MMA Review: #74: Pride: Bushido Vol. 9 – The Tournament Jan06

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MMA Review: #74: Pride: Bushido Vol. 9 – The Tournament

This show was pretty much what the Bushido series had been building towards from the beginning, after finding their poster-boy in Takanori Gomi and restricting the shows to Lightweight and Welterweight (185lbs) fighters only. The show would see two tournaments taking place, with both the Quarter-Finals and Semi-Finals (as well as the alternate bouts) on the same show, with the winners of the semis advancing to Shockwave 2005 to face off for the Lightweight and Welterweight titles. There was a slight bit of controversy in terms of who was entered into the tournaments (guys like Josh Thomson and Paulo Filho missed out while unheralded fighters such as Naoyuki Kotani made the cut simply because they were Japanese) but when it came down to it, both tournaments had enough talent for fans to expect this to become an all-time classic show. So without further ado…

Pride: Bushido Vol. 9: The Tournament

09/25/03

Tokyo, Japan

-We get a video package to open, basically profiling the top fighters in the two tournaments, like Gomi, Henderson, Hansen, and Kawajiri.

-Your hosts are Mauro Renallo and Bas Rutten. They don’t even really run down the card this time (obviously short on airtime) and basically just say the show is going to be awesome.

-Into the arena for the fighter intro, and nothing of note happens, unless you count Phil Baroni wearing rock star shades and flashing his abs.

Welterweight Tournament: Alternate Bout

Paulo Filho vs Ryuta Sakurai

The winner of this one gets into the tournament should one of the Quarter-Final winners get injured, and as we’ve seen with the old UFC tournaments, that’s more common than you’d actually expect. Filho being left in the alternate bout frustrated a lot of fans that wanted to see him tested against top competition, but I guess Pride felt it would’ve been dodgy having two BTT representatives in the tournament, so there you go.

They begin and Sakurai presses forward with strikes, sprawling to avoid a takedown attempt. He tries to spin over and take Filho’s back, but Filho reverses into a clinch and gets the takedown to Sakurai’s guard. Paulo works for position, but the moment he makes a slight mistake, Sakurai reverses and gets back to standing. Back into the clinch, and Filho works for a single leg, down into half-guard. He looks for a kimura from the top, and then takes a full mount instead, opening up with some nasty punches. Sakurai rolls so Filho gets his hooks in and looks for a rear naked choke, before floating over in a beautiful transition and hooking in a straight armbar. Sakurai tries to defend for as long as he can, but Filho straightens the arm out, and Sakurai taps out there.

Business as usual for Filho who REALLY needs to face some better competition than he has been doing – maybe he could come to UFC and fight in their MW division?

Welterweight Tournament: Quarter Finals

Akihiro Gono vs Daniel Acacio

Gono became a bit of a controversial figure just before this show as he basically said in an interview that Ryo Chonan and Masanori Suda, despite their high profiles, didn’t really belong in this tournament as they were coming off major losses, and were probably only there because they were Japanese, while he on the other hand had earned his slot by beating Crosley Gracie. I don’t really care for Gono, but hey, you’ve got to admire the guy’s honesty. Still, I was expecting Acacio (who had been on a good run going into this) to tear him apart.

They exchange strikes to open the round with Acacio pressing forward. Gono works with the left, as Acacio looks to land combinations, and both get their good shots in early. For some reason Gono gets a bit careless with his stance, and Acacio tags him with some punches for his troubles, so he drops to his back and Acacio goes down into his guard and chops away with some shots. Gono works back to his feet, but Acacio continues to press and land with combinations, albeit nothing majorly damaging. Acacio tags him again with a left hand, and then lands a combo into the clinch, but Gono blocks a throw attempt and breaks off, where he lands a nice head/body combination. They continue to exchange, into the clinch where Gono blocks a takedown. Back out and Gono lands two good leg kicks, but gets caught by a flurry and backs up. Into the clinch again and they exchange some close shots, before breaking out where Gono NAILS him with a left hand to the body and then a heavy right to the head. Acacio looks hurt by the bodyshot and tries a sloppy flurry into the clinch, but Gono breaks off with a knee to the body and follows with a hard kick to the left leg that buckles Acacio at the knee. Acacio grabs the clinch again, but the official breaks them when the action slows up, and Gono lands the body/head combo again. Into the clinch, and Gono lands some knees to the legs and breaks with a left to end the round.

