Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Revisiting Pride FC Final Conflict 2003!

Chuck vs. Rampage, Big Nog vs. Cro Cop and the Axe Murderer putting on two of the greatest and most memorable fights EVER in one night - join us as we joyously reflect on what is undoubtedly one of the best MMA cards of all time!

By: Jimbo X

I'm not sure why, but I've taken it upon myself to review EVERY Pride FC event ever. Of course, at the glacial pace I'm working at, it'll probably take a decade or so to complete the project, but hey - a comprehensive promotional omnibus at some point is still better than a a comprehensive promotional omnibus at no point, right?

I suppose it makes the most sense to do things chronologically, but we here at The Internet Is In America have never been ones to take the conventional/logical/reasonable path. Instead, we're just going to cherry pick the 68 Pride shows one at a time and then put 'em together in order once the whole thing is over and done with. Seeing as how we've already covered Pride 33 (considered by many to be the best show in company history), that means we've only got 67 left to trudge through, and with the holidays in full swing, I figured now was as good a time as any to crack open the eggnog and reminisce on the glory years of 2003. 

We can go back and forth all day long on what the best year for Pride was. Some say 2005, but I think '03 was when the company truly started coming into its own. At this point, there was NO denying it was a better overall product than what the UFC was putting out at the time, and few shows demonstrate that discrepancy in grandiosity and awesomeness more than Final Conflict 2003

This Nov. 9 show wasn't just another event. No siree, Bob, this thing was a multimedia spectacle held at the Tokyo Dome, at a time when UFC shows were pretty much stuck running events at Indian casinos. The line-up for the show is like an MMA Hall of Fame salad. We've got Kazushi Sakuraba. We've got Cro-Cop and Big Nog, in their primes. We've got Wanderlei Silva, Quinton Jackson, Hidehiko Yoshida and even Chuck freakin' Liddell in the lineup, and even the undercard squashes feature future HOF inductees like Dan Henderson. In short, this was pretty much Pride at its apex, and I can't think of a better place to begin our whirlwind tour of the COMPLETE Pride FC eventography. So how about kicking back, warming you up a hot cup of cocoa and reminiscing on the unflappable excellence of over-the-top Japanese MMA from 15 years ago?

The show opens with the worst White Zombie ripoff band you've ever heard doing the most generic rap-metal song of all-time. In the ring is Damon Perry and Bas Rutten in all camo fatigues. Bas says he's wearing the regalia for the troops in Iraq. He unveils a poster of himself sitting on a throne flipping a bird, with a message underneath that reads "Fuck ..." I have no idea. What does Rutten wanna fuck now? Now I'm curious.

Time for a Middleweight tournament recap video set to the tune of the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey. And if you don't start WOO-ING automatically, you might as well stop breathing, Holmes. Damon starts talking shit about the UFC and Randy Couture shows up and chokes him. Then Bas calls him an old man and Randy body slams him, pro 'rasslin style.

We cut to the intro for the show, complete with that amazingly awesome Pride FC theme song. We're in Tokyo, and there's purportedly more than 64,000 in the Dome for tonight's show. Oh shit, they're using a LIVE orchestra to do the Pride theme. Now that is boss as fuck. Time to introduce all of tonight's fighters. We've got Dan Henderson. Kevin Randleman, Kazushi Sakuraba, Big Nog (who actually looks kinda' young), Cro-Cop, Chuck Liddell (rocking a UFC jersey), Rampage Jackson, Wanderlei Silva (who gets an insane pop) and Hidehiko Yoshida (who also gets a loud pop, because he's Japanese and stuff.)

We cut to Damon and Bas shooting the shit in the back. By the way, this show is canonically caled "The Final Conflict," presumably because they didn't know they'd wind up doing three more after this one. So technically, this is the Fourth To Final Conflict, if we're gonna' be sticklers for accuracy.

If you ever wondered how little of a fuck the Japanese gave about the UFC back in the day ... well, there you have it.

