On November 7th, Strikeforce will make its debut on CBS with a fight card that is stacked from top-to-bottom.
In a world where the UFC is primarily the dominant force in the MMA industry, Strikeforce has established itself as the No. 2 fight promotion in the world, and has the potential to become a legit competitor to the Zuffa brand.
The only organization that has truly come close to surpassing the No. 1 status of the UFC was the now-defunct PRIDE Fighting Championships. The Japanese-based organization was founded in late 1997 and promoted some of the very best MMA events this sport has ever born witness to.
PRIDE’s format of pitting all of their top stars into one ultra-stacked card is a format Scott Coker is trying to follow with Strikeforce. Saturday’s event will feature top stars such as light-heavyweight champ Gegard Mousasi, Fabricio Werdum, Jason “Mayhem” Miller, and Jake Shields all competing on one night.
Headlining the event will be current WAMMA Heavyweight champion Fedor “The Last Emperor” Emelianenko, making his Strikeforce debut against heavy-handed wrecking machine Brett “The Grimm” Rogers.
Emelianenko—widely recognized as the top fighter in the entire world—made his name in PRIDE. Before the UFC bought the organization in 2007, PRIDE was home to some of the greatest fights in the sport's history.
Let’s take a look at the top 10 greatest bouts in the history of the PRIDE Fighting Championships.
10. Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic vs. Wanderlei Silva II (PRIDE Final Conflict Absolute)
In what was built up as one of the most-anticipated battles in PRIDE history, bitter rivals Filipovic and Silva squared off in the semifinals of PRIDE’s 2006 Open-Weight Grand Prix. It wouldn’t be the first time these two legendary strikers met in the ring, as they had previously fought to a draw at PRIDE 20 just four years prior.
For the majority of the fight, Silva attacked the Croatian with wild punches which were easily countered by straight-lefts from “Cro Cop." Anytime Silva would throw one of his looping punches, Filipovic was right there to counter with strikes of his own, and these two went back and forth for most of the first round.
The end result saw “Cro Cop” catch “The Axe Murderer” with a left high-kick, knocking Silva out in highlight-reel fashion. This fight is absolutely a PRIDE classic, but on a list of all-time greatest knockouts it would certainly be ranked in the top five.
9. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson vs. Wanderlei Silva II (PRIDE 28: High Octane)
Speaking of rivals, the feud between “Rampage” Jackson and Silva is widely recognized as one of the most heated rivalries in not just PRIDE history, but in all of MMA as a whole.
These light-heavyweight wrecking machines first crossed paths in the finals of the PRIDE 2003 Middleweight Grand Prix. “The Axe Murderer” won that fight, finishing Jackson off in the first round with brutal knees from the Muay Thai clinch.
Their second meeting was an all-out stand-up war that ended in devastating fashion with Silva once again finishing Jackson with knees from the Thai clinch in the second round. The knockout was so destructive it left Jackson hanging on the bottom ring ropes unconsciously as “The Axe Murderer” celebrated his triumphant victory.
8. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic (PRIDE Final Conflict 2003)
There is a reason why the legendary “Minotauro” Nogueira is considered the “Rocky Balboa of MMA” because no matter how hard you hit him he will continue to move forward to eventually find a way to win the fight.
His classic bout with “Cro Cop” is proof of that as for the majority of the fight Filipovic was the aggressor, beating “Minotauro” up with crisp punches and thunderous kicks. “Cro Cop” would land strike after strike and yet, with blood dripping down his face Nogueira kept coming back for more.
Finally in the second round, Nogueira took “Cro Cop” down and began working some ground n’ pound from the top position before eventually securing a beautiful arm-bar causing the Croatian to tap-out.
7. Dan Henderson vs. Wanderlei Silva II (PRIDE 33: Second Coming)
If you thought Henderson’s knockout over Michael Bisping at UFC 100 was impressive, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen his second fight against Silva in PRIDE. Henderson lost the first bout by unanimous decision in an epic battle, and was looking to extract revenge in the second coming and claim the PRIDE middleweight title in the process.
After spending the majority of the first two rounds out-striking “The Axe-Murderer” as well as controlling him on the ground, Henderson finished the fight with his big right hand, knocking Silva out cold just two minutes into the third round.
With the victory, Henderson became the first man in PRIDE history to hold two championships simultaneously.
6. Ken Shamrock vs. Don Frye (PRIDE 19: Bad Blood)
If you took 10 writers and told them to list the top 10 most intense rivalries in the history of this sport, Shamrock vs. Frye would rank somewhere in the top five on each list.