Pretty even round there.

Into the 2nd and Acacio opens with a flurry into the clinch, but they break off quickly and Acacio continues to press with strikes, but Gono blocks them for the most part. Gono lands a good kick to the body, and then hurts him with another leg kick again. Acacio keeps coming forward though, putting Gono on one knee with a front kick, so Gono grabs the clinch, and gets a takedown to guard. He works from the top with some chopping punches, but Acacio tries a triangle, so Gono stands out of the guard, and looks for a stomp instead. Back down into the guard, but then he stands again, trying a jumping stomp this time, but it doesn’t land and he ends up back in the guard where he started. He does some work from the top, and then stands, and Acacio quickly follows. Acacio comes forward, but Gono lands another good leg kick, so Acacio tries a takedown only for Gono to block and they end up in Acacio’s guard, where Gono works to pass into full mount to end the fight.

We’re going to the judges, and in an upset, Gono earns the unanimous decision. On a first viewing this actually looked like a close fight, but watching it again it’s clear that while Acacio was throwing a lot of strikes, outside of a couple of times in the first round, he didn’t really do much damage, while Gono was really hurting him with the bodyshots and especially the leg kicks. Surprising turnout, but I guess when you think Gono is a kickboxing champion, maybe it’s not so surprising. Gono advances to the semis.

Dan Henderson vs Ryo Chonan

Pre-fight Chonan promises a better performance than his last fight, which saw him KOd by Phil Baroni in just over a minute. During the entrances Renallo notes that the Japanese have nicknamed Henderson ‘The American Athlete’, which is the worst nickname this side of…well, Chonan renaming himself ‘The Shark’, just in time for Baroni to knock his head off.

They begin and Chonan presses forward, but Henderson lands his trademark BIG RIGHT HAND to put Chonan on Dream Street, and follows with another one that drops him, where Hendo pounds away for the stoppage in 22 seconds!!!

God, this never fails to amuse me when I think that people were willing to consider Chonan an elite level MW after one impressive win over an off-colour Anderson Silva. Henderson advances and it’s back to the drawing board for Chonan where hopefully he’ll learn to actually, you know, defend against heavy punches.

Ikuhisa Minowa vs Phil Baroni

This was of course the rematch of their brawl at Bushido 7 which ended with Baroni near-killing Minowa with a series of stomps and kicks to the head. No real reason for a rematch in my opinion, but Minowa is one of Pride’s golden boys. Pre-fight Baroni says he’ll smash Minowa again, cutting one of the best promos you’ll hear in MMA all year. With Rampage now God-fearing, Baroni’s probably the best promo in MMA, actually. Minowa has finally shaved off his mullet, for those of you who care.

They begin and Minowa gets a single leg down to guard immediately, having no intention of standing with Phil this time. He looks for a leg lock, and then passes into half-guard where he lands some knees and punches. Minowa looks for a kimura, but Baroni uses sheer strength to avoid it, so Minowa passes to side mount and keeps trying it, but Baroni just continues to block. Baroni gets his half-guard back, but Minowa passes into the full mount this time, and tries the kimura again. He gives it up when Baroni blocks, and Baroni gets full guard back. Baroni tries to kick him away, but Minowa holds him down and does NOTHING from the position, as the fight becomes increasingly frustrating for ME, so I can’t imagine how Baroni was feeling. Minowa looks to pass the guard, but Baroni keeps him in half-guard, so he LAYS THERE SOME MORE and the referee is more than happy to let this crap continue. FINALLY Baroni gets a reversal and stands, kicking Minowa in the head and avoiding a leglock. He goes down into the guard and lands some shots from the top, then stands and leans down, working the body and head, while looking for some soccer kicks. Minowa finally stands to end the round.

Into the 2nd, and Minowa gets the takedown to guard again, passing into half-guard where he does nothing again. Sigh. He finally tries a kimura, but this allows Baroni a reversal and he grabs a front facelock, but Minowa tackles him right through the ropes, almost sending Baroni crashing to the floor. They restart, but Minowa takes him down again, and holds him in half-guard, seemingly having no intention of actually, you know, DOING ANYTHING from the position. Baroni realizes that time’s running out and tries to escape, but Minowa mounts him, and then almost gets an armbar, but Baroni pulls off the escape and gets into a side mount! Back up into the clinch, and Baroni gets a front facelock, landing some knees, before Minowa goes to his back and Baroni works him over with some punches, landing a couple of kicks and missing a flying stomp to end the fight. It’s too little, too late though, and Minowa picks up the decision and advances to the semis.

