There still exists a certain nostalgia in mixed martial arts for Pride Fighting Championships—the organization that at one time was the largest promotion in the sport while operating primarily out of Japan.
The big lights and pageantry were part of the show, but the real selling point of Pride during its heyday were the amazing fights and drama that went along with every event. The biggest staple of Pride over the years was the concept of a Grand Prix—a tournament putting together the best of the best in a weight class that would happen over a few events culminating in a final champion crowned at the end.
Several notable legends built their reputations as a part of the Pride Grand Prix including Fedor Emelianenko and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, and if Roy Nelson had his way the legendary tournament would be revived—this time in the UFC Octagon.
Nelson was a big fan of the Pride Grand Prix's when they ran from 2000 until the organization folded in 2007. He believes the tournament format took away any question about who truly was the best fighter at the time and allowed the true champion to be crowned.
"Here's the thing about tournaments, the cream always rises to the top and it's a good reset button," Nelson told MMA's Great Debate Radio. "It's good to have March Madness and you've got the Cinderella story. It's what made Pride great with the Grand Prix. It wasn't just Pride. It was because Pride always had the Grand Prix. You waited for that whether it was heavyweight or middleweight or whatever.
"The thing is everybody forgets the UFC was the originator of the tournament format. How did Royce Gracie win? Nobody would have picked Royce Gracie to win besides his parents who put the whole thing together. He still had to fight to take the politics out of their hands. He had to beat somebody to become champion."
Nelson isn't the first fighter to express an opinion about how someone does or doesn't receive a title shot in the UFC. This year alone two fighters have been matched up in title fights despite coming off losses (Nick Diaz at UFC 158, Chael Sonnen at UFC 159).
The benefit of the tournament, or in this case the Grand Prix, is that it takes away the politics of promotion and allows the best fighter left standing defined as the best in the world.
Most recently Strikeforce attempted their own version of a heavyweight grand prix with eight of the best in the division matched up in one tournament. Unfortunately, in the midst of the grand prix, the promotion ended up being sold to Zuffa (parent company of the UFC), and top stars like Alistair Overeem were forced out of the tournament due to injury and eventually exited the organization altogether.
Still, Nelson believes that if not for the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix current top-ranked fighter Daniel Cormier could still be searching for the best way to be noticed in the sport.
"That's how Daniel Cormier got introduced and basically took a lot of the politics out of the game. At that point he rose to the top," Nelson said. "The Grand Prix's changed a lot of the politics and especially if you just did a real money format. Like at the end of the day there's a $10 million dollar prize or something stupid like that. People would tune into watch that just because it's a Grand Prix, it's a real Grand Prix."
The UFC has done a couple of tournaments since Zuffa took over ownership of the promotion, but typically they have never completely been on board with that type of format for determining contenders or champions.
Nelson would love to see the Grand Prix resurrected especially now with the UFC heavyweight division thriving at a higher level than it's been at in years. With champion Cain Velasquez sitting atop the mountain, there is a huge list of contenders that sit waiting for their shot at the gold.
Nelson believes a UFC Heavyweight Grand Prix would not only determine a true champion, it would be one of the biggest events of all time.
"It's definitely one of those things people would tune into watch," Nelson commented. "It's just because it's an epic tournament. You can't really do it with the 135-er's because you can't name eight guys. Heavyweight division you can. 170-pound division you could, maybe the 55-er's although I think they are all 45-er's now. It would definitely be something the fans would want to see. That's something myself I'd tune in."
The likelihood of a UFC Heavyweight Grand Prix happening is probably slim, but Nelson would still love to see it because it removes anybody from saying a fighter didn't deserve a title shot. Winning the Grand Prix tournament defines what the best in MMA is all about.
"The one thing with the tournament it's always a reset button," Nelson said. "It's always a rebuilding year, it's like football or baseball or any other sports league. In our sport sometimes people only go off of your one win or your one loss, but at the end of the day it still comes down to politics when it comes to fighting for that belt."
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained first hand unless otherwise noted
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