Of all the experiments Pride Fighting Championships tried in its wild and wonderful decade of existence, few were stranger than the “Pride the Best” series. Where Pride’s flagship numbered events packed huge venues such as Saitama Super Arena, the three “Pride the Best” shows took place in 2000-seat halls like the now-defunct Differ Ariake, that were the usual province of indie pro wrestling and smaller MMA organizations like Deep. For an added layer of weirdness, alone among Pride events, those events utilized an eight-sided ring.
The nominal purpose of the “Pride the Best” shows seemed to be bringing in new talent for the promotion, which would be nothing strange and in fact would have been a forward-thinking move at the time—think of Dana White's Contender Series today. However, the shows themselves belied that strategy; the cards did include some future stars, but were also packed with veteran journeymen such as “Dirty” Bob Schrijber, sub-.500 fighters like Shannon Ritch and Daijiro Matsui, and worst of all, Joe Son. Twice.
The third and final of those events, Pride the Best, Vol. 3, took place on Oct. 20, 2002. It was not the best of the three from a talent standpoint, even if it did feature Yushin Okami in his second professional fight, just six weeks removed from his debut. However, it is the only one that did not feature Son, one of the most horrific criminals ever to pass through MMA, so it has that much going for it.
Pride the Best, Vol. 3 marks an early career appearance by Rory Singer, who would become known to Western MMA fans through “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show and Ultimate Fighting Championship. Singer flew halfway around the world—from Athens, Georgia, to Tokyo—on less than two weeks’ notice to fight Matsui. Singer, who attracted the notice of the UFC a few years later when his Hardcore Gym teammate, Forrest Griffin, took part in the reality show’s debut season, ended up owning the gym, now branded SBG Athens.
The “Pride the Best” events were an obscure curiosity even at the time, practically unfindable even for those North American fans who were used to sourcing Pride cards by shady means. To this day, they are notable for their absence from the fight library on UFC Fight Pass.