by Al Yu – MMAWeekly.com
On February 24, Pride Fighting Championships returns to the U.S. with another ambitious show appropriately titled “The Second Coming.” Last October, the Japanese organization made its long awaited American debut. Showcasing heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko, Pride’s introduction was well received by fans and critics. Not content with just getting their feet wet, Pride looks to make a further impact on the blossoming U.S. mixed martial arts market currently dominated by the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Headlining this Saturday’s show will be a rematch between current Pride Middleweight Champion Wanderlei Silva and Team Quest’s Dan Henderson. The two fighters first met back in 2000 at Pride 12. Silva and Henderson put on an exciting fight highlighted by fiery exchanges and takedowns. After three high-paced rounds, Wanderlei Silva was awarded a unanimous decision.
As the current Pride Welterweight Champion, Henderson is moving up to the 205-pound weight limit to challenge Silva for the title that the Chute Boxe fighter has held for the last five years. A win would make Henderson the first competitor in Pride to hold two titles in two different weight classes concurrently. Henderson is looking for the knockout, but knows he has his work cut out for him to grab a second belt, “I go out there and try to knock people out. Both of us have shown that we don’t get knocked out easy. It’s going to be an exciting fight.”
The “Fireball Kid” Takanori Gomi will make his Las Vegas debut at “The Second Coming.” The #1 ranked lightweight fighter in the world in the MMAWeekly.com Official Rankings, the Pride Lightweight Champion will take on UFC veteran Nick Diaz in a non-title bout. Gomi is coming off of an impressive victory over Mitsuhiro Ishida, dispatching his opponent in under two minutes. For Nick Diaz, this will be his Pride debut and a long awaited arrival for many diehard fans.
A former WEC Welterweight Champion and a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Diaz brings an entertainingly brash attitude and is a formidable opponent for any fighter. “I don’t think he has anything to offer that I haven’t seen before,” commented the Cesar Gracie fighter. “I think I’ve fought tougher guys than him. The guys I’ve fought hit harder, were better wrestlers and better grapplers. What does he think he’ll be able to do to me?” Normally competing at a weight limit of 170 pounds (where he is currently ranked #8), Diaz will be dropping down in weight to challenge the Japanese champion. This fight is considered to be one of the most intriguing match-ups of the evening and could very well steal the show.
As the color commentator for Pride Fighting Championships and a professional fighter, Frank Trigg is one of the busiest guys in the sport. Last December, the former co-host of MMAWeekly’s SoundOff Radio came out of retirement to face Jason “Mayhem” Miller. Trigg claimed the Icon Sport Middleweight Championship with a stoppage victory and witnessed a resurgence in his MMA career.
The UFC veteran makes his return to a Pride ring where he takes on Japan’s Kazuo Misaki. The “Hitman” is the 2006 Pride Welterweight Grand Prix Champion and holds wins over Phil Baroni, Dan Henderson and Denis Kang. “Misaki is very tough. He just won the Grand Prix, but it will be too hard to beat me in Vegas. It’s home now,” said Trigg.
At Pride 33, Frank Trigg intends to pull double duty. “I will get the job done inside the Pride ring then go back to the broadcast booth and tell you about it.” Former UFC Heavyweight Champion Josh Barnett will fill in for Trigg at the broadcast table while he is competing in the ring. Trigg intends to be back behind the microphone regardless of the outcome in his fight.
Hayato “Mach” Sakurai is a former Shooto Middleweight Champion, a Pride veteran, and currently ranked #2 in the lightweight division of the MMAWeekly.com Official Rankings behind Gomi. Considered at one time to be the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world, “Mach” holds impressive wins over talented fighters such as Caol Uno, Jens Pulver, Joachim Hansen, and Yves Edwards. Sakurai last fought in Las Vegas back in 2002 where he was defeated by Matt Hughes at UFC 36. The Japanese lightweight looks to make his second appearance a successful one when he takes on up and comer Mac Danzig.
A former King of the Cage Lightweight Champion, Danzig has fought in smaller organizations for the majority of his career and will finally get the opportunity to fight in Pride. “I’m fighting “Mach” Sakurai. I couldn’t be more excited – this is the fight I’ve been waiting for since I started training – I’m honored to get a chance to do it,” stated Danzig.
This Saturday will showcase some of Pride’s most talented fighters. Other fighters scheduled to appear include 2005 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix winner Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Brazilian Top Team’s Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, former Shooto Champion Joachim Hansen, Dutch striker Alistair Overeem and Russian Top Team’s Sergei Kharitonov, all ranked in the top ten of the MMAWeekly.com Official Rankings. Kazuhiro Nakamura was originally slated to fight Travis Wiuff, but has pulled out of the bout due to a knee injury.
2006 was a tumultuous year for Dream Stage Entertainment, parent company of Pride Fighting Championships. Despite setbacks, Pride was able to make its American debut and finish strong on New Year’s Eve. Realizing the importance of the U.S. MMA market, DSE has managed to cull together a solid line-up of fights that should please most fans. On February 24, Pride looks to further make an impact with “The Second Coming.”