There was a time in this sport when there truly were two super powers that ruled the landscape of mixed martial arts. The eternal boss of all promotions, The Ultimate Fighting Championships, was just really starting to gain traction and take off. Across the globe Pride Fighting Championships was doing its fair share to perpetuate the legacy and history of a sport that would eventually attain unbelievable heights.
With two entirely unique approaches to promoting this warlike hand to hand combat sport, the UFC and Pride offered a growing fan base two incredible flavors of MMA. One more glamorous the other more streamlined. Yet both carried with them a top shelf quality that rivaled the other.
The simple reason for this was the athlete, the warrior, the mixed martial artist performing for either organization.
As time marched on and circumstances being what they were Pride eventually fell, like a proud champion unable to cling to his belt for another round. It marked a tragic and simply depressing end to an amazing component to the legacy of this sport.
More so than the loss of Pride, it was the loss of a platform for those fighters that became commonplace in the Pride ring to compete. Many an MMA legend was born in Grand Prix tournaments or all out open war under the bright lights in Japan.
Names like Emelianenko, Crocop, Sakuraba, Wanderlei, Frye, Shogun, Rampage, and Henderson were forged in the fires of Pride. When that brand fell many fight fans were left wondering what was next for their heroes.
The answer was they would be scattered to the wind. Falling under random promotions in an era where MMA had many more options for the mainstream fighter than they have today. Affliction, Pro Elite, Strikeforce, Bodog, the list goes on. Many fighters eventually made their way to the top dog and competed for the UFC.
Long had MMA fans clamored to see certain match ups that under divided banners may never happen. The idea of Randy Couture vs Fedor Emelianenko, or Wand vs Liddell, those bouts brought chills to the spine. Hell they still do.
The expectations of the former Pride fighters sadly did not come to fruition for many fighters or their fans as they made their way to their respective divisions, divisions they were expected to redefine.
Many a hardcore fan was left with their foot in their mouth when Gabriel Gonzaga destroyed Mirko Crocop with a devastating head kick which he has made famous. No fight fan would have laid money down if it were on a bet that said Hendo would lose two consecutive title bouts, one at light heavyweight, the other at middleweight.
The thing is, these men did not arrive in the UFC as they left Pride and it became obvious quickly that the landscape had changed for many fighters and the fans who celebrated them. Some excelled like Rampage who quickly earned a title, or Wanderlei who never found UFC gold but held his own in his old stomping grounds.
Yet watching guys like Herring, Crocop, Gomi, hardcore fight fans began to question the integrity of the Pride stable's greatness. For whatever reason, the MMA fan base is a judgmental and restless bunch. Armchair warriors everywhere turned cheek and rolled over on the legendary Pride fighters. The rhetoric on forums everywhere lit quickly and burned out of control.
They couldn't ever have competed with UFC level fighters, the Octagon posed to many complications for fighters accustomed to competing in a ring, the list of ridiculous commentary was endless.
While there was no denying that certain fighters were struggling with the transition, the true explanations were much simpler. Certain fighters had built their legacies during their primes under the Pride banner and by the time they made their way to the UFC, their twilight was upon them.
There was no magical formula which was presented by the UFC or its competitors which drew a black cloud over these warriors. And for any of you out there still believing in Pride voodoo fairy tales, explain to me what happened to Chuck Liddell please. Go ahead we will all wait.......
It was the simple nature of being a warrior in a sport that demands every ounce of an athlete to compete at the levels these fighters are accustom to. The peak never comes as easy as the fall. It is a sad truth within a sport that showcases gods in the eyes of the fan. It will happen to GSP, it will happen to Silva, and Jon Jones. Their good times will run dry and their plummet to earth will define another era of MMA.
As for the Pride fighters and the smoke and mirrors of judgment that surrounded their transition to the UFC, well that hogwash was all put to bed on November 19th 2011 at UFC 139.
Two former Pride kings who saw their initial transitions to the UFC, and the expectations that came with that leaving much to be desired, put on one of the greatest fights in the history of the sport.
Dan Henderson and Shogun Rua may not have lived up to their own or their fan's expectations during their early runs in the UFC. But their performance as a pair, their war in the main event at UFC 139 will go down in history as an epic classic. And simply put it has erased any missteps they may have endured early in their recent UFC careers.
There was no title on the line, ironically just pride was at stake between two lions of the Pride Fighting Championships era. And win lose or draw both men and their fans left that fight with a multitude more pride than they had entering the cage before twenty five minutes of all out open back and forth war.
In a fight that looked like Hendo was going to run away with it early, Rua was able to regain composure and turn the tides late to force a very tough decision on the judges sitting cage side. While the decision against Rua was unanimous, the result of the fight simply did not reflect the battle that had taken place and became an instant classic to rival any all time top bout a fight fan can reflect on.
It was an unreal display between two former Pride fighters who brought us all back to a time that we chanted their names in arenas filled with fifty thousand fans. That fight last night took place inside the Octagon, the banner overhead said UFC, but they reminded everyone just exactly why they miss Pride so damn much.
Wars like this were once commonplace there. And when these two former Pride warriors touched gloves and unleashed the hell they inflicted on one another last night, it once again brought that chill to the spine of the old school fight fan who knew deep in their hearts that guys like Hendo and Rua were more than capable of doing exactly what they did in that cage at UFC 139.
So you think Pride fighters fell off huh? Whatever you say fight fan. Thank god for The Ultimate Fighter, and Brock will be back any minute to restore order to your MMA world.
Until then, tip your hat and show respect where it is due. Hendo and Rua, we applaud you and thank you for one of the greatest gifts a fight fan can ever hope for, a true war between classic kings who once defined this sport, and here today are still putting it down.
True war like that can only be fought among the truest of warriors. Endless applause.
This article originally featured at Hurtsbad MMA. Follow us on Twitter @hurtsbadmma.
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