MMA Review: #9: Pride: Final Conflict 2003 May03

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MMA Review: #9: Pride: Final Conflict 2003

Bonjour.

It’s official – Pride FC rules. After months of trying to get hold of some Pride (the Japanese equivalent of UFC, for those who didn’t know) on the recommendation of my more educated fellow MMA fans, I finally found a site (ML Sports) that was selling the DVDs in the UK, and subsequently spent over £100 to pick up six of the shows. What’s more, I was also able to pick up a DVD of the most talked about Pride show so far – Final Conflict – from Ebay. Seeing as Final Conflict was both the first Pride show I saw, and also the most recent that I have, I felt it fitting to make it my first Pride review.

The show, which took place last November, was centered on the Pride Middleweight Grand Prix tournament. Four fighters – Chuck Liddell, Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, Wanderlei Silva and Hidehiko Yoshida had advanced to the semi-finals, and the semis, and the final, which would follow, were the major fights on the card. However, as well as that, the card had other long-awaited fights such as Dan Henderson vs Murilo Bustamante, and the Pride Interim Heavyweight Title match between Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ Filipovic and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. As I was just beginning to get into MMA at the time of this show, I remember the hype being huge, and the reviews at the time being stellar. Five months on, I finally had a chance to see the show for myself…would it live up to the hype?

Pride: Final Conflict 2003

11/09/03

Tokyo, Japan

-We open up with the announcers – Damon Perry, and former UFC Champion Bas Rutten – showing us a highlight package of the first round of the Middleweight Grand Prix, before Perry badmouths the UFC on a gag, giving then-UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Randy Couture a little skit choking Perry and taking down Rutten.

-The Fighter Intro is up next, and it’s basically an opening ceremony that introduces all the fighters. The crowd in the Tokyo Dome are RABID, and the production values of the whole thing are huge, with a massive screen, live orchestra, and huge set. That’s a big difference between Japanese MMA and US MMA, from what I’ve seen…I think MMA is more mainstream in Japan, and thus they can pack out the big domes and give it huge production, whereas in the US they don’t seem to have the finances to do that.

I’ll take this opportunity to explain the difference in rules between the UFC and Pride. The main difference is obviously that while UFC takes place in the Octagon cage, Pride is more traditional in using a ring. This has its good points and it’s bad points. I certainly think the ring looks more professional, and makes the sport seem less barbaric, but on the other hand, the Octagon can be used as an additional weapon in a fighter’s arsenal, if they choose. It’s apples and oranges, really. Another rule in Pride is that when a fight goes to ground and gets too close to the ropes, the referee restarts the fighters in the center of the ring, but in the same position. The UFC rule of standing the fighters up to prevent inactivity on the ground is also in effect. The final, and most important rule difference is that in Pride, kicks and stomps to a downed opponent are legal, whereas in UFC they are illegal. The reasoning behind this is because it’s easier to escape the moves in the ring, whereas in the Octagon, trapped against the fence, it would be near impossible. This rule makes for some very brutal moments in certain fights. With that out of the way, let’s get on with the show.

Gary Goodridge vs Dan Bobish

Goodridge actually fought in some of the older UFCs, but I’ve never personally seen him fight before. Bobish immediately gets on my wrong side by bearing some resemblance to WWE’s A-Train, with the bald head, goatee beard and similar physique. He outweighs Goodridge by quite a lot. Fight begins, and both guys come out swinging, with minimal punches connecting. Bobish seems to pause for a second, as it looks like he has something in his eye, and glances at the referee. Goodridge wastes no time in using the opportunity, and pounces on Bobish, hammering him to the ground with a combination of punches to end the fight in 18 seconds. HA, very quick opener here, and I guess it shows why you shouldn’t pause momentarily in a fight, something that also cost Tito Ortiz dearly against Liddell at UFC 47.

