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PRIDE – one of the most legendary promotions in mixed martial arts history.  Still revered and loved by fans of MMA to this day.  It is the hope of many that PRIDE will never die and fighters like Fedor Emelianenko, Mirko Cro Cop, and the Nogueira brothers are still living remnants of a once thriving promotion.

Much like my Ranking the UFC series, I will be recapping all PRIDE events dating back to the very beginning.  However, I’m surely more ignorant about PRIDE than I am about the UFC.  I’ve been enjoying the UFC for many years, but I was years behind on PRIDE.  I’m certainly familiar with a number of the fighters and the more classic fights, but a lot of this great MMA action is very new to me and I’m looking forward to what lies ahead.

Before I begin, some background on PRIDE.  Kakutougi Revolution Sports, a Japanese entertainment company, was working to create some kind of combat sports showcase.  Initially, the goal was to create a series of matches between the Gracie family and Japanese professional wrestlers from the Kingdom wrestling promotion, once known as Union of Wrestling Forces International or UWFi.

The Gracies have long been considered the first family of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and the legend only grew with Royce’s success in the UFC.  Meanwhile, professional wrestling in Japan may have been staged, but the matches were much stiffer and more realistic.  Japanese wrestlers have been revered as legitimate warriors and stars for many decades, so this competition only seemed natural.

Professional wrestlers like Kazushi Sakuraba and Koji Kitao seemed to be natural fits in such a format, but it was UWFi founder Nobuhiko Takada who was prominently featured at the first PRIDE event.  And rather than a series of matches against the Gracie family, Takada would square off against the legendary Rickson Gracie, son of Helio Gracie.

From there, the initial card would be filled with stars from around pro wrestling and mixed martial arts.  In matches featuring UFC fighters, Oleg Taktarov faces Gary Goodridge and Dan Severn fights Kimo Leopoldo.  Another Gracie, Renzo, will be in action against Japanese fighter Akira Shoji.  Professional wrestlers Nathan Jones and Koji Kitao will also square off, while there are a number of other matches planned for this initial card.  Unlike the UFC, these early contests will be individual, non-tournament fights.

It should be noted that PRIDE was not solely an MMA organization.  Early on, you would see kickboxing matches, grappling exhibitions, and even professional wrestling style contests.  In fact, some of the “legitimate” mixed martial arts contests were also suspected to be fixed.  For the sake of these rankings, I will only be ranking fights and fighters from legitimate mixed martial arts fights.

I will definitely take the time to review the other special rules contests since they are all very important to the evolution and history of PRIDE itself.  But my goal in the rankings is to determine which MMA competitors and competitions were the best of the best.  That’s no disrespect to the kickboxing and grappling contests, but these rankings are solely for MMA contests.  Though a number of bouts are potentially worked fights, I won’t make those judgement calls and will accept all recorded MMA fights as legitimate.

One last note is regarding PRIDE rules.  Eventually, the rules would evolve to what is detailed here.  The rules for PRIDE were historically more lenient in regards to violence and would encourage fighters to be active with potential purse deductions.  It seems that these early events somewhat closely resemble these rules, though the round structure changed quite a bit initially.  I’ll do my best to note rule differences and unusual circumstances as they occur, though I’m sure most everything will be clearer upon viewing.

Without any further adieu, I present PRIDE 1.

PRIDE 1 – October 11, 1997

This event opens with Japanese house music blaring over images of a fighter shadow boxing in a warehouse.  Jesus, this is already better than the first 16 UFC events combined and I haven’t seen any fights.  We’re actually a mere six days away from the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s next event, UFC 15, which may present some conflicts for some of these fighters.  I’ll go into that later.

We’re greeted by a very formal sounding Stephen Quadros who is joined by Pancrase veteran Bas Rutten, who will be handling the English commentary on this event.  Bas points out that this event is taking place in the famous Tokyo Dome, where nearly 48,000 people have congregated to watch this first PRIDE event.

The PRIDE promotion means business as we go straight to the first fight between John Dixson and Kazunari Murakami.  Dixson and Murakami have both spent some time fighting in MMA and Vale Tudo events around the world.  Murakami, a judo practitioner, holds a notable win over Akihiro Gono and also fought reigning UFC Heavyweight Champion Maurice Smith in March 1997.