Now, I know Baroni isn’t the most popular fighter around, but I love him so I’ll call this how I see it. This was pretty much a disgusting fight and really exposed Pride’s Japanese bias, to me. Did Baroni fight a good fight? Not at all – he showed he still has problems with a strong wrestler, although he didn’t show his usual cardio difficulties here. Can I blame Minowa for fighting the way he did? Of course not – he was clearly out of his depth in the striking department, and did what he had to do to pick up the win. What I’m complaining about is the inconsistency of the refereeing. Time after time the official was quite happy for Minowa to lay on Baroni, holding him down without doing a thing to damage his opponent or advance position, while in the other fights, the slightest slow down in action sees a stand-up and usually green cards given out. Hell, in the last Bushido show Elvis Schembri got stood up and green carded WHILE HE WAS PREPPING A SUBMISSION. People talk about UFC’s referees being biased to TUF guys, but hey, John McCarthy stood Koscheck and Fickett up every time the action slowed down there. This was a terrible, frustrating fight for numerous reasons.

Murilo Bustamante vs Masanori Suda

The basic story here was that Bustamante had been unsuccessful in Pride thus far with three major losses, but those three fights were at 205lbs, and at his natural 185lbs, he was unbeaten throughout his career. Renallo explains that Suda hasn’t been subbed in over ten years (failing to mention that his last fight was a knockout loss to Niko Vitale) so maybe Bustamante will look to break that streak here.

Suda clinches right away to open the fight, and Bustamante trips him down, only for them to pop right back up again. They break and Suda presses forward, but Bustamante gets the takedown to guard. Suda works immediately back to his feet in the clinch, where Bustamante trips him right back down, and works for a mount, but Suda again works up to his feet. Suda’s ground reversals have been awesome so far. They circle and Bustamante trips him down AGAIN, but Suda pops right back up like a Liddell clone. Bustamante changes his tactic a bit, peppering Suda with a couple of one-two combos, but Suda comes back with a SPINNING ELBOW that puts him on the deck! Suda tries to follow up by pounding away in the guard, but he gets WAAAY too careless with a guy as skilled as Busta, and Murilo locks up an armbar, straightening it out as Suda tries to defend, and that’s enough for the tapout.

Wow, really exciting little fight there as Suda showed me a lot more than I was expecting. Bustamante advances to the semis to face Minowa (BOO!).

Lightweight Tournament: Alternate Bout

Dokonjonosuke Mishima vs Charles Bennett

Oh God, this should be crazy as both guys are eccentric as hell. Pre-fight we get a bizarre promo from Bennett, sporting a ski mask, who explains that his workout involves “jacking off, because it’s good for the biceps”. Riiiight. He also tears up a Snoopy doll during the ring intros for some reason. He’s cleanly shaven here, making him look approximately ten years younger.

Before the fight even begins Bennett BRINGS THE INSANITY by ranting at the camera and ignoring the official’s instructions during the staredown. They begin, but both guys decide to encourage the crowd before they actually start to fight. Must be weird for Bennett to fight a guy as eccentric as him I guess. Mishima misses a high kick to open, but lands a body kick and then gets a takedown to guard. Into side mount and Mishima looks for the armbar, but Bennett reverses, giving his back in the process. He rolls to mount, and Mishima lands some punches, but then tries something that goes wrong, allowing Bennett back to his feet. Mishima throws a spin-kick, but Bennett avoids and then tags him with a hard uppercut, but Mishima gets the takedown to side mount again. Bennett reverses and comes up with a BRUTAL SLAM RIGHT ONTO MISHIMA’S HEAD!~! Somehow Mishima pulls a Fedor and no-sells it, grabbing a front facelock, but as he pulls guard for the guillotine, Bennett escapes. Mishima looks for a sweep, but Bennett tries to take his back, so Mishima grabs Bennett’s leg instead, and works a toehold into a heel hook variation for the tapout.

