The brass at Dream Stage have put together a stellar card, minus one match, at Pride 25. Amidst all the turmoil that seems to be enveloping the MMA powerhouse over the last few months, it appears that they are finally emerging from the smoke with a strong stance moving through 2003. Rumors have been flying about that they might be closing up shop, selling to new owners, or restructuring their business. Without much contact with the media it was hard to gauge exactly what is going on. Look for Pride to make a serious statement this year by increasing their Japanese fanbase and moving into the Western Hemisphere, hitting on all cylinders by the third quarter. The matches for Pride 25 are solid, with a legit Heavyweight Championship fight headlining the card. Lets get down to the match ups.
Rodrigo Minotauro vs. Fedor Emelianenko
The Worlds #1 Heavyweight will finally be placing his belt on the line and be getting a sporting test at the same time. With Ricco Rodriguez getting floored at UFC 41, Josh Barnett falling off the face of the MMA earth, and finally avenging his only loss (and a controversial one at that) at the last Pride event, there is no one heavyweight on a higher pedestal than Minotauro. With only one loss himself, many have touted Fedor as the next legit contender to the throne after he left the defunct Rings organization, made the jump to Pride, out-pointed Schilt and ripped Herring apart. In fact, both have recent histories with two other fighters in Schilt and Herring. Mino subbed Schilt and outpointed Herring, while Fedor outpointed Schilt and TKOd Herring.
What is evident is that Minotauro has trouble early with tough competition but eventually is able to throw so many submission attempts at his opponents he catches them. His submission game is what he bases his offense on and his on target punching prowess tends to cloud his true intentions. Fedor comes in with a strong Sambo background. He can win via submission, but his ability to outpoint his opposition by ground-and-pound is his bread and butter. Lets be honest. Fedor isnt going to sub Minotauro. He will have to beat him by maintaining top position and beat him with punches. If he plays a methodical style, he wont be able to mount much of a damaging attack. If he transitions quickly on the ground and strikes quickly, he just might fall into a submission. Either way, Minotauro possesses more finishing ability and has more experience of the two. Look for him to win via decision or submission.
Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Nino "Elvis" Schembri.
2 years ago, this would just have been another BJJ stylist to fall to the aura of Saku. But the battle-weary body of Sakuraba just aint what it used to be. It was Pride 12 where he literally spanked his last BJJ opposition, in Ryan Gracie. After that it was all downhill. Vanderlei Silva ruined him on two occasions and his truly lackluster performance against a less than average, Gilles Arsene have caused his stock to drop dramatically. He has stepped into the ring over the last 2 years at anything but 100% and admittedly so, but the company man still goes out lays it on the line. He is coming in once again, at less than 100%. It would be tough to say that Nino is that much better than the other BJJ competitors, but the lack of firepower that Saku has levels the playing field somewhat.
The X factor is the bag of tricks 14-4 Sakuraba brings to the ring. This will be a definite advantage over the much less experienced Schembri, at 2-0 and it should be enough to keep his head above water and win via decision. His stand up and work from inside the guard will just be too much for Nino.
Carlos Newton vs. Anderson Silva
On loan from the UFC, Newton steps back into the Ring with the ever-dangerous Anderson Silva of Chute Box. Carlos Newtons strength is the ground and Silvas is in the stand up. Its no secret. Newton will have to get by the long limbs and jab of Silva to get the takedown. Once there, he should be able to impose his will and get the eventually armbar. Silva is not exactly as aggressive as Pele against grapplers, so it should be a slower paced fight with Silva throwing the jab and backpedaling. Newton should win via sub regardless of how many dings he takes in the process.
Alexander Otsuka Vs Kenichi Yamamoto
Believe it or not, Alexander Otsuka is one of the most active fighters in Pride! He has competed in Pride an astounding 11 times, and this will be his 12th appearance in Japans premiere MMA organization. It is quite amazing to me that a fighter with his nominal skill level has competed in one of the highest ranking Mixed martial Arts organizations in the world, not to mention King of the Cage in a rematch against Guy Mezger. The man who beat Marco Ruas, and has only two wins in his eleven appearances in the big show, is now finally taking on competition more his speed. He will be facing off against 3 time UFC veteran Kenichi Yamamoto. Yamamoto is actually the winner of the UFC Japan tournament beating out such high profile names as Daiju Takase and Katsuhisa Fuji to take the UFC tournament. After his victory he returned in another UFC Japan event and faced off against MMA legend Pat Miletich, getting choked out for his efforts in the second round. Their records combined result in 4 wins and 14 losses. The only wins of Yamamotos career were in the UFC tournament, In terms of excitement and relevancy of this particular contest, what does this all mean? Absolutely nothing. Otsuka has always come in a little heavier then Yamamoto and he has taken on the better competition fighting and losing to Vanderlei Silva, Marco Ruas, Renzo Gracie, Ken Shamrock, Guy Mezger, Sanae Kikuta, and Anderson Silva, so by virtue of losing to better competition, I will have to pick Otsuka to take the decision. Yamamoto has lost to Kevin Randleman and Pat Miletich so his list of fighters that he has lost to is not quite as impressive as Otsukas. If I have to pick it will be Otsuka via boring decision after three difficult to watch rounds. One of these fighters list of fighters that he has lost to, will grow by one, but what an embarrassing one that will be.
