Pride 'Final Conflict 2005': Shogun's Coronation and the Historic Fedor Emelianenko vs. 'Cro Cop' Fight

By: Marcelo Alonso
Sep 6, 2021

If there were an election to choose the best MMA event of all time, surely Pride Final Conflict 2005, which was held 16 years ago in Tokyo and featured the final of the Pride Fighting Championships Middleweight (93 kg) Grand Prix, would be among the top vote-getters.

In addition to watching the long-awaited confrontation between Wanderlei Silva and Ricardo Arona in the semifinal, Japanese fans were able to see the ascension of Mauricio Rua, who knocked out Alistair Overeem in the semifinal and Arona in the final on the same night, avenging his training partner and becoming the sport’s new top 205-pound fight in the world's biggest event. To complete a dream night for MMA fans, Fedor Emelianenko and Mirko Filipovic finally fought for the heavyweight belt and future great Fabricio Werdum got his second submission in the Pride ring — against Emelianenko’s best student.

Those who followed the Pride era know very well what the rivalry between Brazilian Top Team and Chute Boxe represented. Started in a disagreement between BTT’s Arona and Chute Boxe’s Silva backstage at a breakfast at Pride 16, the animosity between the two teams turned their encounters in the Pride rings into a sort of Barcelona vs. Real Madrid of MMA. There were classic fights surrounded by many behind-the-scenes stories, but nothing attracted the curiosity of Japanese fans more than the possibility of seeing the confrontation that kicked off the rivalry, settled in the ring.

That became a real possibility when Pride announced the 16 fighters selected for the 2005 middleweight grand prix: Vitor Belfort, Dan Henderson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Kazushi Sakuraba, Yuki Kondo, Kevin Randleman, Igor Vovchanchyn, Dean Lister, Hidehiko Yoshida, Quinton Jackson, Kazuhiro Nakamura, Dong Sik Yoon, Arona, Silva, Rua and Overeem. The greatest tournament field in MMA history would fight it out in three stages: the Round of 16 in April, quarterfinals in June and, in August, the semifinals and final on the same night.

Knowing the importance of good narratives to attract the public, the Japanese promoters organized the brackets in order to leave the great classics between BTT and Chute Boxe to leverage the final stages.

In the first stage on April 23, “Minotouro” Nogueira submitted Henderson; Silva eliminated Yoshida by decision; Overeem submitted Belfort; Shogun knocked out “Rampage”; Sakuraba knocked out Yoon; Nakamura eliminated Randleman by decision; Arona defeated Lister by decision; and Vochanchyn defeated Yuki Kondo by decision.

At the quarterfinals two months later, fans were able to watch the first confrontation between BTT and Chute Boxe, when Mauricio “Shogun” eliminated “Minotouro” by decision, in what was considered the best fight of the tournament and one of the best in the sport's history. Meanwhile Arona ran over Sakuraba; Silva knocked out Nakamura and Overeem submitted Vovchanchyn.

That left four fighters, three Brazilians and one Dutchman, for the semifinals and finals to be held at Pride Final Conflict: Arona, Overeem and Chute Boxe representatives Wanderlei and “Shogun.” Obviously the Japanese wouldn't miss the chance to see two classics on the same night, so they set up Silva vs. Arona and “Shogun” vs. Overeem as the semifinals.

To complete this historic event, between the semifinals and the final, Emelianenko would face the biggest threat to his heavyweight reign: Mirko “Cro Cop,” who had just run over his brother Aleksander Emelianenko, Mark Coleman, Josh Barnett, Kevin Randleman and Ibragim Magomedov.

“A Warrior’s Fury”

A 10-page report published by the largest combat sports magazine in Japan, Kakutougi Tsushin, which explained all the chapters of the rivalry between BTT and Chute Boxe and recalling the clashes that gave a 6-to-4 advantage to the Curitiba team, raised expectations even more for the most personal clash in the sport.

Years after that disagreement at the hotel breakfast, Silva and Arona finally met eye to eye again at the weigh-in for their semifinal. “I'll rip you apart,” Silva promised. “We'll see tomorrow in the ring,” Arona replied. As I was the only Brazilian journalist at the weigh-in, I was practically attacked by Japanese colleagues eager to understand the meaning of that exchange of pleasantries in front of the shouting of the two teams: “Let's go Arona !!!!” “Heeeeeyyy Wandeco!!!”

