After this past weekend’s Pride Critical Countdown, we’re now left with the semi-finalists for this year’s middleweight Grand Prix. We’ve got the resident middleweight king in Chute Boxe fighter and Brazilian Wanderlei Silva. There is Brazilian Top Team’s Ricardo Arona. Holland’s Alistair Overeem represents the Golden Glory team. And last but not least, we have Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, another Brazilian and another representative of Chute Boxe.
It seems that the Pride’s final four is weighted heftily in the Brazilian category. But what else could you expect when four of the sixteen initial combatants were from Brazil and representing only two different teams? With the quality of the fighters involved, it was not surprising that so many of our friends from South America would grace us with their presence in the semi-final round. Nor was it surprising that two of the fighters are from the same team. The question now is: How does Pride match up this final four roster?
With all of the Japanese fighters having already made their exodus, Pride really has only one vested interest left amongst the remaining quartet… Wanderlei Silva. Of course, it is always great to bring up new rising talent like Shogun and Overeem and a veteran such as Arona has surely earned at least a small amount of loyalty from his bosses, but it is really only Wanderlei that Pride needs to succeed.
It is Wanderlei that is the cornerstone of Pride’s middleweight division. It is Wanderlei that has lost but one bout since marking his entrance into the Pride ring some five years ago. It is Wanderlei that, like a train wreck, people come out in droves for to see him unleash his unique savagery upon his opponents. Of course Pride would love to have a Japanese champion. It only makes sense when you are operating in the Japanese market. But that isn’t currently going to happen, so they need to ride the horse that has been winning the race for them. (That is until they can find a Japanese fighter that can defeat him.)
With that said, Pride isn’t afraid to put their current champion up against anyone. There is no one that he can’t compete against and he would be the odds-on favorite against any fighter left in the Grand Prix. So that leaves us with that perplexing question of how Pride officials will matchup the remaining three Brazilians and the Dutchman.
Many have proposed the option of pitting Wanderlei vs. Shogun now in the semi-finals to avert an all Chute Boxe finale. I don’t think that Pride will do this. If it is to be teammate vs. teammate, I believe that they would want this for the final fight so that both fighters have everything to lose and there is less chance that either fighter would hold back versus his companion.
More likely, I expect that the following bouts will happen: Wanderlei Silva vs. Ricardo Arona and Shogun vs. Alistair Overeem… let me explain. Wanderlei and Arona have been on a collision course for years. They have been a hair away from fighting many times. The time has come for this fight to happen. The fighters have wanted it and the fans have wanted it. More so, both fighters are well established in Japan and having only one of them in the final makes for an intriguing angle when you consider the other semi-final bout.
Shogun vs. Overeem makes sense because both are considered up-and-comer type fighters in Pride, despite their veteran records. What better way for emerging fighters to make their names than to square off, thus ensuring that one of them will get a shot at a more established veteran in the final?
There are a couple of other reasons for these matchups to make sense as well. Arona has often times been labeled as a boring fighter because of his sometimes less than active ground tactics. It is difficult to engage Wanderlei in a boring fight. It is nearly impossible to keep him in a position that he can’t fight out of. And once he gets to where he wants to be, excitement is never a problem.
With the similar styles of Shogun and Overeem, there is a good bet for some fireworks to happen here as well. Both fighters have solid ground games, but that is not where either wants a fight to take place. They both would rather throw down and take their chances on their feet. And with their hunger to become the top dog neither fighter would hold back, making for an awesome battle of brawlers.
Of course there are always a number of other angles that Pride executives could play off of to promote the various possible matchups for the semi-finals, but I do believe the above strategy makes the most sense. Then again, what I think makes sense and what Pride officials have in mind rarely converge.
Whatever their decision, with the quality of fighters left in the final four, August 28th is shaping up to be an tremendous finish to this year’s Pride Middleweight Grand Prix.