Halfway through Saturday's PRIDE telecast I had a warm, moist feeling in my stomach that it would take a mighty card to top this one in 2007. Once the PRIDE middleweight title changed hands, that rumbling in my belly became a reality. You'll be hard-pressed to witness a better all around mixed martial arts events this year than PRIDE 33.
That sort of statement will usually elicit debates, groans, gripes and applause … but whichever way, you, my loyal reader, cut it: that statement is true.
PRIDE 33 contained electrifying excitement, slick submissions, brutal knockouts and competitive battles that went to the scorecards. In my opinion, every fight on the card exceeded expectations and there was a shocking number of legitimate upsets throughout the night.
And who doesn't love upsets?
Looking back at the card, a fight fan truly couldn't have asked for much better. Sure, it didn't contain the ultimate match-ups and it wasn't a PRIDE vs. UFC battle royal, but think about it: the vast majority of must-have fights that become reality wind up materializing into forgettable and disappointing duds.
Here's hoping that the anti-PRIDE fight fans and my boys over at the MMA Capital Building in Las Vegas don't skew my words as DSE "nut hugging," but here goes: We won't see a better MMA card for the remainder of this year than what we were treated to on Saturday inside the Thomas & Mack Center.
MMA's iconic title reign finally ends
There is this old, crusty and battered cliché that goes something along the lines of all good things eventually come to end. That especially rings true for the professional fight game. When the smoke, ashes, embers and shrapnel dissipated from inside the PRIDE ring, the same was true for Wanderlei Silva (Pictures)'s title reign.
Silva is without a shadow of a doubt one of the greatest fighters in the history of mixed martial arts and has been PRIDE's middleweight champion for a long time. Next to fellow Brazilian Alexandre Franca Nogueira (Pictures), Silva boasted the second longest uninterrupted major title reign in the history of MMA, a dominant and seemingly impregnable rule that lasted roughly five years, four months.
His fist had been clinched firmly around the PRIDE 205-pound landscape longer than most pop-stars' careers, longer than almost every single mainstream sports dynasty. His stranglehold on the division engulfed over a dozen different fighters and his own personal highlight reel had to be indexed using the crafty Dewey Decimal System.
Aside from the two most dominant fighters in the UFC's 205-pound history (Randy Couture (Pictures) and Chuck Liddell (Pictures)), Silva fought and pummeled every elite fighter of his generation, including a few heavyweights.
Without question, Wanderlei Silva (Pictures) is an all-time great and whenever there is a legitimate and authentic MMA Hall of Fame, he should be a first ballot inductee. Like every great fighter of any era, he certainly had his detractors. Only the biggest, most stubborn and mentally inferior of these people would deny his brilliance.
Dan Henderson (Pictures), a slight underdog entering Saturday's skirmish, whipped him and whipped him good. I figured that their rematch would be a showdown that came down to the wire, with Silva escaping via decision. I'm not surprised that Henderson won, but what blows me away is the fact that not only did he knock Silva out, he caved in his head from the opening bell.
Henderson dominated from start to finish and save for a solitary left hook at the end of the first round, Silva didn't do a thing to "Hendo."
In hindsight it was a perfect fight for the two-time Olympic wrestler. Henderson out-slugged the Brazilian when he needed to, took him down whenever he felt like it, and utilized that brutal Team Quest ground-and-pound like clockwork.
He befuddled, bullied and bombarded Silva in what could go down as one of the greatest singular performances ever against an elite fighter. My applause goes out to Henderson for not only his conquest of PRIDE's most decorated fighter but for also becoming the first man in PRIDE's history to hold a title in two different weight classes at the same time.
Is Wanderlei finished?
This may sound like crazy talk, but from a fan and writer's perspective, it appears as though Silva is on his way out, if he wasn't been already. This may sound a little harsh but if you really think about it for a while, the only time Silva has looked like the real "Axe Murderer" against world-class opposition (note: an emphasis on "world class") was back on Halloween '04 when he tore up Quinton Jackson (Pictures).
