Pictured: Kazuyuki Fujita at today’s press conference (photo by Scott Petersen – MMAWeekly.com)
Two more fights have been announced for Pride 34: Kamikaze, which will take place on April 8th and will be the final Pride event held by Dream Stage Entertainment before the company’s operations are turned over to a company owned by UFC majority owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta.
Veteran heavyweight Kazuyuki Fujita will face former UFC fighter Jeff Monson, and MMA legend Don Frye will face 185-pound Pride veteran Ikuhisa Minowa.
Don Frye, who exploded onto the MMA scene by winning the UFC 8 tournament in 1996, has had health problems with his neck and spine in recent years, but has continued to fight nonetheless and amassed an MMA record of 3-0-1 in 2006. The 41-year-old Frye is no longer under contract to fight for K-1 Hero’s, thus enabling him to fight for Pride.
It’s possible that Frye’s contract to fight in Pride will only be a one-time deal since it’s the last Pride show promoted by DSE. Frye is the coach of the Tucson Scorpions in the fledgling International Fight League (IFL), and Zuffa has made it clear in the past that it’s not going to use any fighters who are coaches in the IFL.
This has been Zuffa’s unofficial policy for the UFC itself, and UFC co-owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta may or may not have the same unofficial policy when their newly formed company, Pride FC Worldwide, assumes control of Pride’s day-to-day operations after the April 8th event.
Leaving the IFL altogether would seemingly not be an option for Frye, as all of the coaches in the IFL have ownership stakes in the company that cannot be sold for a certain number of years.
Frye’s opponent will be 31-year-old Ikuhisa Minowa, who has a career MMA record of 35-25-8. Minowa’s MMA record in 2006 was 5-2, but several of his wins came in “freak show fights” where he was vastly outweighed by his lesser skilled opponent, including wins over Eric “Butterbean” Esch, Paulo “Giant” Silva, and Mike Plotcheck (aka, Bart Gunn in WWE).
While Frye is not a super-heavyweight like the aforementioned fighters, he is still going to outweigh Minowa by 30 to 50 pounds, which is the kind of size mismatch that will presumably not be allowed once Pride is run by the same people who own the UFC.
Since returning from K-1 Hero’s to Pride in 2006, Fujita has gone 2-1, with a loss to Wanderlei Silva and victories over James Thompson and Eldari Kurtanidze.
Monson is a former UFC fighter who asked to be released from his UFC contract after his one-sided decision loss to Tim Sylvia last November, so that he could pursue opportunities in the BodogFight promotion. Monson was originally scheduled to face Fedor Emelianenko on BodogFight’s April 14th pay-per-view event in St. Petersburg, Russia, and was later scheduled to face Fedor’s brother, Aleksander Emelianenko, and then Roman Zentsov. Instead, Monson will be facing Fujita at Pride 34.
In addition to Frye vs. Minowa and Fujita vs. Monson, it was also reaffirmed today that Ricardo Arona will be fighting Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou on the April 8th card, and Shinya Aoki will be fighting Brian Lo-A-Njoe.
Wanderlei Silva is also tentatively scheduled to compete on the April 8th card (his opponent has not been announced), pending the approval of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Silva is medically suspended by the NSAC until April 11th as a result of his knockout loss to Dan Henderson at Pride 33.
When previously reached for comment on this issue by MMAWeekly, Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Keith Kizer said, “If Mr. Silva is cleared by a doctor there [in Japan], our doctor will look at the medical records and determine whether to lift the suspension three days early.” If he is unable to get this clearance, Silva will not be fighting on the April 8th card.
After the April 8th card in Japan, the next planned show with the Pride brand name is scheduled to take place in Japan on May 20th, as the first round of a 16-man Lightweight Grand Prix is scheduled to take place on that date.
This had been scheduled to be a 160-pound tournament, but Pride is no longer scheduled to have a 160-pound weight class under the ownership of the Fertittas. With White saying in the Las Vegas Review Journal that Pride will have the same weight classes at the UFC, this means that Pride’s 2006 Grand Prix would have to be changed to a 170-pound Grand Prix or a 155-pound Grand Prix.
The Fertitta-owned Pride also plans to run a few shows per year in the United States, possibly as soon as June, but these plans are complicated by former Pride USA president Ed Fishman’s lawsuit against Dream Stage. With Fishman being the exclusive U.S. promoter of Pride events, the Fertitta-owned Pride may or may not be legally able to run shows in the United States until Fishman’s lawsuit has worked its way through the court system, or until a financial settlement with Fishman can be reached.