Our curtain jerker is Dan Bobish vs. Gary Goodridge. Goddamn, Bobish is like 300 something pounds. He looks like fuckin' Butterbean ate another Butterbean. And he's even rocking the American flag shorts. Goodridge is apparently 100 pounds smaller. Fuck, I miss Japanese MMA and their complete and utter lack of giving a fuck about fighter safety and/or wrongful death suits. Goodridge coners Bobish right out the gate and fucking unloads on him. Bobish keeps pointing to his eye and the ref says "nope, none of that shit, fight's over." The official time: 18 seconds. Bas says Bobish got poked in the eyeball and while he was calling for a timeout, Goodridge took advantage and just swarmed the motherfucker. In the post-fight, a ring girl gives him a ridiculosuly small trophy and a giant check. Which, let's face it, probably went towards crack cocaine.

Perry interviews Rampage in the back. Jackson says he don't give a fuck about who wins tonight, he just wants this tournament to be over because he's a "street soldier" and he "wants that belt, I'm takin' it home with me, fuck it." Jackson recounts seeing his first MMA show, which he referred to as "wrestling shit," and was intrigued people could make money "kicking people's asses and not going to jail for it." Holy shit, that "Rampage" rap song that accompanies the video package is catchy as fuck.

Oh, holy shit, Pride gives such a microscopic fuck that the misspell Chuck Liddel's name as "Chack Liddel." That's right, the fucked up both his first name AND last name, and nobody caught it, even though he was the biggest MMA star in America at the time. Goddamn, no wonder these guys went out of business. We get a highlight video showing Chuck's UFC exploits and his earlier Middleweight tournament knockout of Alistair Overeem. Yep, THAT Alistair Overeem, and you newbies will be SHOCKED by how skinny he used to be. He totally overlooks Rampage and says he can't wait to kick Silva's ass in the finals. They show Dana White - when he had hair - and talk about how he's so confident Chuck will win the whole shebang that he bet a quarter million on him.

Not gonna' lie - I STILL get goosebumps when the old school UFC theme start blaring over the Tokyo Dome. The Iceman comes out wearing a UFC hockey jersey. And Dana White is doing co-commentary duties. LOL at Dana clapping like Eric Bischoff when Chuck walks past him. And Rampage does indeed come out to that awesome fucking in-house rap track from the earlier video package. He's wearing a lucha libre mask and his trademark chains. Bas refers to his regalia as "a tumor," and Dana says he's about to "get lit up." Also - fuck, do I miss hearing Bas Rutten in the announce booth. Bellator needs to hire him ASAP. Apparently, one of Jackson's sponsors is something called "Serious Pimp," which I'm totally going to have to Google one day.

TFW when not only is your marquee star getting his ass kicked by a mid-carder from your arch rival's company, but you KNOW it's about to cost you a quarter mil to boot.

Neither men get a particularly big reaction from the Japanese crowd. Probably because they hate both Americans and black people, and what do you know, Rampage is both. There's the bell for round one. Chuck throwing big jabs early. Chuck with a decent kick to the stomach. Rampage shoots, but Chuck shucks him off. Jackson misses on an uppercut. He lands a stiff right on Chuck's head. Chuck goes for a low kick and Rampage clinches. Both men exchange a quick flurry and seperate. Jackson tags him hard. And he rocks him with a right hook. Of course, this was back when Chuck had an actual chin, so he don't go down that easy. More leg kicks from Chuck. Dana says it's a bad move to turn this into a boxing match. Jackson lands another good shot and clinches Chuck. We have seperation. Jackson with a leg kick. Chuck lands a good combination. Jackson tags Chuck with a looping right ... again. Clinch against the ropes. Dana says Chuck isn't fulfilling the game plan. Rampage tags him with a right and then a hard left. Chuck clinches him in the corner. Quinton lands an uppercut and a knee. Quinton whiffs on a knee. Jackson looking for a slam, but he can't get it. Back in the center of the ring. Quinton with a leg kick. Jackson lands a great left right combo. Clinch against the ropes. Jackson lands another combo and he takes Chuck down. The ref brings them back to the center of the ring. Rampage is in the full mount. Jackson lands one knee and both men are standing again. One minute left in the round (remember, in Pride the first round is ten minutes.) Chuck slips in the corner and Rampage UNLOADS on 'em with knees and looping rights. Chuck hangs on to him for dear life, but he survives the onslaught as Jackson lands a single leg takedown right at the bell. 

