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Friday, June 06, 2003
Mixed Martial Arts--- Pride 26 takes place this weekend in Japan, and next week it will become the first Pride event to be available on InDemand pay-per-view in the United States. It looks to be a strong card with three very compelling fights at the top of the line-up, and four fights that appear to be mismatches making up the rest of the show. Pride needs this event to come through in a big way in order to build a customer base of American PPV buyers, and this card has all the potential in the world to do so.

These previews were originally written for and published on one of the top mixed martial arts web site on the planet, MMAWeekly. I am now a writer for MMAWeekly and will be writing MMA-related content for them in addition to Ivan's Blog. You can check out MMAWeekly for yourself at www.mmaweekly.com

Emelianenko Fedor vs. Kazuyuki Fujita (non-title fight)
I don't think there is anyone in MMA right now who is hotter than Emelianenko Fedor. That's a perception that tends to naturally spring up when you dominate Heath Herring and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in back-to-back fights and become the Pride Heavyweight Champion. Fedor beat Heath Herring at his own game, grounding and pounding him into a bloody mess. In the fight with Nogueira, Fedor showed incredible submission defense and landed some of the hardest strikes on the ground that I have ever seen. With Fedor running through Herring and Nogueira as he did, I don't think Kazuyuki Fujita has much of a chance to do any better.

Fujita is a very tough fighter with an iron chin and a great ground-and-pound game, but it's difficult to picture him controlling the fight on the ground with Fedor. If Mirko Cro Cop can counter Fujita's ground game and control the fight en route to a unanimous decision victory, there's no reason to think that Fedor won't be able to do the same. I also don't see Fujita getting the best of Fedor with stand-up striker, and if he does, Fedor will take him down at will just like he took Herring and Nogueira down at will. This fight is going to be more competitive than some people might think, but the outcome is inevitable in my opinion. While I don't expect to see Fedor completely obliterate Fujita and win in less than five minutes, I do expect to see Fedor win by TKO or decision.

A TKO victory is more likely for two reasons, the first of which is that Fujita hasn't been particularly active recently, and he can't possibly be in the kind of shape that Fedor is in. Over the past two years, Fujita has competed in four MMA fights. Two of them were losses, and two of them were wins over fighters with a combined career record of 2-4. I do think that Fujita is going to show up in good shape and ready to go; I just think Fedor is going to be in better shape. I also believe that a TKO victory is more likely than a decision victory for Fedor because he always tries very hard to finish his fights. Minotauro Nogueira was semi-conscious during the last 5-10 minutes of their fight, and Fedor chose to keep pounding away. He could have just stalled on top of Nogueira and avoided the risk of being caught in one of Nogueira's many submission attempts, but he chose to go for the finish anyway. Fujita is one of the best heavyweight fighters to ever come out of Japan, but I don't think he has much of a chance to score the upset victory over Fedor. My Prediction: Fedor by TKO.

Mirko Cro Cop vs. Heath Herring
Herring vs. Cro Cop is an MMA dream match that stands a good chance of being the most competitive and exciting fight on this card. Herring is a world-class grappler with very good stand-up skills, and Cro Cop is a world-class kickboxer with a rapidly developing ground game. Herring is coming off a demoralizing loss to Emelianenko Fedor, while Cro Cop appears to have all of the momentum in the world on his side. In his last two fights with MMA rules, Cro Cop completely dominated Kazushi Sakuraba and then scored an impressive unanimous decision victory over Kazuyuki Fujita, whose style is comparable to Herring's. Cro Cop also dominated Bob Sapp in K-1 while handing Sapp his first ever loss in kickboxing.

There can be no doubt that Mirko Cro Cop is one of the most dangerous fighters in kickboxing and MMA, but I get the feeling that Herring is going to turn the tide of momentum and pick up a win in this fight. The first question that will be answered during this fight is whether or not Herring will try to stand up and trade strikes with Cro Cop. A lot of people are predicting that Herring will try to stand up with Cro Cop and get knocked out as a result, but I think Herring is smarter than that. I don't doubt for a minute that Cro Cop would knock out Herring if the fight remained in the stand-up position indefinitely, but it's overwhelmingly likely that Herring will try to take Cro Cop down and will succeed at that task.

