MMA Review: #405: PRIDE 1

-Alright, so the original plan was to continue with the UFC reviews where I left off, which meant UFC on Fuel 7 from London in February was next. Buuut plans change and drqshadow’s been pestering me for a while to do these old PRIDE shows so here we are. Basically I’ve got a bit of a confession – sure, I’m as hardcore an MMA fan as you’ll find….but I’ve never actually seen the early – pre-2000 Grand Prix – PRIDE shows. Why? Not sure really – I blame the guys who got me into MMA in the first place as I’m sure I remember them saying to start with PRIDE 10 and run from there. I could be wrong. Anyway I never got around to getting hold of the older PRIDEs until I spotted that FightDVD were selling them very cheaply last month, so I ended up picking up the double-disc sets for PRIDE 1 to 8. And here we are. Bear in mind, I know approximately squat about Japanese culture and/or Japanese pro-wrestling, and so I’ll be trying my absolute best not to come off as a racist or a bigot. Ignorance? Yeah, you might be able to accuse me of that! Here goes.

PRIDE 1

10/11/97
Tokyo, Japan

-We begin with this weird video that shows shots of Rickson Gracie (I think!) intertwined with shots of a Chinese dragon. No intro segment which is odd for me as the older PRIDE shows I’ve seen always had Quadros and Bas breaking down the card. Instead we go right into the first fight.

-Your hosts are indeed Stephen Quadros and Bas Rutten. Bas’s English sounds, well, slightly shaky here I think compared to how he became later on.

Kazunari Murakami vs John Dixson

Never heard of either of these guys. Quick check of Sherdog tells me Murakami was 3-3 coming in with both a loss to and a win over Akihiro Gono which is WILD. I legitimately had no clue Gono was around in 1996. Dixson was 3-5 with losses to Igor Vovchanchyn and Dan Severn which at this point weren’t exactly bad losses. Dixson is wearing a t-shirt in the ring which is never good.

Fight begins and they bull into an early clinch before Dixson breaks and glances on a high kick. Single leg from Dixson and he lands in the guard. Looks like it’s half-guard actually. Murakami appears to be going for a sweep, but Dixson is a big dude and he avoids it. He chooses to stand and they come back up to their feet. Couple of jabs from the Japanese fighter but Dixson clinches. Big hip throw plants Dixson on his back though and from there Murakami takes a straight armbar and extends it for the tapout.

Perfectly acceptable opener around the same level as your standard midcard UFC fight of this time period I guess. Throw and armbar were nice at least.

Gary Goodridge vs Oleg Taktarov

These two were of course coming over from the UFC where they’d seen some decent success, with Taktarov winning the UFC 6 tournament and Goodridge making the finals of UFC 9. Goodridge is HUGE here, not steroid-looking huge, just like a very strong dude who pushes very heavy weights. Looking at his record this was quite a while after Oleg’s UFC run actually – right after that loss to Renzo Gracie where Renzo KOd him with an upkick.

They begin and circle around a little, with Goodridge really hanging his hands low for some reason. Nothing happens for a while before Goodridge lands a low kick but stumbles back, and Oleg quickly closes in and trades for a second. They back out and Goodridge pops Oleg with a right hand that cuts him under the left eye. Action slows right down as Goodridge continues to drop his hands. One-two misses for Goodridge. This is swiftly becoming a staring contest. A really bloody one as Oleg has this movie-esque trickle of blood coming down his face. Oleg closes in, but eats a short right hand that drops him. Another one follows and Oleg looks in trouble as he turtles up and eats some more clubbing blows. Knee to the head and Goodridge lands some wild hammer fists before Oleg rolls onto his back again. Goodridge decides to stand over him, then kicks the legs hard as Oleg can’t seem to decide what to do. Dude is still chilled though. He gets back up and goes back to circling. Lot of blood covering Oleg’s face now. Takedown attempt from Taktarov but Goodridge sprawls nicely and avoids it. Jab glances for Goodridge. Oleg attempts to clinch, but Goodridge counters with a HEAVY RIGHT HOOK and the Russian goes down face-first, totally unconscious. Wow. Goodridge adds two really cruel shots for good measure before the ref can stop him. Post-fight poor Oleg goes out on a stretcher like this is a Van Damme movie.