Really exciting little fight there, even if Bennett’s ground skills were lacking somewhat.

Lightweight Tournament: Quarter Finals

Hayato Sakurai vs Jens Pulver

Story here was basically that Sakurai, after ruling Shooto for a while in 2000/2001, had seemingly fallen from grace with a series of losses and uninspiring performances, and was looking to rebuild his career by dropping from 185lbs to 160lbs. He’s looking in phenomenal shape, that’s for sure. On the other end of the scale though, Pulver is more of a natural 145lbs fighter, so the size difference is quite clear.

Sakurai opens up with some HARD leg kicks, as they exchange combos at a mega high pace. Mach continues the punishment with the leg kicks, and then stuns him with a one-two combo, into a clinch, but Pulver blocks a takedown nicely. Back out, and Sakurai continues the leg kicks, and then lands a nasty high kick that Pulver partly blocks. Pulver presses the action, looking to pick his shots and land a big punch, as Sakurai continues to work the leg kicks, then lands a good knee. Pulver keeps coming forward, finally landing a nice left, but takes more leg kicks in the process. Mach follows with more leg kicks, but suddenly Pulver catches him with a BIG LEFT and staggers him! Pulver follows with a crisp combo that stuns him, but he manages to grab the clinch briefly to recover. Pulver breaks and works the right jab, looking for the KO shot, but Sakurai clinches again. Pulver avoids a takedown and comes back out, as they continue to circle and exchange shots. Sakurai lands a combo, and Pulver checks his eye, appearing to have been caught in it, and Mach only makes things worse with a nasty front kick directly to the eye. Sakurai continues to bring the punishment with the kicks, but suddenly Pulver counters and DECKS HIM WITH THE LEFT!~! Pulver closes in for the kill, but Sakurai comes back with a takedown to guard, but they come back to standing quickly. They continue to exchange, with Sakurai getting the better of it, landing a combination ending with a high kick, into a clinch. Sakurai breaks off with another combo, and Pulver presses forward, but Mach avoids his strikes. Pulver keeps bringing it, but Sakurai lands a BIG LEFT TO THE BODY!~! A knee strike follows and puts Pulver down, where Mach finishes the job with a flurry.

AWESOME, awesome, Fight-Of-The-Year-Contender level stuff here. Sakurai pretty much controlled the fight from the beginning, working Pulver over with some of the most brutal leg kicks you’ll see, and generally picking him apart, but Pulver was never truly out of the fight due to his serious KO power, as he proved by catching Sakurai a couple of times and coming close to finishing things. The problem Pulver had here was mainly that he was outsized – in a division with a 160lbs limit, Pulver (a natural 145lbs) is always going to struggle with guys like Sakurai who are cutting from around 185lbs. Sakurai though turned back the clock here with a vintage performance to move on to the semis. Best fight thus far.

Joachim Hansen vs Yves Edwards

Interestingly, this was booked for the MFC show earlier in the year, but Hansen ended up pulling out and Hermes Franca took his spot. This was probably the fight I was most looking forward to on the card (this or Kawajiri/Gomi) as both fighters are hugely exciting and incredibly skilled to boot.

Yves works the low kicks to open as they circle into a clinch, where Hansen gets a quick takedown to guard. Yves ties him up from the bottom as they grapple for position, and Hansen manages to work into half-guard. He gets into a side mount, and looks to get full mount using knee on belly, but Yves blocks it nicely. He reverses up into a clinch, but Hansen gets another takedown to half-guard. Edwards scrambles from the bottom, avoiding a stomp and getting back to full guard. Hansen works some short punches from the top, keeping Yves down as he tries to scramble free. Hansen tries an arm triangle choke and looks for the mount, but as he gets it, Yves rolls to give his back. Hansen looks for a rear naked choke, but Yves reverses into Hansen’s guard. It’s interesting that more and more fighters now are giving their back to get out of bad position. Yves lands some punches from the top, then avoids a triangle choke and stands back up. Hansen joins him and Yves lands one of his SWANK multi-hit combos into a Thai clinch, and they exchange knees, before Yves shoves him down to his back! Yves comes back to standing and Hansen joins him, and Yves lands a SEVEN-HIT COMBO!~! ending with a high kick that Hansen partially blocks. Hansen fires back with one of his own, but Yves avoids, and then takes a hard left mid-kick from the Norwegian. Edwards tries a flying knee into the clinch and lands a good knee there, but Hansen returns one of his own, and then gets a nice single leg into a slam, down to Yves’s guard where Edwards tries an oma plata. Hansen pulls out and stands, and they come up where Hansen tries a takedown that Edwards sprawls to avoid. They come back out of the clinch and exchange some combos, and Yves avoids a takedown and gets on top to end the round.

