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- PRIDE GRAND PRIX PREVIEW: THE FINAL FOUR

Posted on by MMAWeekly.com Staff

by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
The Pride Open Weight Grand Prix will be coming to a close this weekend, and while all four participants can definitely stand proud for making it this far, it’s not likely that any one of them will be satisfied unless they walk out as the tournament champion.

Former Pride Heavyweight Champion Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira will take on former UFC Heavyweight Champion Josh Barnett in a phenomenal showdown, while current Pride Middleweight (205-pound) Champion Wanderlei Silva steps up in weight for the Open Weight Grand Prix to face off against possibly the most dangerous striker in all of MMA, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic.

Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira (28-3-1) vs. Josh Barnett (16-3)

In what has to be one of the most highly anticipated matches in recent history, former UFC Heavyweight Champion Josh Barnett will finally get his shot against former Pride Heavyweight Champion, Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira. Nogueira is the #2 heavyweight in the MMAWeekly Rankings, while Barnett is #4. These two fighters have discussed the possibility of fighting each other for what seems like forever now, and ever since Barnett left the UFC and popped up in Japan, fans have been clamoring for the bout and Nogueira is never one to back down from any opponent.

This fight is a tough bout to break down simply because both fighters have such a similar style. Barnett is a ground specialist and is probably the better wrestler, but Nogueira’s ground work and Jiu-Jitsu are unparalleled in the sport. The big question is whether Nogueira can finish Barnett when the fight goes to the mat.

One thing that can never be overlooked when Nogueira is involved is the fact that through his entire professional career, he has never been finished, and that’s saying a lot considering he has faced Pride Heavyweight Champion Fedor Emelianenko twice and lived to tell about it.

To Barnett’s credit, he seems to have rededicated himself to getting back to the top, and winning this tournament could be the key to landing a fight with the aforementioned champion, Fedor Emelianenko. His two losses since coming to Pride have both been against Mirko Cro Cop, the first of which was due to a freak injury, but the rematch was a unanimous decision win for the Croatian sensation. Barnett has also been announced as a participant for Pride’s debut in the United States and having the Grand Prix title to show off to his home country fans would be a great accomplishment.

Don’t expect this fight to stay in the stand-up position very long unless the respect factor between the fighters for their ground skills negates a grappling battle on the mat. Nogueira’s chin is absolutely unreal, as everybody knows he can take a world of punishment and still come back for more after every turn and move. Barnett’s biggest disadvantage in this fight may be conditioning, but hopefully he has trained appropriately since he knows that he’ll have to win twice in one night if he wants to win the tournament.

This match should be appreciated for all that it is, because it’s not likely to be matched by any two fighters in MMA in the near future, especially at heavyweight. For as good as Josh Barnett is (and he’s an amazing talent), it seems like somehow Nogueira is being forgotten in all the talk of the best fighters in the world, and that’s just crazy.

Look for Nogueira to likely end up on the bottom but still keep going for submission attempts, which may or may not be enough to tire out Barnett and submit him at some point. A submission finish could also be unlikely just based on the immense skill level that both fighters bring into the ring. Either way, whoever wins this fight is not going to be the freshest man in the tournament going into the finals.

My Prediction: Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira wins by decision

Mirko Cro Cop Filipovic (19-4-2) vs. Wanderlei Silva (31-5-1)

These two fighters faced each other previously, but it was several years ago and it was not fought under traditional MMA rules. Instead, it was a mix of MMA and kickboxing rules, with mandatory stand-ups if the fight was on the ground for 30 consecutive seconds or if the fighter on the bottom was able to reach the ropes. The bout was to automatically be ruled a draw if it went the distance, and that’s exactly what happened.

This time, the fight will be contested under MMA rules, and it matches up two top fighters from different weight classes. Cro Cop is currently the #3 heavyweight fighter in the MMAWeekly Rankings, while Silva is the #2 light heavyweight.

