by Mick Hammond
Guilty pleasures, they are the things in life we indulge in that we probably shouldn’t. For some it’s certain television shows, movies, foods, behaviors, whatever, all we know is that they are not always good for us and thus we limit our consumption of them to once in a while occasions.
For MMA possibly the guiltiest pleasure is Tank Abbott, a fighter well past his relevance in the sport, yet we can’t help but watch his fights for the same reason many watch Nascar, a car crash of immense proportions. Why else would companies bring in Abbott who sports a below .500 record with only one win since returning to MMA in over two years?
Despite all his short comings he still brings in a crows and PPV buys, thus he is back on the biggest stage in MMA as he makes his Pride debut against Japanese Judo legend Hidehiko Yoshida at Final Conflict 2005.
What chance does Abbott have against a fighter in Yoshida who has faced more poignant strikers of late and has managed, so far, to not get knocked out? Well it all depends on which Abbott shows up. In his early days in the UFC there were few fighters as fierce as Abbott.
Despite never winning any tournaments he was involved in, Abbott was the highlight fighter, always providing spectacular, if not gruesome finishes. Win or lose, it was Abbott who most people were talking about at the end of the night. Because of Abbott the UFC was forced to change their rules, including banning fish hooking and throwing an opponent out of the octagon, you could say because of Abbott the modern age of MMA was ushered in, if not kicking and screaming from where it began.
Epic, if not at times short, battles with the likes of Oleg Taktarov, Dan Severn, Don Frye, Vitor Belfort and Maurice Smith cemented Abbott’s place in the early years of the UFC. There were few fighters as dangerous as Abbott was, if simply because he possessed the punchers chance every time out. His go for broke style also made him a fan favorite that segued into his transition away from MMA in 1998 to pro wrestling.
Over the next five years Abbott would concentrate on pro wrestling as MMA evolved and changed from the spectacle it was in Abbott’s heyday to the modern sport it has become in his absence. Lured by a need for stars to help sell PPVs, Abbott was convinced by UFC President Dana White to return to the UFC in 2003 to mixed reviews.
With Abbott, UFC PPV buy rates where higher on average than they had been, but his in-octagon performance was less than stellar. Quick submission losses to Frank Mir and Kimo at UFC 41 and 43 led many to believe that the UFC had made a big mistake in giving Abbott six figures to return to MMA action. At UFC 45 Abbott had his best chance to procure a knockout as he faced fellow striker Cabbage Correira, but again Abbott could not over come the younger fighter as a cut ended the bout that was marred by a post-fight brawl between the two camps.
Out of the UFC it was unclear if Abbott would leave the sport for good or be given another chance to relive old glory. Thanks to BJ Penn’s Rumble on the Rock promotion Abbott would get one more shot, again matched up against Cabbage in evening’s main event. And while he looked to be in trouble against Cabbage early, Tank managed to show the world why he was so dangerous early in his career by connecting with a haymaker that placed Correira down and out just over a minute into the bout.
Now with his first win since returning to MMA, Abbott is being given yet another chance to show his skills on a major stage as Pride has seen fit to grant Tank his debut in the company’s Final Conflict 2005 show. This time Tank will be again slated to face off against a fighter whose style is the opposite of his in Yoshida, but as Hidehiko has shown in his previous fights, the outcome is never guaranteed either way.
Much like Abbott, Yoshida can be seen as a fighter whose persona has outweighed his performance in the ring. Coming into Pride nearly four years ago Yoshida was seen as Japan’s next hero to fallow in the lines of Nobuhiko Takada and Kazushi Sakuraba. The former Olympic gold medal winner in Judo, Yoshida’s credentials were never in question as he was brought in as a special match opponent for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu patriarch Royce Gracie at Shock Wave 2002.
In what was one of the more controversial moments of the year Yoshida defeated Gracie via referee stoppage due to a submission. After the fight Gracie would deny ever being in trouble and the debate would rage on just exactly who won the fight. Meanwhile Yoshida would go on to win his next three bouts including his first round match at Pride’s 2003 Middleweight Grand Prix over future nemesis Kiyoshi Tamura.
Upon his win against Tamura, Yoshida was matched up against reigning Pride Middleweight Champion Wanderlei Silva in the semi-finals of the GP. Not given much of a chance by any experts or fans, Yoshida fought valiantly against Silva, giving the Brazilian buzzsaw all he could handle over two rounds. In the end Silva would win the bout via decision and go on to win the tournament, but it was Yoshida’s performance that would gain him the most respect.
Hidehiko would go on to rematch Gracie at Shock Wave 2003, earning a draw thanks to the infamous “Gracie rule” in a fight that appeared to many was won by Royce. In his next bout Yoshida would defeat an extremely tough Mark Hunt and win the bout via arm bar but would suffer and injury that would keep him out of action for six months.
Again banked on by Pride to bring in the Japanese crowd at Shock Wave 2004 Yoshida would face former Olympic gold medal wrestler Rulon Gardner. Undersized and seemingly uninspired, Hidehiko would put on a very poor performance and his detractors again would surface and question his legitimacy in the sport.
Yoshida would answer back and silence his critics in his next bout. Against Wanderlei Silva in the first round of the 2005 Middleweight GP as again he gave the reigning World Champion all he could handle and in the eyes of some actually win the bout, despite being on the losing end of a split decision. Now Hidehiko again seeks to further prove his worth to critics, fans and Pride as matches up against Tank Abbott, who is very much in the same position Yoshida is in heading into the fight.
As brave as Hidehiko has been in his past bouts against Wanderlei Silva by showing a willingness to stand, it is safe to say that he will most likely look to repeat his strategy from the Mark Hunt fight by avoiding exchanges and taking the fight to the ground. It is there that Yoshida has his best advantage and Abbott has his biggest weakness, the submission game. For his part Tank will be looking to do what Tank always does, throw hard bombs and hope one connects and puts Yoshida out for the count. If he can’t land that haymaker then it could be another quick and embarrassing loss for Tank similar to his outings against Mir and Kimo.
Little is on the line in this fight other than a continued stay with Pride. Neither fighter is going to contend for a title in the near future, so this becomes a one-off fight that is simply there to entertain the crowd and add star power to the card. For Yoshida there is a bit more of a secure future than Abbott possesses simply because he is a Japanese hero and the partisan crowd will always want to see their heroes, win or lose. A loss for Tank could place him again out of the “big two” and possibly out of the sport altogether if smaller organizations get tired of him being unable to deliver in the ring as he does out of it.
There is no doubt the entertainment value of this fight outweighs its impact on the rankings, but that’s exactly what it’s supposed to be, entertainment. It is much akin to the big summer blockbusters we are so used to seeing each year, it’s short on plot, implications, and perhaps performance, but you can sit back, relax, and not have to think too much when you watch it.