Saturday, March 24, 2018

Revisiting the Very First PRIDE FC Event!

Taking a look back at the show that started it all ...


By: Jimbo X
JimboXAmerican@gmail.com
@JimboX

I'm pretty sure I've already told you kids this, but I've decided to review every single PRIDE FC show, which, considering there's only about 60-something cards to trudge through, isn't necessarily as big a challenge as it sounds. I've already covered the two PRIDE shows considered by most hardcore Japanese MMA fans to be the best the company ever produced - that's PRIDE 33 and Pride Final Conflict 2003, for all you Johnny-Come-Latelies - but for the sake of keeping things simple, I've decided to keep things chronological from hereon out. Really, that's the best way to do a retrospective, anyway, and to keep things within a proper context. 

Which means, naturally, that it is now time to recap the inaugural PRIDE FIGHTING CHAMPIONSHIP event from Oct. 11, 1997. I really don't feel like telling you the whole backstory of how Pride came to be, or how this particular show came to be assembled. But that's because I've already written how and why when I covered the Secret Files of Pride Fighting Championship a few years back. So if you just have to have the background on the formation of the organization, give that link a click, do your homework and hop right back into this article, why don't you?

But for those of you eschewing the refresher course, let's get right into the thick of things, why don't we?

No time for any proper intros, folks, as we hop straight into Kazunari Murakami vs. John Dixson. Bas Rutten and Stephen Quadros (easily the greatest MMA announcer tandem of all-time, and it's not even debatable) are doing commentary duties. Kazunari immediately pulls guard, then he hops right back up. Kazunari lands a beautiful Judo hip toss and locks in  a picture perfect armbar. Well, that shit was quick.

LOL at the commentary crew saying Dixson was able to "lose honorably," without absorbing brain damage or dying like in boxing. The official time, like you give a fuck, was 1:34 of round number one.

Next up, it's Gary Goodridge taking on OLEG GODDAMN TAKTAROV. Shit, this HAS to be good, by decree of pure physics.

I always forget Goodridge was  Canadian. "I heard he's an arm wrestler, and the world champion," Rutten comments. His commentary partner says he once beat 1,000 men arm wrestling in one hour once. They talk about these two guys' experiences in the UFC (note: do watch Taktarov vs. Tank Abbott from UFC 6 as soon as possible) and this fight is ON. Quadros says Goodridge is "making a statement" by wearing boxing shorts. And that message is, and this is pretty close to being a  direct quote, "I will box you." Oleg with a good combo that momentarily drops Goodridge. But he recovers. Oleg is bleeding under his eye a little. The crowd starts to boo the inaction. Shit, now Oleg is bleeding from above his ear, too. I don't even know how that shit happened. Goodridge misses on a jab. Goodridge rocks his ass with a mean right hand and Gary starts punching the FUCK out of Oleg on the ground. Somehow, Oleg weathers the ground and pound barrage and he immediately pulls guard ... right up until Gary SOCCER KICKS THAT FUCKER RIGHT IN THE FACE. Oleg finally gets back to his feet. He's a bloody mess. Oleg shoots for a takedown. Gary shucks him off. Both men circling again. Goodridge almost connects on a stiff jab. Oleg shoots for a takedown and Goodridge DROPS HIM COLD with a right to the temple. And even though his foe is knocked unconscious, this being PRIDE and all, the ref STILL lets him punch Oleg's carcass twice on the mat before he officially waves it off. Woo boy ... that shit was BRUTAL.

Just gonna' say it - his decision to perform karaoke after winning the fight just smacked of poor sportsmanship. 

The official time is 4:57 of round one. Oleg is STILL knocked out and he has to be carted out of the ring on a stretcher. Meanwhile, Goodridge has some ice applied to his foot, which he probably broke shoot kicking Oleg right in the goddamn face. Anyhoo, you DEFINITELY need to go out of your way to see this one - it's one of the all-time nastiest knockouts you'll see in ANY MMA organization.