Very, very close round to call.

Into the 2nd and they press tentatively, before Yves fires a combo that Hansen blocks for the most part. Into the Thai clinch, but Edwards breaks quickly, and follows with a good combo to the body and head. Yves continues to land, getting an awesome glancing spinning backfist into a high kick, as Hansen looks somewhat tired. They go into the clinch, where Yves trips him down to guard, and tries to pass, but Hansen blocks him and they come back to their feet. Hansen trips Yves down now, avoiding an armbar on the way down, and works to pass guard. Yves blocks well, and then tries a kimura, so Hansen stands to avoid and suddenly lands a nasty stomp to the face. Hansen drops down into full mount, and then takes the back, so Edwards stands, but Hansen hangs on and delivers a HUGE GERMAN SUPLEX!~! Edwards pulls himself to his feet, so Hansen pulls him down with another suplex, and avoids a sweep, controlling Edwards to end the fight. This is gonna be a hell of a close decision….

Hansen via split decision. Really, really close fight and I probably would’ve gone with Yves actually based on the fact that he seemed to do better standing and neither man had the advantage on the ground really, but they went with Hansen based on the fact that he finished stronger I’m guessing, and I’m not about to complain. Hell of a fight here, a more technical battle than say, the stand-up war that was Sakurai-Pulver, but still a great, great fight if not a FOTYC.

Takanori Gomi vs Tatsuya Kawajiri

Ah, this was the fight that pretty much EVERYONE wanted to see, with the Bushido poster-boy Gomi going up against statistically the #1 ranked Lightweight in the world in Kawajiri. I have to admit, I never dreamed that Pride would match up the top two Japanese LWs against each other in the quarters, but hey, who’s complaining? Both men get a monstrous pop upon entrance, with Kawajiri wearing his Shooto belt. As always, Gomi refuses to meet his opponent’s gaze in the staredown, looking directly at the floor instead.

They get underway and Kawajiri immediately comes in with a big overhand right that partially lands, and tries a takedown, but Gomi blocks and they go into the clinch. Back out, and Kawajiri works some low kicks as Gomi looks to counter, landing a combination back into the clinch where he knees to the body. The official breaks them up, and both press with nothing really landing, before Gomi avoids a takedown. Gomi lands a heavy uppercut, but Kawajiri motions that it caught him in the chest only, and he’s fine. Kawajiri lands a low kick/high kick combo as they continue to press, but Gomi answers with a nice combination of his own, before they stop momentarily due to an accidental headbutt. They restart, and both start landing shots at a high pace, before Gomi starts to take over, landing hard shots to the head and body and backing Kawajiri up. Kawajiri tries to clinch, but Gomi avoids and NAILS HIM WITH SOME HUGE BODYSHOTS. Holy shit, Gomi hits HARD. Kawajiri tries a takedown, but Gomi avoids, and lands a knee, then closes in with some VICIOUS PUNCHES as Kawajiri looks in trouble. Kawajiri tries to counter, landing a good right, but gets another takedown blocked. Gomi continues to bring it, working him over with huge shots to the body and head, and Kawajiri tries to counter, but Gomi nails him with a HUGE FLURRY TO THE BODY and follows with BIG KNEES TO THE HEAD!~! Kawajiri goes down, and Gomi quickly pounces onto his back, landing unanswered punches to the side of the head, before pulling him down into a tight rear naked choke for the TAPOUT!~! And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the performance of the year.

I think this fight’s actually become slightly overrated by people praising it as Fight of the Year – it was way too one-sided to be FOTY (perhaps a low-end candidate), but Performance of the Year I’ll give to Gomi, as he basically dismantled arguably the top guy in the weight category, battering him with some of the hardest punches you’ll ever see before submitting him almost casually. Gomi’s boxing technique has become just incredibly good and coupled with his wrestling skill; he’s become someone who’s almost impossible to beat. Awesome fight here and possibly a low-end FOTYC.

