The 10 Best Fighters in Pride History

Sean SmithAnalyst ISeptember 9, 2012

The 10 Best Fighters in Pride History

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    The Pride organization has been gone from the MMA landscape for more than five years now, but one of the promotion's champions continues to contend for a title in the UFC.

    Former Pride champion Fedor Emelianenko has retired from the sport, while Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Wanderlei Silva and Takanori Gomi have declined since their days as Pride titleholders. However, 42-year-old Dan Henderson remains one of the best light heavyweights in the world and was recently booked for a UFC title fight until an injury took it away from him.

    Despite his inability to capture a UFC title thus far in his career, Henderson was one of the best fighters to ever compete in Pride and will go down as one of the most accomplished competitors in MMA history. As "Hendo" recovers from his injury and hopefully returns to title contention, let's take a look at where he stands among the greatest fighters in Pride history.

10. Quinton Jackson

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    Pride Record: 12-5

    Quinton Jackson made his Pride debut against legendary Japanese fighter Kazushi Sakuraba. Though Jackson was submitted by Sakuraba, he delivered a strong performance and thus started one of the most notable careers in Pride history.

    One year after his introduction to Japanese MMA, Jackson took on all-time great Igor Vovchanchyn. In a breakout performance, Jackson scored with multiple slams and utilized punches to the body of his opponent to earn a submission win due to injury seven minutes into the bout.

    Following his win over Vovchanchyn, Jackson would defeat UFC champions in three of his next four fights. A knockout of Kevin Randleman gave promoters reason enough to allow Jackson to compete in the 2003 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix, during which he also defeated Chuck Liddell and Murilo Bustamante before running into Pride middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva in the tournament final.

    Later, Jackson would earn a title shot against Silva by knocking out Ricardo Arona with a slam intended as an escape from a triangle choke. It was a slam that Jackson's Pride career would become known for, as he was knocked out by Silva for a second time in his next appearance.

    Jackson would get one more chance to compete in a Pride Middleweight Grand Prix before the promotion met its end, but "Rampage" suffered a knockout loss to Mauricio Rua in the opening round of the 2005 tournament.

9. Kazushi Sakuraba

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    Pride Record: 18-8-1

    Kazushi Sakuraba was one of Pride's biggest stars, and he had the skills to match. The Japanese fighter was undefeated in his first nine Pride bouts before meeting the significantly larger Igor Vovchanchyn in the finals of the 2000 Pride Openweight Grand Prix.

    Prior to his loss against Vovchanchyn, Sakuraba defeated UFC champions Vitor Belfort and Carlos Newton in addition to picking up two of his four career wins against members of the legendary Gracie family. Sakuraba would later be coined "The Gracie Hunter" for his success against the pioneering MMA family.

    Unfortunately for Sakuraba, Pride did not introduce championship belts until Wanderlei Silva entered the equation. Sakuraba met "The Axe Murderer" three times during his time competing under the Pride banner and suffered knockout losses on every occasion.

    Sakuraba seemed to fade as Silva was in his prime, as the Japanese fan favorite lost half of his final 14 fights with the Pride organization. Stil, Sakuraba was able to pick up wins over Quinton Jackson, Kevin Randleman, Ken Shamrock and Ikuhisa Minowa before his Pride career came to an end.


8. Mauricio Rua

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    Pride Record: 12-1

    Mauricio Rua burst onto the Pride scene with soccer-kick knockouts in his first five fights in Japan. One of his victims during that run included Quinton Jackson during the opening round of the 2005 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix. Rua would go on to win that tournament by picking up three more wins over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona.

    In his first fight after the tournament victory, Rua suffered a freak injury against Mark Coleman, resulting in the only loss of his Pride career. Though, before leaving the Japanese promotion, Rua was able to pick up four more wins against Overeem, Kevin Randleman, Kazuhiro Nakamura and Cyrille Diabate.

7. Mark Coleman

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    Pride Record: 8-5

    Aside from a submission loss to Nobuhiko Takada in his Pride debut, Mark Coleman only lost against heavyweight greats Fedor Emelianenko, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Mirko Filipovic during his time with the Japanese organization.

    Only one year after his disappointing loss to Takada, Coleman won the 2000 Pride Openweight Grand Prix with a victory over Igor Vovchanchyn. Coleman would also go on to pick up wins over Mauricio Rua and Don Frye before returning to the UFC for the final chapter of his career.

6. Takanori Gomi

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    Pride Record: 13-1, 1 NC

    Takanori Gomi had lost back-to-back fights heading into his Pride debut, but the Japanese lightweight was about to embark on one of the greatest runs of success in lightweight history. 

    "The Fireball Kid" would achieve victory in his first 10 Pride fights, winning the 2005 Pride Lightweight Grand Prix and Pride lightweight title in the process. During that streak, Gomi defeated the likes of Jens Pulver, Hayato Sakurai and Tatsuya Kawajiri. 

