by Al Yu – MMAWeekly.com
Going into the semi-finals of Pride’s Bushido welterweight Grand Prix, Denis Kang was considered one of the favorites to win the entire tournament. After recently suffering the tragic loss of his fiancé, Kang trained through tears and somehow managed to remain focused on the final round of the Pride Bushido Grand Prix.
At Bushido 13, the American Top Team fighter defeated Akihiro Gono via unanimous decision in the semi-finals while Paulo Filho submitted Kazuo Misaki in the other tournament match-up. Kang would later lose a decision in the finals, ending an impressive winning streak.
During his fight with Akihiro Gono, Kang suffered an injury. “That’s where the bicep injury [occurred],” explained Kang. “I had an MRI with the doctor yesterday and the diagnosis was I had a torn bicep. I have to take a little bit of time off, probably no more than a month or two.”
As fans recall, Paulo Filho was injured during his fight with Kazuo Misaki and was unable to continue. According to Pride rules, Misaki was named as his replacement to face Kang in the finals.
Undeterred by his bicep injury, Kang continued on like a true warrior and the result was one of best fights of the year. “It wasn’t a decision [regarding quitting], I knew I was going out there,” emphasized Kang. “Even if I only had one arm I was going out there. That’s just the decision that I’ve made.”
Going into the finals, Denis found out that Kazuo Misaki replaced Paulo Filho just 15-20 minutes prior to the last match. Kang would go on to lose a split decision to Misaki in a very competitive and exciting fight.
“I’m not disappointed with the fight at all. It was a great experience for me; I gained a lot of ring time and a lot of knowledge about myself for having gone through that,” revealed Kang. “Of course, I wish it would have turned out the other way. I know the fight was close and I know that I didn’t give up and that’s what counts for me.”
The MMA community had mixed feelings regarding the conclusion of one of the most exciting tournaments in Pride history. The 183-pound Grand Prix may have been tarnished by the fact that due to Filho’s injury, a losing semi-finalist (Misaki) came back and consequently won the tournament. Fans speculated if Kang was angered by the fact that Misaki was given a second chance.
“It doesn’t make me angry, everybody makes their own choices. Tournaments are a good way to show who really has the heart to be a champion; not to say that [Paulo] Filho doesn’t have the heart to be a champion,” stated Kang. “When you win a tournament, the winner of the tournament really had a lot of heart because he’s made it through the injuries.”
Prior to the Grand Prix, a match-up between Denis Kang and Paulo Filho had long been a fight that fans wanted to see. Due to circumstances, the fight didn’t materialize for the tournament finals. Kang commented about the possibility of facing Filho in the future. “You never know. If it happens to be me and Filho, so be it; we’re in the same weight class,” said Kang.
In addition to Filho, Denis expressed his interest in a rematch with Kazuo Misaki. “I’d love to get a rematch with Misaki in a single fight, that would be great. I think in a rematch I could win.”
Despite coming up short in the Grand Prix, Denis Kang has had a successful year. In fact, many people have considered 2006 as Kang’s break-out year.
“You could say that. I kind of sat on the sidelines last year because of my hand injury but…you can say that this is my break-out year,” said Denis. “My training went really well and every time that I fought I got in better shape. A lot of it was because I had regular fights every two months so I knew exactly how to prepare and how to peak at the right time.”
Kang will now take some time off to recuperate and heal his injuries. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt looks forward to 2007 with a renewed confidence. Next year, there will be plenty of competitive match-ups that await Kang and fans will anticipate his return.
“I want to go to the top. I want to fight the toughest guys.”