PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix 2005: Possibly the Best 16-Man Field Ever Assembled

Igor Vovchanchyn vs. Yuki Kondo

Apr 20, 2005
VOVCHANCHYN: Ukrainian kickboxer and sambo stylist Igor Vovchanchyn trains with Igor Kovalev, Gennadiy Matsigora, Yuri Gudymahas and the rest of Team Vovchanchyn and carries an amazing 49-8-1-1 record in MMA. “Ice Cold” is a five-time eight-man tournament winner and a true legend of the sport. Vovchanchyn was the PRIDE Grand Prix 2000 runner-up and makes his 25th appearance (17-6-0-1) in the PFC.

Although he has been fighting around the world for an entire decade and this will be his 60th MMA fight, he has never fought in the United States. Igor was scheduled to appear in the UFC 11 tournament but visa issues kept him from making the trip. From 1995-98 he fought in seven eight-man (or larger) tournaments and a four-man tournament, winning five titles. At one point, in a span of 32 days in 1996, Igor knocked out six men in two Russian tournaments.

In his first international tournament, the Kombat in Kiev IFC event, he faced three big men in the form of Paul Varelans, Fred Floyd and John Dixson and beat all of them. Vovchanchyn began fighting for PRIDE in 1998 and other than a handful of bouts over the years he has remained exclusively in Japan. Igor never fought for either the PFC middleweight or heavyweight title, but was always a force in PRIDE.

Vovchanchyn debuted in the PFC in October of ’98, running through fighters like Gary Goodridge, Akira Shoji, Daijiro Matsui and Enson Inoue. He defeated Goodridge again and punished Kazushi Sakuraba before catching knees in the head from Mark Coleman in the final of the PRIDE Grand Prix in 2000. After a stunning upset by Tra Telligman at PRIDE 13, we saw Igor was actually human. He beat kickboxer Gilbert Yvel but was submitted by Mario Sperry at PRIDE 17 and it appeared he was getting burnt out, dropping four of seven bouts, including losses to Heath Herring, Quinton Jackson and Mirko Filipovic. Now Igor has won four of five since returning to action including wins over UFC veteran Dan Bobish, Shimoji Fuji and former Open-Weight King of Pancrase Yoshiki Takahashi.

KONDO: Yuki Kondo is a 2nd Dan in Shorinji Kempo and with supplemental training in Western Boxing under the direction of Masakatsu Funaki, the founder of the Pancrase Organization and another former multi-time King of Pancrase. Yuki became the third light heavyweight King of Pancrase by knocking out PRIDE veteran Sanae Kikuta and he is the number-one ranked fighter for Josh Barnett’s Open Weight King of Pancrase title.

Kondo won the 1996 Neo Blood Tournament, became the 5th King of Pancrase in 1997 and the 8th King of Pancrase in 1999. With a 43-15-5 record in MMA, Kondo makes his 4th appearance (1-2) in the PFC.

Over the course of his eight-year MMA career, Kondo has battled many well known fighters including Frank Shamrock, Pete Williams, Guy Mezger (1-2 against), Semmy Schilt (3-1 against) Paulo Filho, Josh Barnett and Evangelista Santos. With more than 50 fights under the Pancrase banner, he fought top Japanese fighters as well taking on Ikuhisa Minowa, Yoshiki Takahashi, Kei Yamamiya, and even mentor Masakatsu Funaki (three times, beating him once). A three-time UFC veteran (1-2), Kondo faced Vladimir Matyushenko, Alexander Dantas and was the first to face Tito Ortiz for his middleweight title in Japan.

Yuki battled Brazilian Top Team leader Mario Sperry in his PFC debut at 2003 Shockwave show. Sperry absorbed punch after punch from Kondo and it opened a bloody cut near his eye. Kondo then capitalized on Sperry’s dazed state, landing more punishing knees to the head. The referee intervened and the fight would end by doctor stoppage due to Sperry’s wounds.

The win earned Kondo a shot at Wanderlei Silva at the 2004 Final Conflict show, but he was shut down quickly and knocked out in less than three minutes. Yuki faced Silva’s Chute Boxe teammate Evangelista Santos and took a decision win over the “Cyborg.” The win in Pancrase set up a return to the PFC where Kondo lost a split decision to Dan Henderson at Shockwave 2004.

MY PICK: Vovchanchyn. There should be fireworks early in this one as two of the most experienced fighters in the sport meet head to head in the opening round of the tournament. Kondo gets a lot of respect for taking on larger opponents in Schilt, Matyushenko, Ortiz and Barnett and truly embodies the “Japanese spirit” that all fighters strive to exemplify. But here we have Vovchanchyn, looking sharp again and riding a three-fight knockout streak. I feel it will be Vovchanchyn by KO in the first round.
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