The last time fans set eyes on Pedro Rizzo was in a very uninspired victory over Ricco Rodriguez at UFC 45 in November of 2003. Rizzo pulled out the decision, but in winning what many thought was a boring fight from start to finish, he also lost his spot in the UFC heavyweight division. The UFC was the only major MMA organization that Rizzo had fought for up to the point when it was announced that the Marco Ruas prodigy would finally make his return to professional competition to face rising star, Sergei Kharitonov in Pride on June 26th.
Pedro Rizzo has always been one of the most dangerous strikers to ever set foot into an MMA ring or octagon, but he seems to struggle when the spotlight is solely on him. He was able to take out Tank Abbott, Mark Coleman, and Tsuyoshi Kosaka before getting in line for his first title shot against Hammer House product, Kevin Randleman at UFC 26. Rizzo didn’t seem able to work his game against the former NCAA champion wrestler and he lost a decision to Randleman.
Again Rizzo fired back, this time defeating UFC Hall of Famer Dan Severn and knocking out Josh Barnett in a classic battle. The Brazilian was then set up to face Randy Couture for the UFC Heavyweight title at UFC 31. The fight was very close throughout but again Rizzo faced defeat and lost a decision to Couture and his second shot at a title fell by the wayside. Rizzo received a rematch against Couture at UFC 34, but this time lost by TKO when the former Olympic wrester took the fight to the ground and pounded him out in the third round.
Rizzo did come back to the UFC for another string of fights, in the process getting a KO victory over now UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski, but then lost to both Gan McGee and a much smaller fighter in Vladimir Matyushenko. Rizzo managed to get wins over an aging Tra Telligman and the afore mentioned Ricco Rodriguez match, but Rizzo then faded out of the UFC and now he will make his return to mixed martial arts this time in a Pride ring.
Sergei Kharitonov is a fighter who seemingly came out of nowhere when he was selected to fight in Pride’s heavyweight Grand Prix. In the first round of the tournament, Kharitonov showed that he belonged among the best in the world when he took out dangerous striker and Chute Boxe member, Maurilo “Ninja” Rua. Although Rua was out of his normal weight class, he still posed a definite threat to the Russian, but a definitive reach advantage and excellent punches throughout showed that Sergei was the real deal.
In the second round of the Grand Prix, Kharitonov would then square off against a man who seemed in the exact opposite end of the spectrum of the fighter that Kharitonov had just defeated. Semmy Schilt, who stands at an intimidating 6’11” tall, was already a very dangerous kickboxer and MMA fighter and posed a serious threat to Kharitonov continuing on in the tournament. Despite the height difference, Sergei was able to take Schilt out of his game and win a TKO stoppage over the Dutch fighter in the first round.
Kharitonov took on perennial favorite and Brazillian Top Team member, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in the semi-finals, and the Russian’s talent wasn’t quite enough on that night. The fight was very close throughout but Nogueira was able to pull out the victory with a judges’ decision and Kharitonov was handed his first ever defeat. Sergei made a return to his winning ways knocking out Choi Mu Bae in the first round in Pride in February.
Pedro Rizzo will be fighting for the first time in over a year and a half and his challenge is none too easy. Sergei Kharitonov has been shown to be more than a dangerous opponent both on the ground and standing on the feet. Rizzo is a classic counter puncher and that has come back to bite him in many of his fights as fans and critics have accused him of never really pushing the pace and going for the win. Although Pedro Rizzo’s style has managed to get him wins over many quality opponents, his tentative nature has cost him in many other fights. The best thing with the match-up that Rizzo has going for him is the fact that Kharitonov has been aggressive in all of his fights.
Sergei Kharitonov has pushed the pace in every fight that he’s had in Pride and this fight probably won’t be much of an exception. The Russian fighter has shown tremendous stand-up skill, but has an arsenal of ground weapons as well. For Kharitonov to win this fight, he may be best served to feel out with his jab and take the fight to the ground. Rizzo has shown a great sprawl against many outstanding wrestlers throughout his career, but has also had trouble when fighting on the ground.
This is an interesting match-up for both fighters for a number of reasons. First, Rizzo’s greatest attribute has been his ability to counter punch a fighter and keep them off guard with devastating leg kicks. Kharitonov is a straight ahead fighter who swings heavy and hard and won’t stop pressing the fight. Pride has not given Rizzo an easy fight for his first time out, but they did give him a fighter that his style matches up very well with. Second, Kharitonov has shown the ability to hang with many of the best in the world, but he has not defeated a veteran fighter with as much skill as Rizzo yet in his career. If Kharitonov wants his name mentioned along side fighters like Fedor Emelianenko, Mirko CroCop and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira a win over Rizzo would be a great stepping stone.
For a first fight back, Rizzo will have to be ready to face off against one of the top heavyweights in the sport in Sergei Kharitonov. Whoever comes out victorious, one thing is for sure, it will be a war in the ring.