Man, that was a pretty vicious knockout actually. Punches on the ground were horrific as Oleg’s body was knocked across by the force of them as he was already out. Not much of a fight prior to that if I’m honest as it was a ton of staring, but who cares when you’ve got a knockout like that?

Renzo Gracie vs Akira Shoji

Comical stuff prior to the fight as Quadros is like, this is Shoji’s MMA debut….oh, actually it isn’t, he’s fought a couple of times before. No clue if someone suddenly clued him in or he just forgot, or what. He’s more accurate when he describes Renzo as one of the most feared men in martial arts, as he was unbeaten at this point and from what I know had a reputation second only to Rickson himself, as he was far more violent than his cousin Royce and had won several fights with strikes.

Fight begins and Shoji circles around as Renzo stalks forward. Renzo gets a clinch and looks for the takedown, but Shoji leans all over the ropes to avoid. Pretty blatant stalling tactic from Shoji as he keeps grabbing the ropes whenever he can. Eventually Renzo muscles him down and then takes full mount in a scramble. Looks like he might be looking for an armbar as Shoji keeps flailing his arms, but the ropes are in the way. Refs move them into the center of the ring and Renzo has the mount really tightly locked in. Shoji gives his back and Renzo lands some punches and goes for the choke, but Shoji stands with Renzo clamped to his back! Koala position reference from Quadros, word! Eventually Shoji gets desperate and DIVES OUT OF THE RING and of course there’s tons of confusion over this. Can’t believe some idiots STILL maintain the ring is better than the cage for MMA. Anyway this being Japan they decide to restart the fight standing. Good knee from Renzo and Shoji shoots into the clinch and muscles him into the ropes. They jockey for position and the ref CONSTANTLY has to mess around with the ropes to keep them off the fighters. Headbutt from Renzo which is evidently legal, and then he gets a guillotine variant but can’t quite lock it up. Commentary is hilarious as they’re barely even speaking at points. You can tell Bas is REALLY green at it actually. Renzo finally goes for the arm-in guillotine and jumps to guard to attempt the finish, but Shoji works his head free to a big pop. Gracie looks to hold him from the guard now as Shoji punches the body. Fight has now lulled into a ludicrously slow pace. Bell sounds for the end of Round One and that seems to shock Quadros, who perhaps wasn’t aware this was a multi-round fight? Who knows.

Into the 2nd and they circle and look to exchange some punches before Renzo shoots for a takedown. Shoji blocks it and so Renzo pulls guard. They exchange some punches and more headbutts from there and then Gracie looks to be setting up for an oma plata. Announcers totally no-sell that for ages by the way until it’s almost locked. Shoji manages to slip free nicely and stands over him, leaving the Brazilian in the butt-scoot position. Renzo gets back up and stalks forward as Shoji stays on the outside but doesn’t really throw much. Punches largely miss for both men but Gracie does land with a nice chopping leg kick. Shoji answers with one of his own so Renzo shoots for a takedown. Shoji defends with a sprawl and a possible guillotine pops the crowd, but he doesn’t go for it. Ref calls a “stop! Don’t move!” deal to get them out of the ropes but at this point evidently they hadn’t perfected it as it takes FOUR GUYS to move them. They restart and Renzo gets the single leg and puts Shoji on his back in guard. Renzo passes to mount and Shoji bucks, but gives his back in the process. Armbar attempt from Gracie as Shoji slips out the back door and it looks locked, but somehow the Japanese fighter slips free! Wow. Crowd are going crazy over this. Renzo stays in the butt-scoot position again and Shoji stands over him, but does nothing. We’re getting basically zero action outside of a couple of crappy kicks from Shoji here which sucks. Bell sounds to end the round and Bas is outright like, thank God for that. Ha.