Rogerio "Minotoro" Nogueira vs Kazuhiro Nakamura
The "Other" Nogueira, twin brother to the Pride Heavyweight Champion Rodrigo, will be tying one on with Judo Practitioner Kazuhiro Nakamura. This will be Nakamuras Pride Debut so not much is known about Nakamura, but he is said to be one of Yoshidas top students with a significant judo background. Basically what that tells me is that he has no MMA experience and will be fighting a man that is the twin brother of the best fighter in the world, and trains with one of the best teams in the world, Brazilian Top Team. Being a brother in itself means nothing, but the fact that he trains with the best people in the world shows that he has the team to get the job done. "Minotoro" has been in the ring against veteran fighters such as Guy Mezger, Vladamir Matyushenko and Jim Theobold. He has been to the big show before and knows what it takes to win. He is widely considered to be the inferior fighter in his family, but comparing your self to the best fighter in the world is a tough proposition for anyone. He is however, an active fighter with an excellent team behind him. How many people have the quality team members that Nogueira has? Not too many, especially Nakamura. So based on experience I will have to give the nod to Nogueira, the first time is always the toughest. "Minotoro" via armbar in round two.
Akira Shoji Vs Alex Stiebling
Alex Stiebling is in the unfamiliar territory of coming off a three fight losing streak. First and foremost his "Brazilian Killa" Moniker, which had built up a name for Stiebling, was rendered flaccid by the fact that he lost at the hands (or should I say shin) of uber talent, fellow card-mate, and most importantly Brazilian, Anderson Silva. His next loss in a Pancrase bout to Yuki Sasaki did not help matters and a jarring first round knockout at the hands of Marvin Eastman in the WFA made things worse. Three losses in a row does not deter Pride from picking you up, in fact winning and losing dont always enter into the equation for Pride fighters. Look at his opponent Akira Shoji for example. SHoji has a record of seven and seven in the Pride fighting championships however, his record is deceiving, his losses in Pride have all been against top flight competition. He has lost to Igor Vovchanchyn, Mark Coleman, Ricardo Almeida, Dan Henderson, Semmy Schilt, Paulo Filho, and Jeremy Horn. Not a bad list of fighters if you ask me. His game will never be at the point where he can dismantle fighters of top ten ilk but his heart is unquestioned. His losses to Igor Vovchanchyn, Mark Coleman and Semmy Schilt, have been against Formerly Top Ten ranked heavyweight, and Shoji is a chubby middleweight at best. Both fighters need a win here. Stiebling will not live it down if he loses to Shoji here, so I am assuming he is taking this fight very seriously. He better, Shoji brings his fight game day in and day out. Both fighters have fought and defeated Wallid Ismael, Shoji via K.O and Stiebling via decision, but both fighters are not particularly good at any one aspect of the fight game. Both contestants are well rounded and tough. Shoji typically starts strong and fizzles down the stretch it could be more of the same here. I expect to see a longer drawn out match with the fight going to the judges decision in the end. I think that Stiebling should have the right stuff to weather the early storm that Shoji will bring and come on to take the fight in the later rounds. Stiebling via decision after three rounds.
Dan Henderson Vs Shungo Oyama
Dan Henderson is coming off one of the most impressive performances of his career, even in defeat, he showed the heart and skill of a champion taking the bigger Heavyweight champ to the third round in a great fight. Shungo Oyama is coming off a loss to a less than stellar Ryan Gracie in just over a minute, and in the process severely injured his arm by refusing to tap to the armbar. Henderson has fought 15 times to Oyamas five, on paper this fight should be a slam dunk. All the cards are in place for Henderson to fight and destroy a similar sized but under-experienced Oyama, but everyone knows that fights are not fought on paper, they are fought in the ring. Ring or no Ring, Henderson should be able to control this fight from front to back, wherever it may go. Oyama likes to throw the heavy leather, he even threw it against Vanderlei Silva and got TKOd for his efforts and Henderson may oblige and throw the heavy leather right back at him. I think Dangerous Dans hands are a little better then Oyamas. His wrestling should also be better but Oyama is a very skilled Judo Practitioner. His skills from the clinch are very good, so he should not be overlooked. Their common opponent Vanderlei Silva also defeated Dan Henderson in a very exciting fight where Henderson landed some good shots that staggered Vanderlei at one point, but ended up taking the loss in a tough decision. I dont see any area of the fight game that Oyama can capitalize on. Henderson is too good in too many areas. He will be able to control the fight from front to back and get the knockout via ground and pound in round two. Henderson via K.O round two.