The difference of the fight is going to be what happens when it inevitably goes to the ground. Cro Cop's ground game is improving at a fast pace, and it's a pretty safe bet that he punches very, very hard regardless of what position he's in. Herring is still going to have a huge advantage on the ground for at least two reasons: Herring is a lot stronger than Cro Cop, and Herring is part of that rare breed of fighter who is an expert at both submissions and ground-and-pound. Barring an out-of-nowhere knockout in the stand-up, which can't be discounted as a possibility, I'm picking Herring to control this fight on the ground and pull out the victory.

If Herring is able to finish off Cro Cop, it's just as likely to come by submission as it is by TKO. It's easy to forget that eleven of Herring's 20 career wins have been submission victories, and that doesn't even count fights in which his opponents submitted due to strikes. While a submission or TKO victory for Herring is a significant possibility, I believe that Cro Cop's ground defense is good enough, and his chin is strong enough, that he will be able to go the distance and last the full 20 minutes. Both of these fighters have bright futures in MMA, but I think this is going to be Herring's night. My Prediction: Herring by decision.

Mark Coleman vs. Don Frye
This is a dream match not only for fans of the early day UFC events, but also for fans of MMA in general. On the night of Mark Coleman's MMA debut, these two fighters met in an epic battle in which Frye took an insane amount of punishment and kept going until the referee stopped the fight. After that memorable night, Frye would later win the UFC's all-star "Ultimate Ultimate" tournament and then take almost five years off from the sport before returning in 2001. Meanwhile, Coleman has been to the top of the sport as the dominant UFC Heavyweight Champion, then to the bottom with a three-fight losing streak, and then back to the top as the winner of the first Pride Grand Prix. Coleman was the #1 heavyweight in the world going into his most recent MMA fight, which was a loss to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in late 2001. This rematch was originally scheduled to take place in June of last year, but it had to be postponed when Coleman suffered a career-threatening neck injury during training.

In addition to being MMA legends, Coleman and Frye have plenty of other things in common. They are almost identical in height and weight. They are close to each other in age, with Coleman being 38 and Frye being 37. They are both fulfilling the final fight on their current Pride contracts with this fight, and both of them could very well finish their careers back in the UFC. Coleman hasn't fought since he lost his status as the #1 heavyweight in the world to Nogueira in late 2001, but Coleman has a history of being able to come back strong after being out for 9-12 months. It remains to be seen if there's a difference between 9-12 months and 18 months in terms of how prepared Coleman is for this fight, but he's not going to suddenly stop being the great fighter that he has always been.

In Frye's case, he has been on somewhat of a downward slide over the past year, with his last shining accomplishment being his victory over Ken Shamrock in early 2002. Frye defeated Yoshihiro Takayama in a memorable fight about a year ago, but he seemed to "gas out" in a way that we normally don't see Don Frye gas out. After the Takayama fight, Frye made the poor decision to face Jerome LeBanner in a kickboxing match, where Frye was embarrassed and knocked out for the first time in his career. Finally, in November of last year Frye shamefully lost to Hidehiko Yoshida in a fight that may or may not have been worked (and sure as hell looked worked). If the fight was legitimate, Frye should be ashamed for losing to someone who was making his MMA debut. If the fight was worked, Frye should be ashamed of himself for agreeing to take a dive.

Leading up to this fight with Mark Coleman, all of the talk from Don Frye's camp has been that he has learned all kinds of new submission and takedown techniques while training with Frank Shamrock for the past couple of months. I believe that this will prove to be futile for Don Frye in this fight. When you've got 50 new techniques or strategies in your mind that you've never used before in an actual MMA fight, it's going to take a while for any fighter to properly adjust, especially someone like Don Frye who will be the first to tell you that he has been fighting the same kind of fight throughout his entire career. When you're going through this kind of drastic adjustment period, it's probably best to not have your first opponent be someone on the level of Mark Coleman. Frye has never been known as a submission specialist, and that's not going to change with a couple months of training. Coleman has only been submitted twice in his MMA career; once by Nogueira (who has submitted just about everyone) and once by Nobuhiko Takada in a worked fight (Coleman should also be ashamed to have taken a dive).

While Don Frye is trying to redefine himself as a fighter, Mark Coleman isn't, largely because he doesn't really need to. As the father of ground-and-pound offense in the UFC, I think it's fair to say that Coleman's fighting style has worked out pretty well for him. Coleman's ground-and-pound prowess makes it all the more puzzling to hear Don Frye say in an interview with our friends at MaxFighting that he plans to put Coleman on his back with a double-leg takedown, and that Coleman is susceptible to takedowns. Maybe I missed something, but since when is Coleman susceptible to takedowns? And since when is Frye's ground-and-pound game on the level of Coleman's? The ground-and-pound game is not what Frye should be trying to target in this fight, it's what he should be trying to avoid. I'm hoping for Frye's sake that he's just trying to throw Coleman off with this ground-and-pound talk.

