Chaotic Time for PRIDE Culminates in Night of Upsets

Upset train continues

By Josh Gross and Dave Mandel Feb 25, 2007
When it was announced that PRIDE lightweight champion Takanori Gomi (Pictures) would fight Nick Diaz (Pictures) at 160 pounds, many wondered why this bout was made.

For Gomi it was yet another non-title affair against a good, quality submission fighter with a serious mean streak. Nick Diaz (Pictures) represented as dangerous an opponent as Gomi — whose strong chin and heavy, fast hands had morphed him into a bit of a banger these days — could find.

The result? Possibly the most entertaining fight in PRIDE history, one that forced both men to the hospital afterwards.

They went after one another from the start. Gomi put Diaz on the floor and walloped him with big right hands, but having been under the likes of Diego Sanchez (Pictures) and Karo Parisyan (Pictures), the deeply experienced 23-year-old from Stockton, Calif. remained calm.

Diaz said after Friday's weigh-in that Gomi was simply too small for him, and he was right.

The pace became furious after they stood and Gomi landed a shot that put Diaz back on the floor. The traditional 170-pound fighter recovered well and bounced his fists off Gomi's stationary, unprotected face. Jab, straight, left hook. Jab, straight. Right hand lead. Everything Diaz threw connected.

It was impossible for Gomi to weather the attack, but he did, if for no other reason than a staunch refusal to go down. But he paid a serious price, and a NSAC-appointed ringside physician examined Gomi closely between the first and second periods.

They went back at it to start the second, and Diaz suffered a nasty gash underneath his right eye. The 28-year-old Gomi seemed invigorated, but that changed rapidly when Diaz started to bounce more strikes off his face.

Gomi, hurt, moved in for a double-leg. It left him exposed to Diaz' lethal ground game and before his back had touched the canvas, the limber American slung his left leg over Gomi's right arm, locking it underneath the former Shooto and current PRIDE champion's neck.

Diaz (15-6-0) brought his other leg up to lock the gogoplata — an almost theoretical submission that has now finished fights on consecutive PRIDE cards — and force a tap at the 1:46 mark.

Despite the main event featuring big names and champions, this was the bout that had most people buzzing heading into tonight. And it more than lived up to expectations.

The Japanese fighter finds himself in the same situation he was in April of 2006. Brazilian Marcus Aurelio choked Gomi (27-4-0) unconscious in a non-title affair, calling into question the validity of his title. In November, Gomi quieted doubters some by winning a tight decision.

Questions now linger about the impact of this win for Diaz. PRIDE's Nobuyuki Sakakibara suggested that Gomi and Diaz would square off again for the belt. But what would that do to Diaz' promotional contract with EliteXC, with which he recently signed?

All questions for another day. For now, let's remember the six minutes 46 seconds Nick Diaz (Pictures) and Takanori Gomi (Pictures) shared in the ring.

Shogun victorious again

Alistair Overeem (Pictures) tried to make it tough on 2005 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix champion Mauricio Rua (Pictures), but just as he'd done on the road to winning that belt, "Shogun" finished the Dutchman early in the first round.

Unable to control the fight right from the opening bell, Rua (16-2-0) waited until Overeem (24-10-0) was on his back to launch himself at the grounded 205-pounder. A winging right hand connected to Overeem's chin, and a follow up left as Rua, 25, passed his challenger's legs, sealed the deal at 3:37 of the first.

Kharitonov sloppy but wins

His appearance on the card was in doubt due to status as an active soldier in the Russian military. His opponent was in question as recently as a week ago. And there were several moments during his fight tonight versus Michael Russow (Pictures) in which a Sergei Kharitonov (Pictures) victory appeared questionable.

But in the end, the 26-year-old Russian heavyweight earned his fourth armbar victory at 3:46 of the first round — though not without some controversy.

In just Russow's fifth professional fight — his most recent coming in January in the "Bourbon Street Brawl," which one would think was set in New Orleans when in fact it was in Illinois — the former wrestling teammate of Matt Hughes (Pictures) at Eastern Illinois University scored with his share of straight right hands.

The late replacement for Gilbert Yvel (Pictures), who was denied a license to fight by the NSAC last week, took down and mounted Kharitonov. The Russian stood but was greeted rudely again by Russow (3-1-0, 1 NC), who slammed him to the canvas.

From the bottom, Kharitonov went for an armbar and appeared to lock it on. Russow defended until the Russian, now 14-3-0, hooked onto his glove and yanked the arm into a more precarious position, at which time he tapped.

Russow protested in the ring after referee Mario Yamasaki separated the fighters, but declined to voice his displeasure at the post-fight press conference.

"We're not complaining about the tap," said Dennis Hughes, who trains Russow along with Terry Martin (Pictures) in Chicago. "Honorable. Nothing wrong with it. Sergei was fighting. I saw the fingers deep in there. I talked to Mario. Mario said that we should file a grievance. He was sorry how it turned out."

