Fight # 1
Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Elvis Nino Schembri
This is the rematch. Finally Pride and Sakuraba have come to their senses. Instead of putting Sakuraba in against a moribund of bigger younger athletes in the hopes of erasing losses of the past, they are putting on a match that makes sense for both Pride and Sakuraba. Schembri, while a skilled Jiu Jitsu practitioner and legitimate fighter, is less imposing then his new teammate and three time Sakuraba dance partner Vanderlei Silva. A man that has knocked out Sakuraba on three separate occasions, and although Silva will probably be in Schembris corner his knockout power will be nowhere in sight. Schembri was losing his previous bout with Sakuraba handily until the head butt and knee to the face that ended the fight in favor of the new Chute Boxe member. Sakuraba will be looking for redemption and should be able to get it here against the skilled but outgunned Jiu Jitsu man. I feel that this fight will look much like their last fight with the exception of the final 15 seconds or so. Sakuraba will be a little more cautious this time around and punish his opponent with leg kicks and not be quite so careless. Sakuraba via Unanimous Judges Decision after three rounds.
Fight # 2
Quinton Jackson vs. Ricardo Arona
Arona is coming off a serious injury that has kept him out of action for a year and a half, a substantial amount of time for any fighter and the longest layoff of his young MMA career. Quinton Jackson is a tough comeback fight for any light heavyweight after such a long layoff, but Arona does train with Brazilian Top Team, one of the best teams in the world and should be ready to go. The question of whether his timing and reactions are up to par, remain to be seen. This fight was actually set to take place last year in the opening round of the Middleweight tournament before Arona went down with a serious foot injury and was forced to bow out. In his stead, Bustamante lost on very short notice, but Bustamantes loss will be Aronas gain as he will benefit from his teammates experience in the ring against Jackson who should be able to fill him in on some of the ins and outs of Jacksons game. The BTT members are masters of creating and implementing strong gameplans and this time should be no different, but will Arona be physically and mentally ready for this fight considering his injury and inactivity in the past year and a half?
There is no question that ring rust will be a big question mark for the young practitioner who has loads of talent but has yet to put together three strong consecutive rounds in any one of his fights in Pride. In each of his Pride appearances he has shown lapses in his game that Jackson will be looking to capitalize on. He has shown a tendency to take a round off in his fights, usually starting strong in the first, slowing down in the second round, and coming back strong in the third. He came on strong in the final round of his fight with the fatigued Guy Mezger after starting very slowly and almost getting knocked out by a kick at one point. He will want to curtain his lapses and focus on potentially going three strong rounds.
Aronas BJJ success has followed him to MMA but his MMA game has been less then entertaining. He also holds the distinction of being the only BTT member not to have a submission victory on his MMA resume, which is an alarming stat considering his team and style of fighting. In fact, all but one of his victories have come by decision and as such he is not a fan favorite in terms of excitement. Discounting his submission game however, would be a mistake, even though he seems happier with a strong positional game over an active submission game. All of his teammates Rodrigo Nogueira, Rogerio Nogueira, Mario Sperry, Murilo Bustamante, and Paulo Filho have submissions in their recent Pride of UFC bouts, Arona stands alone as the lone BTT member in Pride or the UFC without the distinction, a dubious marker to be sure.
Jackson has occasionally shown a tendency to leave himself open to submission attempts and he will have to shore up those deficiencies if he is to win. Against fellow BTT member Murilo Bustamante he got caught in a guillotine and an armbar, and had to work hard to find his way out against a rusty Bustamante. I am sure he is working hard on his BJJ game but he will need it all to defend the VERY sneaky attacks of Arona if he finds himself in Aronas guard, even though Arona has shown a less then devastating submission game of late.
