PRIDE: Critical Countdown Recap

Jun 21, 2004
Continuing the PRIDE open weight tournament, the eight successful fighters from the opening round competed in single-elimination matches to determine who will move to the next round. In addition to the tournament matches, there were three super fights: Japanese superstar and former pro-wrestler Kazushi Sakuraba started his chain of retirement matches by attempting to avenge his controversial loss to "Elvis" Nino Schembri; judo gold medallist Hidehiko Yoshida gets an "easy" match against former K-1 GP Champ Mark Hunt; in the most anticipated super fight, the middleweight number-one-contender status was also determined by a battle between Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Ricardo "The Brazilian Tiger" Arona.

Kazushi Sakuraba scored a comfortable unanimous decision win over Nino Schembri. From the get go, Sakuraba connected with the better strikes, and got some nice takedowns to boot. The first round was a bit of a feeling out process, as Nino wanted to test out his newly acquired Chute Boxe striking skills. His stance and jabs seemed improved, and he did manage to land some effective leg kicks.

Nino pulled guard a few times, but this was his only means of taking the fight to the mat. Saku, on the other hand, rocked Nino twice with the same combo. Sakuraba would bait Nino, and then unleash a combination of right hooks, left straights, and uppercuts, propelling Nino onto the ropes.

The second round was much like the first, with Saku landing effective strikes. Many times during the second and third rounds, Sakuraba would duck Nino's strikes to get a nice double- or single-leg takedown. The highlight was when Sakuraba got a nice left body kick, landing right on the liver, and then repeating it to dramatic effect. Nino had two good attacks in the third round: After a nice right hook by Saku, Nino ducked to Saku's back, and pulled a suplex. Nino couldn't do anything with it, as Saku stood right back up after getting dropped. Nino's other moment of grace was a right hand that landed on Saku's jaw, momentarily stunning him.

Once again, Nino couldn't really do anything with it. Sakuraba is really beginning to show his age, as he had the opportunity to knock Nino out many times during the bout. Hopefully, Sakuraba will show more than a shade of his former self in his next match in August.

The middleweight number-one contender spot was decided when Quinton "Rampage" Jackson knocked out Ricardo Arona with a massive slam just 7:32 into the first round. The fight was back and forth in the early going.

Arona first landed some nice leg and body kicks, showing off his improved striking. Rampage responded with some good punch combinations. Arona repeatedly tried for the takedown, but only managed to pull guard. Once the fight was on the mat, Arona actually tried to finish, attempting numerous submissions.

He first started with an armbar, but couldn't lock it, as Rampage stood up out of danger. Once stood up, Arona tried another takedown, only to get stuffed by Rampage, who countered with a hard left knee. Arona had no choice but to pull guard again, where he attacked with a triangle choke.

Unable to finish, he then landed a nice heel kick perfectly on Quinton's jaw, stunning him momentarily. Rampage came back after Arona attempted a guillotine, which he then let go to lock a triangle. The triangle was getting tighter, and things looked bad for Rampage. Then, all of a sudden, Rampage lifted Arona above his head. He slammed Arona to the mat harder than any other slam in mixed martial arts, save for the Frank Shamrock-Igor Zinoviev slam. Rampage let lose with a few more punches, but they were not necessary.

Looking to repeat his dramatic knockout victory over Ninja Rua in the opening round, Sergei Kharitonov came out strong in the first period versus Semmy "Hightower" Schilt. Schilt, however, found it easy to tag his shorter opponent with two hard jabs, but was then taken down almost immediately. Schilt attempted a guillotine, which failed, and Kharitonov instantaneously passed the guard into mount with little effort.

He was soon after reversed by Schilt, who ended up in Kharitonov's guard. After a few strikes, Kharitonov managed to get up, but was backed into the corner and almost caught a huge flying knee. After coming mere inches from losing his head, Kharitonov took a little break, clinching against the ropes until the referee broke the fighters apart. Schilt then got tagged with a hard right, and taken down into his guard. From here, Kharitonov based up to deliver a few right crosses, which did significant damage to Hightower.

Kharitonov passed the big man's guard as easily as the last, and from here rode pretty high on Schilt, looking for the opportunity to apply an armbar. Kharitonov chose not to submit his opponent, and instead placed his right knee over Semmy's left arm, pinning him to the mat. He then trapped Semmy's one free arm, and proceeded to do some pretty gnarly damage to Schilt's face. The referee was forced to stop the bout at 9:19 in round one, as Schilt could not defend Kharitonov's strikes. A fairly impressive win for Kharitonov, who moves on to the final round.