Grand Prix Semi-Final: Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson vs Chuck Liddell

Rampage, from what I gathered in the pre-match interview/package, is somewhere between 50 Cent and Junkyard Dog in his personality, swearing a lot, howling like a wolf, and explaining that he desperately wants to win the money that comes with the Grand Prix win. I think he’d be HUGE if he ever came over and fought in the US. Liddell is, of course, the UFC’s representative in the Grand Prix. I’m not sure exactly how the deal with Pride and the UFC worked, but from what I can see here the relations between the two seem good, if very competitive. UFC president Dana White, who joins us for commentary here, actually has $250,000 on Liddell to win the tournament, which is pretty risky if you ask me. Liddell was coming off his loss to Randy Couture before entering the tourney, FYI.

Another difference between Pride and UFC – UFC fights consist of three five-minute rounds, with title fights going for five five-minute rounds. Pride, however, uses a ten-minute first round, then two five-minute rounds to follow. The tournament matches, though, only consist of the ten-minute round and ONE five-minute round. Whew.

They open up by exchanging some jabs, feeling one another out. It’s pretty even, as Rampage gets a couple of solid shots in. They clinch momentarily, but then go back to the exchange, as Rampage seems to be outstriking Liddell. He stuns Chuck with some HEAVY shots, before Liddell returns the favour with a nice combo of his own. Rampage staggers him with punches, and Chuck quickly grabs the clinch, before they come back out again, where Rampage gets another solid combo. Rampage follows with a takedown attempt, but Chuck shows off that famous defense and escapes easily. Jackson rocks him with another combo, causing him to grab the clinch again before they break once more. This is all stand-up so far, Rampage has controlled, and it’s GREAT. Both guys come forward swinging, and Rampage goes for the pickup, but Chuck escapes and they continue to exchange. Rampage gets a good combo, and follows with the takedown, which is quickly brought back to the center in Chuck’s guard. Rampage moves into side control, and Liddell eats a BIG knee before forcing the fight back up. They exchange in the clinch, before Rampage breaks and DROPS HIM WITH A RIGHT IN THE CORNER! Liddell looks hurt, as Jackson follows with some hard knees to the body, before Chuck gets up and holds on for the end of the round. Round ends with a Rampage takedown.

This has been all Rampage for the most part so far, as he’s controlling the stand-up perfectly, not letting Liddell get any good shots in. They’re out for the 2nd, and exchange to open once more, before Rampage looks for the takedown. Chuck manages to hold him off, and they go back to the exchange with Jackson definitely the aggressor at this point. Into the clinch, and back out where Rampage gets a NASTY uppercut, and a shovedown sending Liddell to the canvas. Jackson grabs the front facelock, before Chuck gets back up. Rampage hits a combo then gets the BIIG slamming takedown, into Liddell’s half-guard. From there, Rampage just unloads, HAMMERING Chuck with body shots and a few shots to the head. This goes on for what seems like an age, with Chuck barely even covering up, before his corner finally throws in the towel to end the fight. This was a great fight, with Rampage basically taking Chuck apart on his feet, and punishing him once he got the fight to the ground. Really good performance from Jackson, less so from Liddell who seemed tired right from the start. Rampage advances to the final.

Grand Prix Semi-Final: Wanderlei Silva vs Hidehiko Yoshida

Silva is the current Pride Middleweight Champion, and he’s actually held the belt since it’s introduction in late 2001. He’s a Brazilian fighter who basically made his name as a real top-notch guy in Pride by kicking the crap out of Kazushi Sakuraba, and believe me when I say he uses the ‘legal kicks/stomps to the downed opponent’ rule to his full advantage. Yoshida, I know absolutely nothing about. The announcers don’t seem to give him a chance, expecting Silva to destroy him very quickly.

Silva looks like a total psychopath in the staredown, and that HAS to be hella intimidating for whoever’s fighting him. They circle to open, and Silva swings, but Yoshida counters with the takedown, and quickly grabs Silva’s arm, looking for a submission attempt. Silva desperately tries to escape, and gets a good right from the bottom as he pulls full guard. Yoshida tries to smother him using his ‘gi’ (the white suit he’s wearing to fight), while trying to pass the guard. Silva manages to get a triangle choke on, but he can’t lock it on perfectly, and somehow Yoshida hangs on for what seems like forever (about 2 minutes) in the position. Finally he breaks to side control, where they’re moved back into the center of the ring. Yoshida goes for a choke, but Silva avoids and counters over into Yoshida’s guard. Silva hammers him with some shots, but nothing really does serious damage and Yoshida tries an armbar which Silva manages to avoid. Yoshida tries to trap his arms to attempt him punching any more, before Silva manages to get to his feet, and gives Yoshida some vicious kicks to the legs while he’s down. The official gets Yoshida to his feet, and they circle before Silva gets a shot, only for Yoshida to grab him and deliver a headlock takedown! Yoshida pounds down in the half-guard, and tries a neck crank, which Silva escapes into the full guard. Yoshida stands, and Silva kicks up into his face to end the round. This was a really competitive round, which obviously shocked the hell out of the announcers, as well as the fans, who are going apeshit by this point.

