(Pictures) should've been our first
The wild card UFC heavyweight was coming off both a knockout loss
to Tim Sylvia (Pictures) and an eight-month sabbatical in
2003 when he agreed to face PRIDE star Antonio Rodrigo
Nogueira (Pictures) in the promotion's home turf of
Saitama, Japan, on just two weeks' notice.
The battle between two former titleholders was the closest fans had
seen to an inter-promotional clash with any real substance. At the
final bell, most observers -- including ringside commentator
Mark Coleman (Pictures) -- believed Rodriguez's
positional dominance would earn him the decision.
Instead, Nogueira won. And while the winner's purse is certainly
more practical for a mortgage payment than a moral victory, it was
Rodriguez who came out with the evidence stateside fans had been
In a head-on collision between two reputable stars of warring
promotions, it was pretty much a dead heat. PRIDE, contrary to the
testimony of its fanatical followers, did not decimate the imported
Did not, in fact, even make it bleed much.
That divisive rivalry -- largely manufactured by inflammatory
Internet threads but aided and abetted by juvenile sniping from
company chairs -- took on another dimension in 2005, when UFC
critics declared the promotion's "Ultimate Fighter" campaign to be
nothing but a factory for hammy "personalities" who had no business
in the ring. When fans weren't busy pitting global corporations
against one another, they were eager to see stars they'd been
force-fed wind up face down on the canvas.
That kind of audience war-mongering reached its apex in September
2007, when presumed reality TV cartoon character Forrest Griffin (Pictures) dared to face PRIDE's vicious
Grand Prix champion, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.
Observers wrote Griffin's obituary early; PRIDE devotees seemed to
take a palpable glee in the inevitable beating he was to receive.
This was the ultimate meeting of UFC's hamburger vs. Japan's Kobe
beef, and those beholden to PRIDE would take great pleasure in
heckling Griffin's lifeless form.
Someone did indeed require a chalk outline that Saturday, but it
Normally a whirlwind of arms, legs and knees, Shogun responded to
Griffin's methodical attack by shooting sloppy takedowns. By round
two, he was huffing like Thomas the Tank Engine, sucking up air
like it was on sale. Come round three, he was defenseless against a
Griffin rear-naked choke and meekly tapped the mat.
The man who had emerged unscathed in battles with Ricardo Arona (Pictures), Quinton Jackson (Pictures), and Antonio Rogerio
Nogueira (Pictures) was reduced to a submissive
position against an athlete who was never even discussed as the
best the promotion had to offer.
Humbling? An inkblot on your shirt is humbling. For fans of the
PRIDE brand, a foreign bigger brother so often used as leverage to
rebuke the UFC's stateside dominance, this was devastating.
Shogun's defeat was preceded by other meltdowns. Mirko "Cro Cop"
Filipovic is 1-2 in the UFC, an ignoble mark for someone once
considered the most feared heavyweight in the game. Takanori Gomi (Pictures) was handled by Nick Diaz (Pictures), apparently while Diaz was
With the year winding down, the mythology of PRIDE has nearly
dissolved, a fate that undoubtedly gives pleasure to UFC brass who
insisted the competition was just as fierce in North America as
There are the excuses. The cage is too big; they cannot soccer-kick
or stomp; the crowds are more vocal; athletes cannot inject vials
of testosterone into their asses without fear of detection,
withering their aggression and stamina.
All of those explanations are fine in an Oliver Stone, Zapruder
flick kind of way. The truth? Forrest Griffin (Pictures) was simply a better fighter than
Rua on the night it counted most.
With Shogun barely cutting weight, Griffin was likely a good 20
pounds heavier than Rua at fight time. He pressured Rua and refused
to let him get comfortable. He hit him, lots, which tends to siphon
one's gas tank.
This does not mean Griffin could beat Arona, or Overeem, or
Nogueira. Unlike "Highlander," Griffin cannot absorb the powers of
his fallen foes. But his specific skill set, and the way in which
he executed it, was the perfect antidote to Rua's attack.
That's it. No more, no less.
PRIDE athletes, bereft of any specially packaged tomato cans to
dine on, are likely to continue looking very human in the Octagon.
The legacies of Fedor
Emelianenko (Pictures), "Cro Cop" and pending addition
(Pictures) were built in part on
squash matches that made them look unstoppable. That's virtually
unheard of in the Ultimate, where even unheralded opponents have
the capability of flattening out anyone.
More importantly, the UFC refuses to manipulate athletes to achieve
a preferred outcome. Fighters in PRIDE frequently complained of
being coerced into competing on short notice, or with injuries, to
boost the chances of their adversaries.
Athletes who refused sudden "opportunities" were threatened with
burn notices. Tournaments further confused the issue, with fresher
fighters tearing into weathered finalists. And it would be perhaps
too optimistic to ignore the more restrictive drug policies in the
States. "Cycling" on and off steroids, a common behavior used to
manipulate the system, takes practice.
PRIDE's legacy as a compelling mixed martial arts institution will
continue; Rua represents only himself and his camp. His future
victories and defeats will have merit only as a reflection of his
own abilities -- they don't prove fans right or wrong about
Except, of course, on how best to argue pointlessly.
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