Sure he certainly bludgeoned Kazuhiro Nakamura (Pictures) and Kazuyuki Fujita (Pictures), but let's face it: those two aren't exactly "Shogun" and "Rampage." His close tussles with Hidehiko Yoshida (Pictures) could be construed as signs of decline mainly because Yoshida isn't an A level fighter. Yoshida is a tremendous judoka and he is naturally bigger than Silva, but Wanderlei never dominated the Japanese icon in either of their two fights.
Silva also dropped a lackluster decision to archrival Ricardo Arona (Pictures) and though he avenged the loss to his tattooed nemesis, he didn't blow him out of the water like "Shogun" or Jackson did. Let's also not forget the controversial loss to former K-1 World Grand Prix champion Mark Hunt (Pictures). And although I thought Silva did enough to deserve the decision, Hunt was still a novice to MMA and Silva looked listless. His duel with eventual 2006 Open-Weight Grand Prix champ Mirko Filipovic (Pictures) surfaced, which directly preceded Saturday's knockout loss to Henderson.
Why has Silva looked less-than-spectacular lately? One can be ring burnout, because Silva, unlike most world champions, fights all the time. It seems like he fights on every other full-blown PRIDE event and ever since he won the middleweight crown by besting Kazushi Sakuraba (Pictures) in November 2001, he has competed in a whopping 19 professional fights — and that's not even including the thousands of hours spent in the gym and hundreds of sparring sessions he plunged into headfirst. Compared to other elite world champions of his era, Silva was the busiest.
Since winning the belt, the "Axe Murderer" has been toppled only four times and had one draw. In that same span, Chuck Liddell (Pictures) fought 13 times (two losses), Couture 10 times (five losses), Tito Ortiz (Pictures) nine times (three losses), Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures) 19 (zero losses), Matt Hughes (Pictures) 14 (two losses) and Dan Henderson (Pictures) 15 (four losses).
Aside from Fedor, who is arguably the greatest fighter ever, Wanderlei has been the most impressive and has toppled the better competition overall. His only losses, aside from the Henderson shellacking on Saturday and the points loss to Arona, came from fighting heavyweights.
After pondering what Silva's been through during his title reign, it's a wonder he held onto the title for that long. The man has been busy and by not resting as much as the others, losing his title before retirement was inevitable.
Another piece of the jigsaw puzzle is the amount of punishment he's had to endure throughout his title reign. At some point in virtually every fighter's career there is a breaking point and no matter how great a fighter is or how much training he's endured, his body just shuts down.
Maybe it happened against "Cro Cop." Maybe it was against Henderson. Maybe it actually hasn't even happened. Either way, when an elite fighter, or even a very good, successful fighter, is dominated so thoroughly and knocked out so viciously in back-to-back battles, it's usually a sign of a shot fighter.
Silva is only 30 years old, yet he has done it all. Perhaps he has totally burned himself out. It happened to Pedro Rizzo (Pictures), Igor Vovchanchyn (Pictures) and, when speaking of elite warriors, it happened to Mark Coleman (Pictures) and Randy Couture (Pictures).
While it seems unlikely, considering how relatively young he is, I'm hoping Silva has not succumbed to that same fistic death sentence. (Hmm, I am wondering if Silva will become the Marco Antonio Barrera of MMA.) I don't think he's done yet, but only future fights will tell us for sure.
Henderson: MMA's best-kept secret?
Naturally, the hardcore MMA junkies know everything there possibly is to know about Dan Henderson (Pictures). When it comes to MMA in America, especially when speaking of Generation TUF, almost nobody knows Hendo. Many might think he is Rickey Henderson's brother or a cast member on the long-cancelled farce of a TV show Harry and the Hendersons.
But after Saturday one thing's for sure: Henderson is a much more popular fighter than he's ever been.
