Friday, April 28, 2017

Pride 33: The Second Coming - A Ten Year Retrospective

A decade down the road, does Pride FC's swan song still sound as (bitter)sweet as it did way back when? Join The Internet Is In America as we take a fond look back at what very well could be the single greatest MMA card of all-time

By: Jimbo X

I love a lot of sports. Pro football. College football. Pro hockey. Boxing. Hardcore Japanese electrified swimming pool barbed wire battle royal death match 'rasslin. They're all just dandy in my books. But the world of mixed martial arts takes up a very special place in my heart. Unlike all of the aforementioned sporting competitions, I was actually around for the very first true MMA event in history. Granted, I had to watch Gerard Gordeau kick Teila Tuli's teeth out of his skull on the old fuzzy, scrambled PPV feed, but hey, I could still pick up the audio just fine. And you can bet your sweet bippy that as soon as the UFC 1 showed up at the local mom and pop video store in two-day-rental VHS form, I was there bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, just champing at the bit to watch Royce Gracie choke out motherfuckers who outweighed him by a good 100 pounds like it was no thang. 

There aren't a whole lot of constants in my life, but MMA has continually played a big role in my existence ever since 1993. I've never really lapsed as a MMA fan, even when the product got really, really shitty (i.e., the UFC dry run from 1999 to 2004 ... sheeeit, those were dark days, indeed.) And as much as I love the UFC - and despite my occasional bouts of frustration with the product, I still appreciate and admire the house Dana White built immensely - it'll perhaps always play second fiddle to my one true MMA beloved: the late, great Pride Fighting Championship.

I'm shocked and disgusted it's taken me this long to write about Pride FC in-depth. Basically, they were to MMA what ECW was pro wrestling in the mid-1990s. Well, actually, that's a pretty ill-fitting simile, but since I really, really like ECW, I'm going to keep running with the analogy anyway. 

Back in the day, the UFC felt really grimy and dirty. Pay-per-view events were broadcast out of 9,000 seat shit-boxes in Dothan, Alabama, and just watching the shows you felt like you were going to contract MRSA. Of course, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that aesthetic, and I earnestly enjoyed it quite a bit. The thing is, the trappings started to become a little bit too familiar. All the fighters looked the same, their entrances were identical, the backdrops looked like they could've been behind a Piggly Wiggly somewhere and as the company tried to abandon its freak-show, human cock-fighting image by adopting incredulous things like "weight classes" and "judges," it just seemed like the UFC was losing its counter-cultural edge. 

And that's where Pride came in to save the day. If you're looking for a crash course on how Pride came to be, here's some handy dandy prerequisite readin' material. But just to catch those out of the loop up to speed: it was a Japanese promotion that took MMA out of the cage and put it in a standard 'rasslin ring. And instead of marketing the fights as Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome death struggles, they instead pumped the product full of all sorts of glitz and glamour, effectively giving the masses a more flamboyant type of vale tudo violence. Or to put it another way, if the UFC was the equivalent of watching Roadhouse, Pride FC was the MMA version of The Gong Show - you got a little bit of everything, and by golly, were those production values something else

Of course, the over-the-top spectacle of Pride FC - those huge arena shows, the fireworks, the crazy costumes, the absurd freak show contests that would never, ever get booked in North America for any reason whatsoever - give it a very memorable and distinct identity, but a lot of people still overlook the REAL reason people loved - and still adore - the promotion: the action was just fuckin' incredible

From 1997 to 2007, there's no denying that Pride FC had better fighters than the UFC, routinely put on better bouts and regularly produced much more entertaining fight cards. You pick any random UFC show from that same timeframe, and odds are, at least five times out of ten the card is going to be rather average. Flip the equation around, though, and I'd venture to guess that eight times out of ten any random old Pride FC show from that era was going to be awesome. And while there is much, MUCH debate about which Pride FC show was the best of 'em all, if I had to pick just one card to showcase as "exhibit A" for why the promotion was go fucking great, I'd prolly have to roll with Pride 33: The Second Coming.

Yes, it is a bit of an unexpected selection. After all, for a company as idiosyncratically Japanese as Pride, perhaps it is a little weird to highlight one of the very few shows they held in the U.S. (and under the unified rules, no less, meaning we didn't get to see any of those infamous soccer kicks and hellacious head stomp KOs.) Furthermore, this was literally the second-to-last show the company ever put on - indeed, I'm pretty sure the UFC had already assumed a majority stake in Pride by the time the show went on - so you really can't call it Pride at its financially independent apex. 