Meanwhile, Dixson lost to Anthony Macias, the guy who was rag-dolled by Dan Severn at UFC 4 and who potentially threw a fight against Oleg Taktarov at UFC 6.  I already like Murakami’s chances in this one.  Then again, Murakami is at a 60+ pound weight disadvantage in this bout.

As this contest begins, I should note that unlike the UFC, PRIDE bouts take place in a traditional ring.  It’s definitely a difference, as I believe fights can be broken if fighters are tangled in the ropes.  Similar to the UFC, ropes cannot be grabbed for a strategic advantage.

Anyway, time for the fight.  Murakami comes out swinging and backs Dixson into a neutral corner.  Dixson clinches Murakami and then throws a body kick when releasing clinch.  Dixson catches a kick from Murakami and takes his opponent down.  Dixson is now in half guard position and is resting his body weight on Murakami, who is working for a sweep.  Dixson postures up and throws some body shots before standing up and moving out of guard as a whole.

Dixson works to clinch again and tries to catch a knee from Murakami, but Murakami avoids Dixson’s grasp and throws a very nice hip toss!  Murakami kneels over his prone opponent and quickly grabs Dixson’s left arm.  He starts punching Dixson in the ribs and stomach in an attempt to soften his opponent up for an armbar.  Murakami locks in the straight armbar and John Dixson is very quick to tap out!  A nice submission win for Kazunari Murakami in the very first PRIDE fight!

After the contest, Murakami is presented with a lovely trophy.  Well that’s nice!  It’s such a big trophy, but I guess that’s because he submitted such a big man.  Is that how it works in Japan?  The bigger your opponent, the bigger the award when you defeat him?  I bet that Japanese trophy and engraving shops are on red alert when Hong Man Choi is fighting.

We’re treated to the very first witticism from El Guapo: “That’s a beautiful thing about fighting in Japan – you get big trophies.  Unless you’re fighting for Pancrase, that is.  You fight for your honor, I guess.”  Poor Bas, maybe we should take a collection to get Bas 25 different trophies for each of his Pancrase wins.  If anybody deserves to have a couple of dozen trophies in his den, it’s Bas.

Stephen Quadros brings us down as he takes a sobering look at fighting.  He says that Dixson lost honorably, which is far better than being brain damaged or dead from a boxing match.  I don’t think Quadros was trying to say that all boxers are either brain damaged or dead, but I think he’s just pointing out that you don’t have to maim an opponent to win a fight (unless your name is Shinya Aoki).

Onto to second fight of the night and this should be a good one between UFC veterans Gary Goodridge and Oleg Taktarov.  These two never squared off in the octagon, so they’ll have to see who the better man is in the PRIDE ring.  This is a serious contrast in styles, as Gary Goodridge loves to strike and Taktarov will desperately try to bring this fight to the ground.

The fight starts with both fighters feeling each other out.  Bas notes that Oleg spent a lot of time working on his boxing prior to this fight and suspects that the Russian will make an effort to strike in this fight.  We’ll have to see if Bas’ speculation is accurate.  This fight has gone a minute with no strikes landed.  Goodridge attempts a jab, but Taktarov backs away and avoids contact.

Goodridge gets the action going with a big leg kick, but Taktarov lands a nice counter left that staggers Goodridge!  Taktarov moves in to follow-up on his opponent, but Goodridge swings wildly and forces Taktarov to back away.  Oleg moves in with a nice 1-2 combo and does some damage with a left hook.  There appears to be a cut under Taktarov’s eye, but it doesn’t look to be serious.

It looks like Goodridge is trying to encourage Taktarov to strike by dropping his hands to his waist, but Taktarov has been patient thus far and is choosing his spots.  When you’re in the ring with a striker like Gary Goodridge, it might be best to avoid positions where he can punch you very hard.