Third round and unfortunately the announcers don’t mention how many rounds this is. Good leg kick from Shoji as they circle around. Body kick from Renzo answers. Renzo closes the distance and looks to clinch but Shoji shrugs him off. These guys are literally throwing one strike at a time. Shoji does land a pair of nice leg kicks though. This is becoming painful to watch and the worst part is there’s no on-screen clock so I have NO IDEA HOW LONG IS LEFT. Takedown attempt from Renzo but Shoji blocks and grabs a front facelock to land some knees to the head with Renzo in the turtle position. Ref warns Shoji for that as apparently they’re illegal. Renzo decides to pull guard anyway. He wraps Shoji up and the action slows to a crawl as Shoji lands some short punches to the body. Couple of solid knees to the tailbone land for the Japanese fighter. Renzo works for the possible oma plata again, but he actually uses it to hit a sick sweep into full mount. Shoji gives his back though…and then slips out the back door to standing. Crowd pop loudly for that and the announcers love it too. Renzo’s leg is horribly marked up from the kicks. Nothing happens for a while as Shoji makes some INTENSE FACES towards Renzo but doesn’t throw any punches. Low kick from Shoji and Renzo shoots and then pulls guard. Short punches from Shoji on the ground and Renzo kicks him away and narrowly misses an upkick. Shoji stands over him again and the bell sounds to end the round. Bas then reveals that it’s the end of the fight, too.

Judges score it….well, there are no judges I guess so it’s a draw. Decision probably would’ve been Gracie’s but whatever. There was some good action in this fight actually, but the problem was that added together it would’ve lasted for like five minutes and the whole thing was THIRTY MINUTES. Which made it a real chore to sit through. Still, I’ve seen worse fights from this period. Granted I mean Severn/Shamrock II and Gracie/Shamrock II, but the point still stands!

Koji Kitao vs Nathan Jones

You might remember Kitao from a brief UFC run where he had his nose broken by Mark Hall. He’s a sumo guy for those wondering. And yeah, you might remember Australian Nathan Jones from his brief WWE run as the COLOSSUS OF BOGGO ROAD!~! which was a character I thought had some potential until it became obvious the dude couldn’t wrestle worth a lick. He was also infamous for being detained in an airport after cracking a shoe-bomb joke from what I remember. Non-wrestling fans might recognize him from the beginning of the movie Troy, as he’s the big dude in the opening scene that Brad Pitt offs. Jones does not look anywhere near WWE shape here, that’s for sure.

We get underway and Jones springs around on the outside as Kitao stands in the center of the ring with his hands way low. Spinning crescent kick misses for Jones. Left high kick also misses and Kitao clinches. Jones grabs a front headlock but doesn’t really go for the guillotine, instead just holding the sumo. Couple of knees from Jones but Kitao grabs the leg and drops him to the ground, landing in side mount. Jones starts grunting and it sounds like he might be panicking a bit. Kitao looks to lock up an arm and gets a keylock for the tapout. Huh. Didn’t even look locked up correctly to me but I guess Kitao is a big, strong guy.

Don’t really know what to say there. Really odd fight. Nathan Jones in MMA is about as good as Nathan Jones in pro wrestling I guess. It was a curiosity fight and it didn’t last long so hey, no complaints from me really.

Branko Cikatic vs Ralph White

This is apparently a kickboxing bout according to Quadros. Cikatic was the first ever K-1 World Champion which is obviously a big achievement and he KOd Ernesto Hoost to win that title which is an even bigger achievement. A look at his record shows he fought DENNIS ALEXIO too. For those unfamiliar with that name, he’s Van Damme’s brother in Kickboxer and was a top level kickboxer in the 80’s and early 90’s. No clue about White, sorry. He’s a big intimidating-looking black dude, though.

First round (?) begins and Branko FAKES A GLOVE TOUCH TO LAND A SPIN KICK TO THE BODY! Boo! White fires back with a combo but it doesn’t land cleanly. Branko looks unbelievably calm here. Couple of jabs and a low kick from White. Chopping low kick connects for White. Nice right hand lands for Cikatic and he drops White with a left hook before NAILING HIM WITH A SOCCER KICK! In a kickboxing match, yeah. OH MY GOD says Bas and Quadros questions the legality. Well yeah.