Round two. Man, I forgot about the intermissions between each round being two minutes. That's pretty generous. Dana says he's horrified by how tired Chuck looks. Quinton is spamming the overhand right already. Chuck looks for a standing guillotine, and he whiffs on a big right. Rampage catches him with a left. Corner clinch. Now these two are moving two centimeters a mile. Rampage lands a big uppercut and pushes Chuck down. Chuck is back up and Rampage SLAMS his ass back down to the canvas. He knees Chuck and now he's just teeing off on Liddell from the almost full mount. Chuck's absorbed about 30 unanswered shots. Both men are gassed as fuck. And Chuck's corner throws in the towel around the three minute mark. Dana White has never been quieter in his life. Before he exits the announce booth, Dana says he wants Sakuraba. Uh, in the sexual way, I take it?

We get a brief interview between Bas and Wanderlei. Of course, Silva's dialogue is dubbed, probably because if he said anything in English, he'd probably accidentally declare his desire to fuck his opponent.

If your T-count increased by one million percent, you STILL wouldn't be as manly as this motherfucker.

Alright, it's time for Hidehiko Yoshida vs. Wanderlie Silva in our other tournament semi-final bout. Yoshida gets a HUGE reaction from the audience. Bas said Yoshida might want to try using his gi to literally strangle Silva in the ring. He also said he hopes Hidehiko doesn't close his eyes when Wanderlei storms after him, because - according to Bas, anyway - he's done exactly that before. Silva gets right in Yoshida's face, and Yoshida just stoically gawps at him and it'so fucking awesome and manly. Silva comes after him and starts throwing wild punches. Yoshida catches him and swings him to ground and the Japanese fans are going NUCLEAR. Oh - bad word choice on my part. Silva is looking for a triangle, but Yoshida is maintaining position in the full mount. "I'm telling you, he's gonna' smother him with his gi," Bas says. Yoshida lands a couple of pillow soft punches and Silva ALMOST has a a triangle locked in, but he has his legs caught in the rope. Oh, that triangle is IN DEEP. Still, Yoshida isn't in 100 percent. And Hidehiko escapes! The ref puts the two men back in the middle of the ring. Oh fuck, I forgot about the ref cam! Yoshida gets to restart the fight in side control. Yoshida's looking for a choke, and Wanderlie pops up and slams him into the ropes. Wanderlei maintaining the full mount. He lands a few free shots on Yoshida, but nothing too major. Silva lands his best shot of the fight. Yoshida has a bodylock, and Silva is starting to hammerfist him. The ref makes them restart in the middle of the ring. Yoshida is given time to adjust his gi. Silva still in the full guard. Silva gets up and he's kicking the SHIT out of Yoshida's legs while he's pulling guard. The ref makes Yoshida stand up. Silva with a leg kick. Silva hits him with a big overhand and then Yoshida Judo tosses that motherfucker and the fans go crazy. Yoshida lands a couple of shots on the ground and Silva clubs him in the head. Yoshida looking for a neck crank. HE HAS IT. But Silva escapes! Now Silva has a bodylock around Yoshida. Hidehiko is back up and Silva lands an upkick right at the bell.

