Gone Are The MMA Glory Days: PRIDE's Five Greatest Events
For 10 years, there were two major MMA promotions: the UFC and PRIDE FC. Fans were split down the middle on who thought which had the better fighters and put on the better shows. Hypothetical matchups between fighters of each organization were every day debates.
In 2007, Zuffa, the parent company of the UFC, bought PRIDE and all of its assets for something near $70 million. An era was over and mixed feelings covered the mixed martial arts world.
Some were happy that the matchups they had dreamed of were finally going to come true. Others were shocked and saddened to see the grand events they loved coming to an end.
Well, I would say that the result was a mix of both of those feelings. We have been able to see matches that we never would have if Zuffa had not made the purchase, but for many there has been a void left by the fall of the only rival the UFC ever knew.
PRIDE had a different mentality than the UFC. It was thought that in PRIDE if you gave a great effort and entertained the fans, that you would always be invited back. Unlike the UFC, where fighters sometimes lose a single fight and are given their walking papers.
There was also a more patient mind state in the world of PRIDE. Fights were never booed by the audience for lack of action, and stand-ups were far less frequent by their referees. The clock wasn't even shown during the fight, showing contrast from the countdown oriented Western train of thought.
It was easy to get lost in a PRIDE event. From the visually stunning opening ceremonies to the experimental, sometimes off the wall, matchups, it was always a spectacle.
Here are five memorable PRIDE events that would put any recent UFC pay-per-view to shame. Gone are the days, but long live the memories.
PRIDE Grand Prix 2003
Technically, this was two events, but together they equaled the best tournament MMA had ever seen. Along with tremendous non-tournament matches, the bracket featured a deep collection of top 205 lb. fighters, all with unique styles.
Included in the tournament were future UFC champions Chuck Liddell and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, future Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem, PRIDE champion Wanderlei Silva, Kiyoshi Tamura, Japanese legend Kazushi Sakuraba, gold medalist Hidehiko Yoshida, and former UFC champion Murilo Bustamante.
Also included in the event, among many great fights, was Fedor Emelianenko's first round destruction of Gary Goodridge, and the epic match for the interim heavyweight title between Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and undefeated Mirko Cro Cop.
The tournament saw champion Wanderlei Silva battle his way to a finale showdown with Quinton Jackson. Jackson, who had already upset Chuck Liddell earlier in the night. Jackson was devastated by a series of knees from the Thai clinch, crowning Silva the Grand Prix champion by TKO.
It was an epic event with a climactic ending. It featured multiple fights that are still regularly talked about to this day.
At the end of 2002, PRIDE began a tradition of putting on the year's biggest card in an effort to send a "Shockwave" throughout the new year. Each of them was spectacular, but when compared, Shockwave 2004 stands out.
Headlined by the heavyweight tournament finale, the heavyweight championship unification between Fedor Emelianenko and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, the card was stacked from top to bottom.
In the co-main event, middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva took on heavyweight Mark Hunt in an exciting scrap that only added to the legacy of Silva.
Other matches included Mirko Cro Cop's rematch with Kevin Randleman, a back and forth striking match between Takanori Gomi and Jens Pulver, and the notorious upset of Anderson Silva by a Ryo Chonan flying scissor heel hook.
The event certainly sent shockwaves into 2005 with upsets, revenge and a unification of the heavyweight title.
Final Conflict 2005
As far as I'm concerned, it was the biggest event PRIDE ever put on. Headlined not only by the finale of PRIDE's 2005 Middleweight Grand Prix, the heavyweight showdown between Mirko Cro Cop and Fedor Emelianenko was one of the most anticipated MMA fights of all time.
In a tournament full of household names, such as Dan Henderson, Vitor Belfort and Quinton Jackson, the final four fighters were left to crown a champion.
In the semifinals, Budding PRIDE star Mauricio "Shogun" Rua faced off against Alistair Overeem, and middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva met Ricardo Arona in a grudge match.
Arona and Shogun would meet in the finals, but not before the heavyweights squared off.
In what amounted to 20 minutes of back and forth action, Emelianenko finally defended his title against number one contender Mirko Cro Cop. It was the first decision loss of Cro Cop's career and it vaulted Emelianenko to new heights.
In the tournament finale, Shogun knocked Arona unconscious in the first round. Shogun had been a huge underdog at the start of the tournament, but by the end he was not only tournament champion, but a legitimate star in sport.
Bushido 9: The Tournament
In what was undoubtedly the most stacked event the promotion ever held, Bushido 9 featured the first two rounds of both the lightweight and welterweight tournaments, which were to crown the first ever champion of each division.
The lightweight tournament in particular was a fierce bracket of top contenders and featured terrific matchups between Hayato Sakurai and Jens Pulver, Joachim Hansen and Yves Edwards, and in what many called the fight of the year, Takanori Gomi took on Tatsuya Kawajiri.
In the second round, Sakurai would meet Hansen, and Gomi would rematch Luiz Azeredo. Gomi and Sakurai fought their way to become the finalists.
The welterweight tournament featured such names as Dan Henderson, Akihiro Gono, Phil Baroni and Murilo Bustamante. Henderson stopped both Ryo Chonan and Akihiro Gono to move on to the finals, where he would meet Murilo Bustamante.
To this day, it is still my favorite MMA event of all time.
PRIDE 33: The Second Coming
It wasn't technically the last PRIDE event, but it was the last major show they put on, and would signify the end of an era.
In what would be their second and last appearance in America, Pride 33 was headlined by the long awaited rematch between welterweight champion Dan Henderson and middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva for the middleweight title.
Wanderlei was the first and only middleweight champion going into the fight. After two and a half hard fought rounds, Henderson would become the only PRIDE champion in two divisions by knocking out Silva in the third round.
Lightweight champion Takanori Gomi took on American Nick Diaz in the co-main event in what turned out to be one of the best fights of the year and possibly of all time. After being cut badly in the first round, Diaz would rebound to become only the second fighter in a major MMA promotion to win by gogoplata.
The rest of the card featured Shogun with one of the most impressive knockouts of all time over Alistair Overeem in a rematch, Sokoudjou's upset knockout of Rogerio Nogueira, Hayato Sakurai's demolition of Mac Danzig, and Frank Trigg against Kazuo Misaki.
Trigg would make history in being the only commentator to both fight on the card and commentate on the broadcast.
PRIDE would hold one more event before calling it quits and accepting the offer from Zuffa. The losses of their one and only middleweight and lightweight champions would be symbolic of a fading era in the sport. It was a hell of a way to go out.