Exclusive! Stephen Quadros Previews Pride Total Elimination 2005

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PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix, Opening Round - April 23, 2005
Osaka Dome, Osaka, Japan
By Stephen Quadros, "The Fight Professor"

I am glad that PRIDE has returned to the tournament format. I have always said that if the sport of MMA is going to achieve lasting success it needs to do what World Cup soccer, the Olympics, major league baseball, basketball and football all do, hold tournaments.

The 2005 PRIDE middleweight Grand Prix is jammed with an awesome lineup of some of the greatest MMA fighters at the 205-pound weight limit, including PRIDE's crown jewel of destruction, Wanderlei Silva. And almost half the bouts in this opening round feature some compelling story lines.

Wanderlei Silva  

   Hidehiko Yoshida

Silva - Image 2 The first time these gents fought in 2003, during the semi-finals of that year's middleweight grand prix, Wanderlei wasn't ever in trouble of losing to what was widely perceived as the Yoshida's strong suit (from his years at competing in judo), his submission ability. Silva, a black belt in jiu-jitsu himself, pummeled Yoshida throughout the last half of the match. But the thing that many found remarkable, or disappointing, whichever way you look at it, was that Silva could not finish the judo fighter inside the distance.

Because Yoshida has sustained a number of injuries in the last year, which have sidetracked his training, the outcome is potentially more disastrous for him than in their previous encounter. In the first match he did better than many expected. But this time around he could really get smashed by the Brazilian. And to make matters worse, Wanderlei is coming off a hotly disputed loss (by decision to heavyweight Mark Hunt). So Silva may not be the most trusting to leave it to the hands of the judges again. The only way I can visualize a victory for Hidehiko is if Wanderlei takes him lightly. But that is just not going to happen. I have said it numerous times in the past and I'll say it again here, Wanderlei Silva is the most consistent fighter in the game, bar none. And his cold-blooded resolve to terminate with extreme prejudice is unmatched. Expect another win for "The Ax Murderer", most likely by technical knockout.

Yoshida - Image 3
Yuki Kondo  

    Igor Vovchanchyn

Kondo - Image 4 This is the "fireworks" match of the GP's opening round. Both combatants are known for their standup and their never-back-up style. Because Igor is coming down and Yuki is basically (always) coming up in weight, I would give the Ukrainian the edge in power. But Kondo has been in the ring with some big boys like former UFC heavyweight champ Josh Barnett, who he lost to via rear naked choke, and Semmy Schilt, who he defeated 3 times and was submitted by once (rear naked choke). Surely Vov is not as massive as those beasts, but he has that mammoth overhand right. Kondo has to use movement, the jab, low kicks and knees to beat Igor. Vovchanchyn just has to bait Yuki into a brawl, which is Kondo's instinct anyway. Because both fighters have over 60 fights each in MMA, experience is not a factor, other than being one of which man is facing psychological burnout. There have been questions with Igor about this last point over the years. The mental game is about split because Vovchanchyn has seemingly refueled and dropped back down to the weight class he originally competed in the mid 1990s. Kondo is going to give Igor a hell of a fight but I believe Vovchanchyn will take this one by a Fred Flintstone style unanimous decision. Vovchanchyn - Image 6
Dan Henderson  

    Antonio Rogerio Nogueira

Henderson - Image 6 Whew, Henderson just doesn't get too many tomato cans, does he? To me Rogerio Nogueira could've been the dark horse in this stacked tournament had he not faced the other dark horse in Hendo. But Dan has done extremely well against Brazilian fighters with wins over Murilo "Ninja" Rua, Renato Sobral, Murilo Bustamante, Renzo Gracie and Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira (former PRIDE heavyweight champion and Rogerio's twin brother).

The thing Henderson will have problems with most is the dimensions of the taller Nogueira. It's true that "Dangerous Dan" seems to have the perfect foil for Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but Nogueira is always honing the other aspects of his game in every match. As "Little Nog" marches up the PRIDE ladder he has stepped over Guy Mezger, Kazuhiro Nakamura (twice) and the former great Kazushi Sakuraba. It was inevitable that Dan and Rogerio would meet. After all Henderson did hand Rogerio's brother Rodrigo his first defeat way back in February of 2000 (which "Minotauro" avenged by armbar submission in December of 2002). Now that I think about it, Henderson has the most impressive dossier of all the competitors in this tournament. He's been in with everybody! 

