Winning a tournament is tough. Winning two is an even greater task. But it seems that, despite conventional wisdom, Wanderlei Silva is still the man to beat in this year’s Pride Middleweight Grand Prix just as he was two years ago in the 2003 Grand Prix. There is just something about his mental and physical make-up that seems to leave him predisposed to winning, whether in single bout competition or a tournament format.
At Sunday’s Critical Countdown, Kazuhiro Nakamura hopes to change all of that and bring the Grand Prix title home to Japan. Despite an impressive record, he’s got a long road ahead of him. Training out of Hidehiko Yoshida’s dojo, Nakamura himself is a Judo champion and one of the most promising Japanese fighters in mixed martial arts today. Among his 6-3 record, Nakamura counts victories over fighters such as Daniel Gracie, Kevin Randleman, and most notably Murilo Bustamante. His only losses came twice to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (Little Nog) and Dan Henderson.
Yet even with such success, Nakamura’s experience pales in comparison to that of Silva. He has only finished two of those six wins. Nakamura arm barred Khalid Arrab, known more as a striker than for his submission prowess, and he TKO’d Stefan Leko, a good K-1 fighter that is less than sub-par in MMA.
Silva on the other hand, despite the rusty comments on his “tomato can” record, has in reality stepped up to stop some of the best fighters in the world. Consider his knockouts of such “tomato cans” as Quinton Jackson (twice), Yuki Kondo, Ikuhisa Minowa, Guy Mezger, Kazushi Sakuraba, and more.
Even more than the results, it is how he got there. Silva has an animal ferocity that is unmatched in mixed martial arts. The man can melt most humans just by his fight-opening stare-down, let alone the intensity that he brings once the bell rings.
Nakamura is no slouch. With his background in Judo, he has excellent takedown/throwing skills; which he uses to great effect. Defensively, he is very solid. Nakamura can take a heck of a punch and his arm bar loss to Nogueira in his fight debut notwithstanding, he has proven his skill at defending submissions as well. The trouble with Nakamura, and this is where he lacks against Silva, is that his offense isn’t that spectacular. He has the aforementioned excellent takedown skills, but hasn’t been able to convert that into finishes. His ground and pound is good, but it doesn’t have that snap that it takes to put fighters away. It is this lack of finishing power that puts him at a tremendous disadvantage against a fighter like Silva.
Silva is nearly the opposite of Nakamura. Although his defense is solid, it is rarely on display. Silva is so busy pushing the pace of the fight and applying his aggressive tactics that he isn’t on the defensive all that often. He has a black belt in jiujitsu and knows how to use it, but he is a striker at heart and seems to take great joy in unleashing his brutal brand of fisticuffs upon his opponents. When Silva has a fighter on his heels, this is when he is most dangerous. Like a shark that smells blood in the water, he is relentless in his pursuit of his prey. Silva does not stop until he leaves his opponent decimated.
On Sunday, expect this controlled savagery that is Wanderlei Silva’s fighting style to carry him once again to victory and another step closer to the Grand Prix title. Nakamura, while he is one of the best Japanese mixed martial artists in the world and is never lacking for determination and heart, is not ready for the fury that he will face when he steps in against Silva. One day, he may be, but right now is not his time. Pride is still the turf of the brutal Brazilian.
Should Nakamura find a way to get past Silva, he has a fair shot at winning the tournament. He has the type of style that is good for taking other fighters out of their game plans. He is still very short on experience and would be a long shot were he to move on in the tournament.
Whether or not Silva can repeat as the overall Grand Prix champion is yet another story. If he is victorious over Nakamura, that could put him in line for a number of interesting matchups. The most troublesome for Silva would probably be Ricardo Arona. This fight has been a long time coming and if Arona could get Silva on the ground, it could get interesting in a hurry. The other fighter that matches well with Silva is Igor Vovchanchyn. His heavy hands and relentless attacks could be difficult to handle. Silva has been rocked before, but Vovchanchyn has the power to follow up and put the lights out.
But if I’m a betting man, my money still has to go to Silva. He’s done it before and he only seems to get better as he continues to fight. Silva is still my odds on favorite to win the whole tournament.