White gets up and there’s a HUGE LUMP STICKING OUT OF HIS HEAD. Holy fucking shit. Looks like he’s growing horns like a demon or maybe there’s an alien growing under his skin or something. Announcers are cracking the same jokes as me here which is brilliant. Well, it would be, except poor Ralph White has this sick deformity coming from his head! Seriously, Quadros is coming out with all sorts of stuff here, making jokes about everything from Rocky (doing a Mickey impression) to cracks about Clearasil. The lump is GETTING BIGGER SOMEHOW as Bas discusses Branko’s filthy reputation. Ralph has about four or five doctors checking him over. The officials take forever to decide what to do as Quadros keeps on cracking jokes about Ralph starring in a horror movie. Finally they decide to DQ Cikatic and he throws a hissy fit which is ridiculous. He SOCCER KICKED A GUY IN A STAND-UP FIGHT. Branko finally apologises and that’s that.

Calling this weird would be the understatement of the century, seriously. It’s must-see if only for the freakishness of the lump coming from poor Ralph White’s head and for the bizarre and hilarious commentary of the whole thing. I’m lost for words here, honestly.

Dan Severn vs Kimo Leopoldo

Like Goodridge and Taktarov these pair had obviously made their name in the UFC, although both men had fought elsewhere since. Severn looks in really good shape for this fight and Kimo is his usual intimidating self. I’m guessing Severn would’ve been the favourite here as Kimo has always seemed more hype than substance to me.

Fight begins and they exchange some punches early on before settling into a circling pattern. Decent right lands for Severn as Kimo pushes forward. Kimo is swinging some really wild hooks here. Takedown attempt from Severn and he forces Kimo into the corner of the ring. Kimo defends and they spin around a couple of times before breaking off. Wild right hook glances for Kimo. This striking exchange is awful. Left hook connects for Kimo and forces Severn back. They continue to circle with little action before Kimo avoids a half-hearted takedown attempt. Haymaker right misses for Kimo. Severn appears to be throwing slaps almost. Really horrible exchange comes for a second before they break off. Low kick from Kimo. Terrible striking continues. Couple more leg kicks land for Kimo. He’s dropping his hands totally and swinging wild haymakers that keep missing. Ankle pick from Severn and Kimo goes down for a second before popping up. Blatant low blow from Kimo but the ref ignores it for some reason. Bas suddenly realizes that Severn looks like Freddie Mercury. More bad striking follows as the announcers come to the conclusion that there’s too much respect between the two. Bas outright says he’s getting frustrated. This is getting worse by the second.

Severn connects on a right hand but it doesn’t do much. Finally Severn goes for the takedown but Kimo does a very good job of defending it. I’m legitimately struggling to stay awake watching this now. Granted I’m tired but god damn. I don’t know how to play-by-play this really as there’s so little action, it’s like the shoddiest kickboxing match you’ve ever seen. Pair of body kicks from Kimo. Both guys look exhausted. Kimo tries a flurry but it doesn’t land clean and so we’re back to throwing the odd haymaker and staring. Kimo’s cut somehow and I have no idea how it happened. Normally I’d be bothered about that and rewind to find out but there’s NO WAY I’m doing that here. Severn lands with a right hand and the announcers are amazed. Takedown is blocked by Kimo. Kimo appears to be getting the better of these exchanges but I mean, it’s not like he’s landing a ton. AWFUL flurry from Severn backs Kimo up for a second but it doesn’t last long. Finally Severn catches a kick and gets Kimo down, but he falls through the ropes and the ref decides to restart them standing. Urgh. Quadros calls it a “marathon of inactivity”. Amen! You know a fight is bad when the commentators are doing nothing but cracking sarcastic jokes. Worst bit is that I have NO IDEA how long is left. Could be a fucking year or anything. Lame punching exchange continues between longer portions of DANGEROUS STARING. Single leg from Severn but Kimo sprawls out to avoid and grabs a front facelock. Naturally he lets go and they pop back to their feet, DISGUSTING Bas who is all like JESUS CHRIST. At least it’s funny at this point. More crap striking follows. Severn starts to push the pace but he’s still throwing his terrible slapping punches. He manages to bull Kimo into the corner and goes for the takedown, but can’t get it and slaps him around instead like his name is Chris Brown. Takedown FINALLY from Severn and he gets side mount where he lands some shots. Few knees from Severn and I wonder why the hell he didn’t do this earlier? Bell sounds there and we’re done, thank the lord.

