Pride Fighting Championships spent the first nine years of existence -- a total of 63 events -- building its brand on Japanese soil. Ten years ago today, it paid a visit to the United States for the first time.
Pride 32 “The Real Deal” on Oct. 21, 2006 was headlined by a non-title rematch between heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko and future Ultimate Fighting Championship hall of famer Mark Coleman. It drew 11,727 fans to the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, resulting in a $2,056,044 gate. The show had something for everyone, from a freak-show fight pitting Eric Esch against World Championship Wrestling alum Sean O'Haire and the first Dan Henderson-Vitor Belfort showdown to Robbie Lawler’s flying knee knockout on Joey Villasenor and a series of slick submissions: Phil Baroni slapped a kimura on Yosuke Nishijima, Josh Barnett tapped 1996 Olympic gold medalist Pawel Nastula with a toe hold and Mauricio Rua disposed of Kevin Randleman with a kneebar.
The event also marked the first time Pride fighters were subjected to stateside drug testing. To the surprise of no one, not all made the cut, as Randleman, Nastula and Belfort all failed their post-fight screens. Randleman reportedly supplied an illegitimate urine sample to the Nevada Athletic Commission. “It was either allegedly non-human urine or urine from a dead human being,” then-NAC Executive Director Keith Kizer said.
Nevertheless, Emelianenko was the centerpiece and did not disappoint. He sprawled out of Coleman’s increasingly desperate takedown attempts, bludgeoned him with punches and methodically drained his gas tank. With a minute to go in the first round, referee Yuji Shimada hit the pause button and had Coleman evaluated by the ringside physician. The two-time NCAA wrestling champion and 1992 Olympian had sustained significant damage to his nose and both eyes yet was cleared to continue.
The bill for Coleman’s repeated bids for takedowns came due in round two. Weakened by fatigue and the considerable punishment he had absorbed at the hands of the world’s premier heavyweight, he executed a takedown, settled in full guard and went to work with some of his patented ground-and-pound. Emelianenko was unimpressed. He calmly and coldly created some distance with a scramble and spun into position for the fight-ending armbar, netting the tapout 1:15 into the second round. A thoroughly beaten Coleman was left to lick his literal and figurative wounds on the canvas as “The Last Emperor” rose to his feet. In the aftermath, Coleman’s two young daughters, sobbing and distraught, entered the ring. He did his best to reassure them, his own anguish somewhat masked by his badly swollen face. “I’m OK,” Coleman told them. “Daddy’s OK.”
Pride 32 was thought to be the first of many trips to the United States for the popular Japanese organization. However, it would stage only four more events -- the landmark Pride 33 show was also held in Las Vegas -- before being bought out by UFC parent company Zuffa in March 2007. Seven months later, its doors were shuttered for good.