Oleg’s bleeding appears to be some kind of joke, as I’ve never seen such thick streams of blood in such odd places.  How on earth does Oleg have such a perfect trail of blood coming out of his sideburn like this?  Is his skin made of paper?  Is his blood at a viscosity level beyond that of normal humans?  If you give Taktarov face paint and long hair and turn the blood from red to black, it would look just like the Ultimate Warrior oozing after Papa Shanga put a spell on him.

Back to the fight, we’re dealing with a lot of nothing here.  The exchanges we’ve seen have been very fast paced, but there has been very little action thus far.  Goodridge moves in with a combo of his own, but Taktarov manages to avoid contact.  Goodridge drops Taktarov with a big right hand and Oleg is in a heap!  Goodridge is swinging at Taktarov on the mat and lands another big right when Oleg tries to stand.  Bas comments that the fight should be stopped, but this referee is letting the action continue!

Taktarov rolls to his back and Goodridge is throwing some heavy hammer fists that are doing serious damage.  Goodridge backs off with Taktarov in a seated position.  Oleg wants to get back to his feet, but it’s awful hard with a monster like “Big Daddy” Gary Goodridge stalking you.

Goodridge takes advantage of his opponent’s position and throws a big kick to Taktarov’s head.  Goodridge throws a couple more kicks, but Taktarov is able to get back to his feet.  Taktarov shoots for a takedown, but Goodridge sprawls nicely and both men are back to their feet.  Goodridge feints a few punches, but he’s been uncharacteristically patient in this fight.

Goodridge and Taktarov exchange and briefly clinch, but Goodridge lands a huge right hand that knocks Taktarov out!  Goodridge lands a couple more shots before the referee can stop the fight, but Oleg Taktarov is unconscious!  That was poor work from the referee who really should have known that Taktarov was out from his position.

That was a really impressive performance from Gary Goodridge, who fought patiently and landed the shots he needed to win.  Of course, his opponent wasn’t exactly a premier striker.  Goodridge is lucky that Taktarov decided to stand and box with him for as long as he did, though the takedown defense immediately preceding the knockout was definitely big for Goodridge.  I want to see more fights like that from Gary Goodridge, so PRIDE needs to make sure that Goodridge only fights average strikers with over-inflated opinions of their striking abilities.

After the fight, it appears that Goodridge has broken his foot.  Quadros and Rutten speculate it’s from the kick to Taktarov’s head.  Oleg is taken from the ring on a stretcher in a very frightening scene.  Goodridge sees Taktarov being taken away and remarks to his corner, “carry the fucker out on a stretcher.”  Gary Goodridge may have a number of good qualities, but I can confirm that compassion is not one of them.

Onto the third fight of the night pitting Akira Shoji against Renzo Gracie.  This is the first of two Gracie matches and it should get a pretty big reaction from the crowd.  Of course, Japanese crowds are far more reserved than American crowds, but Gracies are massive stars in Japan at this point.  Shoji spent parts of 1996 and 1997 fighting in Japanese MMA/vale tudo events, but I’m not sure if he’ll have an answer for Gracie’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Bas talks about Renzo’s willingness to take on any opponent and says that he has a great deal of respect for Renzo.

This fight starts somewhat slowly, but Gracie moves in with some quick strikes to set up the clinch.  Renzo has Shoji pinned against the ropes, but Shoji is very liberally holding onto the ropes.  The referee warns Shoji multiple times about holding the ropes, but Shoji only obeys commands very briefly.  When Shoji lets go of the ropes for good, Gracie scores a quick takedown and ends up in full mount.  Renzo is working to control Shoji’s arms for a potential submission while Shoji is making an attempt to either buck Gracie off or move himself further under the ropes for a potential break.

This is now my seventeenth event recap that I’ve written for this site and I don’t know that I’ve seen anything weirder than what is pictured above.  In the most unusual restart I’ve ever seen, the referee calls two of his colleagues into the ring to drag Gracie and Shoji toward the center of the ring to move the fighters away from the ropes and to maintain position.  Could the referee perhaps remember the position and make fighters assume the position in the center of the ring?  Regardless, we’re treated to this combat sports oddity of referees moving two fighters.

