Featuring Ivan Trembow's Self-Important, Random Rants on Mixed Martial Arts, Video Games, Pro Wrestling, Television, Politics, Sports, and High-Quality Wool Socks
Thursday, March 13, 2003
Mixed Martial Arts--- Pride 25 takes place this Sunday in Yokohama, Japan, and with it comes good news to MMA fans worldwide. Apparently, the rumors of Pride's death have been greatly exaggerated. While Pride is going to be changing its focus, it's not in the way that many people thought. Dream Stage Entertainment is not selling Pride, or shutting it down, or starting from scratch with a new name, or releasing half of its roster, or cutting everyone's pay in half, etc. What they ARE doing is catering more to the American MMA audience while still doing enough to remain popular in Japan. This means more big-name fighters will be appearing in Pride rather than less, this means that we can say goodbye to the days of Japanese pro wrestlers with no MMA qualifications taking up half the card, and best of all, it means that you will no longer need a satellite dish in order to see Pride on American pay-per-view.
That's right, Dream Stage has signed a deal with InDemand, and starting this summer all Pride PPVs will be available to every home that has cable television. This means that Pride PPV events will be available for purchase in just as many households as UFC events. The UFC having added competition in the US marketplace can only be a good thing for Pride, the UFC, and MMA as a whole. In addition, after the incredible success of the first Pride Grand Prix tournament back in 2000, this year will see not one, but two more Grand Prix tournaments. One of them will be an eight-man heavyweight tournament, and one of them will be an eight-man middleweight tournament (in Pride's case, a middleweight is anyone under 205 pounds). Some of the biggest names in the sport are going to be competing in these tournaments, which will have their first rounds on a show in August and their remaining rounds on a separate show in October or November.
In the meantime, we are barely 24 hours away from the most loaded Pride event that has taken place in a very long time. Two of the best light-heavyweights in the world (Kevin Randleman and Quinton Jackson) will square off with a shot at Vanderlei Silva's title on the line. Two of the top three welterweight fighters in the world (Anderson Silva and Carlos Newton) will fight in what promises to be a fascinating contrast of styles. Best of all, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira will attempt to defend his Pride Heavyweight Championship against the Russian freight train Emelianenko Fedor. My thoughts on the Nogueira-Fedor fight are included in a separate update that is directly above this one.
The fight that is second from the top on this show matches up two fighters whose styles are mirror images of each other. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Kevin Randleman are two extremely effective ground-and-pound stylists with top-notch amateur wrestling backgrounds. Randleman has won his first three fights in Pride, while Jackson has steamrolled through the competition, most impressively in a lopsided victory over Pride legend Igor Vovchanchyn. I was very surprised to see that the Las Vegas odds on this fight heavily favor Randleman. Jackson, seemingly, does everything that Randleman does, only better. His style is dangerous for his opponents in much the same way as Bob Sapp's, only with more speed, technique, endurance, etc.
Both Jackson and Randleman were surprisingly dominant in recent fights against big-name opponents (with Jackson defeating Vovchanchyn and Randleman defeating Murilo "Ninja" Rua). However, I would say that Jackson was much more dominant in his victory over Vovchanchyn than Randleman was in his victory over Ninja. Also, you have to consider Randleman's history of inconsistency throughout his career. He beat Maurice Smith, and then laid on the ground motionless for ten minutes in a loss to Bas Rutten. He scored decision victories over second-tier fighters in Pete Williams and Pedro Rizzo, only to then get shut down by Randy Couture and knocked out by Chuck Liddell. Yes, Randleman's trainer and mentor Mark Coleman had a losing streak and then made it back to the top of the sport, but Kevin Randleman is no Mark Coleman by any stretch of the imagination.