In some ways this match represents the highest level of sportsmanship the game has to offer. That doesn't necessarily translate into the ingredients for a hell raising, all-time exciting match, mainly because Nogueira has gone to a decision in 7 of his last 8 efforts their records. Henderson used to have a similar propensity but has recently decided to give the judges a break and take matters into his own hands (Dan has stopped 3 of his last 4 opponents). It's going to be close but I pick Henderson by, you guessed it, decision.
Nogueira - Image 7
Quentin Jackson  

    Marcio Rua

Rampage - Image 8 The Quinton Jackson versus Chute Boxe rivalry is one that has probably gone on a little longer than "Rampage" (Quinton's nickname) wanted it to. But Mauricio "Shogun" Rua doesn't see it that way and is clearly motivated emotionally by what he and his teammates perceive was an erroneous decision when Quinton was awarded the victory over his brother Murilo ("Ninja") in February of this year. 

Since Jackson's born again (as in Christianity) status has claimed him and calmed him, he has one win (Ninja) and one loss (a second KO to Wanderlei Silva). So the jury is still out on this significant spiritual change and what affect it has had and will continue to have on him, as a fighter. Will we see Quinton's return to one of his most feared weapons, the slam? Let's hope so because he dispatched so many fighters with it (Arona, Vovchanchyn, Satake).

Hypothetically, Mauricio has a problematic style for Quinton in that he has more pop in his punch than his brother and, if it could possibly be imagined, he is busier as well. But the deeper question remains: is Shogun, who in nine fights (he's 8-1) has never gone the distance, experienced enough for Quinton? Whether he is or not, Rua will make this into an exciting fight. That's the Chute Boxe way. So setting these swirling tangibles and intangibles aside, I feel Jackson does have too much experience for Shogun and is on a mission to right his recent wrongs, a.k.a. losses to Wanderlei. Jackson by decision in a wild one, although a body slam TKO is not inconceivable.
Shogun - Image 9
Kazuhiro Nakamura  

     Kevin Randleman

Nakamura - Image 10 One might ask, is Kevin Randleman now moving past the best days of his competitive MMA career? After losing 5 out of his last 6 trips into the ring of PRIDE, making such an inquiry is not entirely uncalled for. And Nakamura is exactly the type of fighter to exploit what has ailed "The Monster" in 4 of those not so successful efforts, submissions. There's no questioning Kevin's natural athleticism. But he hasn't shown a lot of growth within the technical side of the game. He has an unstoppable takedown and occasionally a devastating punch while standing; mainly of the left hook variety. And he also does a great interview. But he has never beaten a really sophisticated ground fighter yet. And with the restart and yellow card (for stalling) rules of PRIDE, Randleman must be 100% focused to dispatch Nakamura. But unless he keeps the match standing, he won't. Nakamura will advance in the tournament after he submits Kevin. Randleman - Image 11
Kazushi Sakuraba  

  Yong Dong Sik

Sakuraba - Image 12 According to PR on the PRIDE English language website Yoon Dong Sik claims he can fight "anyone" with the groundwork he has honed from his years in judo. Representing Korea (as well as the martial art of judo) Sik said he'd like to fight fellow judoka Hidehiko Yoshida and Kazuhiro Nakamura as well as the fading submission fighting legend Kazushi Sakuraba. Interestingly, to me anyway, that he didn't mention a thing about PRIDE champion Wanderlei Silva, Dan Henderson, Quinton Jackson or Vitor Belfort, all well rounded mixed martial arts fighters who have resorted to such primitive and barbaric non-techniques as "striking" (sarcasm intended) to rise into the top ten ranks of MMA. And Yoon's apparent tunnel vision also seems to have avoided the task that Dean Lister (2003 Abu Dhabi Absolute Champion) and Ricardo Arona (RINGS 2001 tournament champion, 4-time Abu Dhabi Submission Wrestling Champion), both masters on the mat themselves, would present to him. History shows that when a competitor who, like Sik, was dominant in a singular discipline makes his MMA debut into an open field, like this tournament, he has to be considered a long shot.

