Pride 3 took place on June 24, 1998, in Tokyo’s storied Budokan arena, and in just a six-fight lineup, managed to complete a perfect early Pride Fighting Championships hat trick: one ridiculous sideshow, one bout that was probably fixed and one sensational fight featuring some of the best talent anywhere in the world. (It also featured the single most essential element of a 90s Pride card, Akira Shoji, but since “Mr. Pride” appeared in each of the promotion’s first seven events, he’s more or less the free space on the bingo card.)
The sideshow was ably supplied by Daiju Takase and the late Emmanuel Yarbrough, who represented what is likely the greatest weight differential of any bout in MMA history. Takase was listed at 209 pounds and while that is possible, we are talking about a not particularly large middleweight who is chiefly memorable as the first man to finish Anderson Silva. Yarbrough was listed at 600 pounds and if anything, that might have been rounding down, as he had weighed in heavier than that for sumo tournaments. Obese to the point of near immobility, Yarbrough was extraordinarily ill-suited to no-holds-barred fighting and, unlike other futile crossovers such as Chad "Akebono" Rowan, had not even been that great a sumo wrestler. The fight was dull verging on depressing, as Takase ended up on top after a blown takedown attempt, and Yarbrough, unable to get back up or defend himself, tapped to the onslaught.
The “probably fixed” portion of the evening’s entertainment came courtesy of Nobuhiko Takada and Kyle Sturgeon. Professional wrestling star Takada was one of Pride’s most important figures from the beginning—the promotion was literally built around his fight with Rickson Gracie at Pride 1—but he simply never became a great fighter. Thus, Takada’s MMA record, which is not good to begin with, is actually composed of losses in real fights (in which, to his credit, Takada always went out and took his lumps with… well, pride) and victories that are all but admitted works. At Pride 3, fresh off his first loss to Gracie, Takada took on reputed kickboxer and MMA neophyte Sturgeon. The result is not easy to watch for a fan of the modern sport, in particular, Sturgeon dropping Takada with a glancing head kick, only to retreat halfway across the ring and watch Takada recover. The obvious explanations are that Sturgeon had not actually intended to knock Takada down, or that Takada was selling a strike that had not really hurt him, and neither is particularly flattering.
However, both of those fights were made up for, and then some, by the bout between Kazushi Sakuraba and Carlos Newton. The future Pride legend tapped out the future UFC welterweight champ in a fight that is often held up as MMA’s first truly great grappler’s delight, and in many ways it lives up to its billing. While 1990s MMA featured plenty of quick and sensational submissions, most were inflicted by Brazilian jiu-jitsu experts on hapless and underprepared victims. Sakuraba-Newton was one of the first fights to feature such savvy grapplers on both sides, and unlike some of the bouts happening in Pancrase, which displayed a culture that devalued positional grappling in favor of constant action and the threat of submissions—not to mention the infamous boots—Sakuraba and Newton were obviously focused on beating each other rather than entertaining the crowd. That the resulting 15 minutes of freewheeling ground work just happened to entertain the crowd as well was an encouraging sign for a still-new sport.