Shortly after the restart, Shoji gives up his back and Gracie works a rear naked choke after a few light punches.  Shoji now stands up with Gracie on his back!  This is a remarkable feat of strength, even if Shoji is using the ring ropes for leverage.  Quadros compares this to the “battle of koala bears”, which prompts Bas to laugh and talk about having seen that before in Australia.  Well then you should have made the comparison yourself, Bas!

In a very clever turn of events, Shoji is able to lean between the ropes which causes both fighters to fall to the floor below.  Shoji used very good strength and awareness to break a potential rear naked choke, but also, both fighters will now be restarted on their feet.  I thought Shoji was doomed when Gracie took his back, but that was a pretty nifty maneuver to turn the tide of the fight.

When the fight restarts, Renzo attempts a front kick that Shoji catches before landing a nice right of his own.  Shoji pushes forward for a takedown, but Renzo clinches Shoji.  Renzo has underhooks on Shoji and both fighters use this as an opportunity to rest.  After a prolonged struggle in the clinch, Gracie lands a glancing high knee and Shoji throws some headbutts.

Gracie then works for submissions, trying to pull off a guillotine and then a shoulder crank.  Gracie just doesn’t have the leverage to pull off either of these submissions.  Bas throws out a hilarious story about how he was admonished for talking too much to his corner during Pancrase fights, so Bas would have his trainer sitting in the back of he arena shouting instructions.  Because the crowds were so silent, Bas could hear the instructions without a problem and didn’t have to worry about actually talking to his cornerman.  Only Bas.

Gracie ends up pulling guard in an attempt to sink in a guillotine choke, but one of Shoji’s arms is in and the submission seems unlikely.  Shoji’s neck is in an uncomfortable spot, but he’s able to pull his head out and move out of danger.  Shoji is throwing some body shots, but they seem very weak.  These fighters are very close to the ropes and another restart wouldn’t be surprising at this point.

Shoji continues to throw the body shots while Renzo doesn’t do a whole lot of anything at this point.  Quadros suspects that we’ll see a restart in the center of the ring, but out of nowhere, the bell rings for the end of round one.  I say out of nowhere because there are no fight clocks and the announcers even seem surprised by the end of the round.  If the powers that be say that’s the end of round one, then we have no reason to argue with that.  I have no idea how long that first round was, but I’m going to guess ten minutes.

We cut right to the beginning of round two and Bas notes that Renzo looks pretty comfortable on his feet.  Gracie doesn’t necessarily throw any punches, and in fact, he gets caught with a nice right by Shoji.  Gracie works for a takedown, but Shoji sprawls and comes close to taking Renzo’s back!  Gracie works to avoid giving up his back and he pulls Shoji into his guard.

We don’t have a lot of action, so we’re treated to another fun Bas story.  Bas talks about the first time he used the heel hook submission.  He says that he was walking around in Tokyo and saw a man using a heel hook on a billboard.  Bas thought it looked cool and used it the next day to break his opponent’s shin.  I believe he’s talking about his fight with Kazuo Takahashi, but he doesn’t mention his opponent by name.

Back to the fight and Gracie is actually utilizing the rubber guard at this point.  He actually transitions into a triangle, but Shoji quickly stands out of it and backs away from his opponent.  Shoji doesn’t seem interested in going back to the ground with Gracie.  Renzo is tentative, but he eventually works back to his feet without incident.

Now that both men are on their feet, the action has stalled.  Renzo and Akira Shoji aren’t really throwing any punches at this point, but Renzo is utilizing an occasional low kick.  Renzo moves in with a left hook that is blocked and then answered by a leg kick from Shoji.  Renzo then moves in for a takedown, but Shoji sprawls again and avoids the takedown.  The referees again stop the fighters and move them back toward the center of the ring, which is quickly becoming my favorite part of this event.

Now that they’re away from the ropes, Gracie was able to push harder with the takedown and he ends up in Shoji’s guard.  Gracie attempts to move to mount, but Shoji bucks Gracie off and gives up his back in the process!  Shoji shrugs Gracie off his back, but Renzo works for an armbar!

