PRIDE Open-Weight Grand Prix Champion Crowned

Grand Prix Champion Crowned

By Jason Nowe Sep 10, 2006
TOKYO, Sept. 10 — Four months of hype and anticipation finally came to a head Sunday as Dream Stage Entertainment put on the finals to the first ever PRIDE Open-Weight Grand Prix tournament inside a packed Saitama Super Arena.

The tournament started with a field of 16 fighters back in May and was narrowed down to four finalists — Mirko Filipovic (Pictures), Wanderlei Silva (Pictures), Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Pictures) and Josh Barnett (Pictures) — for today’s semifinal and final round.

The finals saw “Cro Cop” and Barnett face off for the tournament crown.

Filipovic got the upper hand first, scoring his patented high kick on Barnett that dropped the American catch wrestler down to one knee. From here the Croatian opened up with a strong flurry of punches in the corner. Just as things were starting to look bad for Barnett, the 27-year-old roared back with a knee that just missed Filipovic’s head.

Shortly after a doctor’s check of a cut to the side of the Croat’s right eye, Barnett went down for a second time as a result of well-placed uppercuts. Filipovic followed up this advantage by pounding the American from within the guard.

As Barnett shrimped to the side for an armbar from the bottom, “Cro Cop” connected with several strikes, finishing off with a crushing left hand that slammed into the American’s right eye. This definitive punch was the final one of the fight and it forced Barnett to tap at 5:32 of the first to avoid further punishment.

Barnett said that he took an unintentional thumb to the eye as Filipovic posted out to defend against the armbar attempt, impairing his vision and making it impossible to defend against the strikes the Croatian rained down.

Backstage, Filipovic, who celebrated his 32nd birthday tonight, had nothing but praise for the American fighter, even extending an open invitation for Barnett to train with him and his team. “Cro Cop” further stated that it wouldn’t have mattered who he fought in the finals — tonight was his night.

Prior to meeting Barnett in the finals, Filipovic faced Chute Boxe fighter and PRIDE middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva (Pictures) in a highly anticipated match-up. This was a rematch of an April 2002 encounter, which took place under modified rules that favored action on the feet.

“Cro Cop” really displayed his technical stand-up abilities in this bout, throwing straight, well-timed punches to counter Silva’s furious barrages of wild haymakers.

After knocking the Brazilian down with a straight left and connecting with punches in the guard, the fight had to be paused for the ring doctors to check Silva’s badly swollen right eye.

Upon getting back to his feet after a restart from the guard, Silva once again came out swinging with wild haymakers at Filipovic, whom just a day before Silva said he hated.

“Cro Cop” avoided the bombs and connected with an absolutely textbook left leg high kick to Silva’s head, dropping the middleweight champion for good at the 5:26 mark.

This kick will forever live on the Croatian’s explosive highlight reel. With Silva’s right eye almost completely swollen shut, the Brazilian champion couldn’t have seen this kick coming until it was too late. This is the first time Silva has been knocked out since facing Vitor Belfort (Pictures) in the UFC in 1998. “Cro Cop” made the once seemingly invincible Brazilian look human, dominating him with pinpoint striking and pushing the fight on the ground.

A real grappling war played out between Barnett and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Pictures) during there semifinal bout, and the judgment of this close fight will no doubt be a point of controversy for some time to come.

In the opening 10-minute period Barnett locked on a good guillotine attempt, only to have the Brazilian Top Team fighter escape and later taking side-control before moving to the mount. From here Nogueira put on an excellent armbar attempt. The American grabbed his arm to prevent Nogueira from getting full extension and then managed to struggle back up to his knees to escape.

The second round once again saw Nogueira take mount, only to have Barnett performed a textbook bridge to reverse into the guard. Later in the round Nogueira got around to the American’s back, but was unable to get his hooks in to maintain position.

In the bout’s final 30 seconds Barnett applied a strong kneebar attempt, but Nogueira, a former PRIDE heavyweight champion, defended against the technique to the final bell.

This was very close and could have gone either way, but in the end the judges gave the win to Barnett by split decision.

The leather was flying in the Open-Weight Grand Prix reserve bout when Aleksander Emelianenko (Pictures) faced off against former teammate Sergei Kharitonov (Pictures).

Emelianenko was bumped out of the tournament in the first round by Josh Barnett (Pictures), and this was Kharitonov’s first time back to the ring since separating his shoulder in his bout against Alistair Overeem (Pictures) last February.

Aleksander, the man I dubbed “The Russian Roy Jones Jr.”, displayed his sharp, crisp boxing in this bout, picking away at Kharitonov with lightning-fast jabs while slipping punches and expertly floating around the ring. Kharitonov, however, was the first to land a power punch, as he knocked Emelianenko to the canvas and scored the mount. However, the brother of the current PRIDE heavyweight champion tied up his opponent’s hands on the bottom and escaped before Kharitonov could inflict any damage.

Back on their feet, Emelianenko continued to put on a boxing clinic and connected with two hard, unanswered right hands that rocked his opponent. The Red Devil fighter sprawled as Kharitonov shot in for a takedown and scurried to his turtled opponent’s back. From here Emelianenko fired punches from behind and finished off with knees from the side until the referee stopped the fight at the 6:45 mark.
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