But what you did get, though, was probably the most satisfying series finale for anything ever. The card was just glutted with awesome match-ups from top-to-bottom, and virtually all of them were competitive, exciting contests or bouts highlighted by explosive KO or submission finishes. This was a card that never got anywhere close to anything approaching the doldrums, and its three-hour run-time seems to fly by in 30 minutes. And on top of that, it's a historically important show not just in Pride history, but MMA history as well, featuring a legit 2007 fight of the year contender (hell, maybe two of them, looking back on it) and the coronation of the first double weight class champion in sports history. Factor in an ultra-entertaining undercard - again, with absolutely no boring fights whatsoever - and you've got a swan song so tremendous, you can't help but want to play it at full volume over and over again

So with this being the tenth anniversary of the company's closing - and, appropriately enough, the tenth anniversary of this very card - how's about we take a step back in time to 2007 to relive the magic of Pride's last hurrah?

The unforgettable Pride FC theme plays over random shots of Las Vegas. Quarters fly out of slot machines as the disembodied announcer talks about this being the proving grounds of the likes of Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson and how the city has "since opened its gilded gates to MMA" as the best MMA promotion in the world returns to the U.S. 

Our announcers are Lon McEachern (a.k.a, the guy who used to call poker games on ESPN back in the day) and Josh Barnett. They are surrounded by a bevy of (presumably) Japanese chicks wearing purple and gold kimonos. 

They sell hard for tonight's Wandy/Hendo main event, showing highlights of Silva kicking the dog shit out of Rampage Jackson. "He's the only middleweight champion Pride has ever known," Lon states. Then we see clips of Hendo just banging on motherfuckers, which as we all know by now, is precisely what he does best in life. 

The opening intro pipes the Pride theme through huge video monitors. The fans, naturally, go ape-shit as the Dragon Lady yells "we're back!" Pyro is everywhere as each fighter tonight is individually introduced. Frank Trigg comes out wearing a TRIGGONOMICS hoodie. Travis Wiuff comes out and nobody says anything or does anything, as they should. Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou comes out in a red jumpsuit. Meanwhile, Lil' Nog has a head that looks like half of a chewed up cabbage. There's Alistair Overeem and Mauricio Rua, looking pretty much the same as they do now. Nick Diaz looks visibly high already. The audience pops big time for Takanori Gomi, who was considered the best 155-pounder on the planet at the time. Dan Henderson wears an American Home Mortgage shirt, perhaps portending the upcoming economic recession. And there's Wanderlei Silva, in a bright yellow hoodie and looking like a Bizarro version of Kurt Angle ... or, in other words, looking just like he always does

I think we can all agree - 2007 skanks are the greatest skanks of all-time.

Joachim Hansen vs. Jason Ireland opens the show. The Thomas & Mack Center is about 60, maybe 65 percent full. Steve Mazzagatti is the ref. Hansen gets some leg kicks early and Ireland returns fire. Ireland with a takedown. Hansen back up. Ireland with more leg kicks, with one of them almost taking Hansen down. The ref calls a timeout so Hansen can fix his wrist tape, and the crowd boos. 

You know, Hansen kinda reminds me of the dude who got toxic wasted in Robocop. We return from the timeout, and the two clinch, with a ton of knees and punches being thrown both directions. Remember, we're fighting under the unified rules, so the opening round is only five minutes instead of ten. The ref tells them to get off the fucking ropes, for God's sake. Ireland is STILL going for the low kicks. Hansen with a takedown and he's almost in the full guard. Now he is in side control. The ref's ass obscures the cameraman so we can't see shit. Ireland gives up his back. Ireland trying to fight out. Hansen still has his legs wrapped around Ireland's waist. He has a body triangle. Oddly enough, Ireland's pants read "Kiss me, I'm Irish." Both men back up with thirty seconds to go. Hansen lands a knee to the chest and a super-easy takedown. Hanson does this awesome roll on the ground to transition to getting Ireland's back. Now he's looking for a choke. Hansen still working on it with seconds to go. Ireland back up and Hansen is in the open guard. They stand up and swing like crazy as the round expires.

ROUND TWO. We go over the rules again, including all that stuff about the 10-point-must system and how you can't knee or kick a grounded opponent or bite their ballsack. Which means, sadly, there will be no soccer kicks to the face tonight. A bummer, I know. Ireland begins with some leg kicks. He whiffs on a high kick. Ireland with a running takedown. HE is just ELBOWING the fuck out of Hansen. But Hansen is right back up and he hits Ireland with a million billion knees and leg kicks. Hansen just unloading on that motherfucker now. Hansen with an easy takedown and he's in side control. Ireland trying to counter with a guillotine, but Hansen is already out. Hansen with a knee to Ireland's face as he gets up. Ireland using more leg kicks. Hansen responds with some HARD body shots in the corner and more knees to the schnoz. Hansen with a twirling takedown, and Barnett calls him a natural born killer. Ireland looks about as gassed as an Auschwitz prisoner right now. Hansen with punches to the kidneys in bunches. Ireland trying to smack Hansen on the leg with his heel. Ireland has Hansen's wrist tied up, so Hansen just keeps kneeing his body. Hansen gets a hand loose and now he's looking for a side choke. Now he's in the full mount. Ireland is FUCKED. Now Hansen has his back. One minute left. Ireland just turtled up. Dig those bright blue ROCKSTAR gloves. Hansen pops Ireland in the forearm. Now Hansen has Ireland locked in a sick armlock and he's just hammer fisting the fuck out of him as the round concludes. Yeah, Big Steve prolly shoulda stopped this one right then and there.

