UFC 144 marked the highly anticipated return to Japan, as the organization brought about a terrific card to the Saitama Super Arena.
Quinton Jackson served as the unofficial main attraction, as the former Pride star garnered high praise from the attending crowd.
In his heyday, Jackson was among the best in the Pride organization's light heavyweight class, having tussled and defeated many of the world's most talented fighters.
Aside from the Memphis native, here are a batch of other notables who have garnered the same kind of recognition as Jackson, coveted as the best who've ever laced up those fancy blue gloves.
Quinton Jackson/ Sherdog.com
A former Olympic gold medalist in Judo, Yoshida was thrown to the wolves quickly in his mixed martial arts career.
Off the bat, Yoshida entered the Pride Fighting Championships, taking on former UFC tournament winner Don Frye, submitting the burly fighter in the first round via armbar.
Additional victories over former K-1 champion Mark Hunt and UFC mainstay Tank Abbott followed, as Yoshida enjoyed a successful and memorable career in his native land, having competed in both the heavyweight and light heavyweight classes.
If anything else, Fujita will always be remembered as the man who almost defeated Fedor Emelianenko. Or at the very least, the Japanese wrestler made him look at least a bit human.
A former Olympic hopeful, Fujita made his Pride debut in 2000, submitting Hans Nijman in less than three minutes, moving him along in the organization's openweight Grand Prix.
A victory over two-time UFC tournament champion Mark Kerr followed before Fujita fell out of the tournament due to injuries.
Subsequent victories over Gilbert Yvel and former UFC champion Ken Shamrock followed, with Fujita meeting with then-Pride heavyweight kingpin in Emelianenko some time later.
In their battle, Fujita connected on a hard overhand right, rocking Emelianenko momentarily before the touted wrestler was able to bring him to the canvas.
Though Fujita eventually fell victim to a rear-naked choke, his stock catapulted as a result of the exciting encounter with Emelianenko, and he immediately became a huge star in his native Japan as a result.
Long before he became the center of controversy towards the tail end of his career, Filho was considered to be the second-best middleweight fighter in the world and for good reason.
The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt entered Pride with a subtle 4-0 record. However, he quickly asserted himself as a legitimate threat to those in his path.
Filho remained undefeated in his eight-fight stint with the organization, defeating the likes of Murilo Rua, Ryo Chonan and former Pride champion Kazuo Misaki along the way.
Though his stint with Pride was shorter than most, Kang made an immediate impact as "The Super Korean" made his way through the organization's welterweight Grand Prix in 2006.
An emphatic knockout victory over Murilo Rua served as his opening round bout, as victories over UFC veterans Amar Suloev and Akihiro Gono followed before Kang met with Japanese star Kazuo Misaki in the finals.
There, the two heavy hitters engaged in a back-and-forth battle which saw both men gain the upper hand in spurts. However, Misaki eventually walked away with the contentious split-decision win.
A multiple-time jiu-jitsu world champion, Werdum entered Pride in 2005 with only his submission prowess, though that was enough for Werdum to put on some memorable fights.
The Brazilian took on MMA legend Tom Erikson in his organizational debut, submitting the behemoth with a rear-naked choke in the first round.
Victories over Roman Zenstov, John-Olav Einemo and Alistair Overeem followed, before Werdum found similar success in both the Strikeforce and the UFC, where he is now regarded as a top-10 heavyweight fighter.
Russian import Kharitonov immediately made waves in Pride's heavyweight division as he was regarded as one of the top prospects in the weight class.
A heavy-handed fighter with a Sambo background, Kharitonov was equally versed both on the ground and on the feet and used his well-rounded arsenal to dispatch of several talented fighters.
Kharitonov made his way into the Pride 2004 heavyweight Grand Prix, finishing off both Murilo Rua and Semmy Schilt with strikes before falling to submission ace Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in the semi-finals.
Victories over former UFC contender Pedro Rizzo and Fabricio Werdum followed, solidifying Sergei as a force to be reckoned with.
Though he's only since shined when he committed himself to the heavyweight class, Overeem showed that he had the skills to be a world renowned fighter back when he depleted himself to make the 205-pound mark.
