|LAS VEGAS, NEVADAOn October 21st, 2006 the biggest invasion of American shores since Pearl Harbor took place as Pride Fighting Championships finally brought their brand of the big show to America. Let me tell you, from a fan, fighter, and journalist standpoint, the show was just plain awesome. Words alone can never do it justice. Tremendous production values unrivaled by any other fight promotion in the world, along with the high standards of Japanese courtesy were the order of the day. Even without the actual fights the show was incredible. The sheer amount of energy surging through...
LAS VEGAS, NEVADAOn October 21st, 2006 the biggest invasion of American shores since Pearl Harbor took place as Pride Fighting Championships finally brought their brand of the big show to America. Let me tell you, from a fan, fighter, and journalist standpoint, the show was just plain awesome. Words alone can never do it justice. Tremendous production values unrivaled by any other fight promotion in the world, along with the high standards of Japanese courtesy were the order of the day. Even without the actual fights the show was incredible. The sheer amount of energy surging through the Thomas & Mack Center was unbelievable. Pride Fighting Championships is such a spectacle that you can never fathom its impact unless you see it yourself, live and in person. This is coming from a longtime hardcore Pride fan, so its not like Ive never seen a Pride event before. Even the casual fans that had never heard of guys like Nobuhiko Takada or Nobuyuki Sakakibara prior to the show were surprised by the production. There was one major pitfall in this situation, and that was the Nevada State Athletic Commissions Sanctions. Due to these sanctions, the longtime Pride staple of soccer kicks, stomps, and knees to the head of a downed opponent were not allowed. Pride officials also decided to hold true to the no elbows to the head rule. On top of that, Prides usual round format of one 10 minute period followed by two five minutes rounds had to be changed to three five minute rounds. Despite these set backs, everything went well for Pride in their American debut. The high production values were a nice cherry on top, but they would be all for naught without a great night of fights to back them up. Thankfully Pride and its fighters delivered that in spades.
In the main event of the night was the highly anticipated rematch between American MMA staple Mark The Hammer Coleman and Fedor Emelianenko, the undisputed Pride Heavyweight Champion and in the opinion of many the single greatest fighter in the world. While most MMA purists thought Coleman didnt have a chance in hell, many fellow journalists that I spoke to had picked Coleman to win in an upset of titanic proportions. Thankfully for Pride, DSE, and all those longtime fans in attendance, Fedor showed just why he has been labeled as the best fighter in the world. From the opening bell, Coleman gave it his all and tried as hard as he could to take the fight to the mat. Fedor refused to go down, and seemingly barely even tried to defend the takedown. It was as if Fedor was in complete control the entire time. Fedor connected with a right straight that buckled the Americans legs early in round 1, yet strangely did not try to finish. There was another point in round 1 when, after yet another failed takedown attempt, Fedor connected with an effortless left uppercut that again buckled Colemans legs. This time Fedor followed with a barrage of hooks and uppercuts, landing several before Coleman once again shot in. It became apparent at this point that Colemans left eye was swollen and badly damaged. After a short break to check the severity of the injury, the fight was restarted and the former pattern resumed.
Round 2 began with Coleman connecting with a stiff right cross, which he used to disguise his next shot attempt. Fedor defended well, but shortly afterwards Coleman finally got the double leg takedown, landing in the champions guard. Coleman delivered a few strikes before Fedor seized his right arm, spinning for another picture perfect armbar. Fedor defeated Mark Coleman by submission (armbar) at 1:27 seconds of round 2. After the fight, Mark Colemans two daughters came into the ring to give their daddy a big hug. Fedor also walked over and showed his classiness by hugging Coleman and exchanging niceties. Fedor stated through a translator that he let the fight go a little longer than it should have, mostly because he hadnt fought for a while (due to his injury) and that he wanted to see everything Coleman had. On his way back to the dressing rooms, Fedor shook the hand of legendary martial artist Chuck Norris. After that display I was half expecting someone to make a joke along the lines of The only reason Fedor is Champ is because Chuck Norris doesnt fight in Pride. I honestly would like to know what went through Norris mind when he shook hands with the Russian Bear. Later that night, at the post fight press conference, Fedor revealed that he wanted to face none other than Josh Barnett as his next title defense.
