By summer of 2003, Pride Fighting Championships had either assumed the mantle of the premier mixed martial arts organization in the world, or was neck-and-neck with the Ultimate Fighting Championship for that distinction. Pride’s middleweight grand prix, which launched on Aug. 10, made the Japanese promotion’s case for the No. 1 spot.
Pride Total Elimination 2003 included the four quarterfinal matches of the middleweight (205-pound) tournament, narrowing a preposterously loaded eight-man field to four. For the record, the quarterfinal matches were: Wanderlei Silva vs. Kazushi Sakuraba; Hidehiko Yoshida vs. Kiyoshi Tamura; Quinton Jackson vs. Murilo Bustamante; and Chuck Liddell vs. Alistair Overeem.
Silva knocked out Sakuraba for the third and final time to advance to the semifinals, while Liddell—on loan from the UFC, in hopes of meeting his counterpart in the final—crushed Overeem with his trademark overhand right to do the same on the opposite side of the bracket. Olympic gold medal judoka Yoshida tapped out professional wrestler and longtime MMA veteran Tamura with an Ezekiel choke to fill the third semifinal spot, while “Rampage” edged out former UFC middleweight champ Bustamante via split decision to claim the fourth. The semifinals and finals would take place three months later at Pride Critical Conflict 2003, a pivotal night in the history of the 205-pound division.