PRIDE Open-Weight GP Field Halved to Seven

PRIDE Open-Weight GP Field Trimmed in Half

By Jason Nowe May 5, 2006
OSAKA, Japan, May 5 — Life is full of firsts. The very first weight restriction-less Grand Prix, of course, happened in 2000, when “The Hammer” Mark Coleman (Pictures) defeated Igor Vovchanchyn (Pictures) to become the very first Grand Prix champion.

On Friday, PRIDE played off the same theme and began its second “open-weight” tournament, which included many of the promotion’s heavyweight stars from the past and present.

Of the 14 fighters with a chance to advance, Fabricio Werdum (Pictures), Mark Hunt (Pictures), Josh Barnett (Pictures), Kazuyuki Fujita (Pictures), Mirko Filipovic (Pictures), Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Pictures) and Hidehiko Yoshida (Pictures) moved on. PRIDE heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures) will complete the field when the tournament resumes in July if his hand heals properly.

The main event pitted judo icon Hidehiko Yoshida (Pictures) against former WBA cruiserweight champion Yosuke Nishijima (Pictures).

Nishijima, who showed a lot of heart and a tough chin in his bout against Mark Hunt (Pictures) at PRIDE 31, requested to use boxing gloves for this match. Perhaps fortunately for the Japanese boxer, DSE refused this request. Yoshida, fresh off his victory over Naoya Ogawa (Pictures) on New Year’s Eve, elected to wear his customary judo gi.

After trading punches for a short time, Yoshida faked a low kick and came rushing in, dragging Nishijima down to the mat at the ropes. From here, the 1992 judo Olympic gold medalist tried for the same gi-choke with which he tapped Kiyoshi Tamura (Pictures) at the 2003 Middleweight GP.

As Nishijima fought off the choke, Yoshida crawled past his legs and up to the mount. Going from a bad spot to worse, the tough boxer rolled Yoshida to his back, only to fall into a tight triangle.

Nishijima stood in an attempt to escape the technique, but eventually lost his balance and fell backward with the triangle fully on. The ref could see that the boxer was fading fast and stepped in to stop the bout 2:33 after the opening bell.

The result of this match shouldn’t come as much of a shock to anyone. While Nishijima proved that he can stand with heavy-hitters in the Hunt bout, he really needs to develop his ground game. The best option for him would be to spend some time in PRIDE’s farm league, DEEP, hone his grappling skills and then return to the big stage.

Another result that probably didn’t come as a shock to anyone was that of the Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Pictures)-Zuluzinho bout, as the former PRIDE champion easily won at 2:17 of round one.

What can you really say about this one? The big yet mildly skilled Zuluzinho stepped in with probably one of the top fighters in the world. He came out striking, but shortly thereafter nearly fell on top of Nogueira.

The Brazilian Top Team fighter was able to scurry to the side and escape before all of Zulu’s mass came down on him, nearly getting a submission on his opponent.

From here, Nogueira transitioned to the side, then to the mount. With Nogueira raining down punches, Zulu did perhaps the worst possible thing. Pushing up with his arm, Zuluzinho exposed it to Nogueira, who of course seized this opportunity by taking the arm, throwing his leg over Zulu’s head and falling back for the armbar.

At the press conference PRIDE held last month to announce Mirko Filipovic (Pictures)’s fight versus Ikuhisa Minowa (Pictures), DSE officials recalled when the Japanese fighter, after PRIDE President Nobuhiko Takada (Pictures) put out the Cro Cop fight challenge to the wrestling community three years ago, called the DSE office everyday and said he wanted to fight the Croatian. The staff was both impressed and somewhat baffled by the “Real Pro Wrestler’s” unwavering determination.

This fight was perhaps the only true open-weight bout in this tournament. While you have to admire Minowa’s heart, you can’t doubt that he was severely outclassed by Mirko in terms of strength and power.

After trading a few punches, Minowa went in for a shot. Cro Cop sprawled and got to half, but soon both fighters were up. Then in classic Minowa bizarreness, the “Real Pro Wrestler” went for a cartwheel kick.

Once Minowa got up, Filipovic got him in a Thai clinch in the corner and landed a hard uppercut follow by a body shot that badly rocked Minowa. To avoid more punishment, the Japanese fight went for another shot. Cro Cop sprawled and got Minowa to the ground at the ropes, connecting with vicious punches from the top until the ref called for the stoppage. The whole affair lasted less than two minutes.

The fight between Kazuyuki Fujita (Pictures) and James Thompson (Pictures) turned out to be a real slobber knocker, with the tide changing abruptly just before reaching its conclusion.

One thing was definitely shown again during this fight: Fujita has an iron jaw and a heart to match. Thompson was basically dominating the first 90 percent of this fight. While the Japanese wrestler was constantly going for takedowns, Thompson showed a good sprawl to avoid being put on his back.

It was in the corners and at the ropes where Thompson did his worst damage, connecting with knees, punches and even decent low kicks. Fujita ate a lot of shots and looked rocked several times, but just as it appeared Thompson was in the driver’s seat, Fujita turned the tide.

The Japanese fighter put Thompson along the ropes and landed a perfect one-two combination to the Brit’s chin, followed by good old “dirty boxing” technique (cupping one hand behind an opponent’s neck) to score heavily with uppercuts. Staggered, Thompson went into a toe-to-toe slugfest with Fujita.

Almost pulled directly from the ending sequence of Rocky 2, neither fighter stood down and both threw until they could barely lift their arms. It was Fujita who hit pay dirt, catching Thompson with a big right hand to drop the Englishman and finish the bout 8:25 of round one.
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