by Korey Howard for MMAWeekly.com
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For the first time in Pride GP history, all of competitors participating in the first round were on hand for the pre-fight press conference. Fourteen fighters will compete in seven first-round matches, along with one “superfight,” for a total of eight fights that will take place in the Osaka Dome tomorrow.
It was announced that all of the participants are healthy, which is significant for two reasons: First, it is simply a rarity for any 14 MMA fighters to be healthy at one given time. Second, a couple of the odds-on favorites to win, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Mirko Cro Cop, have seemingly healed from their respective injuries.
After comments from the fighters about their hopes to win the Grand Prix championship belt, Dream Stage Entertainment boss Nobuyuki Sakakibara gave the following comments, outlining which fighters in particular he will be watching the closest.
First, Sakakibara said, “[Kazuyuki] Fujita has trained hard, as I’m sure all the fighters have, but he has the most legitimate chance of any Japanese fighter to win this tournament to become the strongest fighter in the world. Along with the fans, I am expecting a great performance out of him in his return to the Pride ring.”
In addition to Fujita, Sakakibara commented that Tsuyoshi Kosaka would be another competitor of interest in the first round. “T.K. has put everything on the line for this fight, and is in great condition going in. One can’t help but to focus on his performance as a fighter, but also his way of living as a man,” Sakakibara said.
Finally, Sakakibara commented on the return of Mirko Cro Cop: “I think he has become a ‘new Mirko,’ even in his way of thinking. After losing a decision to Fedor [Emelianenko], he came back to beat Josh Barnett, but then lost a decision to Mark Hunt. I think we’ll see that taking these past few months off has allowed him to refresh himself physically, but also get himself back on track mentally. He even made it to the press conference today for the first time since he came to Pride. We had to call him and wake him up at 11:30, but…”
It will be interesting to see what the tournament has in store for each of these three fighters, as well as the entire field. And of course, hopefully the addition of Pride Heavyweight Champion Fedor Emelianenko in the second round in July will make things even more exciting.
The bout order for the first-round fights is listed below.
Fight 1 “Superfight”
GILBERT YVEL vs. ROMAN ZENTSOV
Fight 2 Tournament First Round Match
ALISTAIR OVEREEM vs. FABRICIO WERDUM
Fight 3 Tournament First Round Match
TSUYOSHI KOSAKA vs. MARK HUNT
Fight 4 Tournament First Round Match
JOSH BARNETT vs. ALEXANDER EMELIANENKO
Fight 5 Tournament First Round Match
KAZUYUKI FUJITA vs. JAMES THOMPSON
Fight 6 Tournament First Round Match
MIRKO CRO COP vs. IKUHISA MINOWA
Fight 7 Tournament First Round Match
ANTONIO RODRIGO NOGUEIRA vs. ZULU, JR.
Fight 8 Tournament First Round
HIDEHIKO YOSHIDA vs. YOSUKE NISHIJIMA