ROUND THREE. Hansen raises his arms in the air at the opening bell. Ireland is in the corner throwing straight kicks. Hansen already has a takedown. Well, more like Ireland just kinda' fell down, but whatever. Barnett just BURIES both guys by saying neither are strikers worth a shit. Ieland with desperation leg kicks. Hansen backs Ireland into the corner and Ireland, believe it or not, is somehow able to land a takedown. Hansen is working from the rubber guard. He's looking for a triangle. Hansen is just teeing off on the top of Ireland's skull. Hansen working that triangle even harder. More skull pounding. Now he transitions to an armbar. Ireland is fighting it. He grimaces in pain, and after almost 20 seconds in the hold, Ireland finally verbally submits. The official time is 2:33 of round three. In the post fight, a buncha' geishas give Trigg a crappy bowling trophy as ultra-triumphant music plays. All in all, that wasn't a bad little opener. Sure, it deteriorated into a squash in the second and third rounds, but at least the first five minutes were fairly competitive. 

SO, WHERE ARE THESE GUYS NOW? After Pride folded, Joachim Hansen is prolly most famous for his stint in Dream FC, in which he shocked Shinya Aoki to win a tournament to declare the promotion's first lightweight champion. He lost a rematch to Aoki just five months later, but remained a stalwart in the upstart promotion all the way until its final show in Sept. 2011. Since then, he's fought sporadically, accumulating a 1-3 record fighting for promotions like ROAD FC and Shooto. Ireland spent the rest of his career fighting for King of the Cage. He hasn't had a fight since 2012, so I guess it's safe to assume he's called it a career at this point.

Yeah, I know - it don't look right to me either.

Up next it's Frank Trigg vs. Kazuo Misaki. Trigg wears a shirt reading "black belt in bullshit," which makes some muscular dudes in the crowd applaud. A few fans cheer Misaki coming out, prolly outta' just common decency, but you can tell they don't really give a shit. The ref is a Japanese dude who looks like he could probably be your calculus teacher. Misaki circles Trigg. Trigg looking for a takedown. He bullies Misaki into the corner. Misaki reverses it. He hits Trigg with a short knee to the strike (yep, just like Gary Coleman woulda' done.) Then Trigg fires back with some small knee shots of his own. Trigg responds by landing the world's slowest single leg takedown. Trigg in side control. Misaki has him in a headlock, but Trigg pops right out. Trigg is in side control again. He knees Misaki's side and pillow fists his back. Trigg almost in the full mount now, but not quite. More elbows to Misaki's back. Now he has Misaki's back. Trigg with a body triangle around hsi waist. Now Trigg is punching the hell out of his face. Misaki trying to snake his way out. Trigg still doesn't have the chock sunk in. Now Trigg is working a face lock, of all things. Misaki is out. One minute left. Trigg with more punches to the face. Trigg going for another face lock, and he fails to lock in the choke as the bell sounds.

ROUND TWO. Misaki with a hard body shot. Trigg with a spinning body lock takedown. Trigg is in side control again. Trigg using shoulder butts because that's pretty much all he can use right now. Trigg has Misaki's back AGAIN. He spins out and he's back in the full mount. Now he has him flattened out on his back. Trigg with a hard shot to the head. Both men back up now. Misaki throwing the leather. He fucking POPS Trigg with a hard right. And another. Misaki with an aborted jumping knee attack. He pops Trigg AGAIN. Trigg can't hit shit standing. Misaki almost hits a huge knee, but he feigns at the last second and Trigg lands a MASSIVE double leg takedown. A minute left. Trigg in the full guard, but Misaki is landing some good shots from the bottom. Trigg lands a big shot, but both men look gassed as fuck. A very hard round to score, but I'd give it to Trigg in my book. 

ROUND THREE. OK, now I am wholeheartedly convinced, Frank Trigg and Matt Serra ARE THE SAME PERSON. Trigg with leg kicks early. Misaki lands a few soft shots and then Trigg takes his ass down again. Trigg in the full mount. He's peppering Misaki with pussy-looking hammer fists. The ref stands them up and makes them scoot back over to the middle of the ring. Barnett says Misaki should kick off Trigg like he was his little sister. Uhh, whut. Trigg in side control again. Trigg with knees to the side. Misaki ain't doing much of shit here. "No knees to the head!" the ref warns Trigg. Trigg has Misaki's back again. He has the body lock in. Both men back up. Misaki with a flying knee that barely connects. Trigg with what Barnett calls "a skipping knee." About a minute left. Misaki with a one-two combo and yep, Trigg takes him down again. Trigg with soft serve punches to Misaki's side. And we end this fight with Trigg just towering over Misaki, like he's determined to impregnate him on the next hump. So this should be a unanimous decision for Trigg and what do you know, it is 30-27 across the board for Trigg. He gets a participation trophy, while Misaki gets nothing but fucking shame over his shitty ass performance.