Also, he looked less than impressive in his first two Pride fights, both of which were against Japanese fighters with horrible records and little to no MMA qualifications. While he did manage to win the second of those two fights via TKO, the first fight where he won by decision was downright disgraceful. Watch a tape of that fight, or the first 15 minutes of his second Pride fight, and it will only reinforce Randleman's well-deserved reputation for getting "gassed out" easily and spending large amounts of time during his fights literally doing nothing. Quinton Jackson is the complete opposite, with an aggressive style and an arsenal of takedowns that are so powerful and dangerous, they can end fights in and of themselves. His ground and pound attack is unrelenting, making it clear to see that he has spend a considerable amount of time training with Tito Ortiz and Ricco Rodriguez. Jackson's stand-up fighting skills should not be underestimated and are arguably better than Randleman's. Randleman could surprise me just like he did in his fight against Murilo Ninja, but I believe the more likely scenario is Quinton Jackson going in there and beating Kevin Randleman at his own game. Even if the punishment dished out on the ground is equal among both fighters, Randleman is still likely to lose, if for no other reason because of sheer exhaustion. I'm picking Jackson by TKO.
In another potential Fight of the Year candidate, Carlos Newton faces off with Anderson Silva. This is a dream fight where anything can, and probably will, happen. It also presents the most interesting clash of styles that I can ever remembering seeing in MMA. Anderson Silva is one of the most dangerous stand-up fighters in MMA, while Newton was an iron chin that has never more evident than in his last Pride fight, where he absorbed the mother of all knees to the face from Jose "Pele" Landi and won by submission two minutes later. Newton is a submission master who usually makes winning by tap-out look easy, while Silva has very good submission skills of his own to go along with his excellent submission defense. Both fighters are fairly susceptible to ground and pound, but there's no doubt in this case that Newton is the bigger and stronger fighter. This fight is going to have me on the edge of my seat in anticipation of who's going to win and how they're going to do it. Anderson Silva could very well win this fight by knockout or even submission, but I'm going to pick Newton to win by submission, or possibly by decision if Silva's submission defense is too good. As dangerous as Anderson Silva is, Newton is simply too well-versed in the art of submissions for me to pick against him.
Pride 25 will also see one of the best MMA fighters of all time start his path back to glory, or greatly accelerate his ride down the mountain, as Kazushi Sakuraba squares off with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu sensation Antonio "Nino" Schembri. Pride's matchmakers wanted to put Sakuraba up against someone who is not a world-class fighter on this show, but apparently someone forgot to tell them about Schembri's impressive string of submission victories in Brazil. But regardless of how good or bad of a fighter Schembri is, I'm still picking him to win, and I was downright shocked to see how heavily the Vegas odds (and MMA journalist predictions) are stacked in Sakuraba's favor.
No one was better than Sakuraba at his peak, but he has sadly become a shell of his former self. I can overlook the fact that Sakuraba lost to Vanderlei Silva twice, since Vanderlei is one of the top fighters in the sport. But what has Sakuraba done since then? He has gotten horribly out of shape, he has continued to pick at and worsen his injuries rather than allowing them to heal for once, he has admitted in several interviews to being an alcoholic, and he has put in two extremely unimpressive performances in a row. Yes, his loss to Mirko Cro Cop was due to an eye injury, but he was getting completely dominated by Cro Cop from the beginning of the fight, before the eye injury was ever suffered. I can remember watching dumbfounded as Sakuraba, who is a submission master, was controlled and dominated on the ground by Mirko Cro Cop, who is a kickboxer who had previously displayed little or no skill at ground fighting.