Luiz Azeredo vs Naoyuki Kotani

Kotani was representing Japanese organization Zest in the tournament, but in reality he probably shouldn’t have been involved – his spot really belonged to someone like Josh Thomson (yeah, I’m bitter about his lack of involvement!) or Luis Buscape. Azeredo comes in looking like a caveman here, with his hair grown out and a bit of a beard.

They begin and Azeredo drops him immediately with a hard right hand, lands a NASTY soccer kick, and follows with a knee to the head and a swift flurry for the stoppage in eleven seconds! Well, so much for Kotani. So it’s a completely fresh Azeredo against Gomi in the semis, a rematch of their great fight from Bushido 7.

Welterweight Tournament: Semi Finals

Dan Henderson vs Akihiro Gono

Henderson presses the action to open, catching a kick and putting Gono down in guard. They get stood for an apparent headbutt from Henderson, looked accidental to me, then restart in the guard. Henderson lands some shoulder butts, but then Gono complains about a headbutt again, and the referee decides to show Henderson the yellow card. Replays show no headbutt, looked like gamesmanship from Gono there. They restart standing, and circle, with Hendo looking for the big shot as Gono blocks. Henderson catches him with a left as he tries a kick again, and Gono goes to his back where Hendo lands some knees from the top. Henderson works with left hands from the top, but Gono gets back to guard. Hendo passes into half-guard and looks to mount, but Gono gets back to guard, so Henderson controls his head and works him over with elbows to the body. Henderson stands, and they come back up into a clinch where they muscle for position, before the official breaks them. Henderson presses, but Gono lands a clipping left kick, so Hendo clinches and they muscle around again until the official calls for the break. Henderson blocks a left kick, and then trips him down, but he comes back up, so Hendo swings his way into another clinch. The official breaks them again, and this time Henderson presses forward and catches him with a heavy one-two. Gono backs up, but Henderson closes in flurrying, and catches him with a BIG RIGHT TO THE CHIN for the KO!

Bit of a slower fight there, but with an awesome finish. Henderson advances to the finals at Shockwave, as was expected when he was announced in the tournament.

-We’re eleven fights in now and even *I’m* getting exhausted.

Murilo Bustamante vs Ikuhisa Minowa

They begin and Minowa looks for the takedown, but Bustamante trips him down to half-guard. He works for position, and lands some good shots, before standing and missing a stomp as Minowa stays on his back. Back into half-guard, and Bustamante works for the mount, but Minowa blocks. Bustamante looks for a kimura, but Minowa avoids it nicely, and the official stands them back up. Minowa tries a kick, but Bustamante catches it and trips him down, only to get caught in a guillotine choke. Minowa really squeezes, trying to finish things, but Bustamante signals to his corner that he’s alright by giving the thumbs up, causing Bas to mark out on commentary. Bustamante finally pops out into half-guard, and works to get the full mount. Minowa gives his back and scrambles to escape, but Bustamante stays on top and gets into a half-mount, trying an arm triangle and dropping into side mount to lock it on. It looks TIGHT, but somehow Minowa manages to escape! Bustamante stands and looks to drop into full mount again, but Minowa gives his back and they come up to standing once more. Minowa presses into a clinch, but the official breaks it up quickly and Bustamante gets a trip to side mount, before standing and landing a BRUTAL SOCCER KICK TO THE FACE!~! Minowa looks hurt, rolling away, so Bustamante drops to pound him for a moment, then decides to stand and OPENS UP WITH THE SOCCER KICKS FOR THE STOPPAGE!~! VIVA BUSTAMANTE!~!

HA, that’ll teach Minowa for using lay-and-pray on Baroni in the quarters. God, that was a brutal finish and I never would’ve expected it to come from someone as seemingly placid as Bustamante. Murilo now advances to Shockwave and gets the rematch with Henderson, this time with the title on the line.

Lightweight Tournament: Semi Finals

Hayato Sakurai vs Joachim Hansen

After the two wars that these two went through, even if they’re tired I’m expecting a hell of a fight here.

