Match Six (watched second):
Sergei ‘the Siberian Tiger’ Kharitonov (Russia)
Mike ‘Hadn’t Earned a Nickname’ Russow (USA)
Next up is a heavyweight who lost to an inspired Overeem during the 2006 open-weight Grand Prix. After a promising start in Pride, when he went the distance with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and brutalised current double K-1 GP champion Semmy Schilt, Russian Sergei Kharitonov has been on something of a backslide. After losing a brutal fight with Aleksander Emelianenko, he will be hoping to put Russow away in highlight-reel style. I know nothing about Russow, so there you go. He is apparently a police officer in Chicago. Oh, apparently a very good wrestler too.
I have to say ‘The Siberian Tiger’ is a pretty awesome name for Kharitonov, who had put in his time in the Russian armed forces and facially looks about twice his twenty six years. He has Sambo experience, but will probably be looking to use his heavy, heavy hands against debutant Russow. Can he avoid the Russow takedown?
We are on the introductions, and I love how the Russians always get anonymous Euro-house to come out to. He is announced as ‘from Russia… with love’ but, looking at him, he practices tough love. If any. Oh nice one, I forgot Josh Barnett was on commentary. This should be fun. I somehow managed to go through the Rua-Overeem fight without noticing this fact.
And we’re off. Russow is predictably desperate for a takedown, but Sergei is having none of it. He wants to hit the low leg kicks. I say that, but Russow catches one and gets a takedown. He passes into side-mount and I am not a fan of this. Russow got mount for a second but, when he started the ground and pound, Sergei got antsy and flipped him. He tries to stand, but Russow is on that leg like a bulldog. The American hits an admittedly sweet takedown, and Kharitonov is thankfully able to slip out of a can opener-attempt (neck crank).
With Russow over him, Kharitonov is able to get an armbar and the win! Russow protests that the match should not be over because he didn’t give in (in a manner reminiscent of when Frank Mir broke Tim Sylvia’s arm in the UFC). The difference is that Sylvia didn’t tap – he got stopped when his forearm snapped – and the replay definitely shows Russow making that tap. After such poor sportsmanship, I doubt we will see too much more of Russow in that minimalist-white Pride ring.
Match Seven (watched first):
Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua (Brazil)
Alistair ‘the Demolition Man’ Overeem (Holland)
I have chosen to watch this first, largely because it finished downloading first. It is also a very tense fight for me, because I like Overeem a lot, and he has an alarming propensity to lose any given match he is in. this is a great shame because he is a light heavyweight (middleweight in Pride categories), who is six-foot-five, has great, Dutch-bred Thai boxing, and a deadly guillotine choke. Nevertheless, he has lost fights recently in weird ways. One is discussed here. Another was when he was enjoying dominance against the great Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and, apparently due to an existing injury, had to retire from the fight prematurely.
Sadly for Overeem, he is tonight facing Rua, who is arguably the best in the world at the weight. He already boasts a stoppage win over Overeem (in the 2005 middleweight Grand Prix semi-final), and is consistently excellent. For this reason, I am scared. Anyway, the match is beginning, and we have Joey Pantoliano look-alike Steve Mazzagatti as ref.
Active start from Overeem, which is heartening. An attempt at a Thai clinch, even. Best not to get too crazy with Shogun, though, who will deal with you. Overeem catches a kick and gets a trip, but decides, wisely, not to go to ground with the Chuteboxe supremo. I am very pleased with Overeem’s mood in this fight. Rather than being intimidated by Shogun, he is really bringing it with confidence and aggression. However, they go to ground, and Shogun is attempting an arm-lock. Hammerlock position, but not behind his back, and Overeem is able to power out of it into a sprawl, and back to their feet. Overeem gets taken down again, and the game of cat and mouse, between the ground and pound and the up-kicks, is engaging.
However, like a middleweight Fyodor, Shogun hits an immense diving Superman punch right to the button. Follow-up ground and pound is a formality as Joey Pants steps in to stop the action. This was entertaining enough, though disappointingly brief. One wonders where Overeem goes from here.
Match Eight (watched fourth):
Takanori ‘Fireball Kid’ Gomi (lightweight champion, Japan)
Nick Diaz (USA)
As I mentioned in my preview, this is my most eagerly awaited match. Read the preview for reasons why, but suffice it to say that I fully expect this to be a barnstormer. Gomi, being lightweight champion and all-round Pride golden boy, gets a great, ‘urban’ intro video. Infringing a bit on The Rock’s gimmick by being announced as ‘the People’s Champion’, but I doubt The Rock cares at this stage anyway.
‘Rascal vs. Rogue’ is a pretty cool tagline for this, actually. Gomi has a naughty streak (as evinced by his post-bell assault on Luiz Azeredo), but Diaz really isn’t a man to be messed with. Aside: the voiceover on these video packages reminds me of Aku from excellent animated show Samurai Jack. Gomi enters to his usual theme tune of ‘Scary’ by Mad Capsule Markets, and it never stops sounding like The Skids’ ‘Into the Valley’. There are fifteen minutes left in this file, so I am definitely hyped for this.