Size helps Sakurai

Mac Danzig (Pictures) may have gotten his shot against an idol Saturday night, but it sure didn't seem like a fair one.

Having learned just two days before his bout against Japanese star Hayato Sakurai (Pictures) (30-7-2) that they would fight at 163 pounds instead of PRIDE's standard of 160 for lightweight contests, Danzig, a legitimate 155-pounder did all he could against "Mach."

However, the former King of the Cage lightweight champion simply had no response of Sakurai's speed and strength, and at 4:01 of the second round an overhand right ended his night.

Sakurai, 31, walked through Danzig's punches, and though he played a bit on the floor with the eager American, the former Shooto champion really had no reason to keep it there.

"Mach" moved extremely well despite appearing as if he was twice his foe's size. Hard low kicks seemed to bother Danzig (16-4-1), who should be given another opportunity against someone his size.

Sokoudjou shocker

The heaviest underdog on the card made the night's biggest splash when Rameau Theirry Sokoudjou plastered 205-pound contender Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (Pictures) with a clubbing left hook that put the Brazilian star out just 23 seconds into the fight.

A training partner for Dan Henderson (Pictures) in Temecula, Calif., Sokoudjou seemed wholly incapable of competing against a fighter the caliber of Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (Pictures). But that is one of the truly unique things about MMA: anyone has a shot to win.

Having lost a great fight with Mauricio Rua (Pictures), submitted Henderson and stopped Alistair Overeem (Pictures), it was thought the 30-year-old Brazilian, whose record dropped to 12-3-0, was next in line to challenge for the PRIDE middleweight belt.

In a night of upsets, this was the most shocking.

Better late than never for Lee

Late replacement James Lee stunned Travis Wiuff (Pictures) in just 39 seconds to secure an improbably win. Having stepped in for Kazuhiro Nakamura (Pictures) on three days' notice, Lee, a former Gladiator Challenge and King of the Cage champion, put a left hook on Wiuff's chin that dropped the veteran before he had a chance to warm up.

Lee (9-3-1, 1 NC) followed the veteran to the canvas and it wasn't long before he went to guard an attempt to finish by guillotine submission. Though Wiuff (42-10-0) had an arm inside the choke, the part-time heavyweight, part-time light heavyweight was unable to free himself.

Trigg scores evening's first upset

Less than a year ago, following a disappointing submission loss to Carlos Condit (Pictures) in Hawaii, Frank Trigg (Pictures) believed his mixed martial arts career was over.

Now, after one stunning win over Jason Miller and a surprisingly easy victory tonight over 2006 PRIDE Welterweight Grand Prix champion Kazuo Misaki (Pictures), it seems the powerful wrestler has experienced a renaissance of sorts.

From the opening bell it was clear that Trigg (15-5-0), shorter but much thicker than Misaki (18-8-2), had one decided advantage: he could put the fight on the floor when he wished.

Had the 30-year-old Misaki — who in 2006 split a pair of bouts with Dan Henderson (Pictures), was submitted by Paulo Filho (Pictures), and defeated Phil Baroni (Pictures) and Denis Kang (Pictures) — maintained or recovered position, being on the floor might not have been such a terrible thing. But the "Grabaka Hitman" had no answer for the American's strength on the mat.

Trigg, 35, controlled much of the round first as he clung to Misaki's back, though no submission materialized. The Japanese 183-pounder scored with three right-hand leads during the middle round, but that was the bulk of Misaki's offense during the 15-minute affair. A controlling third round secured the unanimous decision for Trigg (30-27 three times).

Hansen enjoys return

PRIDE offered Joachim Hansen (Pictures) a chance to redeem himself after a stunning submission loss against Shinya Aoki (Pictures) on New Year's Eve when it matched the Norwegian lightweight with Jason Ireland (Pictures), a durable if unspectacular fighter from Detroit, Mich.

"Hellboy" Hansen waded through Ireland's early attacks, which mainly consisted of kicks to the inside and outside of his lead right leg, before asserting himself.

It was in the clinch where Hansen turned the fight in his favor, scoring with knees when he wasn't yanking Ireland to the floor. Had the American not been so tough this fight surely would have ended before it made it's way into the third and final round.

Hansen (15-5-1) hurt Ireland early in the second with a wild uppercut. The 27-year-old from Oslo poured it on, and nearly secured an armbar to close out the round. However, Ireland held on and absorbed numerous hammerfists to his face, making the already noticeable swelling surrounding his left eye worse.

After two quality rounds, Hansen showed little respect for Ireland (16-7-1), and the end came as Hansen worked on a triangle choke from the bottom. The former Shooto 154-pound champion delivered several punches before transitioning to an armbar.

He worked on Ireland's left arm, yanking hard while the endangered fighter told the referee he was fine. A shrill scream just moments later suggested a different story, and referee Steve Mazzagatti moved into the save Ireland at the 2:33 mark.
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