a very fitting manner. While this is the best technical fight or even the most action-packed, this has a great story that is hauntingly similiar to Noguiera-Sapp from last year. A FOTYC for sure.
Rating: ***1/2 (Combo/Combo)

11. Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Kevin Randleman (Pride GP - Final Conflict) Kevin Randleman, after blowing a
lot of hot air about how great he will be manages to have a dull fight with Saku. "Donkey Kong," as they call him in Japan, is conquered by Super Mario here in what could be a considered an upset. I edit out the first and second rounds because, well, they're boring. But the entrances, flower presentation by Couture and armbar victory are all worth seeing. Basically, Randleman was poised to explode the whole fight and never did. I save the highlights though and you can get the jest of the rounds and get all of the third, which is really all you want to see of this. I'd probably rate this aborted version like ***, but I drop half a star for the fifteen minutes of Randleman's impression of his mentor Mark Coleman against Don Frye, i.e. having a snoozer with one of the most exciting fighters in the world.

12. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua vs. Akira Shoji (Pride Bushido) The Pride debut of "Shogun", younger brother of "Ninja," who are actually Brazilians. Here he takes on a Pride veteran who has turned into something of a stepping stone. Shogun is coming off his only loss thusfar to Renato "Babalu" and Shoji has done well since slimming down. A really fast and action-packed fight that was the best on the first Bushido show in my opinion.
Rating: **** (Combo/Striking)

13. Carlos Newton vs. Renzo Gracie (Pride Bushido)
The first fight in the 5-on-5 series of Gracies versus Japan. After Hayato Sakurai was injured, the Japanese-speaking Newton got into one of the biggest fights of his career. While most of the fights from this series are good and worth seeing, this one was perhaps the best and had the name fighters in it. Some might say it does not live up to its full potential, but it's good stuff.
Rating: ***1/4 (Ground/Combo)

14. Chuck Liddell vs. Alistair Overeem (Pride GP - Total Elimination)
Liddell's return to Pride where he hoping to meet the Middleweight chamipon, Vanderlei Silva. Furthermore, he's coming off a stunning loss to Randy Couture. Overeem looks good early and cuts Liddell, who comes back with knees on the ground and punches standing. A convincing win that eliminates the tournament's dark horse and makes one wonder why Liddell got him. A good brawl, while it lasts.
Rating: ***3/4 (Standing/Striking)

15. Quinton Jackson vs. Murillo Bustamante (Pride GP - Total Elimination)
After Arona was injured late, stablemate Bustamante jumped in and rest assured, he gives us a better fight. Jackson cuts the promos you expect, but you can sense a lack of something in what he says. Busta is smaller than Arona, but has better cardio and is better technically. This is the fight makes Rampage look very human as Busta counteracts much of his offense and nearly hooks some submissions along the way. A stoppage to pull up Jackson's shorts arguably saves him as he gets a valuable rest and it cuts off Bustamante's momentum. It comes down to a split decision that really could have gone either way, but Jackson gets the nod.
Rating: ***1/2 (Combo/Combo)

16. Kiyoshi Tamura vs. Hidehiko Yoshida (Pride GP - Total Elimination)
I'd dare say the two of most popular three or four fighters on the card meeting - this has to be heated. Tamura, sporting a new goatee, comes right at Yoshida and exposed his inability to deal with strikes. This is really one of those fights that many might not be into because of those involved, but the ramifications were huge and Tamura showed some real skill. Once he gets pulled into the gi game though he's in a new world. Great battle of styles and the heat is spectacular. I'm tempted to call this the best fight of the tournament.
Rating: **** (Standing/Combo)

17. Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Vanderlei Silva (Pride GP - Total Elimination)
The third meeting between these two and this has no controversy to it, though Saku's always banged up. Silva, coming off double knee surgery, looks like he has not missed a beat since his previous fight (nine months prior against Saku's former Kingdom mate - Hiromitsu Kanehara). This stays standing and Sakuraba is just not able to really do much. Jackson is on color here as well and he continues to hype a fight with Silva.
Rating: *** (Standing/Striking)

- Quinton Jackson and Chuck Liddell (UFC 44 - Undisputed)
Joe Rogan hypes the pending Rampage-Iceman battle from UFC 44, both men comment on the fight and this is a nice little deal rather than the unnecessary lengthy package Pride puts together. The fight is good, but all the hype they give it kills the thing in my opinion. Also Nobuhiko Takada is in the house and announces Sakuraba and Fujita will come to the UFC to represent Pride in 2004.

18. Quinton Jackson vs. Chuck Liddell (Pride GP - Final Conflict)
A nice battle of styles. Jackson is a better wrestler, Liddell is a better striker, however Jackson can strike and Liddell can wrestle. Basically it becomes a standup battle, where cardio makes all the difference. Liddell strays from his gameplan and gets pulled out of a quick, technical fight into a grinding brawl. It seems like a toss up, but Chuck is tired and they throw in the towel.
Rating: ***1/4 (Combo/Striking)

19. Vanderlei Silva vs. Hidehiko Yoshida (Pride GP - Final Conflict)
The match that convinced people that Yoshida's fights aren't worked. This is brutal and entertaining bout that sees a conflict in styles can provide super fights. Yoshida goes right at Silva and shows no fear. His strength is amazing and he gives the champ a tough challenge and you almost think he might actual score the upset a few times. Yoshida really controls the action much of the first round, but he does not in the second, in fact he's pulled into Silva's game, and that makes all the difference.
Rating: ***3/4 (Ground/Combo)

20. Vanderlei Silva vs. Quinton Jackson (Pride GP - Final Conflict)
The fight that was hyped up in March for June finally comes true. Many thought the bracketing here was dangerous, but we get the finals that everyone wanted to see and it delivers...while it lasts. Both had tough prior fights, but Jackson is able to get things on the ground and you'd think he'd be able to GNP Silva significantly. Fatigue is a factor though and Wand just plays rope-a-dope on the mat it seems. Once it gets up standing Silva opens things up with knees, kicks and punches to get the win. A strong tournament finale that is so much better than Coleman's win in the first Grand Prix, mostly because he didn't fall on his head after like a jackass. Takada presents flowers and stuff in a nice closing ceremony.
Rating: ***1/4 (Combo/Striking) 1