Time for Akira Shoji vs. Renzo Gracie. The ethnocentric Japanese crowd cheers Shoji and Renzo gets booed like a motherfucker. "Lots of pressure on Shoji," Quadros states. Renzo with underhooks in. We've got some EXTREME hugging in the corner. Renzo with some knees to the breadbasket. Renzo secures the takedown. He's in the full mount. He ties up Shoji's hands. No ground and pound yet. Looks like Renzo is trying to get an armbar. He plops back down into the full guard. The ref warns Renzo about holding onto the rope. The refs pull the two fighters back into the center of the ring, and it takes three motherfuckers to do it. Renzo has Shoji's back. And there's the choke. But Shoji gets up with Renzo on his back. "This is like the battle of the koala bears," Quadros says. Apparently, that's something Bas has a lot of experience with, as he starts laughing and recounting his last trip to Australia. Anyhoo, Shoji rolls underneath the bottom rope and Renzo gets flipped out of the ring, WCW-style. The ref tells them to go back to their respective corners and this fight, it doth restart. Renzo with a knee and Shoji responds with a hard jab. Shoji has Renzo in a body-lock. They clinch in the corner. "Create some space, that's what they need to do in order to strike effectively with the knees," Rutten states (note: you HAVE to read all these quotes using his voice.) Renzo throws a knee in the clinch and Shoji headbutts that motherfucker. Now Renzo is working for a shoulder crank. Renzo is prety much sitting on top of the turnbuckle pad trying to squeeze Shoji's head off his shoulders. Bas tells a great anecdote about having a trainer stand in the very back of the building while he was in Pancrase and shouting instructions to him over a virtually silent Japanese audience. That's when Renzo gets a NASTY guillotine locked in. But Shoji ain't finished quite yet. AND SHOJI SOMEHOW ESCAPES! Now Shoji is still in the full mount, and now he's punching the fuck out of Renzo's face. Renzo wraps his legs around Shoji's waist. And then neither one of them do much of anything for a minute. And that's the end of round one, kids. 

Round two. They both whiff on huge haymakers. Renzo shoots for a takedown, Shoji scrambles and now he has RENZO'S BACK. Now Shoji is in the full mount. Fuck, this fight is WAYYYY better than I remember. While Shoji tries to dry hump Renzo into submission Bas talks about breaking a dude's shin bone with a rolling heel hook he stole from a karate movie. Renzo is trying to pull his leg over Shoji's head. He's looking for a triangle, but Shoji leaps his way out. Renzo pulls guard and Shoji stands over him, bouncing back and forth just baiting for a fist fight. Both men vertical now. Quadros gives the audience a lecture about how sweat works. Renzo with a low kick, and Shoji comes back with a leg kick of his own. Renzo shoots for a takedown and Shoji tries for a guillotine. Goddamn, this fight rules. The refs move them back to the center of the ring. Bas notes how Shoji is literally using his cock to hold Renzo's head down. Renzo escapes from the guillotine. Now Renzo is in the full guard. Shoji slips out, he tries to stand up, Renzo locks in a LETHAL looking armbar but Shoji simply slings him off like a bitch and Renzo immediately pulls guard. Fuck, this is great stuff. Shoji kicks Renzo's legs while he's turtled up on the mat. I think Renzo is actually taking a nap right now. Anyhoo, that's the end of that round.

Round three. Shoji lands a SICKENING left leg kick. Renzo cracks a roundhouse kick to the abdomen of his adversary. There's Shoji with another low kick. Renzo bullies Shoji into the turnbuckle and Shoji ALMOST clips him with an uppercut. Shoji leg kickin' again. Renzo has a HUGE red bruise on the back of his leg. Renzo shots again, misses and Shoji starts kneeing Renzo in the head. Then he hops into the full guard. Renzo is trying to set *something* up. But Shoji keeps him pinned to the canvas. Shoji starts kneeing Renzo right up the ass, and you just KNOW that has to hurt like the dickens. Now Renzo is going for another triangle. Or is it a shoulder crank? Anyway, he reverses into the full mount, lands a little bit of ground and pound and Shoji literally throws him in the air like a pancake, rolls out of the way and before he lands and gets right back to his feet. This is an outstanding fight. Renzo's leg is now bright purple from all of Shoji's kicks. Both men vertical, but they're hesitant to throw anything. Now they're throwing some bombs. Shoji takes Renzo down, and he's throwing a billion punches. Renzo pulls guard again and Shoji starts socer kicking Renzo's ankles. And that's the bell. 

Let's go the judges. They call it a draw, which is utter horse shit because Shoji dominated that bush-headed Brazilian bitch for a full 15 minutes. But what can I say - this IS PRIDE we're talking about here, so scoring shenanigans are probably something we should expect going into EVERY fight. Still, that was immensely entertaining - in fact, off the top of my head, I can't even think of a single UFC fight from 1997 that even comes close to matching the sheer back-and-forth fun of this one. Definitely go out of your way to experience this 'un, if for some dumb reason you haven't.

