PRIDE Middleweight GP: My thoughts

My Thoughts

By Stephen Martinez Apr 25, 2005
TOKYO, April 25 — Right after departing Shin Osaka train station, during the three hours I had to spend inside the train back to Tokyo, I began thinking about my PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix experience. From the weigh-in on Friday to covering the show on Saturday and traveling back on Sunday, most people would probably think I spent the most amazing weekend of my life witnessing the most anticipated tournament and event of this year. And while this is probably true, still I left Osaka unsatisfied.

Jump back in time to one week before the event when I found myself thinking what an amazing event Dream Stage Entertainment assembled this year to crown the best 205-pound fighter in their rankings. Now I don’t know what others thought about the Grand Prix opening show or its matchmaking, but from what I gather, inside and outside Japan the fans have a strong mix of feelings regarding the event. While all the matches looked good on paper and there was a chance to witness one of the best cards this year, somehow this show did not deliver what hardcore fans expected.

Let’s start with the first match between Kevin Randleman and Kazuhiro Nakamura. I, like probably many other fans out there, think Nakamura is one of the best young fighters from Japan in the 205-pound division. He was my original pick to win this match but like we mentioned in the weigh-in report Randleman looked huge and ripped, with very good condition to take this fight. So I began to worry about Naka and somehow thought Randleman was going to overpower him. But I was wrong.

Nakamura managed to hang with Randleman for three rounds and while I agree the fight was one of the sleeper matches of the night, Naka should be given credit for surviving “The Monster” and advancing to the second round.

Ricardo Arona and Dean Lister brought all the drama from their upcoming ADCC super-fight into the night’s second bout. Interesting was the fact that these two used to train together in Brazil and actually were friends in real life. Now I told my buddy Masa before the event that this match could be the best fight of the night or more likely the worst because of their styles.

Arona and Lister are not recognized as top strikers in MMA, but rather dangerous grapplers who can tap any fighter on any given day. These two stayed true to their roots and placed quite a show with a grappling-fest for three rounds. While Lister came up short on the scorecards he give Arona everything he could handle and more.

Yuki Kondo and Igor Vovchanchyn got me thinking, OK we have two decisions so far but I’m very sure a KO is coming here. Well it turns out Kondo and Igor decided to use their grappling skills instead of their famous striking powers. For three rounds we were witness to the smaller Kondo hanging around while Igor punished him with knees, ground-and-pound and submissions.

I wonder where all those fans went who said Igor was going to send Kondo’s head over the Osaka Dome centerfield wall (this dome is originally a baseball field). On the other side I was like everyone else expecting an old-school backyard brawl between these two, but this didn’t happen. Instead I got to see that the “new Igor” is also capable of good grappling skills while Kondo should get more respect as a fighter outside Japan for hanging with Igor and not falling victim of the now famous “Ice Cold KO.”

Alistair Overeem came to the match against UFC representative Vitor Belfort looking for revenge. I believe everyone remembers Overeem losing in the first round of the previous middleweight tournament to Chuck Liddell and this was his opportunity to show why he was here and once again a gatekeeper for PRIDE.

Meanwhile, Belfort was coming back to PRIDE after an average run in the UFC light heavyweight division. Now to everyone’s surprise Alistair tapped Belfort with a guillotine choke after rocking his world after a knee directly to the chin.

I don’t see why there is this buzz about Alistair choking out Belfort considering the Dutch fighter won the ADCC European heavyweight championship with this very same move. I guess this is because Belfort is the jiu-jitsu black belt here, but didn’t Matt Lindland show us the very same move against another jiu-jitsu black belt a week before in UFC 52?

Another match that basically fooled everyone was the fight between Rogerio Nogueira and Dan Henderson. I expected these two to go back-and-forth in a three-round war. But instead Nogueira accomplished what no other fighter besides his own brother, Rodrigo, could do: submit Henderson via armbar.

Now I don’t have anything left to say about Kazushi Sakuraba taking out Yoon Dong Sik in only 38 seconds except that you could be the most accomplished player in grappling-oriented arts — jiu-jitsu, wrestling or in this case judo — but when someone hits you in the face more than likely your game and world-class tournament experience mean nothing at that moment.

Quinton “Rampage” Jackson has been one of the main topics of discussion the last couple of months due to his religion. While many fans wonder mostly without reason why there is an “old” and “new” Rampage, I don’t see it having anything to do with why he got “destroyed” by Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.

We don’t know for sure what condition Rampage was coming into this event or what kind of special training Team Oyama develop to fight back the ruthless Chute Boxe style. All I know is Rampage looked like the same old personality at the weigh-in and pre-tournament press conference, along with looking in excellent shape.

Now forward to the fight, nobody trains to avoid getting his ribs broken. MMA fighters usually come with strategy and training to avoid takedowns, submissions or being hit, but no one could predict a knee that would break your ribs and give you the pain of your life while trying to avoid more punishment.

Let’s not take anything away from Shogun. Freak accident or not, everyone needs to keep in mind Shogun was the one who landed the knee that broke Rampage’s rib. And while I wonder how the fight would turn out if Rampage was healthy I still need to accept the fact that Chute Boxe has Rampage’s number in PRIDE.

I don’t really want to give my thoughts about Rampage’s corner after he turned around to yell his rib was broken. But I will. It’s just wrong for Rampage to be in the middle of the ring while his own teammates ignoring his reactions to pain and tell him to keep fighting as Shogun Rua used him like a Chute Boxe gym punching bag.
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