by Damon Martin
The end of another Pride Middleweight Grand Prix will take place this weekend, with a lot of the favorites going into the tournament already being knocked out, and now we have the final four. Both semi-final match-ups are very intriguing and pose some interesting questions about who we might see face off for the Grand Prix championship.
Wanderlei Silva vs. Ricardo Arona
In the first semi-final match-up, two of the top 205lb fighters in the world will finally face off in what many are speculating will be a grudge match. These two have danced around the idea of fighting for the past few years and at this point it seems this may almost be personal. Wanderlei Silva has been the top dog in Pride for what seems like forever, and Ricardo Arona has been chomping at the bit to finally get a shot at his fellow Brazilian inside the ring.
Wanderlei Silva has to be considered the most dangerous striker in the middleweight/light heavyweight division in the entire MMA world. With no disrespect to a fighter like Chuck Liddell, who is very good on his feet as well, Wanderlei is so unbelievably aggressive that he usually throws his opponents off their game within the first few minutes of a fight. Beyond having the best hands in the weight class, Wanderlei’s deadliest weapon is when he smells blood and goes for his famous muay-thai clinch. When Silva wraps his hands behind his opponent’s head, its almost like instant panic hits their faces because they know shortly behind that will be a series of devastating knee strikes.
Wanderlei has somehow received criticism because he’s fought a lot of mid-level fighters who usually don’t last an entire round with the champion. To his credit, Wanderlei has never backed down from an opponent, has never lost to one of the “easier” opponents that he’s faced and usually fights 3-4 times per year, something a lot of champions don’t do. Wanderlei has even stepped out of his weight class to fight top ranked heavyweights like Mirko CroCop and K-1 veteran Mark Hunt.
Ricardo Arona will need to do one thing and one thing only if he wants to win this fight and that is to get Wanderlei to the ground. If Arona isn’t able to get this fight to the ground in the first 5 minutes or so, expect a knockout. Arona is a very good takedown artist so it’s not to say he won’t be able to take Wanderlei down, but if he shoots in a few times in the first round and is unsuccessful, it may be a short night for the Brazilian Top Team member.
The contrast in styles makes for a classic match-up of striker vs. grappler, but to Silva’s credit he also holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and is no stranger to ground work. Fans may not get to see the fireworks they hope for if Arona is able to get Silva down and hold him there. Wanderlei will need to be aggressive as he always is, but not give up an easy takedown trying to deliver the knockout shot. If there is an edge in this fight it has to go to Wanderlei who has been in this position before, with all eyes on him, and he knows how to pull out the big victory. The pressure on Arona will be to see if he keeps his wits about him and understands that if he’s going to win, he has to get this fight to the ground. If he lets pride get the best of him and he tries to trade with Wanderlei, it will not be a pretty ending.
Prediction: Wanderlei Silva by knockout, Rd 1
Maurico “Shogun” Rua vs. Alistair Overeem
When the tournament began, the other two semi-finalists were heavy underdogs from the offset. Rua had to take on Pride veteran and top contender, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, while Alistair Overeem was matched up with UFC star, Vitor Belfort. Both fighters defied the odds and walked out victorious. An even bigger win followed for both men as Rua won a decision in a fantastic match with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Overeem tapped out early favorite, Igor Vovchanchyn by guillotine choke. Now two of the most unlikely fighters to make it to this point will square off in what is sure to be a war.
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua comes to this fight out of the famed Chute Boxe academy, the same place that bred current middleweight champion, Wanderlei Silva. Rua had never had a fight go to a decision before his fight with Nogueira, and don’t expect this fight to be the second decision on his resume. Much like his teammate Silva, Rua loves to work for big punches and is proficient in using the muay thai clinch as well. He has only tasted defeat one time in his short career and that was to top fighter, Renato “Babalu” Sobral by guillotine choke in the IFC in 2003. Rua brings a lot of firepower with him as he is a phenomenal stand-up fighter.
Alistair Overeem is the biggest underdog in this tournament and for obvious reasons. He’s had tough match-ups in both rounds and previous to this tournament hadn’t made a name for himself as a top contender in this weight class. To his credit, Overeem is a great kickboxer with great kicks and towers over most of his opponents as he stands 6’4″ tall. Overeem was in the last middleweight Grand Prix as well, but didn’t make it past the first round after going to war with UFC fighter, Chuck Liddell. Alistair had his chances in that fight but eventually folded under the pressure from Liddell’s strikes. Overeem is known primarily as a striker but has won his first two fights by guillotine choke.
This fight could be very short if both fighters are looking for the quick knockout. Seeing as both fighters from the semi-finals will fight again that same night, reserving some energy will do a world of good, and getting a quick win will go a long way to having a shot at dominating in the finals. Rua has become a quick fan favorite with his never say die attitude and a striking attack similar again to his teammate, Wanderlei Silva. The biggest disadvantage going into this fight will be Rua’s height and reach diffence with Overeem. He most likely won’t be able to get a muay-thai clinch around Overeem’s neck unless the Dutch fighter basically puts his head down and gives it to him. On any given night, either of these fighters could dominate this match, so it’s really a toss-up as to who wins. Basically, whoever is a little more aggressive with their strikes and catches their opponent first, I believe will get the win.
Prediction: Mauricio “Shogun” Rua: TKO Rd. 1
If the brackets go the way that I’ve predicted we will have an all Chute Boxe finale, which could be an amazing fight or could be lackluster depending on how the teammates go after each other. Both have said in interviews that they won’t hold back if they have to fight, and knowing how much both of these men want to claim the prize and the Grand Prix championship, I don’t think we’ll have to worry about them pulling punches. Both fighters will be very familiar with the other’s technique, speed, power, and stamina. Both fighters have similar styles coming from the same camp.
I believe experience will be the difference. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua is a great talent with a promising future, but this is still Wanderlei Silva’s world and everyone else has to get in line behind him. Wanderlei is without a doubt the most dominating champion we’ve seen in MMA for quite sometime and I think this is one more win to tack on to an already impressive career. I don’t think we’ll ever see the dream match of Wanderlei Silva vs. Chuck Liddell, but I think Wanderlei will do his part to continue winning and waiting for Pride to give him yet another victim.
Prediction: Wanderlei Silva by KO, Rd. 1