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Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Mixed Martial Arts--- Wanderlei Silva vs. Mirko Cro Cop and Other Grand Prix Match-Ups Announced
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

Dream Stage Entertainment has announced the match-ups for the next rounds of the two Pride Grand Prix tournaments that the company is currently running. The next round of the 183-pound Grand Prix will take place on August 26th, while the final two rounds of the Open Weight Grand Prix will take place on September 10th.

In two bouts that are sure to be highly-anticipated on the September 10th card, Wanderlei Silva will face Mirko Cro Cop, and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira will face Josh Barnett. The winners of these two semi-final fights will meet in the finals of the Open Weight Grand Prix later that same night, with the winner of that fight being crowned the winner of the Pride Open Weight Grand Prix.

Though both of these matches should be highly competitive, it's likely that Barnett will be the underdog against Nogueira, and Silva will be the underdog against Cro Cop.

Silva and Cro Cop actually fought once before in the Pride ring back in 2002, but the bout was not fought under MMA rules. Instead, there were special rules that required the fighters to be stood up if the fight remained on the ground for 30 seconds, or if the fighter on the bottom was able to reach the ropes. This was done to accomadate Cro Cop, given his kickboxing background. There will be no such special rules this time around.

Cro Cop got to the semi-finals of the Open Weight Grand Prix by winning his first two fights in completely one-sided fashion against Ikuhisa Minowa and Hidehiko Yoshida, whose leg was injured by Cro Cop's vicious leg kicks.

Silva, the only fighter left in the tournament who does not normally fight at heavyweight, defeated Kazuyuki Fujita by TKO in the quarter-finals. Silva was not in the first round of the tournament and was added to the second round of the tournament when Pride Heavyweight Champion Fedor Emelianenko had to withdraw due to hand surgery.

Prior to fighting Fujita, Silva split two fights with Ricardo Arona in 2005. In the semi-finals of Pride's 205-pound Grand Prix last August, Silva lost to Ricardo Arona by unanimous decision in a fairly one-sided fight, and Silva's teammate Mauricio "Shogun" Rua went on to win the tournament. In the rematch between Silva and Arona on December 31, 2005, Silva won a very controversial split decision.

If Silva can make it through his fight (or fights) on September 10th without injury, he will be fighting Chuck Liddell in the UFC in November, provided that Liddell defeats Renato "Babalu" Sobral on August 26th and is able to do so without suffering any injuries.

The other semi-final bout in the Pride Open Weight Grand Prix will be a battle of two top-level heavyweights, as Josh Barnett takes on Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Barnett is coming off of two very impressive submission victories over Aleksander Emelianenko and Mark Hunt in the first two rounds of the tournament. Prior to those two fights, Barnett's Pride career consisted of two losses to Mirko Cro Cop and a victory over Kazuhiro Nakamura.

Nogueira was inexplicably matched up against Zulu, Jr. in the first round of the tournament because DSE president Nobuyuki Sakakibara felt that Zulu, Jr. is "like the Brazilian Bob Sapp." After easily winning in the first round of the Grand Prix, Nogueira defeated fellow Brazilian Fabricio Werdum by unanimous decision in the tournament quarter-finals on July 1st. Nogueira's last loss came at the hands of Fedor Emelianenko on December 31st, 2004.

The semi-finals and finals of the Pride Open Weight Grand will take place on September 10th, along with a full line-up of non-tournament bouts that have not yet been announced.

As with the previous round of the tournament, this event will have no television clearance in Japan other than the satellite-based pay-per-view channel SkyPerfecTV, due to the fact that Fuji TV terminated its contract with DSE. The event is scheduled to debut on North American pay-per-view on Sunday night, September 10th.

Pride Bushido Grand Prix Match-Ups
In an event that will air on Fox Sports instead of pay-per-view in the United States, Dream Stage is also gearing up for the next round of the 183-pound Pride Bushido Grand Prix. The quarter-final match-ups have been announced for the event, which will take place on August 26th. In the round of eight, Dan Henderson will take on Kazuo Misaki, Paulo Filho will face Ryo Chonan, Denis Kang will go up against Amar Suloev, and Akihiro Gono will face Gegard Mousasi.