Even worse than Sakuraba's loss to Cro Cop was his victory over Gilles Arsene, who was brought in by Pride's matchmakers specifically to give Sakuraba a tomato can to beat up on. What started as merely a mind-numbingly boring fight quickly became a full-fledged disgrace as Sakuraba spent a large percentage of the fight doing nothing. Arsene spent the vast majority of the fight motionless in the fetal position, and Sakuraba spent most of the fight on top of him, NOT mounting any kind of attack except for the occasional slap. Sakuraba should be ashamed of himself and embarrassed to have put in that kind of performance. There's no way to tell for sure, but it appears that the innovative submission expert Sakuraba no longer exists. In his place is a shell of the Sakuraba that we all knew and loved, a fighter who would be likely to lose to any competent fighter, much less a Jiu-Jitsu expert from Brazil. I'm hoping that Sakuraba proves me wrong and makes Pride 25 the beginning of his ride back to the top of the sport, but I just don't see it happening. Until he drinks less, trains more, gets back into shape, and gives his injuries time to heal, I don't see Sakuraba beating any decent fighter, and I'm picking him to lose to Schembri by submission or decision.
The four fights at the bottom of this card pale in comparison to the four fights at the top of the card, but most of them are still interesting in their own ways. In a fight that is one step away from Minotauro vs. Yoshida (which is going to happen eventually and is going to be a one-sided mauling when it does), Minotauro's brother Rogerio faces off with Yoshida's top student, Kazuhiro Nakamura. Nakamura has never accomplished anything in MMA, while Rogerio is a lot more than just "Minotauro's brother." Any doubt that Rogerio can hang with top-level fighters was erased in his recent one-sided victory over Guy Mezger. It was no surprise to see Rogerio out-grapple Mezger and control the submission game, but to see him dominate in stand-up fighting against a kickboxer on the high level of Mezger was a huge surprise. Rogerio appears to be even better at stand-up fighting than his twin brother. I'm picking Rogerio Nogueira to win this fight by submission. Also, if Rogerio can keep the fight standing, and if he chooses to keep the fight standing, he could very well win by knockout.
In another fight that will pose a nice contrast of styles, Alex Steibling will face Akira Shoji. Steibling was thought to be one of the rising stars of MMA until being dismantled in his last two fights, against Anderson Silva and Marvin Eastman. Shoji has displayed an all-around good fighting arsenal, and gone the distance with many of MMA's finest, while still losing to most of them. If Steibling has gone back to training hard with Bas Rutten instead of worrying about cultivating his "Brazilian Killa" persona and worrying about his image, then I think he could still be a force to be reckoned with in MMA. Anything less than that level of commitment will result in a sure loss to a crafty veteran like Shoji, but I'm going to pick Steibling to put his losing streak behind him and win by decision.
Dan Henderson is one of the best and most well-rounded fighters in MMA. Shungo Oyama has had six fights in his career, he has lost four of those six fights, and he looked like a sub-par fighter even in his biggest victory. Somehow the matchmakers at Pride decided that it would be a good idea to match these two up against each other, and it's this kind of policy that has caused Henderson to seriously consider jumping to the UFC when his Pride contract expires (which just happens to be after this fight). Anything can happen in mixed martial arts, but in this case I think we'll see exactly what most people expect. Henderson is going to dominate the fight and win in whatever manner he chooses, whether it's by knockout, submission, or a ground-and-pound strategy leading to a TKO.
In the least anticipated fight on the card by far, Alexander Otsuka faces off with Kenichi Yamamoto. With fighters like Mario Sperry wanting to be on this show and getting turned down by Pride's management, does Pride really believe that anyone wants to see someone with a 3-4 career record in MMA fight someone with a 2-12 record? This fight is unlikely to be shown on the American pay-per-view broadcast, but I'm going to pick a winner anyway. I'll pick Otsuka to win if for no other reason because he has shown some level of toughness during his career, as wildly unsuccessful as it's been. Neither fighter can say, "Look at all the fighters I've beaten" if they are trying to convince someone that they're going to win this or any other fight, but at least Otsuka can say, "Look at all the fighters I've lasted a long time against." Otsuka has lasted more than 15 minutes with Igor Vovchanchyn, Vanderlei Silva, and Anderson Silva, and it takes some amount of toughness to do that. I'm picking Otsuka to win this fight on that basis alone.