Even though a sizeable chunk of the American fight audience has only seen a couple PRIDE events — if any — most knew about Wanderlei Silva (Pictures). He was supposed to come into the UFC and either obliterate Liddell or at least wage an unforgettable war with "The Ice Man." And just as MMA is exploding beyond expectations, Silva returned to U.S. soil for some action, only to be beaten severely and knocked cold.
In the span of about 13 minutes, the epic showdown between Liddell and Silva changed from "has-to-happen" to "what's-the-point?" And the man to blame for that is not named Sakakibara or White: it's Henderson.
There haven't been too many train depots throughout the world that shipped out official Hendo bandwagons over the years, but after his thrilling upset on Saturday, one can rest assured that new Henderson fans will be pouring out of the woodworks. Not that there is anything wrong with that because Henderson, for the most part, has played second fiddle to former Team Quest teammate Couture for years (at least in America). Henderson has always been, in my opinion, the best fighter out of TQ and hopefully now he'll get what's basically owed to him: more fame and much, much more money.
Praise Diaz but what happened to Gomi?
Since I became a member of the fight media several years ago, it has been frowned upon to openly cheer for fighters. Well, I'm a fan first sometimes and anybody who regularly reads my work will know that I have always been a huge Nick Diaz (Pictures) fan and supporter. Nothing was more fulfilling than to see the underappreciated California kid rip apart PRIDE lightweight king Takanori Gomi (Pictures) and eventually catch him in the greatest submission on earth: the gogoplata.
But to keep things professional, I must congratulate Diaz for his win and get right down to business. While it's a tremendous win for Diaz and he clearly dominated the Japanese superstar almost from the outset, I have to wonder what exactly Gomi's game plan was.
After Gomi dropped Diaz early in the first round, he basically winged wild and sloppy bombs all the while tasting punch after punch from Diaz. By the end of the opening round, Gomi was completely sapped of all his stamina and was on the brink of being stopped. The Japanese fighter mutated from crisp, brilliant striker into a crude, wild amateur within a matter of seconds.
What happened there? Did he not train for more than a week? Was he too pressed to look fantastic in America? Was Diaz frustrating him so badly his game was offset? Only Gomi knows the answers to those questions but in the meantime, when will the rematch occur? It's a fight I simply will not miss for anything, not even the stamp licking grand prix on ESPN2.
Another gogoplata! Not only did Diaz submit Gomi in what is thus far the fight of the year, he did so by gogoplata. I might sound like a pubescent fool when I gush over gogoplatas, but I don't care. That submission belongs in the Smithsonian. …
"Shogun" avoided a scare, that's for sure. Alistair Overeem (Pictures) was absolutely having his way with Mauricio Rua (Pictures) until he was on his back. Then Rua's 10-ton hammer crashed onto the Dutchman's face, followed by a series of deadly strikes. I just can't put my finger on it, but Overeem just can't take that step into greatness. He certainly has all the proper tools but he continuously finds ways to lose. He's like the Cincinnati Bengals of the 1990s and early 2000s and that is a shame. He is much better than most people believe. …
Some things in life are guaranteed no matter the situation. Politicians will always be corrupt. There will always be porn. And the Nogueira twins will never get knocked out. Or so I thought. Congrats to unheralded Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou (Pictures), as he did what I thought was literally impossible. I honestly never thought I'd live to see that happen. …
I was told that Dan Henderson (Pictures) wore camouflaged shorts when he fought Silva, but I didn't see them. …
Hayato Sakurai (Pictures) is a great fighter and he was a huge favorite to topple Mac Danzig (Pictures), which he did. But kudos must be given to Danzig for fighting very well and lasting as long as he did. Danzig has the ability to make some noise in the sport and in due time, said noise will be made. …
Kazuo Misaki (Pictures) is the most inconsistent fighter this side of Vitor Belfort (Pictures). One day he is besting both Dan Henderson (Pictures) and Denis Kang (Pictures), the next day he is being manhandled by Frank Trigg (Pictures). Misaki looked like a fish out of water against the resurging "Twinkle Toes" and it makes me wonder if he has ADD or if Trigg was just that good on Saturday.
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