Preview: PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix Critical Countdown

Sergei Kharitonov vs. Pedro Rizzo

Jun 21, 2005
KHARITONOV: Russian Sambo Champion Sergei Kharitonov is 13-2 in MMA and makes his sixth appearance in the PFC (4-1). He trains with Volk Han, Mikhail Illoukhine, Bazigit Atajev and the rest of the Russian Top Team and had been training with Fedor and Aleksander Emelianenko prior to their leaving for the Red Devil Fight Club.

Like most Russian fighters, Kharitonov has military training that provided him with the foundation to take it to the next level and compete in MMA. Sergei suffered a loss early in his career in 1998 at the Scandinavian NHB Championships where he was stopped with strikes. He competed two years later in the Yalta’s Brilliant 2000 tournament in the Ukraine and won three bouts. He returned to dominate his opponents in the Tournament of Real Men 8. Sergei’s combined fight time for both bouts was under two minutes.

Kharitonov debuted in Japan at PRIDE Bushido 1 against Jason Nobunaga. The Russian made quick work of Nobunaga, submitting him via armbar in less than three minutes. At PRIDE 27 he battled Cory Peterson. The “LA Giant” got in a few punches for his effort but was manhandled and submitted via armbar less than two minutes into the first round.

His first big test was against Murilo Rua in the opening round of the heavyweight tournament. “Ninja” looked heavy and out of shape but this was possibly the best bout of the opening round. There was no feeling out period here as Rua came out kicking and Kharitonov showed his heavy hands, tagging the Brazilian fighter repeatedly. Late in the round the Russian took over, beating the Brazilian fighter to the punch and picking apart his defense. Kharitonov caught Rua with a right hook to the head and finished him with a left uppercut.

Sergei pounded away at Dutchman Semmy Schilt and showed good control on the ground. He stopped Semmy with strikes late in the first round. Last August, Kharitonov fought Rodrigo Nogueira in the semifinals of the heavyweight tournament. Kharitonov continued to show his skills against the former champion and surprised many with his composure in such an important bout. The fight went the distance but Sergei fully established himself as a legitimate threat for the title in the heavyweight division.

Then last February, after competing in some smaller events in Russia, Kharitonov knocked out Korean Greco-Roman Wrestler Choi Mu Bae early in the first round at PRIDE 29.

RIZZO: Brazilian Vale Tudo fighter and Luta Livre practitioner Pedro Rizzo is a four-time Brazilian Muay Thai Champion with a record of 31-0-1 (30 KO) in kickboxing. He is the World Vale Tudo Championships 2 tournament champion, the WVC 3 superfight champion, a Battle of Styles veteran and a former UFC heavyweight title contender.

Rizzo, having been away from fighting since late ‘03, trains with Antoine Jaoude, Eric Tavares, Marco Ruas and the rest of the Marco Ruas Vale Tudo Team. Pedro has also been working with K-1 tournament champion Peter Aerts and preparing him for his MMA debut in the K-1 Heroes show in early July. Rizzo carries a record of 14-5 in MMA and makes his PFC debut in this event.

Pedro came to Marco Ruas when he was just a young boy. Marco trained him in Muay Thai, molded him into a champion and sent him to Holland where some of the best kickboxers in the world train. He began his MMA career in the Battle of Styles event and then moved on to Brazil’s own World Vale Tudo Championships where he won the WVC 2 tournament (defeating Vernon White in the final) and the WVC 3 Superfight.

He debuted in the UFC in 1998 in Ultimate Brazil, knocking out brawler Tank Abbott. Rizzo went on to win five of his next six fights. He knocked out Tre Telligman and Josh Barnett, stopped Tsuyoshi Kohsaka and Dan Severn, and went the distance with Mark Coleman and Kevin Randleman (losing only to Randleman).

Rizzo suffered back-to-back losses to Randy Couture in UFC heavyweight title bouts and it looked like “The Rock” was starting to crumble. The first meeting was a battle for the ages as the tide turned back and forth with Rizzo losing a five-round decision. The rematch had a more decisive finish, as Randy stopped Pedro early in the third round to preserve his title.

Rizzo stormed back, knocking out current interim UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski in the third round of a stand-up war. And as quickly as he had reclaimed glory, he lost it again. Gan McGee broke Rizzo’s nose with a hard shot and sent the Brazilian reeling in the standings. To make matters worse, Pedro lost a three-round decision to Russian Vladimir Matyushenko. It was a lackluster performance and some felt, having lost four of five bouts, the fire was gone from Rizzo’s belly.

In his final two appearances of 2003, Pedro stopped Telligman for a second time and won an uninspired decision over former UFC heavyweight champion Ricco Rodriguez at the UFC 45 10th Anniversary show.

MY PICK: Again, this one is very tough to call. Rizzo will have a size and reach disadvantage on the feet, as Kharitonov is 6-foot-5. However, size didn’t help Arlovski (also 6’5”) get out of the way of those punches did it? It will depend on which Pedro shows up. If we see the inspired fighter who KO’d Arlovski and Telligman (at UFC 20) and went to war with Couture in their first meeting, he could change Sergei’s diet to soup for the next six months. Or if the man who fought Ricco, Vladdy and Gan shows up, Pedro will be stopping by the offices of K-1 on the way home from the rehab unit. Rizzo has to take a page from Phil Baroni (man, I never thought I’d say that) and revamp his career in the ring of Japan. I’ve always liked Pedro and I’d like to see him do well but I think the Russian will dictate this one. Kharitonov’s ground game is very good and likely underestimated in preparation for this fight. I feel it will be Kharitonov by TKO in the second round.
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