Oh, we've got a real treat next, kids. It's Nathan Jones - yes, THAT Nathan Jones - taking on Mitsuharu Kitao, who is LITERALLY a 400-pound version of Ryu from Street Fighter II. Kitao, obviously, is a former sumo wrestler, who - according to Bas - was banned from the sport because he broke the hand of a competitor's wife. OK, that is shit I HAVE to Google later on (WrestlingClassics.com says it's true, so yeah, it probably is.) BTW, you probably know "Mitsuharu" better by his ring name Koji Kitao - yep, the same guy who shot on Earthquake during that one WWF tour of Japan back in the early 1990s. "This is like a Godzilla movie," Quadros states at the opening bell. Jones rolls out a crescent kick, but he misses by a mile. He gets Kitao in a headlock and looks for a guillotine choke. Except he doesn't really know how to do it properly. Anyhoo, he wrestles Kitao to the ground, the ex-Sumo dude falls on top of Jones and, out of fuckin' nowhere, he secures a keylock and makes the Aussie tap.

The official time? Just 2:14 into round uno.

Sure, it's not as bad as the one Hasim Rahmin had that one time, but still ... that is just some straight up nasty shit.

Next we get Ralph White (who, ironically enough, is black) taking on Croatian Branko Cikatic. In case you didn't know, Cikatic was the very first K1 World Grand Prix champion, per Quadros. This is being contested under  "stand-up rules," which means it's technically just a kickboxing exhibition match with no takedowns or submissions allowed. Branko immediately earns the disdain of the audience by cheap shotting White right at the bell, but White retaliates with a few decent body shots. I'll give him one thing, at least, that White kid has some great leg kicks. "Stick and move, that's what they say, eh?" Bas comments. White hobbles Branko a little with a leg kick. Branko rattles off a great combo and White goes down. Branko shins him in the face a few times while he's down - which, yeah, is illegal as fuck under this rule set - and OH M GOD WHITE HAS A KNOT ON HIS HEAD THE SIZE OF A GRAPE FRUIT. I legitimately laugh out loud when Quadros compares the injury to something out of a horror movie "like Scanners." Then he tells the audience that he's seen enough Sigourney Weaver movies to know that shit is going to be NASTY when it pops. And it's made even better because Bas keeps making the Psycho shower scene stabbing sound effect the whole time. "It's a good thing John McCain didn't see this fight," Quadros comments. He's immediately outdone by Bas, who starts making the head exploding mind wave sound from Scanners with his mouth. God damn, this is the best MMA commentary I've ever heard in my life.  "He's one tough M.F., let's say that for the U.S. TV," Rutten states concerning Branko. Anyhoo, the guys in White's corner are still complaining about whether or not Branko's (legal) jab put the knot on White's head or it was the illegal soccer kick. Quadros recounts Brako's legendary battle against Don Wilson, where "The Dragon" broke both his hands but still knocked that Croatian motherfucker out. And just when you think we haven't hit peak MMA commentary, Quadros makes a crack about White going to ROGER CORMAN's office to pitch a movie called "The Bump That Wouldn't Die." Regardless, the whole soiree is ruled a no contest just 1:52 into round two.

Up next, we've got Kimo Leopoldo vs. Dan Severn, and heads-up, this shit goes a full 30. Don't say you didn't know what you were getting into here.

Sadly, Kimo doesn't come up dragging a giant cross like he did back in the day in the UFC. Thankfully, Severn's mustache is as bristly and healthy as its ever been. Man, Kimo was way more muscular than I remember - I tend to think of him as a big, fat Rikishi-looking motherfucker. Things stay vertical for the first two minutes. Both men whiff on what would've been some pretty heavy power shots. Severn bullies Kimo into the corner and Rutten makes fun of them for slapping at each other, describing it as "the clash of the kitties." We have separation and Kimo falls down on a Superman punch and we all chortle. LOL at Quadros shitting all over Severn's lackluster boxing. We're about five minutes in and Severn still hasn't shot for a real takedown. Kimo with a leg kick. Rutten says he's worried this fight is going to devolve into Shamrock/Severn from UFC 9 and Quadros tells him, yeah, we're pretty much on that path. "We've got anything but an exciting bout," Quadros declares. Severn FINALLY goes for a takedown, but he totally misses the ankle pick. Rutten then says Dan Severn looks like "Eddie Mercury," and Quadros has to tell him he's thinking of "Freddie Mercury" instead. It's even more hilarious because he almost calls him "Eddie Murphy" a couple of times first. There's so much inaction going on that Bas is forced to talk about renting the first couple of UFC videos in Holland. "What's so difficult about throwing a straight right hand?" Rutten states. Kimo lands a head kick, except not really. This sure is a shitty fight, but goddamn if the commentary from Rutten and Quadros isn't making it entertaining as all hell to witness. "Absolutely nothing is happening standing up," Quadros says. "This is like a dance contest." Severn FINALLY gets a takedown, but Kimo sprawls and he's right back up. Alright, time to watch these two assholes paw at each other some more. Folks, we're only halfway through this turd of a fight. Now the fans are booing the shit out of them. Kimo has a cut on his forehead. Both men are gassed worse than Auschwitz right now. Severn lands a good right hand. We're at the 20-minute mark. Quadros tells a hilarious story about his cable company cutting off the ending of UFC 4 and having to wait until the next day to find out Royce Gracie beat Dan Severn. And yes - in case you were wondering, he did indeed get a refund. Severn is in the side mount for about three seconds. It wasn't a takedown - Kimo just fell down and Dan grabbed his ankle on the way down. Goddamn this fight is the drizzling shits. Quadros refers to Kimo's tribal tattoos as "flames" and says instead of being gasoline, Dan Severn's offense is acting like "water." Rutten gets so frustrated by Severn's refusal to attack that he screams "Jay-zuss Christ" and that's about the fifth time the commentary for this shit sandwich made me legit LOL. "This is entertainment, and if you're not entertaining, you will be out of a job soon," Quadros comments. Then he says this fight deserves the MMA equivalent of a Raspberry "Awards," later describing the bout as "tedium personified." LOL at Quadros saying Kimo was too tired from dragging the cross around to beat Royce Gracie. Severn unleashes a BARRAGE on Kimo and FINALLY lands a real takedown. He's in the side mount. And just when it looks like something might happen in this fight - the bell sounds. Of course. Naturally, the Japanese fans boo 'em both out of the building. Needless to say, that is one of the all-time duds in the history of MMA right there.

