by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
In Part One of our two-part interview with Mauro Ranallo, the Pride commentator discussed Pride’s year thus far and also broke down the undercard of the Bushido: Survival event.
In Part Two of the interview, which was conducted earlier this week by MMAWeekly’s Mick Hammond, Mauro breaks down the main card of Bushido: Survival, which will feature the first-round tournament match-ups in this year’s 183-pound Bushido Grand Prix.
MMAWeekly: In regards to the fighters in this year’s first round of the Grand Prix, what do you think overall of the group assembled for Sunday’s show?
Mauro Ranallo: I would say that the names on the line-up… the ones that are recognized definitely belong there, and the fighters that fans in America may not recognize, once they see them in action [fans will see] that they belong in the Pride Bushido 183-pound Grand Prix. I just wanted to mention that [Dan] Henderson is nursing an ankle injury and wanted to participate in the first round, but because of injury, he will be getting a first-round bye into the second round.
MMAWeekly: Okay, let’s get to the fights themselves. First up, tell us about Makoto Takimoto taking on Gegard Mousasi.
Mauro Ranallo: Makoto Takimoto… well, let’s face it, and he’ll be the first to tell you, that he has not looked that impressive in his Pride FC career, but when you are an Olympic Gold Medalist in a sport, as he was in Judo at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, obviously you have the mental strength and talents. He’s been training diligently at the Yoshida Dojo, and right now he says he will hopefully capture the hearts of Pride fans with his performance in this tournament. His opponent is an unknown commodity to many of us, as far as what he’s done in MMA, but I can tell you that Gegard Mousasi is only 20 years of age, and is already a feared striker, and is looking to make an immediate impact in Pride. Gegard comes from Armenia [and] he trains in Holland at the DuraGen Gym. As I mentioned, he has an extensive striking background and has lost only once in MMA. In his last fight, he comes off a victory over Hidetada Irie at a DEEP show in April, and that’s what earned him entry into this tournament.
MMAWeekly: Moving on to the next fight, fill us in on the fight between Akihiro Gono and Hector Lombard.
Mauro Ranallo: Akihiro Gono, I like this guy’s personality. He has the American “braggadocio,” if you will. He’s a brash talker [and] knows how to sell his fights, but is a former All-Japan Kickboxing Champion, so he does know how to back up his talk. He has a big win in Pride over Crosley Gracie, he went nine minutes with Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, and let’s not forget he made it into the second round of last year’s GP, only to lose to Pride Welterweight Champion Dan Henderson. If people haven’t heard of Hector Lombard, I think you’ll hear a lot about him and a lot from him in the future. He’s 27, from Cuba, so he’s the first Cuban fighter to participate in Pride FC. He now lives in Australia, where he made his MMA debut in 2004. Here’s a guy who has had over 500 Judo pro matches. He’s a seven-time Cuban National Judo Champion, a four-time International Judo Champion, and was a member of the 2000 Sydney Olympics Cuban National Team. Gono has drawn the ire of Lombard, so there’s already a little bit of bad blood between them, so I think people will very impressed with both fighters in this match-up.
MMAWeekly: Next up is a match that could be Fight of the Night material, as Ryo Chonan locks horns with the debuting Joey Villasenor.
Mauro Ranallo: Anytime I hear Ryo Chonan’s name, the thing that comes to mind is the slick scissors takedown to heel hook submission against Anderson Silva at Shockwave 2004. He’s a guy who has definitely earned his stripes in Pride FC, and although he hasn’t had the greatest success of late in Pride, he is coming off a win over Ryuta Sakurai for the DEEP Middleweight Title in February, so he has that momentum behind him. So, it’s going to interesting to see which version of Ryo Chonan shows up for the first round of this tournament, but he’s always an entertaining fighter, win or lose. I’ve actually had the privilege of announcing one of Joey Villasenor’s KOTC title fights in Canada. He’s gone undefeated in 15 straight fights [and is] 21-3 overall in MMA, with 19 of his wins coming either via KO or submission. He’s good in the stand-up, good on the ground. [He] trains at [Greg] Jackson’s in New Mexico, so you know he has great training as well. This being his debut in Pride FC, you know he’ll be amped and will not want to disappoint himself or the fans he won over in the US, and I look forward to a big coming out party for Joey Villasenor.
MMAWeekly: Okay, this next one could very well turn into a stand-up brawl. What do you think about Kazuo Misaki taking on heavy-handed Phil Baroni?