SO, WHERE ARE THESE GUYS NOW? After his win here, Trigg spent a good two years dicking around in every promotion in the world that wasn't called the UFC before finally getting called back up to Zuffa World in 2009, where he promptly got his ass slain by Josh Koscheck and Matt Serra (in what was basically a Mortal Kombat mirror fight) in back-to-back bouts. After that, he had one fight Israel FC and two bouts in BAMMA, but he hasn't fought since 2011 so he's prolly done fighting for good. Meanwhile, Misaki spent another five years fighting primarily for World Victory Road, with a couple of detours in Strikeforce and DEEP. He hasn't fought since getting decisioned by Paul Daley in early 2012, but he's still alive, though. I think.

Up next, it's Travis Wiuff vs. James Lee. Both of these lightweights are making their Pride debuts tonight. Mario Y. is the ref. Lee comes storming out the gate and WALLOPS Travis with a huge right and he just pounds the fuck outta' that white nigga on the mat. Lee looks for a guillotine and he fucking gets it and kills Wiuff dead. The total time? Just 39 seconds. On the replay, Travis is shown leading with his chin, which isn't even a rookie mistake, that's like a one-second-old newborn baby mistake. And it cost him dearly

SO, WHERE ARE THESE GUYS NOW? Lee had two equally impressive submission victories fighting for King of the Cage in 2007, but unfortunately, his big UFC debut in Jan. 2008 didn't exactly pan out the way he wanted - the dude got knocked out by Alessio Sakara in a minute and a half. Four years later he won a fight in Triple X Cagefighting, but that appears to be the last time he ever competed in the sport. Conversely, Wiuff has had 44 fucking pro fights since this loss, complete with some surprisingly lengthy winning streaks in YAMMA and Bellator. His last fight was for KOTC in Oct. 2016. If your town has a shitty, scummy MMA promotion, odds are he'll prolly be fighting for it soon enough.

The man who made the term "one hit wonder" hyper-literal.

Now it's time for Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs. Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou. Lil' Nog is 7-0 and Soko is making his Pride debut. This is a light heavyweight contest. In case you are wondering, Soko is from that MMA hotbed ... Cameroon. Hey, look at those white ho's drinking liquor out of those brown Popeye bottles in the front row! Nobody on the announce team can pronounce Soko's name correctly. Soko comes out with a leg kick. Soko bobs and weaves and outta' nowhere he just fucking FLAT LINES Nog with a lightning fast left uppercut. Lon says Soko used "African Magic" on his opponent and I laugh my ass off. The official time of the gargantuan upset? Just 23 seconds. 

SO, WHERE ARE THESE GUYS NOW? Soko followed up this incredible KO with another knockout victory over Ricardo Arona just two months later at Pride 34. Naturally, this made him a big get for the UFC, but he under-performed during his one-year stay in Zuffa Land, going 1-2 with BAD losses to Lyoto Machida and Luiz Cane. Since then, he's fought for pretty much every major MMA promotion out there, including Affliction, Dream, Strikeforce and Bellator. His last fight was a loss against Thiago Silva in a Brazilian promotion last November. Meanwhile, Lil' Nog has been a UFC stalwart since 2009, chalking up some impressive victories over Tito Ortiz and Rashad Evans (along with some VERY bad losses against Phil Davis and Ryan Bader.) As of April 2017, Lil 'Nog is still on the active UFC roster, although at 40 years of age, you really have to wonder just how much gas is left in his tank ... that is, if he even has a tank left at this point.

Alright, now its time for Mac Danzig vs. Hayato Sakurai in a catchweight contest. Sakurai is 7-3 in Pride competition. This is Danzig's company debut. You have gotta' see how unimpressed this one guy in the crowd is looking at Sak. The ref is some Japanese guy - let's call him "Kyle." Sak with leg kicks early, but he whiffs on a head kick. Sak with a big shot to the head, a knee and ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves a slugfest. Sak throwing vicious knees in the corner. Danzig in the open guard. Sak lets him right back up. Sak with another good shot to the stomach. Sak with a leg kick. He's trying to close the distance on Danzig. Sak with another hard Sak leg kick. Danzig keeps his distance and tries to make this one a striking competition. Too bad Sak is one hell of a counter-puncher. Danzig tries to take down Sak, but Sak shakes him off and gets in the full guard. The ref tells them to get in the center of the ring. Sak lands some HARD shots to the head. Danzig tries to tie him up, but it ain't working. Danzig is still stuck with his back on the mat with a minute left. Sak lets him get back up. Sak with a leg kick. And another. Sak with a SWEET judo toss. He has Danzig in a headlock and is looking for a straight armbar (you know, as opposed to the homosexual ones, I suppose.) Just ten seconds left. And Danzig, miraculously, makes it to the bell.