Hansen opens with a stiff combo into the clinch and looks for a trip, but Mach blocks and gets a sweet judo toss, only for Hansen to reverse and land in Sakurai’s guard. Hansen lands some body/head combinations as Sakurai stays busy, striking from the bottom. Hansen stands and misses a stomp, but then lands a flurry of heavy lefts to the face as Sakurai stays down. Hansen tries another stomp, but misses again and Sakurai stands. Hansen throws a knee, but Sakurai catches it and clinches, before breaking with a good knee of his own. Mach follows with a hard left hand, and then buckles his leg with a solid kick, before landing another left to deck him! Hansen comes right back up and Mach charges in, landing a knee but Hansen manages to grab the clinch. Mach throws him down and floats right into an armbar attempt, but Hansen somehow escapes to Sakurai’s half-guard. Dope little segment there. Mach gets full guard back, but Hansen passes back into half-guard, landing some short strikes from the top. Hansen stands and drops another heavy left, but Sakurai blocks a stomp attempt, so Hansen re-enters the guard. Hansen stands to drop some more shots, then stands up proper and Mach follows him, only for Hansen to land a solid knee and get another takedown to guard. He lands some decent shots from the top, but the action slows down somewhat.

Hansen stands and almost takes Sakurai’s back as he comes up, but Sakurai reverses over to Hansen’s guard. He stands and looks to pass, but ends up back in the guard where he works from the top. Into half-guard, but Hansen gets full guard back and peppers him with strikes from the bottom. Sakurai comes back up to standing, and then lands a spinning back kick to the legs as Hansen stays on his back, then lands another to the body as he stands! Hansen comes forward and Mach tries a spinning backfist that partially connects, then lands a good right into the clinch, only for Hansen to deliver a sweet throw to side mount. He tries an arm triangle, but quickly gives it up in favour of standing, landing some strikes from the top as Sakurai stays down. Back up, and Mach lands a HUGE leg kick that puts Hansen down, but he comes back up into the clinch and both land some knees. Hansen blocks a takedown attempt, but Sakurai comes back with a good knee, and then gets the takedown to end the round.

Did I mention that these guys RULE?

Into the 2nd and Hansen looks for his trademark big knee to open, but lands a left body kick instead. Sakurai answers with a hard left of his own, but Hansen comes back and tags him with a punch, so Sakurai takes him down to side mount. Mach looks for an Achilles hold, giving Renallo the chance to rip on Tim Sylvia for submitting to it again. God, I’d love to see Tim fucking SMASH a Pride guy, just to shut Mauro up. Mach gives up on the hold and stands, and the official calls Hansen up to join him. They trade kicks and punches into the clinch, and Mach gets the takedown to guard, avoiding a triangle attempt as they go down. Back up, and they continue to trade, with Hansen landing a nice combo and getting a throw to side mount. He stands back up and lands a soccer kick, then goes back to the guard where he works the body. Hansen tries to pass guard, and then they trade off heel hook attempts, before standing. Sakurai lands some good punches, and then counters one with a leg kick that causes Hansen to buckle to one knee! Sakurai gets on top and works in the guard, then tries a flying stomp (!) but Hansen reverses into Sakurai’s guard as he lands. He stands and lands a soccer kick, but Sakurai gets an ankle pick and gets Hansen down, landing his own soccer kick to end the fight.

To the judges, and the winner by unanimous decision is Mach Sakurai! Really close fight again, but I think Sakurai was the clear winner here (unlike Hansen/Edwards which was a real pick-em) because he did more damage standing and managed to knock Hansen down three times. Sakurai’s size advantage wasn’t as apparent here as it was with Pulver, and it made it a tougher fight for him, but again he managed to pull out a vintage performance complete with wild moves like the spinning kicks. A hugely entertaining fight that could’ve gone either way on any given night really. Despite his loss, hopefully Hansen will be back soon.

Takanori Gomi vs Luiz Azeredo

Winner advances to Shockwave to face Hayato Sakurai, then. This is of course a rematch from Bushido 7, which saw Azeredo give Gomi tons of problems standing, before falling prey to a sickening one-two knockout that was one of THE highlights of 2005. Gomi then went on to pound the unconscious Azeredo post-fight, causing a major feud between himself and the Chute Boxe camp. So yeah…talk about tensions for this one.

