by Ken Pishna – MMAWeekly.com
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – Pride Fighting Championship promised fans in Las Vegas that they were bringing their full production for their debut in the United States, and they weren’t kidding. At Friday’s press conference, Pride president Nobuyuki Sakikabara warned fans, “Be on time… so you can leave with goose bumps.”
If you were in attendance and didn’t have goose bumps following the opening ceremonies of The Real Deal, either something is seriously wrong or you’re MMAWeekly executive editor Scott Petersen, who has attended more Pride events in Japan than I care to count.
The main event between Pride heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko and Mark Coleman went mostly as expected, except that Coleman lasted much longer than predicted. In an attempt to avoid Fedor’s punishing blows on the feet, Coleman seemed to zero in on the need to take the champion down, which he was unable to do for most of the fight and suffered the accumulating affects of Fedor’s well-placed hands for his efforts. His eye nearly swollen shut, Coleman, running primarily on heart, finished the round.
The second round was nearly a rerun of Fedor and Coleman’s first fight as Fedor landed a few punishing blows before Coleman secured a takedown and started working his ground and pound game from Fedor’s guard. That was when, once again, Fedor secured a tight arm bar forcing Coleman to submit.
Tugging on the heart strings, Coleman was very emotional following the fight. His two young daughters were in attendance, and although it struck up some debate and controversy about appropriateness, he brought them up into the ring with him saying, “Daddy’s okay baby,” and introducing them to Fedor, tears streaming down their faces.
For his part, Fedor was a little more stoic telling fans, “I respect Mark very much. I was watching his fights long before I was fighting.”
In the co-main event, Pride Middleweight Grand Prix champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua dominated Kevin Randleman. Although Randleman started quickly, shooting a double-leg takedown and putting Shogun on his back, that would be the end of any offense for the Hammer House fighter.
Shogun immediately made an attempt to secure a heel hook, but transitioned to a toehold, which he worked hard to finish the fight with. By all rights, the fight should have been done at this point, but Randleman just would not tap out. After the Brazilian transitioned from the toehold to a knee bar, Randleman had no choice; he had to submit before the ligaments in his knee tore to shreds. Although by the time that he did give in, it may have already been too late for his knee.
A common theme throughout the week in Las Vegas, Shogun stated after the fight, “I am very happy to show that Pride is number one. Every time I am here, I will do my best to show a very good fight for everybody.”
There was probably more clinching in the Josh Barnett and Pawel Nastula fight than either fighter intended, but there were also more heavy blows landed than most fans expected out of two master grapplers. Trading some pretty good shots throughout, Nastula hurt Barnett in the second round with several hard left hands. On the ground, Nastula maneuvered for an arm bar, but Barnett caught him with a bit of his professional wrestling technique and locked on a toehold that quickly had Nastula tapping out.
Barnett was his typical animated self following the fight; what else would you expect from a fighter that enters the ring to the theme from Fist of the North Star, a popular Japanese anime series? When asked if he was in trouble when Nastula connected in the second round, he responded, “Well, yeah. But I wasn’t about to let that happen.” Commenting on the opportunity for the fight-finishing toehold, he said, “It’s like food, if you put it in front of me, you’re going to get your hand bit. That’s the way pro wrestling does it, baby.”
In a match that seemingly could have been a feature on most professional wrestling cards, Eric “Butterbean” Esch made quick work of Sean O’Hare. O’Hare started out attacking the head of Butterbean with high kicks, but it was only a matter of time, actually seconds, before Butterbean got close enough to drill O’Hare with right hands and put him to the canvas.
Both Dan Henderson and Vitor Belfort received a healthy response from the crowd at the Thomas & Mack Center. And both were aggressive, but it was Henderson that controlled the pace throughout all three rounds of their fight. Continually scoring with the takedown and getting off the better shots on the feet, Henderson won a unanimous decision and deservedly so. But as seems to be a recurring issue in mixed martial arts scoring, judge Jeff Collins scored the bout 30-26 in Henderson’s favor – which means one round would have to be given a 10-8 score – even though Henderson never had Belfort in enough trouble for there to be a legitimate threat of a stoppage.
Phil Baroni had a dominant performance in his bout with Japanese boxing champion Yosuke Nishijima. Instead of playing into the slugging game that most suspected, he quickly took the boxer out of his element with a double-leg takedown. Once there, Baroni methodically worked his ground and pound game, even securing a crucifix position, but couldn’t finish it there. Uncharacteristically, he secured a Kimura that he had to work on for more than a minute to secure a TKO victory when the referee stopped the bout.
About his rare submission hold, Baroni commented, “I don’t really know any submissions, but I saw that on TV a couple of nights ago. What the hell is the name of that move?”
Baroni really seemed to be in his element surrounded by the pomp and circumstance of a Pride production, especially when that production took place in Baroni-land (otherwise known as Las Vegas).
A heavy favorite, Kazuhiro Nakamura did not disappoint. His opponent, Travis Galbraith didn’t disappoint either. The Canadian went toe to toe with Nakamura through the first round and nearly caught the Japanese fighter in a knee bar following a transition from an arm bar attempt. But Nakamura was quick in his escape and landed a hard Judo throw to end the first round.
In the second stanza, Nakamura caught Galbraith with a knee to the face, followed him to the mat, and repeatedly drove right hands to his head until the referee stopped the bout.
In the evening’s opener, Robbie Lawler made very quick work of Joey Villasenor. In a mere 13 seconds, Lawler landed a head kick and flying knee that sent Villasenor reeling. Following the bout, Lawler stated, “I’m back and ready to go.”
The Thomas & Mack Center wasn’t sold out, but was apparently full enough for Pride to commit to a return to the venue on February 24th with Wanderlei Silva defending his middleweight title. Put simply by Pride executive Nobuhiko Takada, “We are here to stay.”