Standing at a towering 6'5", Overeem wielded an underrated ground game coupled with high-level kickboxing skills, which were on display in his knockout victory over Sergei Kharitonov in 2006, when "The Demolition Man" obliterated the Russian with knees for the TKO victory.
Additional victories over Igor Vovchanchyn and former UFC champion Vitor Belfort—whom Overeem submitted with his patented guillotine choke—also anchor the Dutchman's resume.
A protege of the aforementioned Hidehiko Yoshida, Nakamura came into the sport with only his Judo prowess to support his mixed martial arts endeavors, though his tough road of competition eventually made him a better fighter in the long run.
In his second outing with Pride, Nakamura took on the troublesome Daniel Gracie. Nakamura defeated the submission whiz, signaling a promising future in the sport, which was founded with additional wins over Igor Vovchanchyn and former UFC champions Kevin Randleman and Murilo Bustamante.
Once coveted as the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet thanks to his 20-fight unbeaten streak, Sakurai became an immediate threat once he dropped down to Pride's lightweight division.
Sakurai kicked off the organization's 2005 lightweight Grand Prix with a bang, knocking out former UFC champion Jens Pulver in the opening round, before taking home a clear-cut decision win over perennial contender Joachim Hansen in his next outing.
In the finals, Sakurai fell to fellow countryman Takanori Gomi. However, subsequent victories over Olaf Alfonso, Luciano Azevedo and Mac Danzig followed, legitimizing Sakurai's standing as one of the best fighters in his class.
When Gomi was regarded as the best fighter in the lightweight division, it came on the heels of his illustrious run through Pride.
"The Fireball Kid" immediately made fans take notice when he opened up his career with the organization with six consecutive finishes, five of which came by knockout.
Gomi eventually found his way in Pride's 2005 lightweight Grand Prix, where victories over Tatsuya Kawajiri, Luiz Azeredo and Hayato Sakurai nabbed the Japanese stud the GP title and the vacant 160-pound crown.
A former K-1 World Grand Prix champion, Hunt entered Pride with only his kickboxing accolades supporting him, though "The Super Samoan" proved that his toughness and heavy hands were enough to defeat the most talented of foes.
At the height of his career, Hunt rattled off a five-fight win streak with the organization, defeating UFC veteran Tsuyoshi Kohsaka and former Pride champions Mirko Cro Cop and Wanderlei Silva along the way.
A former UFC heavyweight champion, Josh Barnett entered Pride in 2004, wielding a lot of promise that he could be one of the division's most dominant and imposing threats.
After suffering back-to-back losses to Mirko Cro Cop in his initial two bouts with the organization, Barnett bounced back in a big way, defeating Kazuhiro Nakamura, Aleksander Emelianenko, Mark Hunt and the legendary Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira all in succession.
One of the most underrated fighters of all time, Vovchanchyn has not garnered the kind of respect that should precede a man who went undefeated in 37 fights as a professional.
During this glorious run, the Ukrainian picked up eight consecutive victories under the Pride banner, twice defeating Gary Goodridge and the infamous Kazuhi Sakuraba along the way.
Vovchanchyn made his way through the organization's first ever openweight Grand Prix before losing to former UFC champion Mark Coleman in the finals.
At just 21 years old, Rua would make his debut with Pride in 2003, entering the organization with a pedestrian looking 4-1 record.
"Shogun" quickly became one of the organization's biggest attractions, thanks to his wily and dynamic style of fighting, which was defined by head stomps, kicks and knees galore.
Rua entered the 2005 middleweight Grand Prix, immediately setting the tone by TKO'ing Quinton Jackson in less than five minutes of the opening round.
Next, Rua engaged fellow countryman Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in a bout that has been often regarded as one of the best in the organization's history, as both men were rocked and dropped in the opening frame.
Rua edged Nogueira, and moved into the finals when he secured a dominant TKO victory over Alistair Overeem. There, Rua took on submission whiz Ricardo Arona, who had previously upset then light heavyweight kingpin Wanderlei Silva.
Rua immediately went after Arona from the opening bell, throttling the jiu-jitsu world champion is less than three minutes, knocking him out with a sweeping stomp to the face followed by hammer fists, earning him the coveted GP title in the process.