As the submission is applied, Shoji stands out of the hold which forces Renzo to release.  Shoji has shown very good strength and has kept his composure despite multiple submission attempts from his opponent in this bout.  Shoji is again back on his feet with Gracie laying on the mat, but Shoji is wise to avoid Gracie in this position.  The crowd is really fired up for the first time tonight and they seem to be behind their native son, Akira Shoji.

Gracie seems more unwilling to move back to his feet now than he was earlier in the fight.  Renzo is urging Shoji back to the mat, but Shoji is motioning Gracie to stand back up.  Shoji is unwilling to give Gracie the space he needs to stand up safely and Shoji seems happy enough throwing kicks at Gracie’s legs as the second round ends.  “Thank God for that”, exclaims El Guapo.  I have the feeling that these reviews are going to be dominated by Bas Rutten being amazing.

The third round begins with the fighters tapping gloves.  That’s the first time I’ve seen that in my early MMA watching and I’ve been waiting to see where this happens.  I’m very unsurprised that it has taken place in Japan, since a lot of the early UFC fighters are neanderthals who would take that opportunity to catch their respectful opponents off guard with a sucker punch.

Shoji opens up the third round with a nice low kick, but he’s not throwing much at all.  He should probably try to put some combinations together here.  Renzo Gracie throws a body kick of his own, but again, there’s no follow-up.  Gracie rushes Shoji for a takedown, but Shoji lands an uppercut and Gracie backs off.  All of this is happening over a 90 second time span – the action here is very slow.  I wonder if both men have worn down a bit?

Shoji’s occasional low kicks have really bruised up Renzo’s left thigh, but he needs to take advantage of this!  Come on, Akira Shoji!  Renzo shoots for another takedown, but Shoji dodges the takedown and now he takes Gracie’s back in the sprawl position.  Shoji throws a couple of knees to Gracie’s head, but the referee warns that there are no knees to the head.  Stephen Quadros is as surprised about this as Akira Shoji, meaning I’m not the only one learning the rules as we go.

Gracie is able to pull guard from this position and I suspect we’ll be here for a while.  It looks like Gracie might be maneuvering for a submission, but Shoji is keeping his body close to Gracie’s.  Renzo ends up pulling rubber guard and throws some punches from this position.  Bas is unsure what Renzo is trying to do with this position, but as Shoji leans in, Gracie is able to reverse position and he takes full mount!  Shoji bucks as Gracie throws punches, giving up his back and then shrugging Gracie off of his back!  An amazing exchange that has lead to both men back on their feet.

It’s amazing how much busier this fight has been on the mat than when both fighters were standing.  Quadros speculates that Shoji might have trained heavily in ground work and is just as uncomfortable striking as Renzo Gracie.  It seems like we’re close to the end of the fight as both fighters have upped their pace.  Renzo moves in for a takedown, but Shoji blocks it again and ends up in half guard.  Shoji tries to move into mount, but Renzo shoves him off and Renzo is back on this feet.  Shoji urges Renzo to stand up, but Gracie seems content laying on the mat.

The bell rings and Stephen Quadros is unsure if that’s the end of the fight or the end of the round.  Bas clarifies that the fight is over and the referee raises both fighters’ hands declaring this fight a draw.  After the fight is over, Shoji grabs a microphone and begins shouting in Japanese.  Needless to say I have no clue what he’s saying, but he does seem awfully animated.

I enjoyed that fight as the ground exchanges were a lot of fun.  The striking left a lot to be desired, but I thought that Akira Shoji showed a lot of resiliency while under attack from a world class BJJ practitioner and a member of the Gracie family.  If I had to choose a winner of the fight, I think I’d give it to Renzo.  He was a bit more aggressive with takedown attempts, though Shoji was able to avoid a number of them.  Renzo also was in advantageous positions more often than Shoji, but it was indeed a close fight.

Now it’s time for a fight between two massive men as Nathan Jones fights Koji Kitao.  The Australian Jones is 6’9″ and 345 pounds and the Japanese Kitao is 6’7″ and 390 pounds, truly a super heavyweight contest.  Kitao is a sumo and professional wrestler while Jones is an ex-convict and an Australian strongman.  Nathan Jones’ head is also way too small for his body.