The strength department goes to Jackson who is as strong, or stronger, then anyone in the 205 division bar none. He is a pillar of strength and the striking department should also go to Jackson. If Arona decides to trade on the feet and slug it out, it will be a very short night, as Jackson who has a chin to rival Cabbage will take the fight in a landslide. Arona will be looking for the takedown from the get go and in all likelihood the submission will likely be his best chance of victory, as most other departments in the MMA skill set go to Jackson. On paper this is such a close fight I really feel that anyone can take it on any given night. Whoever comes in better prepared will be the fighter that leaves with the opportunity to fight for the belt against the winner of the Vanderlei Silva vs. Yuki Kondo fight. I feel that wrestling will dictate the winner of this fight, if Arona is able to take Jackson down like Bustamante did, then Arona will be strong from the top position and should have his way with Jacksons guard. If the fight stays on the feet then it wont take long for Jackson to find the chin of his opponent and end the fight early, but his wrestling has been a Jeckle and Hyde type monster of late. He didnt let Kevin Randleman, who is a world class wrestler, take him down but smaller guys like Minowa and Bustamante have been able to do well in the takedowns against Rampage. Jackson will need to stay on top at all times and in doing so should be able to slam and ground and pound his way to a decision. He should be strong throughout the contest and do enough to win the bout but not before having to fight his way through a couple of sticky submission attempts. Jackson over Arona via Judges Decision.
Fight # 3
Semmy Schilt vs. Sergei Kharitonov
Kharitonov quickly established himself as a legitimate force in the open weight grand prix with his fight of the night performance against Murilo Rua in the opening round of the tournament. But lets be honest, Murilo Rua is a lightheavyweight at best. Kharatonov will be in against a much more dangerous striker this time around. He is still however, a dark horse in this tournament as few outside of Russia have seen him fight outside of the Pride ring. He trains with the Emelianenko brothers former team, The Russian Top Team, with the likes of Andrei Kopylov, Kotchkine Iouri, Mikail Illoukhine and more. Is it just me or are some of the scariest fighters coming out of Russia right now. Andrei Arlovski, Sergei Kharitonov, Emelianenko Fedor are amongst the scariest and entertaining fighters in the heavyweight division right now. Kharitonov is not as established as the other two but I feel it wont be long before he is.
This fight should be an entertaining fight no matter who wins, the striking department definitely goes to Schilt who has a reach advantage of almost a foot on most heavyweights in Pride. The half man half ladder Semmy Stilts will have a distict advantage on the feet and although Kharitonov showed versatility with his hands in the first round of the tournament, the fact of the matter is, Ninja Rua is a glorified Light Heavyweight. Aside from the weight advantage Kharatonov held over Rua he also had a substantial reach and height advantage on top of it. He will have that advantage no longer and will find himself of the shorter end of the stick against a man that looks like a cartoon caricature as much as a fighter. If Kharitonov keeps his hands as low as he did against Rua, that cartoon character will have him kissing the canvas before long.
The real question here lies in the ability, or inability, of Kharitonov to take the long and lanky kickboxer from Holland to the mat in a timely and efficient manner. If he can, Schilt has shown that he is submit-able on the ground as he showed against Josh Barnett and Rodrigo Nogueira, and susceptible to ground and pound a la Emelianenko Fedor. Kharitonov could do well with either strategy if the fight goes to the mat, but he has to do it early if he intends to succeed. He will need to get inside the range of the Lanky Dutchman and find his way at the long legs before his long arms and fists get at his head first. I feel that at some point Kharitonov will be able to take the fight to the mat and will submit the Mr. Long and Lanky with an armbar much like he did against LA Giant before all is said and done. Kharitonov via armbar round one.
Fight # 4
Naoya Ogawa vs. Giant Silva
I dont then I am alone in the feeling that most fans west of the land of the rising sun feel this is the least enticing fight of the card. For me it holds little more intrest then the Giant Silva vs. Henry Sentoryu Miller fight that took us into this scenario in the first place. Even before the brackets were announced at the beginning of the month, most people felt that this match-up was inevitable the second Giant Silva mercifully ended the first fight with a rather mediocre Arm Kimura.
I will not dwell on this match up too long and instead I will quickly go to my prediction and take Ogawa over Silva for two reasons. First of all, when Naoya Ogawa is involved in an MMA match, the smell of a worked fight will always linger in the air, especially when Pride needs him in the final round of the tournament for ticket sales. Secondly Silva has few noticeable MMA skills to begin with, compare that to the Judo Prowess of Ogawa who, while not a seasoned MMA veteran has more fights then Silva, so the skill discrepancy is vast. Size is not a skill, and although it is possible he could overwelm Ogawa early, it is unlikely. Ogawa over Silva via Rear naked Choke round one.-MMARR-
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