Frye is clearly better at stand-up striking than Coleman, but the same can be said about Igor Vovchanchyn, Gary Goodridge, and plenty of other fighters that Coleman still managed to defeat. Also, the biggest weakness in Coleman's stand-up game is his vulnerability to kicks, and Frye has always been a fighter who is good at punching, but not really good at kicking. It's going to be a struggle, but I believe Coleman will be able to ground and pound his way to a victory like he has done so many times in the past. The X-factor in this fight is endurance. Frye gassed out in his fight against Takayama last year, but it's Coleman who has a long history of gassing out, even in many of his wins. With an 18-month lay-off from the sport, Coleman's endurance is all the more questionable. If Coleman runs out of gas and Frye doesn't, I have no doubt that Frye will be able to pick up a TKO victory, or possibly submit Coleman with one of his new submission techniques, or at the very least pound his way to a decision victory.

Unless Coleman gasses out, I see him winning this fight by decision. I'm predicting Coleman to win by decision rather than TKO simply because Don Frye is extremely hard to finish off. The first Coleman-Frye fight stands as proof of that, and so does Frye's refusal to tap out in his fight with Ken Shamrock despite suffering a torn meniscus and a broken ankle. My Prediction: Coleman by decision.

Quinton Jackson vs. Mikhail Illioukhine
This fight is more of a mismatch than most people think. Yes, Jackson thought his next fight wasn't going to be until August and he took this fight on a few weeks notice, but most of Jackson's fights in Pride have come on a few weeks notice (including his victory over Igor Vovchanchyn). Yes, Mikhail is a tough hombre who holds submission victories over Randy Couture and Igor Vovchanchyn, but the win over Igor was due to the ole' chin-in-the-eye-socket trick (which is illegal in Pride), and the win over Couture came in the Rings organization, where all kinds of restrictions are placed on striking. Most of Mikhail's success has come in Rings, and while that does count for something, he is nonetheless in for a rude awakening when he gets in the ring with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in a full-contact fight.

If Mikhail is going to win this fight, he's going to have to catch Quinton in a submission. There is certainly a chance of that happening, but Mikhail's submission attempts will more than likely be nullified by Jackson's devastating striking on the ground, which could prove to be overwhelming even for a veteran like Mikhail. Rampage will probably win this fight by TKO, although Mikhail is sure to put up a good fight for as long as he can. Rampage could also win by knockout due to the fact that Mikhail is only 5-foot-9 and faces a big reach disadvantage, not to mention the fact that we all saw how dangerous Jackson's stand-up striking can be in his fight with Kevin Randleman. Besides the fact that most of his career has been spent in Rings with limited striking, Mikhail will also be hurt by the fact that he is 37 years old and is several years removed from his last big win. Mikhail has one win in the past two years (against a fighter with a 6-9 career record), and he hasn't fought at all since May of 2002. My Prediction: Jackson by TKO.

Anderson Silva vs. Daiju Takase
This match-up serves as an example that Pride still has plenty of room for improvement in their goal of appealing to the international audience with fewer mismatches. Anderson Silva will probably be held out of the Pride Middleweight Grand Prix in favor of his teammate Murilo "Ninja" Rua, so he could have been matched up with just about any light-heavyweight or middleweight on this show. Out of all these possibilities, the best Pride could come up with Daiju Takase. Takase made a name for himself by beating an out-of-shape Sumo wrestling in the early days of Pride, and since then, his one and only notable win came in 2001 against LaVerne Clark on a Pancrase show. Takase has a career record of 4-7, and he has no business being on the grand stage of Pride fighting someone on the level of Anderson Silva. On the bright side, at least Pride resisted the temptation to put on more fights like Alexander Otsuka vs. Kenichi Yamamoto.

Mismatches like this one only serve to make Pride resemble a circus. On top of that, these gross mismatches are far more dangerous than the average MMA bout. Pride should adopt a UFC-like policy with fighters like Takase where it's a case of, "Okay, your career record is 4-7. Go prove yourself on smaller shows, and if you do extremely well, then we might give you another opportunity on the big show." Opportunities to fight in an organization like Pride should not be passed out on a random basis, or just because someone is Japanese. Takase might be able to last a while with Silva through the use of defensive grappling, but that's only if the fight goes to the ground. Eventually, Silva's combination of punches, kicks, and knees will render Takase unconscious, and it's not going to be pretty. If Anderson Silva was able to brutally knock out a world-class fighter like Carlos Newton in a split second with a knee that came out of nowhere, what do you think he's going to do to Daiju Takase. This is going to be a mauling, and when someone eventually gets seriously injured in one of these gross mismatches, the executives at Pride will have no one to blame but themselves. My Prediction: Silva by KO.