Fight is called a draw and well, I guess that’s fair as neither man warranted the win. This was a horrible, HORRIBLE fight and it felt like the longest 30 minutes ever. I’d compare it to Shamrock/Severn II or Shamrock/Gracie II in fact. Which is the worst? That’d involve me rewatching them and I’m not doing that in a million years. My head hurts.

Rickson Gracie vs Nobuhiko Takada

This was the fight that the whole PRIDE promotion was built around putting on – top Japanese shoot-style pro-wrestler Takada stepping up to face the most feared member of the Gracie family, Rickson. There’s a longer backstory that involves one of Takada’s students (Yoji Anjoh) getting the hell beaten out of him by Rickson in a dojo, but I’m not that hot on that type of history and you’re better off searching for Jonathan Snowden’s (or someone of that ilk) explanation on it. Needless to say Rickson looks like a bad dude. We get full national anthems pre-fight here which almost makes up for the Kimo/Severn debacle as the Brazilian one is a great piece of music.

Fight begins and Takada circles on the outside as Rickson stands dead in the center of the ring with his hands pretty low. Gracie just looks totally unfazed by anything Takada might do. Right hand glances for Rickson. Low kick answers for Takada but doesn’t land cleanly. Rickson manages to close the distance and forces Takada into the corner of the ring, where he grabs the ropes to stop a takedown. Ref calls a break which is shady. They restart and Rickson throws a couple of jabbing-type kicks at Takada before going for the takedown. Takada actually defends and lands a knee to the head, but Rickson isn’t affected and he hits a HUGE SLAM and lands in side mount. Full mount follows immediately and Takada is in deep trouble. He tries to hold on for dear life, but Rickson breaks free and lands some shots to the body. Takada looks lost from his back. Armbar from Rickson and he extends it comfortably to force the merciful tapout.

Well, there can be no doubt that Rickson Gracie looked like a total killer there. Got to question the opposition of course as Takada well, sucks, but hey, he didn’t play with his food and he got Takada out of there quickly and probably got paid a fat cheque, so what does it matter? It is, however, a real pity that we never got to see him step up and fight Sakuraba when Saku was on his Gracie killing run as that would’ve been an INCREDIBLE fight.

-Show ends abruptly with Rickson celebrating in the ring.

Final Thoughts….

I’m not really sure what to say here. By today’s standards, or by the standards that PRIDE would eventually reach in the early 00’s, this show undoubtedly stinks. But really, it isn’t fair to judge it against a later PRIDE show or one of today’s UFC cards. Remember this was 1997 and MMA was still largely a spectacle rather than a sport. With that said though, even by 1997 standards this was not a good show. You expect cards full of crude squashes in that era and while this had a couple of those (the opener, Goodridge/Taktarov, Kitao/Jones) it also has two of the worst fights I’ve ever seen in Renzo/Shoji and particularly Kimo/Severn which is a strong contender for worst MMA fight of all time. It’s super-interesting to see Rickson Gracie in action and as the first PRIDE show it’s worth a look for historical reasons alone, but don’t go into it expecting greatness. And if you value your sanity, skip over Kimo/Severn. Mild recommendation. (Note – I won’t be giving star ratings to these old PRIDE cards as it isn’t fair to compare them to modern stuff I don’t think)

Best Fight: Gracie vs. Takada
Worst Fight: Kimo vs. Severn

Until next time,

Scott Newman:
NewmanMMA@gmail.com