ROUND TWO. Frank Trigg has now joined us on commentary. Goddamn, do I LOVE these 38-year-old looking blonde hos in the front row. Danzig with some good punches to begin, but Sak pulls him down with a nice leg trip. Sak looking for an armbar. He punches the fuck out of Danzig's head but let's him get back up. Sak with a STIFF left hand. Both men have slowed down considerably at this point. Sak whiffs on a low kick, and then he feeds Danzig a hard chin burger (of the Japanese variety, of course.) Sak with another solid jab. Sak grabs his leg on a spinning kick to the midsection. Sak dodges Danzig's jabs like they aren't shit. He lands another hard leg kick. Then another. Here comes Danzig with the WORST Superman punch attempt you've ever seen in your life. Sak with another hard leg kick. And one more. Danzig looks wobbly as fuck now. He is just CARVING that nigga up with leg kicks. One minute left in the round. Danzig connects with a light punch. AND SAK FUCKING MURDER DEATH KILLS DANZIG DEAD WITH A LOOPING RIGHT! He gets one free shot on the ground and the ref, mercifully, waves it off. 

SO, WHERE ARE THESE GUYS NOW? Despite his impressive track record in Pride, Sak never got called up by the UFC. Instead, he spent the rest of his career fighting in Dream, where after knocking out Shinya Aoki, he inexplicably lost four fights in a row against guys like Jason High and Akihiro Gono. He appeared to have his last match in 2013, but he came out of semi-retirement in 2016 for a one-and-done appearance in Rizin; at age 41, though, don't expect him to have many more appearances in the ring. Danzig immediately jumped ship to UFC after this loss, where he had 13 fights - which included both solid wins over Joe Stevenson and Mark Bocek but mostly really bad losses against the likes of Melvin Guillard, Joe Lauzon and Jim Miller - before finally calling it a career (seemingly) in 2013. 

Who's ready for heavyweight action? Now it's time for Sergei Kharitonov vs. Mike Russow. Sergei is 7-3 in Pride, while Russow is making his company debut tonight. Sergei is wearing this rather homoerotic black and white tank top an emo teenage girl prolly would have worn in 2007. We have ourselves an AWESOME mean mug stare down. Mario Y. is the ref. Russow is pretty fat, but that doesn't prevent him from getting an early inside leg trip. But Sergei is right back up. Russow whiffs on a jab. This leads to Trigg delivering the line of the night: "Most Americans are used to seeing heavyweights that are slow and lethargic. These guys are extremely, very athletic." Sergei with a good uppercut. Russow catches Sergei's leg on a failed high kick. Russow angles the takedown and now he's in side control. Now Russow looking for a little ground and pound. Looks like he is going for an armbar. There's the "USA" chant I've been waiting for. Sergei gets Russow in a bodylock. Russow lands a HUGE slam, and he's back into he full guard. Trigg says he likes how nationalistic the U.S. fans are and Barnett makes a crack about Brazilian fans trying to stab people. Sergei looks for an armbar. He has it in deep and the ref waves it off. Russow is pissed as shit, saying he didn't tap. Well, let's look at the replay. Yep, Russow tapped like a little bitch, alright. Barnett accuses Russow of poor sportsmanship and says he'd like to see the fight restarted so Sergei can punch him in the face and make him bleed all over the ring. And that, my friends, is what you call "totally objective commentary."

SO, WHERE ARE THESE GUYS NOW? Despite being a top ten worldwide heavyweight fighter for at least a good five or six years, the UFC never gave Sergei a phone call (well, that, or he turned them down like a dumbass.) Instead, he opted to stay in Japan and fight in Dream FC, before hopping on over to Strikeforce for their Heavyweight Grand Prix. After that he fought exclusively in M-1, but he did make his Bellator debut last November (spoiler: he got his ass knocked out.) After this loss, Russow managed to chalk up seven consecutive victories over two years in the indies, and got called up to the UFC in 2009, where he went on a four-fight tear before dropping back to back losses to Fabricio Werdum and Shawn Jordan. He hasn't fought since 2013, so I guess we can just go on ahead and say he's retired from fighting.

Overeem learns the hard way that steroids alone can't prevent your face from being smashed open like a pinata.

Time for Alistair Overeem vs. Mauricio Rua - a current heavyweight taking on a current middleweight in Pride's Light Heavyweight division. Hooray for those lingering shots of those drunk blonde hos in the front row. Hell, considering it's Vegas (well, technically, Paradise, Nev., but nobody ever checks that shit), they probably ARE legit hookers. Steve M. is our ref, but I'm distracted by the girls sipping on Bud Light whose boobs are bouncing up and down like skank-flavored Jell-O.

