In June of 2003, Fedor Emelianenko was on top of the world. Having won the Pride Fighting Championships heavyweight title months before in a brutal beating of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, he was coming to be thought of as the top big man in the sport, even if the full extent of his greatness would not become evident for several more years.
Anderson Silva, on the other hand, was not yet thought of as a pound-for-pound great, or even the best in his weight class. He was, however, one of the most dynamic strikers in the sport, a former Shooto 167-pound champ who had blasted Carlos Newton in his previous Pride appearance. While few might have predicted his ascent to dominance in the Ultimate Fighting Championship in a few short years, he was already very much a person of interest.
At Pride 26 on June 8, both future all-time greats had unexpectedly interesting evenings. Silva succumbed to a first-round triangle choke from Daiju Takase, who was 4-7-1 going into the fight and would retire 12-15-2 overall. Far from a “Hail Mary” submission, the fight had gone largely in favor of Takase, as Silva was unable to defend his takedowns. It ended up being one of the more glaring examples of a Pride squash match backfiring, and offered ammunition to Silva’s detractors for the rest of his career, since among such pound-for-pound peers as Emelianenko, Georges St. Pierre and Jon Jones, he alone had a loss to a sub-.500 fighter on his ledger.
“The Last Emperor” had a rough night at the office, as well, though nothing on the level of Silva’s loss. Matched up against Kazujuki Fujita in a non-title fight, Emelianenko was of course expected to win, but “Ironhead” represented a respectable challenge, as one of the all-time great exemplars of Japanese MMA’s ideal of the professional wrestler who was actually a really tough guy. While Fujita’s calling card was, and would remain, his unbelievable capacity to withstand punishment, at Pride 26 he dished some out. Early in the fight, Fujita caught Emelianenko with a huge right hook that rocked the champ as well as opening a nasty cut. Emelianenko, on roller skates, went for a takedown but it was Fujita who ended up on top. Emelianenko survived, recovered and turned the tables, dropping Fujita and finishing him with a rear-naked choke a little over four minutes into the fight, and the scare was over. While the fight went into the record books as another first-round finish for the Russian, it is arguably the greatest peril he experienced over the course of his nearly decade-long unbeaten streak.