December 29, 2006

An Editorial by Al Yu – MMAWeekly.com




Pride Otoko Matsuri (Shockwave) 2006 – Preview and Analysis


Fight Card (In reverse order):

Fedor Emelianenko vs. Mark Hunt (Heavyweight Title Match)
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Josh Barnett

Hidehiko Yoshida vs. James Thompson

Takanori Gomi vs. Mitsuhiro Ishida (Non-Title Match)
Kazuyuki Fujita vs. Eldar Kurtanidze

Tatsuya Kawajiri vs. Gilbert Melendez
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Kazuhiro Nakamura
Yuki Kondo vs. Akihiro Gono
Shinya Aoki vs. Joachim Hansen
Ikuhisa Minowa vs. Kiyoshi Tamura


Fedor Emelianenko (24-1) vs. Mark Hunt (5-2) [Heavyweight Title Match]

puncher’s chance.


Disappointed we aren’t seeing a rematch between Fedor and Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic? Who isn’t? Let’s be thankful that Fedor is actually facing a ranked opponent. A former K-1 Grand Prix Champion, Mark Hunt is a seasoned striker with devastating power behind his punches. Does Hunt deserve a shot at the title? No. Most fighters coming off of a loss don’t usually get an opportunity like this. The decision making at DSE simply astounds me sometimes…


As dominating as Fedor has been, the Red Devil fighter is indeed human. Kazuyuki Fujita had the “Last Emperor” doing the fish dance at Pride 26 after landing one of his powerful right hooks. Like a true champion, Emelianenko regained his composure and went on to submit the Japanese wrestler. Mark Hunt is more than capable of ending a fight with one punch. Arguably the hardest hitting heavyweight fighter in Pride and possessing the best chin in all of MMA, the New Zealander has a puncher’s chance at pulling off one of the greatest upsets in MMA history.


The conceivability of Hunt handing the best MMA fighter in the world his first Pride loss is very slim. To overcome Fedor’s vast experience, fast hand speed, excellent cardio and submission skills is nothing less than a monumental achievement in itself. Look for the champion to take Hunt down early and further expose his weakness to submissions on the ground. Can we say armbar?


Prediction: Fedor Emelianenko submits Mark Hunt RD1



Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (28-4-1) vs. Josh Barnett (20-4)




Their first encounter was one of the best fights of 2006. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira displays solid boxing technique and is commonly considered the best heavyweight submission fighter in MMA today. The former Pride heavyweight champion has a very good chin and great cardio. Josh Barnett is an adept wrestler and proved he could compete with Nogueira on the ground. The former King of Pancrase and UFC champion is well-versed in submissions from his catch wrestling background.


Two of the most talented heavyweights in the world put on a memorable grappling spectacle at Final Conflict Absolute. The fight was very close and the decision could have gone to either fighter. I personally thought Nogueira did enough to earn the win. However, Barnett’s kneebar at the end of the fight probably swayed two of the judges. “Minotauro” was getting the better of Barnett with his boxing early on until he got caught with the left hook. On the ground, I felt that Nogueira controlled the fight more and transitioned well.


I can’t help but feel that this rematch is taking place too soon. 2006 has been a very busy year for Barnett and I hate to see the strenuous schedule take a toll on him. Something to point out regarding this highly anticipated rematch is that the fight is scheduled for three rounds this time around. Nogueira has excellent cardio and Barnett has been in great physical shape of late. However, a lot can happen in the third round and Barnett could possibly show negative effects of his busy year. It should be another entertaining yet competitive match between these two world-class fighters. Look for Nogueira to avenge his loss with a very close decision. Regardless of the outcome, the fans won’t be disappointed.


Prediction: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira decisions Josh Barnett




Hidehiko Yoshida (7-4-1) vs. James Thompson (12-5)


hardly intriguing.


Hidehiko Yoshida is arguably the most popular Japanese fighter in Pride today. Win or lose, the fans love to see their Olympic Gold Medalist. The Judoka has fought in the last three Shockwave events and looks to rebound from a loss to Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic. James Thompson is on a three-fight skid, dropping fights to Kazuyuki Fujita, Rob Broughton, and Jon Olav Einemo.


This is not the most intriguing match-up but I guess we can’t be too picky with such a late announcement. Yoshida took some heavy low kicks from Mirko in his last fight. Fortunately for him, Thompson isn’t known for his powerful low kicks. What he is known for is his aggressive charging style and a weak chin. The “Colossus” will benefit from a height and weight advantage. If the Cage Rage veteran decides to charge Yoshida, the Japanese star shouldn’t have a problem tying him up and pulling guard. Look for the Judoka to submit Thompson by armbar in the first round.