Silva swings some punches to open round 2, as Yoshida goes for a single leg. Silva sprawls to escape, and makes use of the Pride rule by nailing Yoshida with knees to the head. Wandy continues the offense, hitting a high left kick and a solid right, before Yoshida shoots in for the takedown. Silva avoids and they’re EXCHANGING WILD PUNCHES as the crowd go apeshit, this is AWESOME. Yoshida goes for another headlock takedown, but Silva escapes, and gets a combination of punches and kicks that CONNECT. They circle, and Silva presses with the low kicks, while Yoshida attempts to jab. They exchange some more, into the clinch where Silva gets a good knee to the body before they exchange wildly again, swinging punches like mad. Yoshida shoots for the takedown, and Silva responds with another hard knee, a punch, and a kick, down into Yoshida’s guard. Silva punches down from there, before Yoshida rolls him into his own guard to end the round. Very competitive fight here, and I’d struggle to pick a winner. We go to the judges decision, and it’s Silva, which I’m not about to argue with – he got the most damaging shots in, even if Yoshida controlled the first round. So it’s Silva-Rampage at the end of the night. Rampage had to be happy watching this, as it was an extremely tough, tiring fight that went the distance. Awesome, AWESOME fight that could’ve gone either way.

Middleweight Reserve Fight: Murilo Bustamante vs Dan Henderson

Henderson’s one of the main Pride fighters I’d been dying to see, as J-Biceps has him pegged as one of the world’s best pound-for-pound fighters, and he trains with Randy Couture. Bustamante I’ve seen a couple of times in the UFC, both times looking amazing, but apparently he’s less amazing here. This is the Middleweight Reserve fight, which is basically to determine a reserve for the tournament final should one of the qualifiers not be able to fight, I think.

They circle to open the first round, and Henderson quickly snaps off a nice low kick. Both guys exchange jabs from distance, opening up a couple of small flurries but not really doing much damage. Busta shoots in for the takedown, and Henderson sprawls, and gives him a HARD knee to the head, basically KOing him on the spot!~! Henderson HAMMERS him with hard punches as he collapses to the mat, and the referee quickly calls the stoppage at 0:53 of the first round. I’d heard this wasn’t a competitive fight, but damn…Henderson destroyed Murilo here, battering him with punches after the knee put him out. Another exciting, albeit short fight. This card has been immense so far.

Kazushi Sakuraba vs Kevin Randleman

Sakuraba’s basically the biggest legend there is in Japanese MMA, as he came from pro-wrestling to defeat FOUR of the famous Gracie family en route to basically dominating the early Prides. Since then though, he’s taken a few kickings from Wanderlei Silva (two of which I’ll be reviewing when I get to the other Pride shows I have), and going into this fight there was talk of his retirement. Unlike a lot of Japanese athletes, he’s hugely charismatic, and actually makes his entrance here dressed as Super Mario, which is both bizarre and cool. Randleman’s a former UFC champion, but I’ve never seen him fight. Randy Couture makes another appearance before the fight, wishing both guys good luck. The fans LOVE Sakuraba, giving him a pop on par with something Hulk Hogan received in his recent WWE comeback.

