In its heyday, the PRIDE Fighting Championships was arguably the greatest mixed martial arts promotion, rivaling that of the UFC.
Many legendary figures in our sport have been cultivated under the PRIDE banner, gaining worldwide recognition thanks to the platform that the organization provided.
One of the many platforms to stardom that PRIDE offered was their touted Grand Prix tournaments, which yielded many notable champions over the years that remain relevant in mixed martial arts today.
This field of 185-pound savages yielded perhaps the most unlikely champion in Kazuo Misaki.
A former Grand Prix champion in Dan Henderson was considered the consummate favorite early on in the tournament; however, the Olympian was eliminated in the quarter-final round by the aforementioned Japanese fighter, who took home a close decision win over the American.
Next, Misaki was pitted against submission whiz Paulo Filho, who submitted Ryo Chonan in his previous outing. The Brazilian managed to cinch an armbar, which earned the tapout in the waning moments of the first round.
After Filho was sidelined from the finals due to injury, Misaki slid in his place and met with heavy hitter Denis Kang. "The Grabaka Hitman" upset the budding contender and took home the contentious split-decision win, earning the tournament title in the process.
Participants: Murilo Bustamante, Amar Suloev, Denis Kang, Murilo Rua, Akihiro Gono, Hector Lombard, Gegard Mousasi, Makato Takimoto, Joey Villasenor, Ryo Chonan, Paulo Filho, Gregory Bouchelaghem, Kazuo Misaki, Phil Baroni and Dan Henderson.
Though Henderson was always coveted as a talented prospect in the mixed martial arts world, he was forced to compete well outside of his weight class for many years, often taking up ventures in both the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions.
However, in 2005, PRIDE provided the platform for the Team Quest star to make a name for himself as the organization began their first Welterweight (185-pound) Grand Prix.
Knockout victories over Ryo Chonan and Akihiro Gono earned Henderson his spot in the finals, where he squared off against former UFC champion Murilo Bustamante in the finals.
After 15 minutes of action, Henderson took home the decision victory and laid his claim as one of the best middleweights in the world.
Participants: Daniel Acacio, Akihiro Gono, Ryo Chonan, Dan Henderson, Phil Baroni, Ikuhisa Minowa, Murilo Bustamante and Masanori Suda.
In their first effort to pit the world's best fighters against one another, regardless of weight class, the organization created the historic Pride Open-Weight Grand Prix in 2000, where Mark Coleman began the historic resurrection of his career.
Losing four of his last five bouts leading into the tournament, Coleman turned the corner by first submitting Masaaki Satake via neck crank later meeting with Akira Shoji in the quarter finals, dominating the touted Japanese fighter with his staunch wrestling skills and patented ground-and-pound.
Kazuyuki Fujita fell victim to injuries sustained in his quarter-final battle, which gave Coleman the bye into the finals where he met powerhouse Igor Vovchanchyn, submitting the Ukrainian kickboxer with knees to the face.
Participants: Royce Gracie, Nobuhiko Takada, Kazushi Sakuraba, Guy Mezger, Igor Vovchanchyn, Alexander Otsuka, Gary Goodridge, Osamu Tachihikari, Mark Coleman, Masaaki Satake, Akira Shoji, Ebenezer Fontes Braga, Mark Kerr, Enson Inoue, Kazuyuki Fujita and Hans Nijman.
Though he already laid his claim as the organization's 205-pound champion by finishing off fan favorite Kazushi Sakuraba, Wanderlei Silva decided to take his skills to the big stage of PRIDE's 2003 Middleweight Grand Prix.
In the quarter-final round, Silva took on a familiar face in the aforementioned Sakuraba, putting an end to their rivalry by knocking out the Japanese star midway through the first round.
Next, the Brazilian fought Olympic Judoka Hidehiko Yoshida, taking the touted grappler to a decision. The victory earned Silva his bid to the finals where he first met future UFC champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
Though the American had his moments, Silva used his dangerous clinch in order to blast away with knees to the head.
As Jackson was too tough for his own good, the referee eventually intervened in the midst of the onslaught, where Jackson slumped to the ground thanks to the mounting blows, giving Silva the victory and the tournament title in the process.
Participants: Chuck Liddell, Alistair Overeem, Quinton Jackson, Murilo Bustamante, Hidehiko Yoshida, Kiyoshi Tamura, Wanderlei Silva and Kazushi Sakuraba.
The first and only lightweight tourney held by the promotion featured the emergence of the legendary Takanori Gomi.
"The Fireball Kid" was first pitted against fellow prospect Tatsuya Kawajiri, though the wrestling powerhouse eventually succumbed to the heavy hands of Gomi, who dropped the "Crusher" before pouncing on his back for the rear-naked choke finish.
In the semi-final round, Gomi took on Luiz Azeredo, whom he had met in a previous outing, knocking out the Chute Boxe fighter inside of the first round.