Naoya "The Chicken" Ogawa easily disposed of "Giant" Silva with strikes at 3:29 of round one. The Chicken wasted no time in getting a nice body-lock takedown to side mount, where he would look for the armbar. Silva looked very uncomfortable, unable to do much on the mat. Ogawa gained mount once, attempted a key lock, and then got put into half guard. Ogawa then wisely faked a key lock, and passed into mount, where he pounded out the win. This wasn't a very good test for Ogawa, so it remains to be seen what he's really made of come August 22.

In his pre-fight interview, Mark Hunt revealed that he was "not really looking forward to going to the ground" versus Hidehiko Yoshida. Despite that, the K-1 standout proved that he's not another kickboxer tomato can. Hunt looked very impressive, showing very good takedown and submission defenses for his first fight.

Yoshida once again used his judo skills to take the fight to the mat, but it wasn't as "easy" as he thought it would be. After being stuffed early on by a nice Hunt sprawl, Yoshida then scored a trip takedown, which Hunt reversed to land in Yoshi's guard. Mark landed some nasty punches before getting armbarred by the judo champ.

Just when everybody thought it was over, Hunt managed to escape by putting his knee on Yoshida's face, stifling the hold temporarily. Yoshida, kept Hunt's arm locked between his legs, then moved around to attack Hunt's feet. After just barely missing with a toe hold, the fighters were stood back up.

Hunt stopped another takedown with an excellent sprawl, this time countering with a hard right knee to the head. Yoshida then succeeded in taking the fight downtown, but once again ended up in his own guard. This time he attempted a triangle, which he turned into an armbar. After fighting it for some time, Hunt was finally forced to tap when Yoshida kicked Hunt to his back and locked his legs, sealing the hold.

Yoshida wins via armbar 5:25 of round one. Hunt looked really good for a kickboxer, and he can do pretty well in PRIDE given the right amount of ground training with a good team.

Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera-Heath Herring I was one of the best fights in PRIDE history. Given that these two had years to improve their respective games, it was predicted that this could be one of the best fights of the tournament. It was, but only for one round.

The first period was pretty even on the feet, with Nog working his superb boxing combos and Heath sticking to his hard low- and middle-kicks. Noguiera got the edge in the standup, but then decided to take the fight to the mat with a slick trip takedown. Nog ended up in side control, and from here he attempted to work on the far arm of Herring, looking to set up a kimura and armbar.

After missing with a kimura, Nog put Herring into one hell of a position: a crucifix. Heath somehow managed to escape, and ended up in Nog's guard, where he received a harsh up-kick to the face. After nearly being armbarred and omoplata-ed, Heath managed to escape to his feet, where he delivered many kicks to the legs of Noguiera.

Nog then stood up, and nailed Herring with a piercing knee from the clinch. Herring got a takedown right at the bell, but didn't have any time to do anything with it. At the start of the second period, Nog landed a nice right hand that forced Herring to shoot. Noguiera sprawled very well, then applied the same funky upside down side choke that propelled him into the second round.

Herring had no idea what to do, and resorted to the time tested defense of turning purple until he had no choice but to tap. Noguiera wins by submission 30 seconds into round two.

"Unbreakable" Kevin Randleman, coming off a H-U-G-E upset knockout win over Mirko Filipovic, was set to fight PRIDE heavyweight champ Fedor Emelianenko in the last match of the tournament. If you want to talk about storylines, folks, this one was probably the biggest match up of the night, and definitely the most emotional.

Randleman was crushed by the recent loss of his father, and on top of that, he had to fight on Father's Day. Somehow, he admirably worked through the entire emotional trauma and found a way to train for this fight. Before the fight, Randleman gave a heart warming speech about his father that would make even ice cold Fedor shed a single tear.

Randleman marched to the ring like a true Samurai, sporting the gi top of the Shinsengumi, a feared Samurai troop comprised of the shogun's best warriors. The match itself was incredibly intense, from start to finish.

The American wrestler came out like a man possessed, chasing Fedor into the corner with a left hook into a takedown. After body slamming Fedor to the mat, Kevin attempted to move to mount. Fedor spun, momentarily giving Kevin his back, and one single moment was all that Kevin needed. In one motion, Randleman picked Fedor up high in the air, and suplexed him over his head, with Fedor landing directly on the back of his neck.

For a minute, it looked as though Randleman had broken Fedor's neck. This was not the case, as Fedor has proved time and time again that he is absolutely inhuman. Fedor managed to reverse the dangerous North-South position that he found himself in, landing in side control. He then repeatedly punched Randleman in the face, before locking in a nasty Kimura that forced Kevin to tapout 1:33 in round one.

Kevin didn't lose anything from this bout, as he was about as impressive as one can be for just over a minute's worth of action. Fedor is really lucky that he didn't get his neck broken. Hopefully, Randleman can get his life together after this tragedy in his family. The hearts of everyone here at go out to Kevin and his entire family.
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