Round two. Whew boy, this is some harrowing shit right here. Silva head hunting early. Yoshida sprawls and Wanderlei knees him right on the top of his fuckin' head. Both men up and circling. Silva lands a SATANIC high kick and now these motherfuckers are swinging for the fences in the corner. Silva leg kicks the shit out of Yoshida and we're back in the middle of the ring again. Silva feigns a leg kick, then he lands a hard one for real. Yoshida evades a left jab and Yoshida connects on a counter jab of his own. Silva throws some knees in the clinch and they're swinging like crazy again. Silva with a kick to the chest. Yoshida shoots for a takedown and Silva knees him, kicks him in the head and slams him down. We've got a minute left and Silva is in the full mount. Yoshida's mouth is a bloody mess. Hidehiko manges to flip Silva over with like five seconds left in the fight, but he doesn't have enough time to try for anything.

Time to hear the decision. Yoshida literally looks like Ryu in a game over screen from Street Fighter II. And our winner by decision, Wanderlei Silva! That was the 2003 WON MMA Fight of the Year award winner, and for good reason. Nobody really expected Yoshida to have a shot in the fight, and seeing him give the Axe Murderer a run for his money - not only on the ground, but standing - made for one of the most dramatic, jump-out-of-your-seat-and-mark-the-fuck-out 15 minute barn-burners in Pride history.

Alright, time for a reserve bout, uh, bout. It's gonna' be Dan Henderson vs. Murilo Bustamente. Fuck, they can spell HIS name correctly, but not Chuck Liddell's?

LOL at Bas making fun of the Japanese announcer by making a bunch of stereotypical "ching chong ding dong" noises. And yep, they were talking about Dan Henderson being old even back then. Bustamente looks about half a foot taller than Hendo. We get some decent exchanges early. Hendo goes for a takedown and he just fucking UNLOADS on Bustamente with a flurry of punches and knees and the ref waves it off. The official time? Just 53 seconds.

Nope. Nothing gay about this, whatsoever.

Bas interviews Kevin Randleman in the back. Kevin talks about having a seizure while driving his Lexus and hitting a truck going 120 miles an hour. He shows off a huge scar on the side of his head from the accident. So yep - a guy almost died in a car wreck, and the Japanese officials OK him for a Vale Tudo fight less than four months later. That, my friends, is Pride FC in a nutshell.

Alright, it's time for Kevin Randleman vs. Kazushi Sakaruba. Randy Couture is hanging out by the ring, showing off his UFC belt. And he gives both fighters a bouquet of flowers, because apparently the Japanese have a VERY different definition of "gay" than we do here in the Western world. Bas compares Saku to Wolverine, which doesn't make any sense but it's still funny for some reason. Randleman is chasing him down. Saku whiffs on a high kick and Randlemen tries to set his foe up for a suplex. Saku lands a leg kick. Then Kevin grabs Saku's leg, punches him three or four times and THEN completes the single leg takedown. Randleman working for Saku's back. He's got a waistlock with both men on their knees. Now Kevin's vertical and throwing some knees. Both men standing, and Kevin still has a hold of the waistlock. Kevin starts kneeing Saku up the butthole in the corner and the ref separates them. We restart in the middle of the ring. Randleman spends about a minute stalking Saku down. Randleman rattles Saku with a leg kick. Saku whiffs on a combination and Kevin takes him down. Randleman in the full mount, and Saku is looking for a triangle. Randleman punches Saku in the spleen HARD. Saku still trying to secure an armbar. Randleman just lays there and slaps Saku on his love handles for two minutes straight. Saku is STILL looking for that armbar. Kevin hops back in the full mount and lands a hard shot from the top. Saku holds onto Randleman like a teddy bear and the Japanese faithful laugh their asses off. And that's how the first round comes to an end.

Round two. The announcers just shit all over how boring the first ten minutes were. Randleman drops Saku with a hard right less than five seconds in. But Saku recovers. Both men standing and being VERY hesitant about their next actions. Kevin lands a hard leg kick and a great body shot followed by a jab to the skull. Saku with a piddly little leg kick. Then another. And what do you know, there's number three. Randleman grabs Saku's leg and kicks his other leg out from under him. Randleman working to get in the full guard. Saku looking for a triangle. Randleman landing some pretty big shots from up top. Alright, Randleman's in the full mount. And yep, Saku is still looking for that triangle as the round expires.