Azeredo proved to be a formidable opponent in their second go-around, though Gomi eventually edged the Brazilian, taking home the decision win.
In the finals, Gomi met with the established and world-renowned Hayato Sakurai, who once was coveted as the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet.
Gomi knocked out Sakurai in less than four minutes of the opening round, earning the tournament title and the distinction as PRIDE's inaugural lightweight champion.
Participants: Jens Pulver, Hayato Sakurai, Yves Edwards, Joachim Hansen, Takanori Gomi, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Luiz Azeredo and Naoyuku Kotani.
Much like Wanderlei Silva, Fedor Emelianenko was looking to further his legend by becoming the second PRIDE champion who would vie for the Grand Prix tournament title.
In his first outing, the Russian took on former tournament winner Mark Coleman, submitting the UFC Hall of Famer with an armbar inside of the first round.
Next, Emelianenko took on former UFC champion Kevin Randleman. The wrestling powerhouse famously slammed "The Last Emperor" on his head, courtesy of a high-flying suplex. Moments later, Emelianenko regained his bearings and submitted Randleman in less than two minutes of action, via kimura.
In the finals, Emelianenko met with rival Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, whom the PRIDE champion had bested years prior to earn his initial world title.
Though the bout ended in a no-contest initially, the duo had their rubber match some time later, when Emelianenko again earned a dominant decision win over the Brazilian, adding a tournament title to his mantle.
Participants: Fedor Emelianenko, Mark Coleman, Mirko Cro Cop, Kevin Randleman, Stefan Leko, Naoya Ogawa, Paulo Cesar Silva, Henry Miller, Murilo Rua, Sergei Kharitonov, Semmy Schilt, Gan McGee, Heath Herring, Yoshiki Takahashi, Hirotaka Yokoi and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
One of the final efforts of the promotion produced one of their most prestigious events, as former K-1 star Mirko Cro Cop was looking to make mixed martial arts infamy by laying his claim in the PRIDE Open-Weight Grand Prix in 2006.
In the opening round, Cro Cop walked right through Ikuhisa Minowa, finishing off the smaller man with strikes in just 70 seconds.
The quarter-finals saw the Croatian pitted against Olympic gold medalist Hidehiko Yoshida, who succumbed to the crippling leg kicks of Cro Cop, who earned the first round TKO.
In the semi-finals, the touted kickboxer took on then-Pride champion Wanderlei Silva, who filled in as a late replacement for the aforementioned Fedor Emelianenko.
In a rousing performance, Cro Cop knocked out the Brazilian with a head kick, making him the first man to stop Silva whilst in PRIDE.
In the finals, Josh Barnett was looking to upset Cro Cop, who already owned two victories over the submission grappler.
The underdog performance never came to be, as Cro Cop utilized his infamous sprawl in order to stave off all takedown attempts, eventually connecting on a few telling blows, delivering some nasty ground and pound which yielded the tap from Barnett, giving Cro Cop the tourney title in the process.
Participants: Aleksander Emelianenko, Josh Barnett, Mark Hunt, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Zuluzinho, Mirko Cro Cop, Ikuhisa Minowa, Hidehiko Yoshida, Yosuke Nishijima, Kazuyuki Fujita, James Thompson and Wanderlei Silva.
In the most talent laden field of fighters in mixed martial arts history, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua rose above all else.
The opening round featured a revenge match of sorts, as Rua took on Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, who defeated brother Murilo Rua by a contentious split-decision. The Muay Thai fighter avenged the loss by knocking out Jackson inside of the first round, courtesy of soccer kicks to the face.
Next, Rua took on another rival in Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, who hailed from the Brazilian Top Team crew who long had been considered to be the nemesis of the Chute Boxe Academy. In one of the best fights in PRIDE history, Rua and Nogueira traded blow for blow, dropping one another in the opening round.
In the end, Rua took home the decision win, earning his spot in the semi-final round where he took on the towering Alistair Overeem. Though the Dutchman proved to be formidable in the early goings of the bout, Rua finished off "The Demolition Man" with first-round strikes.
In the finals, Rua met Ricardo Arona, a touted submission specialist who remained undefeated in ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship.
Rua dominated Arona from start to finish, connecting on a sweeping stomp to the face, dazing his fellow countryman before finishing him off with hard hammer fists to the face, giving Rua the knockout finish and the tournament title, all at the age of 25.
Participants: Kazushi Sakuraba, Yoon Dong-Sik, Ricardo Arona, Dean Lister, Kevin Randleman, Kazuhiro Nakamura, Wanderlei Silva, Hidehiko Yoshida, Alistair Overeem, Vitor Belfort, Igor Vovchanchyn, Yuki Kondo, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Dan Henderson, Mauricio Rua and Quinton Jackson.