Bas tells a story about Koji Kitao accidentally striking the wife of a very high ranking individual in the sumo community, resulting in the woman having a broken arm.  This forced Kitao to give up his spot as a yokozuna and Kitao would never practice sumo again.  Thankfully, that means we get to see Kitao in a fight of giants at the first ever PRIDE event!

The fight begins and Nathan Jones is staying very wide of Kitao.  He’s at a significant distance from his opponent and seems hesitant to engage.  Jones ends up throwing some crazy jumping kick that, fortunately for Kitao, is off target.  Jones goes for a high kick and Kitao rushes in for a takedown.  Jones defends the attempt easily and grabs hold of Kitao’s head.

Jones is holding Kitao’s head in a front face lock, but he doesn’t seem inclined to try a guillotine for some reason.  Jones throws a knee that Kitao catches and uses to take Jones down.  Kitao moves into side control and Jones has no chances of bucking his nearly four hundred pound opponent.  Kitao is working on Jones’ left arm and he easily cinches in a keylock for the win!  Jones was caught and the big trophy goes to Kitao!  Jones seemed pretty helpless in this position and Bas speculates that Jones could have tapped out of fear for injury before the hold even hurt.  The keylock didn’t seem too tight so that’s definitely a possiblity.

It’s now time for a kickboxing contest between American Ralph White and Croatian Branko Cikatic.  Cikatic is perhaps one of the most decorated kickboxers in the world with over 80 wins over fighters such as Andre Mannaart and Ernesto Hoost.  It will be great to see a premier fighter like Cikatic in action, even though this will be contest under kickboxing rules and not MMA rules.

Cikatic and White touch gloves and Cikatic immediately follows up with a cheap spinning back kick.  And here I was speculating that we would see such actions in the UFC and not in PRIDE.  For shame, Branko!  Ralph White answers immediately with some punches and kicks to the body.  White is more of the aggressor in the very beginning, putting together some combinations and trying to keep Cikatic at a distance with kicks and jabs.

White lands a very nice leg kick that seems to buckle Cikatic.  The fighters trade body kicks that are of no consequence.  Cikatic winds up and lands some very big punches that drop White!  As White hits the mat, the referee tries to stop the action but Cikatic sneaks in a huge soccer kick to White’s head.  That is definitely illegal under these rules, but thankfully, White is standing after the devastating illegal blow.

Oh, except that Ralph White has an egg growing out of his forehead.  The hematoma formed almost immediately after the kick and this doesn’t look good for White.  What does Bas have to say about this?  “Oh my God!  Something’s gonna come out!”  Quadros and Bas have a fun time with this, comparing the injury to something out of Scanners, Alien, or Rocky.  Quadros throws out his own funny comment; “It’s a good thing John McCain didn’t see this fight!”

It seems like they’re having some trouble determining how to proceed with the fight.  White seems to be in good health aside from the hematoma, but it was clearly caused by a very illegal kick.  Rutten makes it sound like this is common place for Branko, who has previously used illegal tactics against Ernesto Hoost.

It sounds like somebody is trying to argue on Cikatic’s behalf that the kick didn’t cause the injury, prompting outrage from White’s team.  You can overhear Dale Cook from White’s team clearly state “he kicked him while he was on the ground!  You can’t give him a win for that!  It’s a disqualification or a technical draw, it’s the only choice you’ve got!”  Yes, except this is Japan and all bets are probably off at this point.

Cook is growing increasingly animated as it sounds like his protests are falling on deaf ears.  This has taken about five minutes and the fight is apparently ruled a no contest.  I guess that’s the right decision, though it makes more sense as a disqualification since a fighter couldn’t continue due to an illegal strike.

Back to MMA action, it’s time for the fight between UFC stars Kimo Leopoldo and Dan Severn.  Having never seen this fight, I’m predicting most of it will be spent with Severn laying on top of Kimo.  Since Kimo is now outweighed by Severn by around 20 pounds, I’m not sure he has the strength or the ability to keep Severn from imposing his will.  Kimo and Severn both get nice hands from the Japanese crowd prior to this fight.