An Olympic level wrestler and former UFC champion, Mark Coleman was thought to be the kind of injection that the organization's heavyweight division needed.
However, after compiling a three-fight skid in the UFC, Coleman was then defeated by the unheralded Nobuhiko Takada in his organizational debut with Pride, though he quickly got back on track in subsequent outings.
After a dominant performance turned in against Ricardo Morais, Coleman entered the organization's first ever openweight Grand Prix in 2000, submitting Masaaki Satake in the opening round.
Victories over Akira Shoji and Kazuyuki Fujita earned Coleman his spot in the finals, where the Hammer House fighter stopped the touted Igor Vovchanchyn in the first round, courtesy of some thudding knees to the head, earning Coleman the GP title in the process.
A three-time ADCC Submission Wrestling World champion, Arona used his obvious grappling prowess to beat some of the most talented fighters to ever lace up a pair of gloves.
In his organizational debut with Pride, Arona defeated former UFC star Guy Mezger. The victory over Mezger helped set the tone for Arona's run in the organization, as the Brazilian was pitted against formidable opponents, next defeating Murilo Rua and Dan Henderson in subsequent bouts.
During his run through the 2005 middleweight Grand Prix, Arona upset then champion Wanderlei Silva in the semifinals, helping to assert himself as one of the best fighters in the world.
Long before Jackson became one of the UFC's biggest stars, the loud and abrasive Memphis native already had a loyal fan following back in Japan.
Jackson was immediately embraced by the Japanese when he entered Pride in 2001, taking on Kazushi Sakuraba in his organizational debut.
There, Jackson was submitted in the first round, but not before slamming Sakuraba all over the ring, assuring his position with the promotion for years to come.
His wrestling produced highlight-reel slams while his hands delivered some devastating knockout blows, to which former UFC champions Kevin Randleman and Chuck Liddell can attest to.
Despite garnering a 3-3 record in Pride, Misaki made the most of his opportunity with the promotion.
Misaki opened up career with the organization with a decision loss to the always-tough Dan Henderson, though the Japanese fighter quickly reasserted himself in the mix when he entered the Pride welterweight Grand Prix in 2006.
After besting Phil Baroni in the opening round, Misaki avenged his loss to Henderson—this time taking home a decision win of his own.
Though he succumbed to a submission loss to Paulo Filho in the semifinals, Misaki would move on to the finals after the Brazilian sustained an injury that would deem him unfit to continue.
In a back-and-forth battle, Misaki edged fellow finalist by Denis Kang by decision, taking home the GP title in the process.
One of the true living legends of the sport, Henderson made history while competing under the Pride banner.
A former Olympic-level wrestler, Henderson initially found success as a middleweight, though he regularly made trips to the light heavyweight class.
After earning the organization's 183-pound title with his impressive run through the welterweight Grand Prix—which included victories over Ryo Chonan, Akihiro Gono and Murilo Bustamante—Henderson jumped back up to 205 where he took on former UFC champion Vitor Belfort.
After earning the decision win over "The Phenom," Henderson was granted a title shot against then champion Wanderlei Silva in a highly anticipated rematch from their first encounter many years ago.
Henderson throttled the Brazilian in the third, connecting on a crushing left hook which sent Silva out long before he hit the canvas.
With the win, Henderson became the first in mixed martial arts history to hold two titles in two different weight classes simultaneously in a major promotion.
Very rarely does a fighter go undefeated for more than a few years.
However, in the case of Emelianenko, the Russian fighter went uncontested for nearly a decade—a record that has been unrivaled ever since.
Emelianenko immediately made waves in Pride with consecutive victories over Semmy Schilt and Heath Herring, earning the stoic fighter a shot against then champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
In a thrilling battle, Emelianenko dominated the submission ace for the entire length of the bout, claiming the decision win and the heavyweight crown in the process.
Some time later, Emelianenko entered the Pride heavyweight Grand Prix in 2004, submitting Naoya Ogawa and former UFC champions Mark Coleman and Kevin Randleman before again meeting with Nogueira in the finals.
