Pride Final Conflict Absolute 2006 - Preview by Stephen Quadros

Pride Final Conflict Absolute
Sunday, September 10, 2006
Saitama Super Arena

By Stephen Quadros, “The Fight Professor”

Maurico "Shogun" Rua  

  Cyrille "The Snake" Diabete

Mauricio Rua is the "other" Chute Boxe fighter (besides Wanderlei Silva) who has rocketed up the rankings because of his scorch-the-earth, full throttle style. The only man to ever knockout Ricardo Arona (to become the Pride 2005 middleweight tournament champion), Rua has only gone the distance once and that was his epic struggle with Rogerio Nogueira. All his other victims, including Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Alistair Overeem, have fallen by KO or TKO. His pair of defeats have come against two of the most respected fighters in the world, Mark Coleman (arm injury from a takedown) and Renato Sobral (guillotine choke). This is his first time back since the surgery required because of the Coleman fight.

Shogun's opponent also comes from a strong Muay Thai base. Cyrille Diabate, like Rua, is dangerous with knees from a clinch, partially because he is 6'6" tall. But I think the difference here will be in the jiu-jitsu department.

Rua by submission.
Ricardo Arona 

    Alistair Overeem

Because he lost two of his last three matches (to Rogerio Nogueira by strikes/towel and Fabricio Werdum by Kimura) Alistair Overeem needs a win here to remain relevant. But a healthy Arona is one of the most avoided commodities in the biz. Why? He will take ANYBODY down and make them look insufficient. 

One thing to consider however: because Arona has worked diligently on his standup striking game he may be tempted to test those waters with the Dutchman. That would be a tactical error because it only takes one well-placed knee to turn the flow of the fight for Alistair.

I expect excitement in the first five minutes. Then once Ricardo realizes he cannot submit Overeem, he will ride it out to judge’s decision.
Yosuke Nishijima 

   Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos

“Cyborg” may be one of the most intriguing non-top ten fighters in the game at the moment. But he usually desires a standing brawl to bring his best to a match. That is NOT the case here. Yosuke Nishijima is a former cruiserweight boxing champion who would present multiple problems for Santos if the fight remains standing. 

Evangelista needs to use low kicks to set up Yosuke, eventually take this one to the floor, stay on top and mug “Yosukezan” with some Wanderlei-style ground and pound.
Kazuhiro Nakamura 

   Yoshihiro "KISS" Nakao

Kazuhiro Nakamura may be the best Japanese light-heavyweight (Pride middleweight, whatever) MMA fighter since Kazushi Sakuraba and Hidehiko Yoshida. His losses have only been to champions or solid top ten fighters (Wanderlei Silva, Josh Barnett, Rogerio Nogueira and Dan Henderson). But when your win column includes names like Murilo Bustamante, Kevin Randleman, Igor Vovchanchyn and Yuki Kondo you have to be considered a serious contender. 

Yoshihiro Nakao is still known primarily for that fateful kiss he planted on Heath Herring lips prior to their K-1 MMA match (December 31, 2005). Of course Heath didn’t take to keen to the invasion of space and knocked Nakao out with one punch BEFORE the fight officially began, causing the fiasco to eventually be ruled a no contest. Technically, Nakao has never lost an MMA bout. He has one other no contest came against Don Frye (Nakao beat Don by decision in the rematch).

Depending if they fight at 205 or at “open weight.” Nakao should have a slight size/weight advantage. But Nakamura’s experience against the best of the best will be the deciding factor as he submits Nakao in the late part of the match.
Sergei Kharitonov 

    Aleksander Emelianenko

Open-Weight GP Alternate Match

This is a superb clash of two Russians who some day could inherit the kingdom held by the reigning emperor Fedor Emelianenko (Aleksander’s older brother). It seems that Sergei Kharitonov has had his sights set on Fedor for a while but was momentarily derailed in his quest for the belt by his brutal loss to Alistair Overeem in February (Sergei suffered a shoulder injury early in the match and was pounded until the referee stopped it). But even the blindest of pundits can’t avoid nodding to his victories over Semmy Schilt (TKO round 1), Pedro Rizzo (TKO round 1) and Fabricio Werdum (split decision). A healthy Sergei Kharitonov is a top five heavyweight.

The pressure lies on Aleksander in this fight. He is thrown into a sort of gatekeeper role because if he wins it is doubtful he will fight his own brother for the championship. In that scenario it would be necessary for him to avenge his losses to Barnett and Cro Cop.

This should be a pitched, if not violent battle that I foresee being won by a reinvigorated Sergei.