Mauro Ranallo: They call Kazuo Misaki “The Hitman,” and they do that for a reason. He has a Judo background, but you talk about the guy with fighting spirit… he’s a guy that’s not afraid to go toe-to-toe with anyone in the sport. In his last fight against Dan Henderson, we saw him survive that patented right hand of Henderson’s, and not many people can say that. He trains all the time and has been working on his submissions, but loves to stand and trade, so I’m sure that’s music to Phil Baroni’s ears. Phil is a guy who talks the talk and in Japan walks the walk. I think he’s dynamite for the sport, and I love what he brings to the table in term of his persona and fighting style. Whether you like him or hate him, you always like watching him fight. I think he’s definitely going to entertain the crowd come Sunday.
MMAWeekly: All right, next up tell us about the very competitive match-up of Denis Kang and the always dangerous Murilo “Ninja” Rua.
Mauro Ranallo: You know, I had the pleasure of watching Denis Kang cut his teeth in MMA here in British Columbia on the smaller shows here. Even in the back in my mind prior to joining Pride, I thought to myself that he’d make the big time, and obviously he’s made the most of it. Making the move to American Top Team in Florida was the most beneficial thing he’s done. His striking game has grown tremendously, and he was always one of the top submission fighters in his weight in the sport of MMA. He’s totally committed to fighting, he looks like a fighter, thinks like a fighter, and taking away any bias I have personally for the guy, he is one of the favorites to go all the way in the tournament. Murilo “Ninja” Rua is one of the toughest tests in the first round of this welterweight tournament. He’s the only competitor to fight in three different weight classes in Pride, and I feel this is the weight he could make the biggest impact in Pride. Of course, being from Chute Boxe, he’s a tremendous striker, a BJJ brown belt, and one of the most complete fighters in the weight class. He lost his welterweight debut to a bitter rival in Paulo Filho, so you know he’s looking to prove that he is a formidable force in the fight game. This is one of those fights that could be very memorable on this card.
MMAWeekly: Speaking of Paulo Filho, he’s involved in the next match-up, taking on a late replacement in European Gregory Bouchelaghem. Tell us about this one.
Mauro Ranallo: As you know, Yoon Dong Sik is not participating in the tournament, but this may be the case where his replacement may even be a better fight for Paulo Filho in terms of style. Gregory Bouchelaghem is a member of the French Top Team and is coming off a close split decision loss to a well-known Brazilian fighter named Roan Carneiro in England in March. He does hold victories over Pride veterans like Mark Weir via rear naked choke, becoming the first European fighter to defeat Weir in MMA. In his biggest victory, he has a decision win over Andrei Semenov in Russia, where it’s very hard for foreign fighters to get the decision, so he must have impressed them very much. He also choked out Ross “The Gladiator” Pointon, which is a name known to many American fans from this season of the reality TV series The Ultimate Fighter. He’s tall for the weight, 6’2″ and will have the reach advantage in the fight.
Gregory’s opponent Paulo Filho, simply put, is a monster in this weight class. Next to Phil Baroni, I feel he is the strongest fighter in the welterweight division. Paulo is obviously a submission machine, and if he learns to strike like you need to do at this level of competition, he may prove to be truly unstoppable. It should be interesting to see if he can take down the taller fighter, and there’s always that unknown factor heading into a fight with a late replacement, but you have to put Paulo as one of the favorites in this tournament.
MMAWeekly: Okay, the last fight we have to talk about features Paulo’s teammate, Murilo Bustamante, taking on another former UFC veteran and current Pride fighter Amar Suloev.
Mauro Ranallo: Murilo Bustamante is a tremendous ambassador for the sport, and let’s face it, [Bustamante] is one of the all-time greats in the sport of MMA. Now at the age of 39, he feels he’s getting stronger and that looks to be so, based on his performance in last year’s tournament, where he made it to the finals only to lose a very close and some say controversial decision to Dan Henderson. He continues to impress people more and more with his stand-up, and of course has one of the best submission games in the world. Amar Suloev is a very decorated fighter from Armenia who currently trains with the Red Devil team and current Pride Heavyweight Champion Fedor Emelianenko. I think Amar knows what’s at stake. Bushido’s [round format is] one ten-minute round and one five-minute round, and the mandate for action, so with [Suloev's] striking, he could be a very tough opponent for anyone. This one may come down to who wants it more, their conditioning, and who wants to truly make a name for themselves in this tournament.
MMAWeekly: Well, that does it for the fight card. Thank you so very much, Mauro, for taking the time for this special two-part interview to break down every fight on Bushido: Survival. Is there anything you’d like to say as we head out?
Mauro Ranallo: As always, I appreciate the time and effort that MMAWeekly puts into promoting the sport and the scene in Japan and all over the world. You know, working with Frank Trigg has been very enjoyable so far. I still stay in close contact with Bas Rutten, and I’m looking forward to an interesting rest of the year. I hope the fans definitely will order Pride FC Bushido: Survival coming up on Sunday, June 4th. For more information, they can always check out PrideFC.com, and again this looks to be a night where both the undercard and the main tournament draw could produce some of the most memorable fights of 2006.