What can be said about Wanderlei Silva that hasn’t already been said? He is pound for pound one of the greatest fighters on the planet, and he is as intense as any competitor in professional sports today. His stand-up and Muay Thai game are hard to defend because he doesn’t mind getting hit a couple of times if it means that he’ll be able to take the clinch and land his famously devastating knees. If Wanderlei is fighting another striker (i.e. Cro Cop), he will probably open up a little more due to the fact that he won’t have to defend for any kind of takedown.

Wanderlei’s last fight, a one-sided victory over heavyweight Kazuyuki Fujita, can’t really be used gauge as to how well he’ll do against Cro Cop, mostly because Fujita isn’t nearly the same level as Cro Cop. However, Wanderlei did look like his old self in the Fujita fight, whereas in his previous two fights he struggled against a world-class grappler in Ricardo Arona. A potential problem for Wanderlei in the fight against Cro Cop is his constant desire to pursue his opponent, because now that Cro Cop is so precise with his strikes within MMA fights, Silva just might get dropped.

Cro Cop just keeps learning, training, and getting better with almost every fight, and his desire to get to the top is still there. He is methodical and calculating with just about every punch he throws, and when he finally decides to uncork that left high kick, Wanderlei might go to sleep for the night. With both fighters improving since their last fight, it would be nice to see a good old-fashioned slug fest until only one man is left standing.

My Prediction: Mirko Cro Cop wins by KO in Round 1

Finals: Mirko Cro Cop vs. Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira

If it all shakes out like this and we see the rematch of Mirko Cro Cop vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, it could be fireworks from the opening bell. The first fight between these two was just fantastic on all levels… from the first minutes when Cro Cop stifled every takedown attempt from Nogueira, to the heavy shots that Cro Cop landed on the Brazilian throughout the round that would have finished most fighters. Nogueira persevered got the fight to the ground in the second round, then secured a great armbar for the submission win.

Cro Cop has perfected the wicked leg kicks in his arsenal, as displayed in his recent fight against Hidehiko Yoshida. If Cro Cop can be as effective in avoiding takedowns as he was in his first fight with Nogueira, the leg kicks could become a huge factor in this fight, especially if Nogueira does go all the way to a decision during his semi-final fight against Josh Barnett.

Cro Cop understands that this is the best chance he’ll probably get to land a rematch with Fedor Emelianenko, and if he fights the best that he can, there’s no reason to doubt that he’ll win this battle with Nogueira.

Even though Nogueira has never being finished, he may be stepping into the ring with Cro Cop after a long and hard-fought battle against Barnett, so it might just be time for Cro Cop to land that high kick and bring a stop to the bout after following up with a few more strikes on the ground

My Prediction: Mirko Cro Cop wins by TKO in Round 2 and is crowned the winner the Pride Open Weight Grand Prix

MMAWEEKLY.COM STAFF PREDICTIONS:

TIM SPAGNOLA:
Semi-Finals: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira over Josh Barnett by Submission, Round 2
Semi-Finals: Wanderlei Silva over Mirko Filipovic by decision

KEN PISHNA:
Semi-Finals: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira over Josh Barnett by decision
Semi-Finals: Wanderlei Silva over Mirko Filipovic by KO, Round 2
Finals: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira over Wanderlei Silva by decision

IVAN TREMBOW:
Semi-Finals: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira over Josh Barnett by decision
Semi-Finals: Mirko Filipovic over Wanderlei Silva by decision
Finals: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira over Mirko Filipovic by decision

DAMON MARTIN:
Semi-Finals: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira over Josh Barnett by decision
Semi-Finals: Mirko Filipovic over Wanderlei Silva by KO, Round 1
Finals: Mirko Filipovic over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira by TKO, Round 2

AL YU:
Semi-Finals: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira over Josh Barnett by decision
Semi-Finals: Wanderlei Silva over Mirko Filipovic by decision
Finals: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira over Wanderlei Silva by decision

RICARDO MENDOZA:
Semi-Finals: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira over Josh Barnett
Semi-Finals: Wanderlei Silva over Mirko Filipovic
Finals: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira over Wanderlei Silva

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