Dan Henderson won the eight-man Pride Grand Prix for 183-pound fighters in 2005, as he defeated Ryo Chonan and Akihiro Gono in the first two rounds of the tournament before winning an extremely close split decision over Murilo Bustamante in the finals. In Henderson's most recent fight, a non-tournament bout in April of this year, he defeated Kazuo Misaki by unanimous decision, but Misaki looked much better in the fight than most expected. Henderson received a bye in the first round of this tournament due to injury, thus advancing to the final eight of this year's tournament.

After losing to Henderson in April, Kazuo Misaki was the biggest underdog in the entire tournament when he faced Phil Baroni in the first round of the Bushido Grand Prix in June. However, Misaki defied the odds and won a fairly one-sided fight against Baroni by unanimous decision. Misaki will now get the opportunity to avenge his prior loss to Henderson.

Paulo Filho is one of the favorites to win the tournament, and he is still undefeated in his MMA career with a record of 12-0. Filho holds submission wins over Amar Suloev, Ryuta Sakurai, and Akira Shoji, as well as decision wins over Yuki Kondo and Ikuhisa Minowa. Most recently, Filho defeated Murilo "Ninja" Rua by unanimous decision in April of this year, and followed that up with an extremely one-sided decision victory over Gregory Bouchelaghem in the first round of this year's Bushido Grand Prix in June.

Filho's opponent will be Ryo Chonan, who was not expected to be able to compete in the next round of the tournament. Chonan defeated Joey Villasenor by decision in the first round of the tournament, but Chonan suffered a broken orbital bone in the process. Chonan defeated Anderson Silva by submission in December 2004, and he has gone 2-0 since his knockout loss at the hands of Dan Henderson in last year's tournament.

In a battle of two fighters who were underdogs in the first round of the tournament, Denis Kang will face Amar Suloev. Kang has not lost in his last 18 fights and has looked extremely impressive in his last two Pride fights, as he defeated Mark Weir by submission and subsequently knocked out Murilo "Ninja" Rua in just 15 seconds.

Kang's opponent, Amar Suloev, pulled off a big upset when he defeated 2005 Grand Prix finalist Murilo Bustamante in a clear-cut unanimous decision in the first round of this year's Bushido Grand Prix. Suloev is now 2-1 in his Pride career, with victories over Bustamante and Dean Lister, and a submission loss to Paulo Filho.

The final quarter-final match-up will pit Akihiro Gono up against Gegard Mousasi. Gono scored a big upset in last year's 183-pound Grand Prix when he defeated highly regarded Daniel Acacio by unanimous decision, but then he got knocked out by Dan Henderson in the next round of the tournament. In the first round of this year's 183-pound Grand Prix, Gono was effective in turning the tables on explosive Cuban fighter Hector Lombard, who looked amazing in the first minute or so of the fight, but couldn't keep up with Gono for the entire bout duration.

After defeating Lombard by unanimous decision, Gono will now face another explosive fighter in Gegard Mousasi, who entered this year's Grand Prix with an MMA record of 12-1-1, but very little name recognition. Mousasi looked impressive in his Pride debut against Olympic Gold Medalist Makoto Takimoto in June, but will be facing a much tougher test against Gono.

In non-tournament bouts on the August 26th Bushido card, Tatsuya Kawajiri, who is widely regarded as one of the top five lightweight fighters in the world, will take on UFC and Pride veteran Chris Brennan. The undefeated Strikeforce Lightweight Champion, Gilbert Melendez, will make his Pride debut against Nobuhiro Obiya; while Shooto standout Shinya Aoki will face the Pat Miletich-trained Jason Black; and Hatsu Hioki will take on Jeff Curran.

The quarter-finals of Pride Bushido's 183-pound Grand Prix will take place in Japan on Saturday, August 26th, which is the same date as UFC 62. Dream Stage Entertainment recently announced that instead of airing on pay-per-view, the August 26th Bushido event will air on Fox Sports Net on Sunday, August 27th.

It would be impossible for DSE to air all of those fights in a narrow time window for TV, and it has not been announced which fights (if any) will air on FSN other than the four tournament match-ups.

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