Round three. Lots of stalling early - I know, big surprise. Saku with a low kick early. Randleman takes Saku down with a suplex, but he gets right back up. Randleman throws him down with a front waistlock. I love how Bas calls EVERYTHING a "figure four." Saku rolls Randleman over and sets up an armbar. Oh shit, he might actually sink it in. Bas says Randleman should just "get up." Well, that's some sound advice. And with one artful roll, Saku traps Randleman in the straight armbar and Kevin TAPS. The official time is 2:36 of the third and final round.

In the post-fight, Saku cuts a promo in Japanese and Rutten translates it as "Bas is the handsomest man in the world." We cut to a video package showing Bas interviewing Cro Cop, and then that other guy interviews Big Nog. Our announcers explain how Fedor broke his thumb and set the stage for the upcoming interim Heavyweight Championship bout.

Right leg, cemetery, left leg ... uh, getting armbarred five minutes later?

Damon tells an anecdote about Mirko moving into a new house and dumping his ex girlfriend and Bas asks who got to keep the dog. Mirko sprawls and he has the takedown of Big Nog. Cro Cop with a barrage of hard hammerfists on the ground. And there's a look at the action from Pride's version of the ReferEye cam. Big Nog ties up Mirko's hands from the bottom. Now he's landing some decent-ish shots to the side of Mirko's head from the closed guard. Mirko trying to pass. Nog tries to snake his way out, but Cro Cop keeps him pinned to the mat. Cro Cop gets up and now we're standing again. Mirko whiffs on the high kick, but he does connect on the kick to the stomach. Shit, Mirko had some LIGHTNING fast kicks back in the day. Cro Cop connects on a HARD left jab. Big Nog shoots for a takedown and he pulls guard. The referee immediately orders him to stand up. Nog has a nasty nosebleed now. Big Nog pulls guard again. Not happening. It's vertical once more. Big Nog shoots for a takedown and he almost runs headfirst into the corner ring post like he was Sting 'rasslin Vader or something. Cro Cop lands a series of combinations and a great body kick. Cro Cop with another straight kick and another barrage of straight jabs. Big Nog tries to pull guard again, to no avail. Fuck, Cro Cop could sprawl like a sumbitch back in his salad days. Cro Cop with a leg kick and a straight left. Cro Cop lands his best kick of the fight, but Big Nog walks through it. Big Nog lands a great counter punch. Cro Cop responds with a nasty liver kick. Cro Cop hits a high kick and drops Big Nog with a straight jab RIGHT at the bell.

Round two. Big Nog cuts through Cro Cop's sprawl and takes him down. Now Big Nog is in the full mount and he is punching THE SHIT out of Mirko. I mean Big Nog is just *raining* punches. He rolls his shoulder and oh shit, he has an armbar locked in. It's deep and Cro Cop TAPS! The official time is 1:04 of round two. Fuck, now that was the epitome of an "out of nowhere" victory. Big Nog prays after the victory, and Bas brings up "that big statue they have in Brazil" of Jesus. Meanwhile, Fedor just sits there in the front row, looking as unemotional as always while Noguiera wraps the interim belt around his waist and hoists up a giant trophy. In the post fight, he says some shit in Portugese and Bas just makes up what he thinks he's saying. "I thank God I thank Jesus and I thank my dog Scooby." OK, that shit made me laugh out loud. Then Damon tells a *real* story about Cro Cop's dog dying after chewing on a livewire and Bas asks "what kind of Scooby snack was that?" Well fuck, that was morbid as all hell.

Pictured: the most fucking Pride FC thing ever.