The first round was as excellent a five-minute stanza of fighting as I have ever seen. While not the most amazing display of technical acumen, it was full of drama and momentum swings. Gomi was in charge for the first half of the round, with initial ground and pound, when the two started trading on the feet, the longer Diaz was landing more, and cleaner, shots, but it was Gomi who dropped his opponent.
Diaz toughed out this sequence and recovered to gain the advantage as the round came to a close. The last minute or two was spent with Diaz teeing off on Gomi, who was channelling Naseem Hamed, as he bobbed and weaved with his arms down for all he was worth. The Diaz attack seemed to lack the power to knock Gomi out, but the Japanese fighter definitely seemed tired and woozy, and glad the round was over. Despite my initial thoughts, that round had to go to the Stockton, California native.
The second round was quite unbelievable. Diaz got opened up by a Gomi knee but came back with strikes. Gomi replied with a takedown, but Diaz used his flexible length to choke Gomi against his left shin. Gomi went out, and Diaz pulled off what was probably the biggest upset since, err… Gomi got choked out by Marcus Aurelio, in another non-title fight. One thing is for sure: the stock of Diaz has just skyrocketed. This was amazing stuff.
Match Nine (watched ninth):
Dan ‘Hollywood’ Henderson (welterweight champion, USA)
Wanderlei ‘the Axe Murderer’ Silva (middleweight champion, Brazil)
I had to save the main event for last; it just seemed right. Pride is really laying the UFC references on thick, what with showing footage of Rampage smashing Chuck Liddell (complete with caption of ‘UFC Champion’), and also of Silva mashing Rampage into paste. But hey, I suppose if you own the footage, why not?
I must also add the sense of occasion I feel at watching this show. Back when I was ten, I watched my first ever American pro-wrestling show (WrestleMania VI), which had the main event of Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan. That was a title vs. title fight (the Intercontinental belt vs. the WWF belt; the Ultimate Warrior took home all the marbles, as it were). Anyway, the point is that there is something special about two-belt matches. Obviously Silva cannot win the welterweight belt, the fight being at 205 lbs and all, but that doesn’t detract from the epic feel of this clash.
A nice Pride touch is the playing of respective national anthems before a title fight. Amusement came when Chuck Norris, standing next to Nicholas Cage, didn’t have his hand on his heart when the star Spangled Banner was playing. He must have noticed himself on the big screen, as he put down whatever he had been holding and clutched his hand awkwardly to his chest. And is it Americans’ patriotic duty to cheer for Harrison Ford during the anthem? Anyway, I am officially hyped for this fight, even if Silva is much bigger than Henderson.
First round: with Silva on top of Henderson, I would like to take this opportunity to say how nice it is to have Frank Trigg and Josh Barnett on commentary: rarely does an MMA show have two commentators who can really empathise with the in-ring competitors. A big ‘U-S-A’ chant erupts in case Henderson forgets where he is fighting. Halfway into the round, and there have been two restarts due to inactivity. The two fighters obviously have a lot of respect for each other, but it must be mentioned that Henderson has not been afraid, thus far, to throw leather.
The round was definitely entertaining, as both fighters eventually just decided to start randomly throwing punches at each other, seemingly in some kind of tribute to the first Griffin vs. Bonnar fight. Both men seemed rocked at times, with Silva displaying a tad more killer instinct.
The second round has ended, and I’m giving this one to Henderson: one each, then. Hendo got early takedowns, the second of which lasted the duration. He was very active indeed from the top, with impressive ground and pound using both fist and shoulder. Silva could not escape from the predicament, and Henderson even threw some knees early. If we are looking at the whole fight, Henderson has to be currently ahead; I was about to say that Silva needs a finish at this stage, but I’m not even sure how many rounds they are booked to fight. Is it five, like a UFC title fight?
O… K. it seems Pride has only its second middleweight champion ever, and a double champ at that, as Silva gets knocked out for the second time in the space of about six months. And this after he showed initial promise early in the round. The commentators were banging on about a left hook Silva had thrown, only to see the fight end with Henderson’s left. It always seemed that the wild swinging sessions in the middle of the ring might end in tears, and it would seem that Henderson’s swinging was that bit more controlled in the end, as he caught Silva on the sweet spot, dropping him instantly.
Post-match amusement came as Henderson shouted ‘USA!’ while Pride honcho Mr. Sakakibara was reading the official title-bestowing speech. Also, with the towering interviewer (he was taller than every fighter he interviewed) ordering him to remove his mouth-guard. Still, credit where it’s due, Henderson holds all the gold, and Pride is now in a serious booking mess.
Still, with the belt being removed from Silva’s waist, this does mean Shogun can get his long-awaited title shot. I don’t see Henderson surviving that, but then I didn’t see him surviving this one. What do I know? Anyway, brilliance as Henderson mentioned that he wants a third belt and can’t make lightweight. Fyodor Emelienanko would most definitely smash him into paste.