Shogun with a leg kick. He's chasing Reem down. Reem with a flying knee. Shogun with a high kick. Reem with a good one-two combo. Clinch against the ropes. Reem breaks free with a knee. Reem catches Shogun's leg on a high kick. Reem lets him right back up. Reem with a low kick. Another clinch. Reem with knees and punches that really aren't connecting. Reem throws Rua to the mat like a sack of potatoes. Another clinch. Reem with more knees. Reem has Rua face down on the mat. He's looking for a double wrist lock. Rua trying to reverse. Reem desperately trying to hold on to his foe's arm. Reem sprawls. Both men back up now. Shogun with a straight right, then a single leg. Now he has Reem in the open guard. Shogun lands a huge punch and he hops right into the full mount. He lands another huge punch from the top and he just UNLOADS a barrage of overhand rights that puts Reem FUCKING OUT. "That punch was not fast, it was sudden," Barnett comments. Lon then takes the time to let us know how gravity works by saying getting hit from a dude falling down at you face hurts more than just being whacked by a guy standing right in front of you. Anyway, that was a fucking explosive fight and it had me on the edge of my seat for all four minutes or so it was going on. When people opine with widened, nostalgia-sick eyes about how great Pride was, trust me - it's because of awesome shit like that last bout. 

SO, WHERE ARE THESE GUYS NOW? Hey, what do you know, both of these fellows are STILL in the UFC today and have won at least one world title since this bout. Shogun is 9-6 in the Octagon since 2007, including a Light Heavyweight Championship win over Lyoto Machida in 2010. He's currently riding a three fight winning streak, with his latest win an impressive TKO finish of Gian Villante in March 2017. Overeem would go on to win the Strikeforce Heavyweight Championship in 2007, a title he at least linearly took with him when he jumped ship to the UFC in 2011. While his attempt to take home the UFC Heavyweight title at UFC 203 came up well short, he did chalk up an impressive KO finish of Mark Hunt at UFC 209. And considering how thin and injury-prone the competition is in the division, methinks old 'Reem is never more than one or two wins away from another crack at the title.

Our co-main event is  a hell of a lightweight scrap - Takanori Gomi vs. Nick Diaz. At this point, Gomi was considered by many to be the best 155-pound fighter on the planet. Yes, even better than BJ Penn. Conversely, Nick Diaz was considered to be nothing more than a journeyman fighter who fucked up a lot - thus, you can understand why so many MMA purists initially wrote this one off back in the day. 

Just so you know, our ref is a Jap, so he might be biased towards Gomi. He pantomimes stomping the mat and tells both fighters to not do that shit. Diaz is taken down right off the bat, but he counters with a SICK flipping arm bar. Gomi is on top and he is smashing the shit out of Nick's face. Gomi with more jumping punches in the open guard. Gomi is CARVING him up now. Diaz is up and he's looking to clinch. The ref moves them back to the center of the ring. Gomi with another hard punch in the guard. Gomi peppering him with shots. Diaz tries to lock in a triangle, but Gomi is right back up. Diaz with a considerable height advantage here. Diaz pops Gomi with a good one. AND GOMI FUCKING DROPS HIM! Gomi hops in the open guard and is trying to get his back. He's not even trying to get his hooks in, he just wants to smash that motherfucker's head in. The crowd is chanting "Gomi, Gomi" loudly. Gomi is in the full guard. The ref orders them to stand up. Another slugfest ensues, with bombs flying in both directions. Diaz hurts Gomi with a flurry of punches. Gomi is tied up against the ropes and Diaz is landing a ton of knees in the clinch. We get ANOTHER awesome slugfest, with Diaz peppering Gomi with shots back into the ropes and Gomi trying to fake Diaz out so he can counter-punch his lights out. This is just a goddamn war right now. Gomi's not even trying to defend against Diaz's stand up anymore. Nick's dirty boxing like a motherfucker. Diaz clips him again. Either Gomi is trying to fake Diaz out of his shoes or else he really is fucking half dead as the bell sounds.

ROUND TWO. Understandably, the crowd is going wild. Diaz is bleeding under his right eye. Diaz looks fucking anorexic. Diaz with some good shots early. Gomi swinging wildly. Diaz with a kick to the midsection. "Gomi looks like a wet rag out there," Barnett states. Now Diaz is bleeding HEAVILY. Like, enough that he would probably need the super-absorbent kind of tampons if he was a vagina. The ref calls a timeout. Gomi's shorts are sopping wet with his opponent's blood. Timeout over and both men are just swinging for the fences in the middle of the ring. Gomi lands a good shot and Diaz bangs him right back. Gomi shoots for a takedown ... and he falls right into Diaz's guard and he locks in a FUCKING GOGOPLATA. There ain't no way Gomi is getting out of that one. Gomi taps, the ref jumps in and the audience goes shit, primarily of the ape variety.