Kimo and Severn start the fight with some ugly striking exchanges that do little, if any damage.  Both fighters look extremely tentative on their feet, but both fighters seem content striking for the early portion of this fight.  Severn and Kimo land a handful of punches each, but it’s nothing to impact the fight.  Severn works for a takedown after setting it up with strikes, but he gives that up and moves into the clinch.  They spend some time there doing nothing until Kimo breaks the hold and shoves Severn away.

Kimo winds up with a huge right hand and Severn ducks the blow.  Kimo tries it again but Severn backs up and the punch misses again.  Kimo throws a glancing left hook but it doesn’t seem to phase Severn.  I think that Severn is landing more with weaker strikes, while Kimo’s power punches have been pretty inaccurate.

So this fight is pretty boring.  Both fighters would probably have a better time grappling, but neither fighter is working to bring the fight to the ground.  We’ve had a lot of circling and jabs for the first five minutes of this fight.  Kimo backs Severn into a neutral corner and the fighters trade wild, sloppy punches that all appear to miss.  I’d expect nothing else from these fighters.

Bas Rutten uses Kimo as an example of weight training gone wrong in MMA.  Says Bas, “It’s good to do it, make a lot of reps, but not mainly weight training.  You’re fighting…you’re not fighting a weight.”  Quadros follows this up by calling this contest “anything but an exciting fight”.  That is very accurate.

At one point, Kimo throws a low kick and Severn unsuccessfully attempts a takedown.  Bas Rutten compares Severn to Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, prompting Quadros to point out that Tank Abbott already made that comparison in a more derogatory way.  The comparison is no less accurate.

Holy shit, do I have to watch this entire fight?  This is really terrible.  We’re still in the first round and the fighters are weakly trading strikes.  Bas states that he is growing frustrated with this fight and who wouldn’t be?  This has really been unpleasant and I hope that one of these fighters is capable of ending the fight, but that doesn’t seem likely right now.

Severn finally tries another shot, but Kimo sprawls and avoids the takedown.  After a bit of a scramble, both men are again on their feet.  Quadros points out the obvious when he says that Severn isn’t much of a striker.  Even in 2011, I think Quadros would be able to say that.  Of Dan Severn’s 99 wins, only 16 have come by (T)KO and eight of those were stopped by the doctor or the losing fighter’s corner.  It’s amazing that Severn has yet to die in his nearly 20 years of MMA fighting as such a one dimensional fighter.

This must be what hell is like.  Watching a terrible fight that doesn’t even have a fight clock.  Is this fight infinite?  Am I currently dead?  Quadros calls this fight a “marathon of inactivity” and both announcers seem exacerbated by the action in this fight.  Thank goodness this is a polite Japanese crowd or else they would be booing and throwing garbage into the ring.

Severn will occasionally work for a takedown, but he doesn’t have a lot of luck.  Kimo actually sprawls on Severn and has some room to throw knees or body shots if he wants, but he allows Severn to stagger up.  Kimo stalks Severn as if he wants to strike, but he just allows Severn to adjust his knee pads.  Here is Bas Rutten calling the action; “Oh my God, keep going now!  He should do something now!  Jesus Christ!  You’ve gotta keep going!  He shouldn’t stop!”  Thank goodness for Bas, who is bold enough to say what all fans feel about this fight.

Toward the end of the contest, Severn clinches with Kimo and trips him down to the mat!  Severn is in side control and is throwing punches and knees at Kimo.  The fighters are tied up in the ropes and we would likely see a restart, but the bell rings to end the fight.  The Japanese crowd is actually booing these men and I’m stunned to hear this.  Japanese crowds are typically more reserved, but I guess this fight would bring out the worst in any person.  This was an absolutely miserable experience and I hope I never have to watch that again.

The highlights for the fight are hilarious, as Quadros derides the clip by wondering what on earth could be a highlight from this fight.  He calls the action as Severn misses every one of his punches before landing a takedown.  Poor Bas and Quadros at least got paid to watch this fight.  I did this shit for nothing!