Azeredo immediately comes out at a SICK PACE, pressing with punches and kicks before they go into the clinch. Azeredo blocks a takedown, and they come out with Azeredo pressing again, but Gomi lands a stiff counter right and a hard bodyshot. The exchange continues with Azeredo really pushing the pace, but Gomi landing the better, harder shots. My play-by-play REALLY doesn’t do this fight justice. Azeredo gets a takedown to guard and lands some hammer fists, before they get stood and the official shows Gomi the green card. Oh COME ON. Azeredo lands some low kicks off the restart as they continue to exchange at a high pace, before jumping forward and landing a stiff left hand. Gomi comes back and absolutely NAILS him with a body shot, so Azeredo tries a single leg that Gomi blocks, showing sick balance. Gomi escapes and comes forward, rocking Azeredo with a HEAVY combo. Azeredo answers with some shots of his own, but you CAN’T HURT GOMI and he comes forward, continuing to punish the Brazilian. Azeredo finally gets a takedown to guard, but Gomi ties him up and all he can do is hit short hammer fists. The official stands them and it’s ANOTHER green card for Gomi. Sorry, but that’s fucking ridiculous. Azeredo comes forward from the restart and staggers him with a low kick, buckling the leg, but Gomi answers with ANOTHER combination of head and body shots. Gomi keeps stalking him like he’s the Undertaker, landing heavy combinations as the exchange continues. Finally Gomi catches a kick and puts him down to guard, working from the top as Azeredo holds on to end the round.

Round 2 begins and Gomi continues to stalk him to open, landing shots almost freely now as Azeredo backs up, a total 180 from the beginning of the fight. Azeredo tries to counter, throwing a SUPERKICK out at one point, but Gomi avoids and lands a HUGE COMBINATION that seems to contain about twelve hits, as the pace just continues to be incredibly quick. Azeredo fires right back with counters of his own, and the exchange carries on, with Gomi continually tagging him, but Azeredo just eating the shots and refusing to back down. Azeredo throws out a kick, so Gomi catches it and puts him on his back in the guard again, where Azeredo ties him up. Gomi answers with a short slam, and they come to standing with a minute remaining, where Renallo and Rutten decide to stay silent to pay respect to the incredible fight they’re witnessing. Azeredo throws some wild kicks for the last minute, but none of them land, and finally the fight ends. I’m feeling tired just WATCHING that one.

We’re going to the judges for the final time on the final match of the show, where Gomi picks up the unanimous decision. Absolute war of a fight, total classic there as it started with Azeredo being uber-aggressive and chasing Gomi down, but Gomi took all of his best shots and came back with even harder ones, and it ended up with Gomi stalking Azeredo around the ring, absolutely beating the hell out of him for the most part, but just being unable to find the finishing shot. Imagine Nick Diaz vs. Diego Sanchez, but standing, and you’ve got this fight. Definite FOTYC here, and another incredible performance from Gomi, who with every fight is looking to me like the closest thing to an unbeatable fighter out there.

-Henderson, Bustamante and Sakurai join Gomi in the ring post-fight, and all four cut promos about their upcoming finals at Shockwave. Not sure when I’ll get hold of that show for a review, but I can’t say that I’m surprised at the results of it at all. And we end there.

Whew.

Final Thoughts…

Well, it’s definitely show of the year, for starters. Sheer volume would dictate that as you’ve got arguably four or five solid Fight of the Year Candidates on the card, as well as some other good > great fights that live up to all the hype. Really, Baroni/Minowa is the only letdown. Sometimes though, you can have too much of a good thing, and I think that’s the case somewhat here, and that’s why I’d still put this behind the likes of Final Conflict 2003 and UFC 40 in terms of the best shows ever. Fourteen fights, regardless of the quality, is a *LOT* of fighting for anyone to watch, and even I was pretty exhausted of watching once the show got to the semi-final matches, so if you’re only a casual fan, you may want to split the show into a few different sittings in order to take it all in. Still, what can I really say? It’s a definite classic show, best of the year, and deserves the highest recommendation possible.

Coming Soon…

Pride: 27 and 28.

UFC: 11, 12, 13, 14, 55 and 56.

Cage Rage: 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14.

WFA: 1, 2 and 3.

King of the Cage: 18, 23, 30 and 32.

IFC: Shogun

The Very Best Fights in TKO History

Best of Shooto 2003 vols. 1 & 2.

Until next time,

Scott Newman:

OratoryNewman@gmail.com