But at least Sik got one of his wishes; he will be fighting Sakuraba in the opening round. And under the circumstances he theoretically has a chance to beat him. The timing is perfect for the Korean because Kazushi is so banged up that his career has been winding down for the past 3-4 years. Sakuraba has always had knee problems, broke his collarbone in his second match with Wanderlei (November 2001) and had Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic break his orbital bone (August 2002).

Saku's biggest problems always came at the hands of strikers. Obviously Yoon does not fall into that category. So to further surmise my prediction I have to revert back to the pesky word "if" again: "if" Saku is healthy, he will school Sik because despite the fact that he has been bashed by Wanderlei, Cro Cop and Igor Vovchanchyn, Sakuraba is probably a much better striker that the Korean judo man is. And that is how he will set up his ground game, with punches. But if Kazushi is limping in, wadded up and crinkled like an old newspaper, then he will lose a decision.

And if Sik, with only 6 months of training in MMA, does make it past the Japanese superstar, he will be diving into the most dangerous waters infested by all the names mentioned earlier in this segment. Picture this: if Yoon Dong Sik finds himself in the ring opposite, let's say Silva, Vovchanchyn, Kondo or Henderson (among others), any or all of those competitors would only need to raise a fist and think to themselves "Say hello to my little friend" as they quietly predicted Sik's future within the tournament.
Dong Sik - Image 13
Dean Lister  

  Ricardo Arona

Lister - Image 14 But enough of this MMA stuff, let's talk about, grappling. The Abu Dhabi Combat Club organization must be a little curious that this same match, Arona against Lister, which they have scheduled for their main event at the end of May, under pure submission wrestling rules, will be part of the opening round for the PRIDE GP. Make no mistake about it; Lister and Arona are two of the world's Brazilian jiu jitsu elite. Both are highly decorated and heralded for their groundwork. So, I'm thinking that this will be a standup battle, but hopefully not of the Dan Severn/Kimo variety.

Arona has shown loads of courage in occasionally trading on his feet in MMA and I would be really surprised if he didn't have quite a strength advantage over Lister. Because they are both comfortable rolling around on the floor and working for "position", this does have the potential to be a boring fight. Hopefully one or both of these lads will prevent that by stepping above and beyond the expected. I predict Arona by unanimous decision.
Arona - Image 15
Vitor Belfort  

  Alistair Overeem

Belfort - Image 16 You know those cameras that they install on the referee's head in PRIDE so that the audience that views the televised broadcast can see the match from his vantage point? I wish they somehow had the technology to install one INSIDE Vitor Belfort's head so that we could see what he is thinking. Unquestionably a man of physical talents (most notably with his boxing offense), Belfort's weak point has always been the self-created ghosts and goblins that reside between his ears, especially when a fight moves past the halfway point. I have often wondered why this is, given the God given external gifts the man possesses. But knowing the "why" doesn't matter. Here Vitor will be "representing" the Ultimate Fighting Championship. 

This is a tasty match up actually because Alistair is dangerous in a way that Belfort is not ordinarily accustomed too. Vitor usually fights guys in the UFC who are wrestlers who can punch (Couture, Liddell). Alistair is a Muay Thai fighter who can grapple a bit. Additionally Belfort has become used to fighting in the cage at the UFC so the ring can present other black holes in his mental game (Vitor has not fought in PRIDE in almost 4 years). Overeem may (theoretically) be over his head with the former Brazilian Top Team member unless he can hurt Belfort early with one of his vaunted knees or high kicks. On a mechanical level, Belfort should be able to take this one, probably by dropping the Dutchman with a punching flurry and then finishing with ground and pound. But one can never tell when dealing with the unpredictable entity known as "The Phenom".
Overeem - Image 17