On July 20, 2002, a 22-year-old Dutchman climbed into the ring under the Pride Fighting Championships banner for the first time. His name was Alistair Overeem.
The “Demolition Man” met the overmatched Yusuke Imamura at Pride “The Best Vol. 2” on a Saturday at the Differ Ariake in Tokyo, approaching the eight-sided ring in a white hard hat, with a giant sledgehammer resting on his shoulder. Overeem was years away from becoming one of the most feared fighters in MMA, but his considerable physical ability and flare for the dramatic were on full display. Much leaner then, he still dwarfed the 5-foot-9 Imamura, who had fought Antonio Rogerio Nogueira three months earlier.
The difference in skill on the feet was glaring and immediately apparent, as Imamura dove for a single-leg and secured an early takedown. Overeem was back to an upright position in seconds. Soon after, knees to the body, punches to the head and even a glancing soccer kick had Imamura on his heels. His situation only worsened. A perfectly timed knee to the face cut and crumpled the Japanese fighter, and Overeem delivered one last punch on his downed foe before the referee could intervene. With blood streaming from a gash near his left eye, Imamura staggered back to his corner as the Dutchman and his entourage celebrated.
The show was the second of three in “The Best” series, which Pride launched in 2002 to spotlight up-and-coming fighters. It was the forerunner for the popular “Bushido” events that helped catapult lighter weight fighters like Takanori Gomi to global superstardom.
Pride “The Best Vol. 2” also featured John Alessio’s lone outing in the Japanese promotion -- he stopped Eiji Mitsuoka on a second-round cut -- and the final amateur appearance for Yushin Okami, then 20, who would become one of the world’s premier middleweights. And it all unfolded on this day nine years ago.