The next day in the ring, however, the animosity of the weigh-in gave way to enormous mutual respect. Unlike previous fights, Silva didn't immediately go after Arona, limiting himself to study and attacking with a few combinations. On the other side, the BTT athlete responded waiting for the right time to strike and take the Curitiba native to the ground.

That opportunity would occur in a surprising way, with Arona unbalancing Silva after a low kick on his opponent's leg. When Wanderlei fell, Arona went for the stomp, entering Wanderlei's guard from where he started to apply his ground-and-pound that would define the first round in favor of the BTT representative. At the end of the round, the referee stood the fight up and gave a yellow card to Silva.

Aware of Arona's advantage in the first round, Silva would come back more aggressive in the second, but Arona would continue to surprise by accepting the standup battle. At the end of the round, the BTT representative again took down Silva. To make his superiority clear, the Arona even punched his rival with both hands, and when the referee signaled the end of the fight, Arona burst out shouting in the opponent's face.

“He said I had ridiculous striking skills [but] I beat him standing up and on the ground... But I didn't want to disrespect him with that shout; that was something of a warrior's fury." With the defeat of its main symbol, Chute Boxe returned to the dressing room in a funereal atmosphere. After watching his idol lose to his biggest rival, “Shogun” would have to step into the ring to face Overeem, already thinking about a final with Arona. Noticing his partner's despondency upon reaching the locker room, Silva knew the importance of a push. “I have no doubt that title is yours, ‘Shogun.’”

“Shogun” Runs over Overeem and Arona

The support of his idol made a difference. After knocking out 2003 grand prix finalist “Rampage” Jackson in the first phase and beating “Minotouro” in that historic quarterfinal battle, “Shogun” confidently entered the matchup with Overeem, the only non-Brazilian of the four semifinalists.

The Dutchman, who had told the press during fight week that he would show Chute Boxe “the real muay Thai,” started off well. With a five-and-a-half-inch reach advantage, the man who had eliminated Vovchanchyn and Belfort even took the Brazilian to the ground on two occasions, in one of them trying to lock up his dreaded guillotine choke. “Shogun” took advantage of the attempt, landing on top and turning the tide of fight. After passing guard and punishing Overeem with knees, the Chute Boxe athlete stood up releasing his fearsome soccer kicks. Then he allowed Overeem to get up, only to take him down again, pass his guard, secure mount and punch until the referee interrupted. The long-awaited final between Chute Boxe and BTT was set.

If Wanderlei respected Arona greatly, the same cannot be said of “Shogun.” In addition to the belt, the young man had three extra motivations: First, if he won, he would avenge Silva as well as his brother Murilo Rua, who had lost to Arona at Pride 21. Second, it would guarantee the ascendancy of Chute Boxe in the direct confrontation with BTT in Pride, four wins to two. Third, if he lost, it would confirm Arona as Chute Boxe's terror, as it would be the BTT star’s third win over the rival team, and would leave the teams tied at three Pride wins each.

“Wandeco's defeat motivated me a lot, I went in to knock [Arona] out,” the soon-to-be grand prix champion would tell me a few minutes later.

When the fight started, “Shogun” started by launching a spinning back kick and Arona counterattacked, grabbing Rua’s waist and putting him down, but the Chute Boxer, who also had a jiu-jitsu brown belt, surprised the three-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club champion by attacking with an omoplata, which left Arona in a difficult position for almost two minutes. Arona escaped and the fight returned to the feet, with “Shogun” landing a right cross, followed by three knees. Arona was clearly dazed, but answered, taking his opponent down. Rua quickly stood up. After a quick exchange of blows, it was “Shogun” who took the now exhausted Arona down, quickly passing his guard and reaching side mount, from where he landed elbows to the ribs and a knee in the head. Afterwards, “Shogun” stood up and tried a stomp, followed by four punches that wiped out the BTT athlete, forcing the referee to interrupt while the Chute Boxe team invaded the ring to celebrate the historic achievement.