Prediction: Hidehiko Yoshida submits James Thompson RD1




Takanori Gomi (25-3) vs. Mitsuhiro Ishida (14-2-1) [Non-Title Match]




The star of the now defunct Pride Bushido will have his hands full when he faces Shooto Pacific Rim Welterweight Champion Mitsuhiro Ishida. Putting my disdain for inane non-title matches aside, I must admit that I’m very happy these two are fighting. While the champion has lost a step, Ishida has been on a row of late and is considered a legitimate contender. Unfortunately, this fight won’t be for Gomi’s title. At Bushido 13, fans had to watch the Team RASCAL fighter earn an insipid and tentative unanimous decision over Marcus Aurelio, avenging a non-title loss to the American Top Team fighter.


Like I’ve said before, if Gomi was fearful of Aurelio’s takedowns in their rematch, he’s going to have a very long night with Ishida. Mitsuhiro is arguably the best wrestler in Pride at 160-pounds and possesses one of the fastest and strongest takedown shots in MMA today. Once he’s taken an opponent down, the T-Blood fighter’s control over them is impressive. Ishida has very good submission defense and has been successful in defeating and controlling the last three consecutive BJJ black belts he’s faced. The Japanese wrestler is very active when he is on top of his opponents and constantly looks to better his positioning while throwing strikes. If Ishida takes Gomi down, I foresee him passing the champion’s guard.


Ishida isn’t known as a remarkable striker so it’s obvious that Gomi will have the advantage standing. In fact, the “Fireball Kid” will be the most dangerous striker Ishida has yet to face. Although he has never been knocked out, Mitsuhiro needs to approach the former Shooto champion with caution. Considered a small lightweight, the T-Blood fighter has faced larger opponents throughout his career and Gomi will be no exception. It’s possible for Gomi to earn a decision over Ishida if he duplicates his last uninspired performance against Marcus Aurelio. However, I can’t see the champion avoiding Ishida’s takedowns for long. Look for Mitsuhiro Ishida to utilize his wrestling prowess and earn a unanimous decision, thus becoming a champion without a belt…


Prediction: Mitsuhiro Ishida decisions Takanori Gomi


Kazuyuki Fujita (13-5) vs. Eldar Kurtanidze (0-0)

stepping stone?


Eldar Kurtanidze is a two-time Olympic Bronze Medalist and a two-time Gold Medalist in the World Championships of freestyle wrestling. The Georgian native will be making his professional MMA debut at age 34. Kazuyuki Fujita is a good wrestler but his skills aren’t on the same level as Kurtanidze. However, this is MMA.


This won’t be the first time that Fujita has faced an Olympic wrestler. “Iron Head” previously knocked out Egyptian Gold Medalist Karim Ibrahim Gaber at K-1 Premium Dynamite 2004. Although Fujita is passed his prime, I can’t consider him a ‘stepping stone’ for any opponent. The former Japanese pro wrestler’s experience and powerful right hook will earn him another victory. Welcome to MMA Eldar.


Prediction: Kazuyuki Fujita TKO Eldar Kurtanidze RD1



Tatsuya Kawajiri (19-3-2) vs. Gilbert Melendez (11-0)




In another highly anticipated match-up, Shooto 154-pound Champion Tatsuya “The Crusher” Kawajiri takes on Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez. Since losing to Takanori Gomi in 2005, Kawajiri has won four straight fights. Gilbert holds a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and trains with Jake Shields. “El Nino” is a strong wrestler and can be very aggressive. Melendez is coming off of a dominating victory over previously unbeaten DEEP Champion Nobuhiro Obiya and is bringing a lot of momentum with him. Without a doubt, Kawajiri will prove to be Gilbert’s toughest test to date.


Although he is much more experienced, to say that Kawajiri will walk through Melendez would be a foolish assumption. I expect a very competitive fight as this match has the makings to be one of the best fights of the year. Both competitors are young, very strong and have similar fighting styles. Kawajiri will be the physically bigger fighter and has been working on his stand-up technique since his fight with Gomi. Melendez has been known to throw wide hooks at times and may be susceptible to Kawajiri’s counter straight rights. Gilbert could benefit from faster hand speed and his straight right can be telegraphed by seasoned strikers. Both fighters are great wrestlers but I would have to give the physical strength advantage to the “Crusher”. The Cesar Gracie fighter hasn’t faced a fighter with the strong wrestling base and a solid sprawl like Kawajiri. Gilbert has proven to have great cardio and would need to keep an aggressive pace in hopes of tiring the Shooto veteran. However, I feel that the more experienced T-Blood fighter will prevail after a hard fought war.


Prediction: Tatsuya Kawajiri decisions Gilbert Melendez



Mauricio Rua (14-2) vs. Kazuhiro Nakamura (11-5)




I think this will be a good fight between two top ten ranked light heavyweights and could very well be the sleeper match of the evening. Some people have been quick to write off Nakamura already. Although “Shogun” is commonly regarded as the #1 or #2 ranked light heavyweight in the world, Nakamura is not an opponent to be taken lightly and is always improving as a fighter. The Judoka has fought tough opposition and holds wins over Murilo Bustamante, Kevin Randleman, and Igor Vovchanchyn. He showed a lot of heart and earned the respect of many fans in his loss to Josh Barnett, who benefited from a weight advantage.