They open up Round 1 basically pressing, feeling one another out, before Sakuraba misses a kick enabling Randleman to take his back standing. Saku spins around to face him, and lands a kick, before Randleman answers back with a combo and a single leg. Randleman takes him down into a front facelock, before taking his back again with a waistlock. Neither man seems to be doing much, with Randleman hitting the odd knee to the back of Sakuraba’s leg. They come back up to standing in the waistlock, and again there’s little action causing the referee to break the position. They press some more, and Randleman gives him a hard leg kick that hurts Sakuraba. Saku misses a combo, and Randleman gets a takedown, into the guard. The pace of this fight is noticeably slower than all the preceding bouts, and it’s not an exciting fight so far. Sakuraba goes for an armbar, then a triangle, but Randleman avoids, but doesn’t do much inside the guard. Randleman finally manages to get side mount, but for some reason chooses to re-enter the guard, and the round closes in that positon. Nothing notable here.

Sakuraba rushes forward to open the 2nd, and Randleman takes the opportunity to catch him with a right that drops him momentarily, and follows with another right. They press, and Randleman gets another good low kick that buckles Sakuraba’s knee. Randleman follows with a good combo, before Saku comes back with some decent low kicks of his own. Sakuraba swings with a high kick, but Randleman catches the leg, and kicks the other one out from under him for a cool takedown! Sakuraba works for a triangle choke in the guard, but Randleman avoids and drops a couple of lefts, while Saku keeps trying the triangle as the time runs out. This is a total contrast to the rest of the card – not really an exciting fight in my opinion.

The press to open the third and final round, and Randleman gets a suplex takedown into the behind waistlock from the first round. Randleman gets a takedown from this position, but he doesn’t really do anything, choosing to stay behind Sakuraba. Saku goes for an armbar, Randleman tries to spin out, but Sakuraba keeps hold of the arm, continuing to try the move. Randleman keeps going for the escape, and finally rolls onto his back…but Sakuraba gets the full extension, and Randleman quickly taps about halfway through the third round. This wasn’t a bad fight by any means – I’ve seen some worse ones in the UFC shows I’ve reviewed – but compared with the rest of this card, it was just slow.

Pride Interim Heavyweight Title: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ Filipovic

Yay, the one I’ve been waiting for. Basically, this was supposed to be a fight between Cro Cop and the Pride Heavyweight Champion, Fedor Emelianenko, but Fedor broke his thumb a while before it and couldn’t fight, so they changed it to a fight between Cro Cop (the #1 Contender) and Nogueira (the former champ) to decide an interim champion while Fedor healed up. I’d seen quite a lot of Cro Cop through various highlight reels, some downloaded matches (Cro Cop vs Bob Sapp was one) and K1. He’s probably the hardest striker in all of MMA, and had been dispatching a lot of guys very quickly going into this fight. I’d been dying to see Nogueira ever since I got a highlight reel of him a while back, so where better to start than supposedly one of his best performances? Major styles clash here – Cro Cop’s obviously a striker, whereas Nogueira’s primarily a Jiu-Jitsu submission guy.

They circle to begin, and Nog shoots in for the takedown, but Cro Cop sprawls to avoid and ends up in Nogueira’s guard. Mirko drops some shots, but Nogueira’s looking for the submission already, gripping Mirko’s right hand ready to prep a triangle choke. Both men gets some punches in from the guard, and Mirko avoids being turned over, and stands, waving Nogueira to get up. Nogueira obliges, and Cro Cop gets into his striking game, using the high kick to set up some hard kicks to the body. He throws some solid kicks, and then follows with a good left hand. Nogueira shoots in for the takedown once more, but Cro Cop avoids that, and then sprawls to avoid another takedown attempt. They circle, and Nogueira tries to shoot AGAIN, but this time Mirko avoids and gives him a hard soccer kick to the head. Cro Cop continues to land his offense, hitting various combos and kicks as it’s looking bad for Nog. Nogueira finally goes to the ground to try to get Mirko to enter the guard, but Mirko’s having none of it, and simply waves him to get back to his feet. That is so cool. Nog grabs the clinch, but Mirko throws him off, and sprawls to avoid another takedown. Nogueira’s nose is bloody now, as Mirko lands a BIG kick. Minotauro is looking in SERIOUS TROUBLE here. Cro Cop keeps landing shots, and then gets a left kick, and a left hand PUTS NOGUEIRA ON THE CANVAS!~! The bell sounds before Mirko can pounce to try and finish…that’s the definition of ‘Saved By The Bell’, methinks. Can Nogueira turn things around in the second?