In their final encounter, Emelianenko again showed that he was the superior fighter of the two, taking home another landslide of a decision and reaffirming his position as the best fighter in his class whilst taking home the GP title to add to his mantle.
After leaving behind a successful career as a K-1 level kickboxer, Mirko Cro Cop became one of the sport's most feared heavyweights, dedicating himself full time to MMA whilst under the Pride banner.
Impressive knockout victories over Igor Vovchanchyn, Aleksander Emelianenko and Mark Coleman anchored Cro Cop's list of accomplishments early on, though it was his 2006 run through the Pride openweight Grand Prix which garnered him high praise.
Knockout wins over Minowaman, Hidehiko Yoshida and then Pride champion Wanderlei Silva helped usher Cro Cop into the finals, where he took on grappling ace Josh Barnett.
Cro Cop was able to force the American to stand and trade with him after staving off all of his takedown attempts, though he eventually followed Barnett to the canvas where he proceeded to beat on the former UFC champ with ground-and-pound blows.
The mounting punches eventually led to Barnett tapping out from the blows, earning Cro Cop the GP title in the process.
To date, Cro Cop is the only man to hold three victories over Barnett, who sports only just five losses in his 36-fight career.
Perennial light heavyweight fixture Rogerio Nogueira has had to deal with high expectations—especially since his brother is a former world champion.
However, Antonio made the most of his name and obvious talents, having been regarded as one of the best fighters in the 205-pound class for a long, long time.
Nogueira made his debut with the organization in 2002, submitting Yusuke Imamura in just 35 seconds.
The dominant performance served as a precursor for things to come, as Nogueira would later defeat the likes of Kazushi Sakuraba, Guy Mezger and Alistair Overeem before moving on to the middleweight Grand Prix in 2005.
In the opening round, Nogueira submitted Dan Henderson before meeting with Mauricio Rua in the quarterfinals.
In a memorable performance, Nogueira lost a close decision to his fellow countryman, but both men can take solace in knowing that they were a part of unarguably one of the greatest fights in Pride history.
After besting a field of 32 in a King of Kings tournament in 2000, submission whiz Rodrigo Nogueira made his Pride debut with much steam.
In his organizational debut, Nogueira defeated UFC veteran Gary Goodridge before later submitting former champion Mark Coleman in his next outing.
The victory over Coleman earned Nogueira a shot at the vacant title, taking on the heavy-hitting Heath Herring for the heavyweight crown.
In a three-round battle, Nogueira edged the touted Herring, with victories over K-1 star Semmy Schilt and the talented Dan Henderson soon following.
Though he dropped the belt to the aforementioned Fedor Emelianenko, Rodrigo remained one of the best fighters in his class, defeating the likes of Mirko Cro Cop, Fabricio Werdum, Sergei Kharitonov and Josh Barnett before eventually making his way to the UFC.
Arguably the greatest light heavyweight fighter of all time, Silva cultivated his legend under the Pride banner where he produced some of the best knockouts in the organization's history.
After dropping a decision to Tito Ortiz in a UFC title bout, Silva came back with a vengeance, knocking out Guy Mezger in his return to Pride, which eventually led to an encounter with rival Kazushi Sakuraba for the middleweight title.
Silva forced the stoppage at the end of the first round, claiming the 205-pound crown and beginning his run of dominance through Pride.
Victories over Hidehiko Yoshida, Ricardo Arona and Quinton Jackson (twice) followed, while Silva intermittently competed in the heavyweight division, defeating former contender Kazuyuki Fujita with a devastating array of kicks and punches, yielding in a first-round TKO.
Anytime, anywhere and any place, Sakuraba was always game.
Though he's recently been competing in his more natural weight class of welterweight, Sakuraba has competed as high as a light heavyweight in the past, taking on some of the best fighters in the world whilst under the Pride banner.
Sakuraba immediately began cultivating his legend in his battles with the infamous Gracie clan. Victories over Royler, Renzo, Royce and Ryan earned Sakuraba the moniker of "The Gracie Hunter."
Additional wins over Guy Mezger, Vitor Belfort and Quinton Jackson all anchor the impressive resume of Sakuraba, who is one of the true legends of the sport, despite not having won any significant title during his tenure.