Alistair Overeem vs. Mike Bencic
This fight appears to be another gross mismatch, but in this case Pride is not entirely to blame. Overeem was originally scheduled to fight Ricardo Arona, who pulled out of the fight with a severe case of the flu. With only two weeks to find a replacement and with Murilo Bustamante temporarily stuck in Brazil due to visa problems, there were still plenty of potential candidates to replace Arona (including Jeremy Horn). The fighter that Pride finally settled on was Mike Bencic, who has never been in an MMA fight and is best known as Mirko Cro Cop's Jiu-Jitsu instructor. Bencic could very well be a good fighter, but it's rumored that Pride only chose him because he was already planning to fly in with Mirko Cro Cop. It doesn't sound unlike Pride to do that, and if this rumor is indeed true, it's ridiculous. Pride can throw around six-figure paychecks like they're going out of style, but they can't spring for one more plane ticket to bring in a more qualified opponent?

Regardless of his lack of MMA experience, Bencic must be a pretty good submission grappler to be training Mirko Cro Cop in that field, and apparently he also has a background in boxing and kickboxing. He could probably beat a lot of fighters with comparable levels of MMA experience, but he's going to be in there fighting Alistair Overeem. Alistair is the younger and seemingly more talented brother of Valentijn Overeem. Alistair Overeem started off his career with a record of 4-3 when he was just 19 and 20 years old. Since then, Overeem has won eleven fights in a row and has looked more and more impressive with each passing fight. Overeem most recently knocked out the very tough (and previously undefeated) Volk Atajev at Pride 24, and then submitted Aaron Brink with ease at an event in Holland. Overeem has shown the ability to finish fights with the method of his choice (KO, TKO, or submission), with not one of his 15 career wins being a decision victory. Overeem is still just 23 years old and is constantly improving. Mike Bencic is 37 years old, he's making his MMA debut, and he's going to have a big reach disadvantage against the 6-foot-4 Overeem. Put two and two together, and it seems extremely likely that Overeem will extend his winning streak to 12. My Prediction: Overeem by TKO.

Antonio "Elvis" Schembri vs. Kazuhiro Hamanaka
This match-up has a very good chance of resembling Pride 25's fight between Rogerio Nogueira and Kazuhiro Nakamura. Nakamura was making his MMA debut and was thoroughly dominated by Nogueira before losing by submission in the second round. Now we've got Hamanaka making his MMA debut against Antonio "Elvis" Schembri, who brutally knocked out Kazushi Sakuraba at Pride 25. Schembri was sort of thrown to the wolves at Pride 25 with the expectation that the struggling Sakuraba would pick up an easy win. It looked like that was going to be the case, with Schembri having some pretty clumsy striking, and seemingly just waiting for an opportunity that didn't look like it was coming. Sure enough, about midway through the first round, such an opportunity did present itself. Sakuraba went for one of his signature Mongolian Chops, and in the process got caught with a vicious knee to the face.

People who say that Schembri's knockout was completely based on luck need to go back and watch the end of the fight. Even if one assumes that the first knee was just a lucky strike, the beautiful striking combination that followed certainly wasn't, nor was Schembri's instinct to pound on Sakuraba and make sure he was going to stay down. No one would argue that Schembri is a dangerous striker in most of his fights, but just having the ability to be that explosive is probably giving Hamanaka nightmares. There's no real choice here other than to predict that Schembri will win. We know that Schembri is an accomplished Jiu-Jitsu competitor who has looked impressive in his first three MMA fights, all of which have been victories. On the other hand, what do we know as fans about Kazuhiro Hamanaka? Well, we know that he's making his MMA debut, and we know that he's a member of the Takada Dojo. We also know that with the exception of Kazushi Sakuraba, everyone to come out of the Takada Dojo has been a horrible failure in MMA, most notably Takada himself. You can never be 100% sure about the outcome of any MMA fight, but I think it's a pretty safe bet that Schembri will be picking up another victory against Hamanaka. My Prediction: Schembri by submission.

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