Nakamura isn’t afraid to stand and trade with better strikers and that will be his downfall. Rua is versatile on his feet and has a very solid ground game. The Chute Boxe fighter will enjoy an advantage in striking, reach, and conditioning over his Japanese counterpart. Hidehiko Yoshida’s protégé is seemingly outmatched and will need use his Judo prowess to take the fight to the ground. It should be an entertaining fight and fans can expect some good exchanges and mat work. Look for Rua to finish Nakamura with strikes in the first.


Prediction: Mauricio Rua TKO Kazuhiro Nakamura RD1



Yuki Kondo (48-28-6) vs. Akihiro Gono (26-12-7)




One of the most popular figures from Pride Bushido, Akihiro Gono will get an opportunity to avenge a previous loss to King of Pancrase Yuki Kondo. In 2001, the two first met at Pancrase – Proof 7 in a fight that saw Gono’s corner throw in the towel after a barrage of strikes from Kondo. Now nearing the twilight of his career, Kondo will try to end his slump in the Pride ring and repeat his prior performance. A former All-Japan Kickboxing Heavyweight Champion, Gono has become a much better fighter since their first encounter, compiling wins over Daniel Acacio, Hector Lombard and Gegard Mousasi.


Five years later, these two guys match up better than before. Gono has refined his kickboxing while Kondo’s crisp striking remains the same. The ‘DJ Ozma enthusiast’ is a better wrestler but Kondo will have the edge in submissions. Although Gono is coming off of a loss to Denis Kang, the Team Grabaka fighter has been on a roll of late. Conversely, Kondo has dropped five of his last ten fights. Akihiro needs to outwork the always-tough Kondo while making sure he doesn’t tire himself in the process. Look for Gono to earn a close decision over the Pancrase Legend and redeem himself in front of his home crowd. A loss for Kondo will probably signify the last time we see him in a Pride ring.


Prediction: Akihiro Gono decisions Yuki Kondo




Shinya Aoki (11-2) vs. Joachim Hansen (14-4-1)




Current Shooto 167-pound Champion Shinya Aoki takes on his toughest test to date when he meets former Shooto Welterweight Champion Joachim Hansen. A black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Aoki is the winner of Rickson Gracie’s Budo Challenge, an All Japan BJJ champion and a Japanese qualifier of 2005’s ADCC world championship. In addition to BJJ, Shinya comes from a Judo background. Joachim Hansen holds a brown belt in BJJ and has progressed well with his boxing and Muay Thai. Now known more as a striker, the Scandinavian fighter started his career in Jiu-Jitsu and is well-versed on the ground. Comfortable on his back, “Hellboy” is always a formidable and dangerous opponent for any fighter.


This is the most anticipated fight of the evening for me. Although I’m a little disappointed that Aoki isn’t fighting Gilbert Melendez, Joachim Hansen is a great replacement. Like I’ve said before, I feel that Aoki is one of the most naturally gifted Japanese ground fighters that I have seen in recent years. There’s no doubt this will be a tough fight for the Shooto Champion. Not known for his striking, Shinya will need to approach with caution when trying to clinch.


If Hansen wants to win, he needs to keep the fight standing and avoid the clinch. However, history has shown that Joachim can be a bit too comfortable from his back. Hansen doesn’t have the best takedown defense and once his striking is nullified, his willingness to pull guard could be a bad style match-up for Aoki’s excellent ground game. Joachim has been on a roll knocking opponents out with a well-timed knee. However, I can’t see that happening to the man in yellow tights. When was the last time anyone seen Shinya aimlessly shoot in on an opponent? One thing that Aoki does well is control his opponents on the ground, especially from one’s back. Look for Shinya to clinch with Hansen and use his Judo background to take the fight to the ground or pull guard. Once there, Aoki will utilize his grappling prowess and active guard to upset the tough Scandinavian fighter. Tobikan Judan!


Prediction: Shinya Aoki submits Joachim Hansen RD1



Ikuhisa Minowa (35-24-8) vs. Kiyoshi Tamura (13-9)


red Speedos.


What is this I see, Ikuhisa Minowa actually facing a fighter in his weight class? As fans recall, these two already faced each other back in 2002. In a very entertaining fight, Kiyoshi Tamura earned a unanimous decision over the unorthodox Minowa. This rematch has the potential to be equally entertaining like their first fight or become a prosy showing of two veterans past their prime. I’m hoping for the former. Tamura has all of the skills to beat Minowa again, regardless if he’s well past his prime. The U-File fighter will take “The Punk” into the later rounds and wear him down with his low kicks and submission attempts. When he’s not fighting guys that outweigh him, Tamura performs well in his own weight class. Look for the Rings veteran to test Minowa’s questionable conditioning and earn a unanimous decision.


Prediction: Kiyoshi Tamura decisions Ikuhisa Minowa



Comments or thoughts? alyu@mmaweekly.com