Wanderlei “The Axe Murder” Silva  

  Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic

Open-Weight GP Semi Final Match

Wanderlei Silva, 31-5-1 (thank you Sherdog Fightfinder!), with 21 (T)KOs and 4 submissions, has to be one of the ballsiest fighters ever in MMA. Stepping up to heavyweight without hesitation and plowing right through Japan’s charging bull Kazuyuki Fujita in July’s quarter final round, Silva is now set for a long awaited rematch with southpaw Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic.

In their first meeting (April 28, 2002) Mirko had only tested the MMA waters 3 times previously and was still considered a K-1 fighter on loan to Pride. So the rules in his first fight with Silva were altered to include, among other things, no judges. Well wouldn’t you know it, the contest was declared a draw. But many would have handed Silva the win. At the time, Cro Cop was wary of the takedown and fought conservatively. Even in keeping his striking output to a low degree, he was still able to tag Silva’s mid-section with some accurate kicks.

Most people point to a that-was-then-this-is-now scenario in regards this upcoming dance. Mirko has improved…but so has Wanderlei. The big thing here is probably that Silva is traveling north to the higher weight (he usually fight at 205 pounds). But after watching Wanderlei’s destruction of iron-jawed Fujita, one has to wonder if Mirko will have any advantage in the strength and size departments.

This fight will exude more percussive sound effects than a rerun of the original Batman television series. Yes, they will try to knock each other out. While Cro Cop has rounded out his game considerably, his left roundhouse based kickboxing skills have slowed in their progress. His key to fight Wanderlei Silva is to institute some new tricks into his standing game. Every person, whether it is a fighter, fan or “expert” (ahem), has figured out that Mirko’s big left leg is the weapon to be avoided. So his key here is to not approach this as business as usual, but to surprise Silva and the world with something we do not expect.

Wanderlei is super experienced at a high competitive level and has proved his mettle time and time again against the best Pride had to offer. Even when he lost decisions to a king-sized Mark Hunt or super grappler Ricardo Arona (Silva avenged the Arona loss with an air-tight decision win), he has shown that the experiences have made him a better fighter. Now he gets his second shot at Filipovic.

I honestly cannot pick the winner here. I feel Mirko was on a roll until he lost to Fedor. That seemed to take some of the air out of his sails. Psychologically he has to overcome the stigma that haunted him since he was competing in K-1 as a kickboxer: that he never won the top championship. But he has improved quite a bit since his first bout with Wanderlei…and he knows this may be his last chance to be taken seriously amongst the sport’s elite.

Silva has been Pride’s middleweight champion since the belt was introduced in 2001 (he’s had two losses since then, to Arona and Mark Hunt, both by decision), so he knows the territory of being a champion. Their egos and “pride” should cause this to be a contender for fight-of-the-night.

Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira 

   Josh “The Babyface Assassin” Barnett

Another cataclysmic collision. I don’t think there is too much dispute that these are the two most talented submission based fighters in the heavyweight division. Big Josh has tapped out Mark Hunt (Kimura), Aleksander Emelianenko (keylock), Kazuhiro Nakamura (rear naked choke), Yuki Kondo (rear naked choke) and K-1 World Grand Prix Champion Semmy Schilt (armbar/twice). Nogueira has been equally effective, especially on his back, with subs over Cro Cop, Schilt, Mark Coleman, Bob Sapp and Heath Herring. 

We rarely see a multi-dimensional ground fight with heavyweights. But because of both Nogueira and Barnett’s propensity for, and mastery of, solving their in-ring problems with grappling, we might with this matchup.

Nogueira has arguably occupied the perennial number two position in his division for the better part of three years. Before his first loss to Emelianenko (March 2003) he was the undisputed king. He did not fall far after that setback and has racked up nine victories since then, mostly against top-flight opposition like Sergei Kharitonov and Fabricio Werdum (his single loss in that period was another decision to Fedor).

Barnett has had a rockier time since his abbreviated reign as UFC heavyweight champion (Josh won the title in March 2002 by stopping champion Randy Couture only to be stripped of the belt for testing positive for banned substances). His had eight wins since then but lost twice to Cro Cop, once by injury induced TKO (October 2004) and the other by unanimous decision (October 2005). 2006 saw “The Babyface Assassin” roar back with three submissions in a row (Hunt, A. Emelianenko, Nakamura). He seems primed for this.

So WHO to pick… Since Barnett is healthy again I would lean towards him. Even though “Minotauro” has improved his striking game he is still not as good as Barnett in that region. Josh’s strength will be the telling factory when they are on the floor. I see this going the distance. Even though I pick Barnett to win, I still feel Rodrigo has a serious chance to pull it out. 

My final thought is that the winner of Barnett/Nogueira will win the tournament.