This rivalry was truly epic considering the fact these two legends absolutely hated one another, and anytime they were near each other they almost broke out into a fist-fight in public. When it came time for the prefight stare-down, just by looking into their eyes you could tell you were about to witness a historical showdown—and that is exactly what happened.
For three full rounds, these two MMA pioneers beat the tar out of each other, both on their feet and on the ground. Shamrock came very close to finishing “The Predator” off with leg locks, but Frye was able to escape and edge out the split-decision victory in a brutal back-and-forth war.
5. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (PRIDE Critical Countdown 2005)
In 2005, “Shogun” Rua was the most feared striker in the 205-pound division and after his recent performance against current UFC champ Lyoto Machida at UFC 104, some can argue he still is to this very day.
After completely dismantling “Rampage” Jackson at PRIDE Total Elimination-2005, Rua was matched up against Rogerio Nogueira, twin brother of heavyweight Rodrigo Nogueira. Most expected the “MMA Super Nova” to destroy “Minotoro” much like he did Jackson.
The fight was much more competitive than most originally thought, as both fighters stood and traded blows, knocking each other down and landing crisp punches and knees time after time. It was a close battle on the feet, but the deciding factor turned out to be the takedowns from “Shogun,” which gave him the victory unanimously on the judges’ scorecards.
4. Nick Diaz vs. Takanori Gomi (PRIDE 33: Second Coming)
“The Fireball Kid” Gomi was once recognized as not only the best lightweight fighter in the world, but he was also ranked as one of the world’s top pound-for-pound fighters. Diaz was hungry to prove to the world he was indeed one of the top fighters out there, and was given the opportunity of a lifetime against Gomi in PRIDE’s second and final show in the United States.
The result was a tremendously close-contested battle that saw Diaz pulling off the submission of the century, finishing Gomi with a gogoplata in the second round.
However, after testing positive for marijuana, the Nevada State Athletic Commission overruled Diaz’s victory into a “no contest." Regardless of what the record shows, Diaz defeated Gomi in one of the greatest MMA fights of all time.
3. Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Carlos Newton (PRIDE 3)
If you’re one of those fans who believe the only exciting aspect of MMA is the stand-up game, go back and watch the classic grappling war between former UFC champion Newton and one of MMA’s most beloved legends, Sakuraba.
The entire fight was a strategic battle on the ground, with both fighters battling for the dominant position. Neither man looked to strike the other, their only intention was to win the fight by submission to out-grapple their opponent.
After moving from position to position and going for submission attempt after submission attempt, Sakuraba finally finished the fight with an incredibly well-executed knee bar in the second frame to put an end to a classic grappling bout between two of the most innovative submission fighters in MMA history.
2. Don Frye vs. Yoshihiro Takayama (PRIDE 21: Demolition)
This is a bout that will forever be remembered as the most exciting slug-fest in not just MMA, but in the history of combat sports in general. As soon as the fight began, technique went out the window as both fighters rushed toward each other throwing punches with reckless abandon.
The crowd went absolutely crazy watching these two warriors holding each other’s head whilst punching each other in the face with mean intentions. MMA legend and commentator for the night, Bas “El Guapo” Rutten was quoted as saying, “I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life”.
Frye was triumphant in the end, finishing Takayama with ground n’pound for a first-round TKO in what will truly be remembered as the craziest brawl in the history of the fight game.
1. Fedor Emelianenko vs. Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic (PRIDE- Final Conflict: 2005)
Fans had been anticipating a showdown between Emelianenko and “Cro Cop” for several years prior and when they finally squared off at Final Conflict 2005 for the heavyweight championship, they were not disappointed.
The bout was heavily built as the most hyped-up heavyweight contest in the history of MMA, and it certainly delivered up to expectations. Many still consider this matchup to be Emelianenko’s toughest fight to date, because despite defeating Filipovic by unanimous decision, the Russian did not escape the contest unscathed.
“The Last Emperor” had been known for walking through his opponents with a relative amount of ease, but he was unable to impose his will against the Croatian striker.
“Cro Cop” was able to inflict a tremendous amount of damage to Emelianenko and even managed to break the Russian’s nose with a straight left and tenderize Emelianenko’s ribs with powerful kicks.
However, Emelianenko took “Cro Cop’s” best shots and continued to move forward, which frustrated Filipovic in the later rounds. It wasn’t a dominating performance, but it was an impressive victory over a fighter who was once considered the most devastating striker in the heavyweight division.
Honorable Mentions: Quinton Jackson vs. Ricardo Arona, Fedor Emelianenko vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Royce Gracie vs. Kazushi Sakuraba, Bob Sapp vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mark Hunt vs. Yosuke Nishijima.