Who'd thunk THIS moment would be stolen for the finish of a WrestleMania main event?

This was a COLOSSAL upset at the time. The official time of the tap is 1:45 of the very first round. The announcers wonder if Gomi took the fight seriously as Diaz lifts his trophy in the air, his hair all bushy and his eyes nearly swollen shut. This was definitely the last truly great fight in Pride history and a legit fight of the year contender. In fact, the only bout from 2007 I can think of that is on par with this one just in terms of nonstop, bell-to-bell action is Silva vs. Liddell at UFC 79 (or maybe that one Chris Horodecki vs. Shad Lierly bout in the IFL, but fuck, like I expect ANYBODY to remember anything about the IFL.) Of course, the victory was later changed to a no contest by the NSAC, because - I'm not surprised, motherfuckers - Diaz couldn't prevent himself from puffin' on the chiba before struttin' out to the ring.

SO, WHERE ARE THESE GUYS NOW? After this bout Diaz did a tour of duty in EliteXC with a one and done appearance in Dream before winning the Strikeforce Welterweight Championship in 2010. He was consolidated into the UFC a year later, where he beat BJ Penn at UFC 137 ... only to lose three consecutive fights against Carlos Condit, GSP and Anderson Silva afterwards. He is currently wrapping up an 18-month suspension for a failed drug test at UFC 183 - and if you think that's harsh, just remember the penalty was originally a five year ban from the sport. Gomi spent another three years competing for World Victory Road and Shooto before finally signing with the UFC in 2010, where he has gone 4-7 under the Zuffa banner. His last appearance in the Octagon was at UFC 200, where he was TKO'ed by Jim Miller in under two minutes. 

And now, it's time for the main event - Wanderlei Silva vs. Dan Henderson. Welterweight Champion Dan Henderson is moving up a weight class to challenge long-term Middleweight Champion Wanderlei Silva for the title he's held for almost six full years. Silva is 22-3-1 in Pride competition while Hendo is 12-5. You really need to see these two guys fighting back in their heydays to truly appreciate them. We've got five five-minute rounds to determine this. Hendo begins with leg kicks early. Silva stalking him down. Hendo throwing some BOMBS. Hendo slips and Silva jumps on him. Silva gets in the full mount. Hendo elbows him in the thigh. "Silva isn't called 'the Axe Murderer' because of his kind disposition in the ring," Barnett states. Hendo grapevines the leg and the crowd boos the momentary inaction. Hendo holds on to Silva for dear life, lightly tapping him with punches to the temple. Crowd is still booing. The ref stands 'em up. Hendo throws knees and short hooks up against the ropes. For whatever reason, Barnett said that's like something you might see in a L.A. Kings game. Silva backed into the corner. The ref puts both men back in the middle of the ring again. Hendo with a leg kick. Trigg talks about this one time he saw Silva knock a dude out in practice with a headlock, but he's mum on the details. Hendo throws some wild punches in bunches. Silva seems content playing defense. He survives about three or four huge straight jabs in an exchange. One minute to go in the first round. And we have ourselves another wild exchange. Silva's legs buckle, but he shucks Hendo right off of him. Silva delivers a TON of huge punches in the final ten seconds. 

ROUND TWO. Hendo walks to the wrong corner. This blonde ho in the front row claps nervously. I think she might be his wife or mistress or something. Oh god, you HAVE to see these two fedora wearing guys going crazy in the crowd. Hendo with a leg kick early, and Silva counter punches. There's a clinch against the ropes. Hendo with more knees, and then a takedown. Hendo is caught in A DEEP CHOKE, but he escapes - just not before getting kneed in the head a couple of times. Hendo lands another takedown. The ref moves them back to the middle of the ring. Hendo is in the full mount, and Barnett makes a quip about Dan having "baby making hips," later implying that he's able to shoot out sperm like one of those automated tennis servers. No, for real - he really does say that. Hendo with some short range punches. Hendo has Silva's arms tied up. Hendo starting to land some big hammer fists. Silva wraps his legs around Hendo's waist but Dan continues to drop those heavy, heavy hammer fists on him. Silva is starting to bleed now. Hendo blasts him with huge shots in the full guard. Silva is just getting grounded out now. Hendo with more bombs from the top. Silva just trying to stay alive now. Silva goes for a shitty armbar attempt and Hendo falls back into the full guard. One minute left. Hendo with another big right from the top, and then another. Hendo ready to jump straight into Silva's face. He gets one or two good shots in, but not enough to finish Silva off. The ref moves 'em back to the middle of the ring with 11 seconds left. Hendo whiffs on a huge right, Silva goes fro the armbar again and Hendo lands one more huge overhand right as the bell sounds.