In the nights strangest bout, Mauricio Shogun Rua returned to action against Hammer House wrestler Kevin Unbreakable Randleman. Randleman has been on fire for the past couple weeks, and he seemed just as amped walking to the ring as he did in his pre-fight interviews. Shogun on the other hand was coming off a freak injury loss against fellow Hammer House alum Mark Coleman. At the bell, Randleman came charging at Shogun, and immediately got a quick double to Ruas half guard. All the intense energy that Randleman carried with him seemed to just disappear once the fight hit the mat. Shogun quickly seized a leg, and spent almost the next three minutes attempting leg lock after leg lock. Randleman did hardly anything to defend, looking like hes never even seen a leg lock before. Between heel hook and toe hold attempts from Shogun, Randlemans face was a canvas of pain. Finally at around the 2:25 mark, Randleman attempted to kick out, exposing his leg for a deep kneebar from Rua. It didnt take long for Randleman to tap out, giving Shogun Rua the submission (kneebar) win at just 2:35 of round 1. I dont want to start any unnecessary heat, but something about this fight still doesnt sit well with me. Prior to the match, Pride Middleweight Champion Wanderlei The Axe Murderer Silva came to the ring for two reasons: 1) to call out UFC Light Heavyweight Champ Chuck The Iceman Liddell, and 2) to announce that he would be defending his Pride title in the USA on February 24th, 2007. Big news from a big man, but it would have been that much sweeter if Chuck had been in the house to respond to Silvas challenge.
In surprisingly the most competitive bout of the night, Josh Barnett had his hands full with judo champion Pawel Nastula, who looked to have been working hard on his overall MMA game. Natsula came out the gate throwing bombs, which he utilized to setup his superb Judo throws. Pawel managed to throw Barnett down several times, landing in side control almost every time. Unfortunately for Natsula, he didnt seem fully comfortable delivering strikes from this position, and with the rule banning knees to the head on the ground, some of his effectiveness was diminished. Barnett defended well in the first, and secured a leg for a kneebar right at the bell. The second round started with Natsula looking a little warier of the stand up exchanges. After breaking from a clinch, Barnett tagged the judo champ with several knees and punches. Natsula responded like a wounded animal, landing two left hooks that put Barnett in deep trouble. The Baby Faced Assassin clinched with his opponent, and despite Nastulas attempts to finish the fight with some dirty boxing Barnett managed to recover and land a knee of his own. From here, Natsula quickly deposited Barnett onto his back, landing in side control. Barnett managed to pull a nice sweep, but shortly thereafter was forced to defend against an armbar attempt from the judo medalist. Barnett utilized the escape to transition to a toe hold, which forced Natsula to tap out at 3:12 of round 2. After the fight, Barnett mentioned that he didnt train as hard as he could have for this one, mostly due to being a little banged up from his 6 fights this year.
Eric Butterbean Esch made a prediction before his fight with late replacement Sean OHaire. Guess what? the former Toughman competitor challenged, I aint never been knocked out. Somebodys getting knocked out tonight, and it aint gonna be me. Never has a more truthful statement been uttered from the big man. Despite a nice right high kick from OHaire, this one was all Butterbean. Shortly after the aforementioned high kick, OHaire attempted to clinch with Esch. This was a big mistake, and the big man planted two big right hooks on OHaires body before landing another right hook to the head that wobbled Sean badly. Another two chopping right hooks sent OHaire to la-la land, as his lifeless body crumpled to the canvas at just 0:29 of round 1. The scary part about this knockout was that Butterbean didnt even throw those punches with full power. Id really like to see a match up between Butterbean and Mark Hunt somewhere in the future, because if anyone on this planet can KO Hunt, its probably Eric Butterbean Esch.