    Before the Pride organization closed its doors, Gomi was able to defend his championship once in a decision win over Marcus Aurelio, who had defeated the Japanese titleholder in a non-title bout earlier in the same calender year.

5. Wanderlei Silva

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    Pride Record: 22-4-1, 1 NC

    After picking up a few Pride wins early in his career, Wanderlei Silva returned to the Octagon for a title fight against Tito Ortiz. Silva came up short in a decision with Ortiz, but he wouldn't lose again for more than four years.

    Following his loss to Ortiz, Silva returned to the Pride ring, where he picked up wins over Dan Henderson and Kazushi Sakuraba before receiving a shot at the Pride middleweight title in a rematch with Sakuraba. Silva defeated Sakuraba once again and defended his title twice before meeting Sakuraba for a third time in the opening round of the 2003 Middleweight Grand Prix.

    Silva went on to knock Sakuraba out for a third straight time before winning the tournament with another knockout victory over Quinton Jackson. About one year later, Silva fought Jackson again in one of the most heated rivalries in MMA history, but "The Axe Murderer" was able to defend his title for a third time by putting "Rampage" away with knees for a second time.

    From there, things slowly began rolling downhill for Silva, who lost his following bout against Mark Hunt and was eliminated from the 2005 Middleweight Grand Prix by Ricardo Aron in the semifinal round. Silva avenged his loss against Arona in a fourth career title defense, but he was knocked out by a Mirko Filipovic head-kick not long afterward.

    The knockout loss to "Cro Cop" marked the beginning of a career collapse for Silva, who lost his Pride championship in his following appearance against Henderson, which also turned out to be the final fight of his Pride career.

4. Dan Henderson

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    Pride Record: 13-5

    Dan Henderson's Pride career didn't get off to a great start, as he lost three of his first six fights. However, like a fine wine, Henderson got better with age. After a submission loss to heavyweight Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Henderson won nine of his next 10 fights.

    In the process, Henderson captured the Pride welterweight title by winning the 2005 Pride Welterweight Grand Prix with a decision victory over Murilo Bustamante. 

    "Hendo" also picked up a win over Vitor Belfort before leaving Pride. But his greatest accomplishment came in the final fight of his career with the organization. With a knockout of Wanderlei Silva, Henderson ended one of the most impressive runs in light heavyweight history and became the only two-division champion any major MMA organization has ever seen.

3. Mirko Filipovic

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    Pride Record: 18-4-2

    Mirko "Cro Cop" FIlipovic may have never captured a heavyweight title while competing in Pride, but he helped change MMA in showing what a little takedown defense could do for a high-level kickboxer.

    The Croatian earned his first shot at the Pride heavyweight title by recording three straight knockouts against Heath Herring, Igor Vovchanchyn and the WWE superstar known as Alberto Del Rio. However, Filipovic couldn't avoid Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira's ground game in his first career title fight and was submitted by the Brazilian in the second round.

    After an unlikely knockout loss to Kevin Randleman, Filipovic made another run at the heavyweight belt by winning seven straight fights, including victories over Randleman, Mark Coleman, Josh Barnett and Aleksander Emelianenko. Nonetheless, when "Cro Cop" received his second chance to capture a Pride championship, he was unable to do so against Fedor Emelianenko.

    Filipovic was able to leave Pride on a high note, though, as he beat Wanderlei Silva and Barnett en route to winning the 2006 Pride Openweight Grand Prix.

2. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

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    Pride Record: 17-3, 1 NC

    Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira became the first Pride heavyweight champion by beating Heath Herring in his third bout with the organization. Nogueira also submitted Mark Coleman and Dan Henderson before suffering his first Pride loss in a title fight against Fedor Emelianenko.

    The Brazilian submission artist would claim an interim title only two fights later by catching Mirko Filipovic in an armbar. Then, Nogueira met Emelianenko in the finals of the 2004 Pride Heavyweight Grand Prix, but an accidental head-butt resulted in a no-contest and immediate rematch.

    In his third meeting with Emelianenko, Nogueira came up short once again in what would be his final Pride title fight. 

    Nogueira went on to secure wins over Fabricio Werdum and Josh Barnett before packing his bags for the UFC, where he would become an interim champion once again.

1. Fedor Emelianenko

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    Pride Record: 14-0, 1 NC

    Say what you want about the consistency in which Fedor Emelianenko fought elite heavyweights during his Pride career, but it's still next to impossible to argue against the Russian being the best fighter in the organization's history.

    Emelianenko dethroned Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in his third Pride fight and never looked back. In addition to defending his belt against Nogueira, Mirko Filipovic and Mark Hunt, Emelianenko picked up Pride victories in non-title fights against the likes of Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman and Heath Herring.

    The reluctance of Emelianenko's management to sign a deal with the UFC ended up tainting the champion's legacy, but long-time MMA fans will always remember "The Last Emperor" as a face of the Pride organization and one of the best to ever compete in the sport.