ROUND THREE. On the replay, it looks like a shoulder butt almost knocked Silva's mouth guard out. Silva with a leg kick and a knee to the midsection. Hendo keeping his distance. Silva with a leg kick. Then another. Hendo whiffs on a right and Silva hits a nice one-two counter punch combo. Hendo goes for a takedown and Silva has him briefly locked in a nasty headlock. Hendo right back up. Silva trying to get his back. Silva pushes Hendo into the neutral corner. Both men in the middle, throwing jabs and low kicks. Hendo with a spinning back fist. He clinches Silva up against the ropes. Back to the middle of the ring again. Silva lands a jab, Hendo lands a jab, Silva whiffs on a wild punch and HENDO PUTS HIM ON HIS BACK WITH A SATANIC LEFT HOOK. Hendo gets a free elbow shot on the ground and the ref jumps all over Silva's carcass. Confetti falls from the rafters while Henderson lays on the canvas licking his bloody mouth guard. We watch that unholy left hook land again - it is NASTY. Hendo wraps his new belt around his waist as the Pride geishas wave towards the camera. "How could you not but loooove tonight's action?" Lon states as the PPV feed fades to black.

SO, WHERE ARE THESE GUYS NOW? Hendo came to the UFC as Pride's Middleweight and Light Heavyweight Champion analogues, and he promptly lost back-to-back unification matches against Rampage Jackson and Anderson Silva. After landing the knockout of all knockouts against Michael Bisping, Hendo spent a couple of years in Strikeforce before returning to the UFC fray in 2011. His retirement bout was at UFC 204, where he dropped a unanimous decision loss to Bisping. Silva jumped ship to the UFC and had an all-time barnburner classic against Chuck Liddell in his promotional debut. Alas, he would go 4-5 in the Octagon, with his final fight in the promotion taking place in 2013. He is expected to come out of retirement at Bellator 180 to fight Chael Sonnen, but yeah - we'll believe that when we see it.

The agony of defeat. The ecstasy of victory. And of course, an outrageously bloated party supplies budget - three things that made Pride FC fucking amazing.

I vividly recall checking out Dave Meltzer's site after the PPV aired and the headline was something along the lines of "DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO CATCH THE REPLAY OF PRIDE 33." Well, I don't always agree with the Meltz, but in this instance, I definitely concur. This is a three hour long show that feels like it flies by in 30 minutes. There isn't a single bad match on the entire card, and throughout the show you get a very nice mixture of types of fights. The Hansen/Ireland curtain jerker was a fairly competitive lightweight bout that kinda served the same purpose as the old cruiserweight PPV openers back in the heyday of WCW - something fast and frenetic to keep you glued to your seat that further elevated the stock of a young up-and-comer. The Trigg/Misaki bout was probably the closest the show got to an underwhelming match-up, but it still served a utilitarian purpose - it made a UFC import look like a bad motherfucker without really diminishing the company's homegrown talent (the inverse of that being the Sakurai/Danzig bout - where the homegrown talent was made to look like a BAD motherfucker by pretty much drubbing a UFC castoff.) You had two STELLAR squash matches in the form of James Lee taking Travis Wiuff's head off and the super-duper upset of Soko over Lil Nog - hardly fight of the year contenders, but bouts that still had you jumping out of your seat yelling "holy shit!" all the same. The Sergei/Russow bout was a good "cooldown" bout that did a good job demonstrating what made Pride's Heavyweight division different from their competitors' heavyweight divisions, and it was a nice lead-in to a fantastic triple main-event line-up. Overeem/Rua was just an awesome five minute back-and-forth war, Gomi/Diaz was quite possibly the most energetic MMA fight of 2007 and the Hendo/Silva bout was competitive as fuck, loaded with drama and complete with one of the greatest feel-good endings in the sport's history. The whole show just left you wanting more, which is the tell-tale sign that promoters definitely did something right booking the product. That it more or less represented Pride's swan song just makes it all the more transcendent as an MMA show. 

I'm generally hesitant to declare one show the "best ever," but I really can't think off the top of my head of any MMA PPVs that left me more satisfied, start-to-finish, than this one. It just gave you everything you could want out of a mixed martial arts show, including this weird sense of closure. By now we all knew Pride was about to get bought out, and this show was sorta' like the last Monday Nitro - the last go-around under the original company banner, that one final opportunity to see the product as itself before it became consolidated with the competition. This was Pride, essentially, being Pride as hard as it could before the lights shut off for good, and it just plain fuckin' delivered.

Yes, there are more idiosyncratic Pride shows out there - and yes, give me enough time and I'll get to those, too - but as far as pick-up-and-play, instant MMA gratification goes, this might just be the best a la carte card out there. If you haven't caught this PPV before, for shame. Not only is this essential watchin' for all MMA enthusiasts, it's also a great entry point for UFC nuthuggers to dive into so they can understand why so many Pride fanboys continue to wax poetically on the long-dead promotion to this very day. Simply put, this is a tremendous fucking show, and if you haven't seen it, you don't deserve the right or the honor to declare yourself a mixed martial arts fan.


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