by Korey Howard for MMAWeekly.com
Following the finish of Friday’s Pride Open Weight Grand Prix First Round in Osaka, Japan, Dream Stage Entertainment (DSE) President Nobuyuki Sakakibara spoke with members of the press.
First, concerning the opening round, Sakakibara said, “With all that’s been happening, I wondered how the first round of this year’s Grand Prix would turn out. I had a lot on my mind going in, but after watching the fights today I’m very relieved, and I have a renewed desire to protect the Pride ring along with the fighters.”
Sakakibara continued, “I was especially impressed by Tsuyoshi Kosaka and Kazuyuki Fujita’s matches. You could tell they put everything on the line, that they had trained hard, and that they were determined to win. I watched TK’s fight on a monitor backstage, and it brought tears to my eyes. Fujita chose to come back to Pride seeking to be the best in the world, and you could see his determination.”
“Overall, the fighters I had predicted to win won. However, I think in Josh Barnett’s fight with Emelianenko Alexander, a lot of people thought either guy could win. Josh made a really big comeback to win that fight. Also, I personally thought Alistair Overeem would have an advantage in his fight, but Fabricio Werdum showed greatly improved striking, and I think he might be in the eye of the storm during this Grand Prix.”
“Then, of course, you have Mirko [Cro Cop], [Antonio Rodrigo] Nogueira, and [Hidehiko] Yoshida. They were expected to win, but won even more impressively than people had imagined they would. Counting Fedor [Emelianenko], I think that a great field of eight has been assembled and that it will create a lot of interest in the second round. I think these eight fighters will show us some impressive fights in July and September.”
When asked who Fedor’s opponent would be in the second round, Sakakibara replied, “If Fedor heals up in time for the next round, I would like to see either Fujita or Yoshida- the two Japanese fighters left- step up and challenge him. Of course, Nogueira and Mirko are still in the draw, but I think people would prefer to see him fight somebody he hasn’t fought yet.”
That list would also include Josh Barnett, and Sakakibara didn’t rule out a possible Fedor-Barnett match-up: “That’s definitely a possibility. Since he beat Fedor’s younger brother today, I think Fedor would be highly motivated to come back for the second round and face him.”
Finally, Sakakibara spoke on a subject that had been overshadowing the opening round all week: The departure of Pride’s favorite son, Kazushi Sakuraba, to the Hero’s MMA promotion.
Sakakibara commented, “The DSE staff and I had no idea that it would ever even occur to Sakuraba to leave Pride. Our relationship was like family… just as you can’t choose who your mother, father, brothers, and sisters are, we thought that there was no such choice possible for him. It was almost to the point that we didn’t even need a contract. We thought we could continue to love each other like family forever, but apparently he didn’t feel the same way. I don’t know how this might turn out in the future, but personally, I feel betrayed, especially because we did love him so much.”
Sakakibara promised that DSE would focus its efforts in order to finalize the card further in advance this time, and that the second-round match-ups should be announced sometime this month.
Given the remaining competitors, there could be some excellent match-ups in the second round. That card, as well as further developments in the Sakuraba story, will undoubtedly generate great interest among MMA fans in the coming weeks.