“Right in the first minute of the fight, when I clinched to perform a takedown on Shogun, I smacked my head on the canvas with him on top, from that point on I was already semi-knocked out and couldn't see anything...under normal conditions I have no doubt I can beat him, but this is a more personal thing, first I want to fight for the belt with Wanderlei,” Arona told me as he left the ring.

After receiving the grand prix belt and a check for $200,000 from the hands of Pride FC President Nobuyuki Sakakibara, Rua received another surprise in the locker room, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt given by team teachers Antonio Schembri and Cristiano Marcello. “After applying a omoplata and passing the guard of the three-time Abu Dhabi champion, I think there is no longer any doubt that Chute Boxe has the greatest ground game in Vale-Tudo in the world,” Marcello said, a slight jab at their grappling specialist archrivals.

Humble as always, “Shogun” thanked them for his black belt and revealed, “Today is the happiest day of my life. I avenged my brother, my idol and biggest inspiration, won the belt and also guaranteed my team's 4-to-2 advantage over BTT.”

“Fedor vs Cro Cop”: The Historic Battle

If among the middleweights the event served to launch a new champion, at heavyweight Emelianenko proved once again that he was a step above all his opponents. After refusing to face the former Croatian police officer twice, claiming to have injured his hand, Emelianenko left many people thinking he was afraid of Filipovic's famous high kick, which had already knocked out names like Vovchanchyn and Fedor's own brother. Those detractors forgot that the Russian was the only undefeated heavyweight in the world and the only one to beat Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (twice), who by the way had already submitted “Cro Cop.”

In the ring, the pudgy-looking Emelianenko once again impressed everyone. Instead of looking for the ground game as everyone expected, he went after the striker and won on Filipovic’s ground. At first, the Russian even bent his knee, when he took a punch from “Cro Cop,” who went up and was taken to the ground by Fedor. The punch seemed to have broken the nose of the Russian, who bled a lot for the rest of the round. From inside the guard, the heavyweight champion spent the rest of the first round attacking with punches, while Filipovic defended himself by working well with his guard and showing that training with Werdum had been paying off.

Emelianenko, however, came back even more aggressive in the second round, hitting “Cro Cop” with good strikes and sapping the Croatian's gas. With an uchi-gari, Fedor took Filipovic down and again punished his opponent with punches from inside the guard. The final round came with the Russian releasing a good straight, followed by a kick in the rib from “Cro Cop,” who tried to take Fedor to the ground and ended up getting under him. From inside the guard, Fedor returned to the ground-and-pound game, punishing Mirko.

The fight would still come back on its feet, but for a short time, with the Russian once again taking down Mirko and staying on guard. Visibly tired, the two athletes started to fight, forcing the referee to call the fight standing up again. Filipovic still tried two more high kicks, but the blows lacked power and Emelianenko took him down, working from the guard until the fight was over and the referees gave the victory to the Russian by unanimous decision.

“I showed in this fight that I improved a lot, but Fedor clearly won. I'll train hard to beat him in a rematch,” declared a shaken “Cro Cop,” who had brought a crowd of 50 friends from Croatia to Japan.

After the fight, with his face badly hurt, Emelianenko revealed that he had broken his hand in the first round and, even so, he had continued to go inside until the end. "Doctors said I will need at least three months to recover after surgery." Enough time to recover and still be the clear favorite at next year’s heavyweight grand prix.

Werdum Finishes Emelianenko’s Student

After submitting Tom Erikson in an impressive debut in Pride, Werdum returned to the Japanese ring. The victim was Russian Roman Zentsov, from Emelianenko's team. The fight served to spice up the confrontation between masters Fedor and “Cro Cop.” Werdum was living in Croatia teaching jiu-jitsu to Cro Cop and learning kickboxing.

From the beginning of the dispute, Werdum showed that his victory was only a matter of time. The Brazilian naturalized Spanish started by putting Zentsov down and already falling on the mount, from where he started punishing with punches. The Russian, however, managed to defend himself early on, reversing his position and attacking with punches.

Werdum ended up taking Zentsov down shortly thereafter, passing guard and mounting and applying a triangle choke. He managed to end the fight with an armbar inside the triangle — double attack — in the first round. Curiously, it is the same technique he would use five years latter against Zentsov´s master in the most important fight of his career.

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