Cro Cop comes out to the center before the allotted time is even up, and he’s READY TO GO. They circle to open the 2nd, and Nogueira shoots in, and Mirko sprawls, but Nog GETS THE TAKEDOWN! He works for a second, and moves into the full mount! Here we go…Nogueira punches away as Cro Cop tries to buck him off, and Nog continues to punch, although he doesn’t seem to be doing much damage. Cro Cop rolls over onto his front, and NOW WE GO TO SCHOOL!~! Nogueira locks on a TIGHT ARMBAR, and MIRKO TAPS!!!! Holy fucking shit. Nogueira is the new Interim Champion, and Fedor, at ringside, looks like a very happy man (he’s beaten Nog before). This was, quite simply, one of the best performances I’ve ever seen in MMA. Nogueira basically took a horrific amount of punishment in the first round, just avoiding the brunt of it right at the end of the round. How he was able to come out and actually submit Mirko in the second, I don’t know. It’s simply a testament to his skill. This fight didn’t let me down – it lived up to the praise that I’d heard for it, and I’d rank it as one of my favourite fights that I’ve seen thus far. Cro Cop looks on in disbelief as Nogueira’s presented with the title, and hey, I don’t know how he managed this any more than Mirko does. Fucking amazing stuff.

Grand Prix Final: Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson vs Wanderlei Silva

Alright! It’s final time. Randy Couture joins Perry and Rutten on commentary. The staredown between these two is absolutely MENTAL, as both guys look ready to completely tear one another apart. Bell sounds, and Rampage quickly grabs Silva and lifts him for the slam, but Silva grabs him with a guillotine choke, and although he’s not close to submitting Rampage, Jackson can’t slam him down. They hold in the position for a while before Rampage goes down into Silva’s guard, where he gets some body shots reminiscent of the ones he gave to Liddell. Silva tries an armbar, but Rampage blocks it and continues to punch, before going into side control. He gets a hard knee to the body, but Silva pulls it back to guard before any serious damage can be done. Rampage gets a couple of big head shots, cutting Silva’s eye, before the referee stands them, and gives Silva the YELLOW CARD!~! for stalling. Ha, I love the soccer reference. They exchange, and Silva grabs him in the Muay Thai clinch and gives him a hard knee to the head, nearly putting Rampage down. He follows with a soccer kick, and then…holy fucking shit. Silva lands with some HUGE KNEES, and some big kicks. He grabs the clinch and OPENS UP WITH THE KNEES!~! Jesus fucking Christ, this is like Tong Po against Van Damme’s brother on ‘Kickboxer’. MORE KNEES, MORE PUNCHES, and finally Rampage falls to all fours, where Silva LASHES OUT WITH THE SOCCER KICKS!~! Rampage staggers up, and Silva follows with more knees and punches before the referee FINALLY stops the massacre to give Silva the tournament win.

I’m literally speechless here. I said Ian Freeman vs Frank Mir was a brutal beating? That has NOTHING on this. I can’t even fathom how Rampage is even alive after taking that kind of beating. Seriously, he wasn’t even defending himself, as Silva just opened up with the kind of strikes that I’ve never seen from anyone in the UFC. NOW I understand the hype behind the guy – he looked unstoppable here. I mean, Rampage is one tough bastard for taking the beating, but at the end of the day, that’s what it was. A massacre. AWESOME ending to a phenomenal show.

Final Thoughts…

Wow. Not only was this the best MMA show I’ve ever seen, but it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen period. Yeah, up there with Wrestlemania X7, Canadian Stampede, etc, etc. Seriously, it was that good. Randleman-Sakuraba admittedly was a little slow, but everything else was either a uber-quick and brutal KO, or an awesome back-and-forth fight. The three tournament matches were some of the best MMA I’ve ever seen, and I can’t really praise Cro Cop-Nogueira enough. Anyone who’s ever had any interest in MMA needs to see this show, STAT. Highest recommendation.

I’ll be back soon to finish up the rest of my UFC shows (43, 44 and 45 still to do), then move onto what I have of Pride, which should be cool.

Peace,

Scott Newman:

OratoryMorningGlory@hotmail.com