And now it's time for our main event - Rickson Gracie vs. Nobuhiko Takada. Yep, that Japanese wrestling dude. They play the national anthem of Brazil and then some J-Pop singer with huge hair sings the national anthem of Japan. Right out the gate Rutten says Takada has NO chance of winning this fight. LOL at Quadros calling Takada "as popular as Hulk Hogan." Oh fuck, this is Takada's first MMA fight, by the way. This is literally the same thing as CM Punk booking against Jon Jones for his debut fight. Takada circles Gracie and Rutten says Rickson looks like Yul Brenner in Westworld. Now Takada's jogging around Gracie. Takada registers a leg kick and the fans go bonkers. Gracie stoically chasing Takada down. Gracie working a body lock. Takada is hanging on to the rope or dear life. The referee separates them and Rickson is pissed the ref stopped him from landing the takedown. Takada lands a few knees tot he head and then Rickson lands a beautiful slam. Rickson is in the full mount. He's punching him in the liver. Rickson rolls over, he locks in the straight armbar and yep, Takada TAPS. A whole bunch of dudes in purple and gold windbreakers hop in the ring to celebrate Gracie's win. Takada slaps on a red, white and blue windbreaker and runs back to the locker room like a bitch, as Gracie lifts his huge-assed post-victory trophy in the air.

Hope you liked this fight, folks ... because they're going to do it all over again a year later.

The official time of the submission, in case you we're wondering, is 4:47 of round one. As anticlimactic as the main event may have been, however, it pretty much paved the way for THE angle that put Pride on the map - that being, the promotion-defining rivalry between the Gracie family and Japanese pro wrestlers. Sure, sure, the Gracies would have their way with a couple of more dudes who were in WAY over their heads, but eventually this one guy named Sakuraba would show up and pretty much decimate the entire Gracie clan, thus leading to the momentous Royce Gracie/Kazushi contest in 2000 that some people STILL consider to be the single greatest fight in MMA history. And that, of course, segued to Wanderlei Silva reclaiming Brazil's pride (pun, probably not intended) by beating the shit out of Saku, thus making sure the cycle of South American on Japanese violence doth continue in perpetuity.

Looking at the show holistically, it holds up way better than I expected. That Renzo/Shoji fight is a legitimate hidden gem, and with the Branko/Ralph White debacle and Gary Goodridge's all-time knockout of Oleg Taktarov, you have two of the most stomach churning displays of in-ring violence the MMA world was able to produce in the late 1990s. Of course, that Dan Severn/Kimo fight was a dog shit taco covered in cat piss, but at least the commentary from Bas and Quadros gave it SOME redeeming value. Come to think of it, Bas and Quadros made EVERY fight on the card entertaining as fuck. Why don't these two guys have their own late night talk show, a'la the old school Man Show

While far from being an outstanding show from top to bottom, Pride Uno is still pretty entertaining, and there's enough fights that are good/wacky to hold your interest. Just, uh, feel free to fast forward through the Severn/Kimo snoozer, and honestly, there's no real reason to go out of your way to catch the main event, either - especially considering the fact they had a rematch literally a year to the day later that was about 20 times more enjoyable.

So, all in all? Pride 1 ain't too shabby. It ain't too great, either, but there's certainly worse cards from the company to trudge through. You know - like the next three awaiting us in 1998 as our chronological journey through Japan's premier MMA promotion continues ...

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