Thankfully, we still have the marquee fight remaining between Rickson Gracie and Nobuhiko Takada.  As the Brazilian national anthem plays, Bas provides some insight into Takada’s training at the Beverly Hills Jiu Jitsu club and he says that he doesn’t think Takada will win this fight.  Certainly not a good sign for the Japanese professional wrestler, but he is facing one of the most legendary BJJ practitioners in the world.  I’m not sure what other outcome you’d expect from this confrontation.

During the Japanese national anthem, Stephen Quadros compares Nobuhiko Takada’s popularity and status in Japan to that of Hulk Hogan in America.  Quadros and Rutten emphasize that the bulk of Takada’s experience is in professional wrestling and he’s in a different world in this fight with Rickson Gracie.

As the fight begins, Rickson keeps a very stiff stance with his hands at his waist while he makes very slow and very short steps toward Takada, who is circling on the outside of the ring.  Takada is extremely hesitant, as is evidenced in the fact that Takada hasn’t thrown a single strike.  He finally unleashes with a leg kick that doesn’t seem to do anything to Rickson.  Gracie throws some kicks of his own and then clinches with Takada in a corner.

Takada is grabbing onto the ropes so flagrantly that the referee stops the action and restarts the fight, but out of the clinch.  I have to think that this is some kind of favoritism for the Japanese fighter.  In the Shoji/Gracie fight from earlier, all restarts were done so fighters carefully maintained position.  Takada grabs the ropes for five seconds and the fighters are back in the middle of the ring.  How does that work?

Rickson is using a front kick to keep Takada at a distance and then he shoots for the takedown.  Takada defends and gets back to his feet, throwing a knee at the head of his downed opponent.  The crowd is audibly excited every time Takada mounts his offense, but now Gracie follows up the knee with a solid takedown.  Worse for Takada, Gracie is in full mount.

Rickson uses body shots and a nasty crossface to punish Takada.  Bas and Quadros suspect that Gracie is setting up an armbar, and low and behold, Gracie pulls off the armbar victory.  Takada tries to hold on, but the armbar is extremely tight and Takada has no choice but to submit.  Gracie celebrates this victory with his corner as Takada quickly makes his way out of the ring.  True to form, Rickson gets a massive trophy covered in streamers.

And that’s the end of the first PRIDE event.  It was definitely an interesting card with a weird mix of matches.  It’s interesting to me that the most boring and terrible fight on the card involved two of the marquee names from the UFC.  I think that’s in large part because Severn and Kimo didn’t mesh stylistically and it shouldn’t be taken as an indictment of the UFC as a whole, but PRIDE 1 did feel fresh compared to the last few UFC events.

Another note regarding Dan Severn is that he is scheduled to fight for the UFC in less than one week.  Severn is the top contender to Maurice Smith’s UFC Heavyweight Title and is scheduled to fight at UFC 15 on October 17, 1997.  He just went thirty minutes against Kimo without incident, so it seems like that fight will go off without a hitch.

It remains to be seen what the future holds for KRS and the PRIDE promotion.  The first event perhaps wasn’t the spectacle it was intended to be, but it definitely had its moments.  We’ll have to wait and see what PRIDE has in store for us in the near future.  I hope that we’ll see more Gracies and less Dan Severn and Kimo, but that remains to be seen.

Greatest Fights of PRIDE 1

  1. Akira Shoji vs. Renzo Gracie
  2. Gary Goodridge vs. Oleg Taktarov
  3. Rickson Gracie vs. Nobuhiko Takada
  4. Kazunari Murakami vs. John Dixson
  5. Koji Kitao vs. Nathan Jones
  6. Dan Severn vs. Kimo Leopoldo

Greatest Fighters of PRIDE 1

  1. Rickson Gracie (1-0)
  2. Gary Goodridge (1-0)
  3. Kazunari Murakami (1-0)
  4. Renzo Gracie (0-0-1)
  5. Akira Shoji (0-0-1)
  6. Koji Kitao (1-0)
  7. Oleg Taktarov (0-1)
  8. John Dixson (0-1)
  9. Nobuhiko Takada (0-1)
  10. Nathan Jones (0-1)
  11. Dan Severn (0-0-1)
  12. Kimo Leopoldo (0-0-1)
Categories: Ranking PRIDE
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