Alright, time for the finals of the Middleweight Grand Prix. Joining us on commentary duties is none other than Randy Couture. Rampage comes out first - this time, wearing a King Kong mask. Couture says that last fight was the true definition of "shock and awe" - man, I haven't heard that term in awhile.

We have a goddamn EPIC staredown to begin. Silva swings for the fences early and Jackson picks him up for a slam. But Silva counters with a guillotine choke and Jackson has to just kinda lay Silva on top of the ropes to relieve the pressure. Silva drags Jackson down to the mat with a choke, but Jackson escapes. Rampage is in the full mount. He's peppering Silva with shots to the side. Rampage still in the full guard, but he's not really able to land anything substantial. Looks like Silva is gearing up for a possible triangle attempt. Jackson finally landing some good shots. And Silva TEMPORARILY has an arm bar locked in. Jackson escapes, hops over to side control and knees THE FUCK out of Silva. Jackson gets back in the full mount, and it's time for more spleen shots by the dozen. Rampage lands some HUGE right hands from the top and Silva is bleeding. Jackson with another brief barrage of heavy rights. And the ref stands 'em up. Silva gets yellow carded. For what, I'm not really sure. Silva whiffs on a head kick but he DOES connect on a lightning fast combo that has Jackson back pedaling. Silva drops Jackson with a knee, but Rampage recovers. Silva with a leg kick and he is kneeing the SHIT out of Rampage. Silva literally throws Jackson from post to post, feeding him about 30 unanswered knee shots. Jackson goes down, he soccer kicks him a few times, and Rampage somehow gets back to his feet. But Silva grabs him as soon as he's vertical and starts kneeing him again. He pushes him into the ropes, he starts landing patella rockets at will and the ref FINALLY waves it off at 6:28 of the very first round.

In the post fight ceremony, Damon asks Bas what kind of fighter would give Silva problems and - VERY presciently - he says "a fighter like Mirko Cro-Cop." Couture pimps UFC 46 and says he would LOVE to fight Wandy and unify the UFC and Pride titles. Bas responds by grabbing a Wanderlei Silva bobblehead doll and shaking it in front of Randy's face. The locker room empties for the closing ceremonies, as all the night's losers LITERALLY receive participation trophies. Then Silva is given an awards placard while Randy Couture talks about how hard tournaments are on fighters. Couture pantomimes choking out Bas, Silva holds up his 20 million Yen check and that's all she wrote, folks.

He would like to "fuck fight Chuck" everyone who came out here this evening ...

Now, checking out the Wikipedia entry for the show, I noticed that one fight - Heath Herring vs. Yoshihisa Yamamoto - was missing from the DVD. To be honest, though, I don't really recall it being anything worth going out of your way to see, so it's not like you're missing out on some sort of forgotten classic or anything.

Anyhoo, man, this is a great show. EVERY fight except the Saku/Randleman bout was entertaining as all hell, and the Silva/Yoshida bout can rightly be considered one of the ten best Pride FC fights ever.  There's just so much to love about this card. Quinton Rampage's werewolf mask, profanity-laced promos and bad-ass in-house entrance music. Dana White with HAIR looking like he just swallowed a turd when Liddell starts gassing late in the first. Big Nog LITERALLY letting Cro-Cop just beat the shit out of him for ten minutes straight just to set up an arm bar in the opening salvo of the second. And of course, who can EVER forget that flurry of knees that gave Wanderlei the final victory of the Middleweight tournament? This show is just filled to the brim with historic and awesome moments, and if you've never seen it before I assure you it's definitely worth going out of your way to experience. And holy shit - if you don't think Bas Rutten isn't the greatest MMA color commentator of all-time, by the time this thing is over and done with you will

Some consider this one of the five best Pride shows ever. That's debatable, of course, but it's certainly a great show, top-to-bottom, with only one craptastic bout keeping this one from being fantastic all the way through.

Long story short: if you're an MMA fan, you NEED to see this show. And the sooner, obviously, the better.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! Thanks to you, I've got that Rampage song stuck in my head.


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