In the nights only decision, Dangerous Dan Henderson moved up in weight to win a lopsided unanimous decision over the former Phenom, Vitor Belfort. Henderson came out from the bell looking for the knockout, throwing wild overhand rights that barely missed their mark. Vitor preferred to hang back looking for counters, but he did not have an answer for Hendersons infamous takedowns. For three rounds, Henderson came in swinging wildly before taking Belfort down and delivering hard strikes to his prone opponent. Vitor had a few nifty sweeps and a couple of submission attempts, but for the most part this one was all Henderson. After the fight, two judges awarded it 30-27 to Henderson, with Judge Collins awarding Henderson the fight on a score of 30-24. He later corrected his judgment to 30-26, with Judge Hamilton also changing his score from 30-27 to 30-26. Regardless of the scoring, Henderson was well deserving of the unanimous decision.
Phil Baroni surprised everyone in attendance by doing the smart thing and not standing and trading with former Cruiserweight boxer Yosuke The Japanese Cinderella Man Nishijima. Instead Baroni ducked a right hook and immediately took his opponent down, where he delivered punches while controlling effectively from side mount. Nishijima recovered to half guard briefly, but did not have enough experience to deal with the former body builders tremendous strength. Baroni passed again to side control, where he locked Nishijimas arms in a crucifix ala Matt Hughes. From here he struck and struck until securing Nishijimas left arm in a kimura. The Japanese Cinderella Man refused to give up, and it took Baroni some time before finally being able to step over the head and finish the submission. The referee finally stopped the fight at 3:20 of round 1, due to Baronis kimura armlock. When asked about the unexpected submission, Baroni jokingly stated, I saw it on TV a couple days ago and thought it looked cool. Baroni was in high spirits after the fight, and apologized to all his female fans in attendance, saying, I was on the Atkins diet, but I ate a lot of fucking carbs. He promised that he would be in much better shape next time.
Canadian Travis Galbraith gave Kazuhiro Nakamura a hard time before succumbing to strikes at 1:16 of round 2 in one of the nights most exciting bouts. The first round opened with both fighters trading heavy blows, Nakamura looking for the big overhand right. After some recovery time due to a low blow by the Canadian, Nakamura connected with a right high kick. In the ensuing exchange, Nakamura landed a big left hook flush on Galbraiths jaw, dropping him to the mat. Nakamura jumped on top, looking for the finish, but Galbraith managed to regain his facilities and secure an armbar. Nakamura defended before being swept to his back, but the judo prodigy swept the Canadian right back to his own half guard. After the fighters regained their footing, Nakamura connected with a piercing left jab. Nakamura planted his Canadian foe on the canvas with a nice hip toss at the bell. The second period began with more exchanges, but it was quickly becoming apparent that Galbraiths inadequate training time had left him with little gas in the tank. Nakamura began picking apart his tiring opponent, scoring with a right cross to the body-left hook to the head combination that would have made Bas Rutten proud. Galbraith clinched to recover, but Nakamura caught his opponents low hung head with a perfect left knee to the jaw. Galbraith fell to the canvas where Nakamura finished with punches from side control at 1:16 of round 2.
In the nights first and shortest fight, Robbie Lawler succeeded in topping Butterbeans record for fastest KO of the night. Lawler came out the gate looking fast and furious, connecting with a devastatingly fast left high kick that Joey Villasenor barely blocked. Maneuvering One Punch Joey to the corner, Lawler timed a flying left knee perfectly that caught Villasenor with his hands down on the shot. Joey went down hard and Lawler finished with strikes at 0:23 of round 1. Although its always fun to see a highlight reel knockout, this fight could have been an epic war for the ages. Its too bad that the fans were deprived of seeing that, but hopefully a rematch is organized in the future. Also, many forum-fans were complaining that the fight was stopped too soon. Two things: 1) Joey was still really wobbly when he got up from the knockout, and 2) Joey didnt contest the stoppage at all. That guy is pure class, unlike many of the forum-heads on the UG.