by Ken Pishna – MMAWeekly.com (Photo courtesy of April Pishna)
LAS VEGAS, NEV. – Before an announced crowd of 13,180 at the Thomas & Mack Center and thousands more on pay-per-view, Dan Henderson stunned the crowd with a left hook that laid out defending middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva, flat on his back in the center of the ring.

The main event played out exactly as Henderson had predicted, “I go out there and try to knock people out, [but] both of us have shown that we don’t get knocked out easy. It’s going to be an exciting fight.”

Notoriously a slow starter, Henderson shifted gears for this bout, pushing the pace from the onset. Although Silva landed several hard shots throughout, it was the Team Quest fighter that grew stronger as the minutes wore on and became more effective with his striking. Henderson sent Silva stumbling backwards after landing a spinning backfist in the third round, then dispatched the Chute Boxe fighter following up with the fight-ending left hook.

With the win over Silva, Henderson becomes the first Pride fighter to hold two championship belts concurrently in two different weight classes.

In a non-title bout, Pride lightweight belt-holder Takanori Gomi and Gracie Fighter Nick Diaz put on a stunning display that had the crowd on its feet roaring. In a slugfest, Gomi had the edge early, but the much larger Diaz started utilizing his jab and following up with combinations that left Gomi visibly exhausted by the end of the first round.

In the second stanza, Diaz was obviously the stronger of the two in their exchanges, pushing to finish the fight. Desperate, Gomi took Diaz to the mat, but Diaz, a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu brown belt, a la Shinya Aoki, finished Gomi with a Gogoplata, a modified version of the more common triangle choke.

Following the bout, Diaz stated, “I love fighting for Pride Fighting Championships.” With a win over their current lightweight champ, he’s sure to see more action for the venerable Japanese promotion seeing as how they start a 16-man Lightweight Grand Prix tournament on May 20.

In another light heavyweight bout, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, the MMAWeekly.com #2 ranked fighter in the division, withstood the early aggression of top ten fighter Alistair Overeem to come back and knock him out as the first round neared an end.

Overeem was the more aggressive of the two early on, landing crisp punching combinations and taking Rua down twice. But it would be Rua securing a takedown of his own then diving in from Overeem’s guard to land a right hand on the chin followed by a left to the jaw that put Overeem out of commission.

Following several failed attempts, American Mike Russow finally secured a takedown of Russian fighter Sergei Kharitonov about three minutes into their heavyweight contest. Trying to work his ground and pound attack, Russow got caught in an armbar that, despite his post-fight protests, had him tapping out at the 3:46 mark of the first round.

Unranked fighter Mac Danzig stepped into a difficult task as he faced the MMAWeekly.com #2 ranked lightweight fighter in Hayato “Mach” Sakurai. Though Danzig appeared to be bursting with energy and continually moved forward attacking the veteran Japanese fighter, Sakurai started to establish his dominance towards the end of the first round, picking Danzig apart with sharp striking and a couple of well-executive hip tosses.

In the second round, Sakurai appeared to feel no threat from Danzig as he took his time working various hand combinations and chopping the younger fighter down with brutal leg kicks. With one minute left in the round, Danzig again moved in to attack, only to feel the concussive power of Sakurai’s overhand right, which knocked him out.

In near record time, just 23 seconds into the first round, South African Judo champion Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou stepped up and knocked the heavily favored Antonio Rogerio Nogueira out cold with a left hook that laid the Brazilian out on the canvas for several minutes.

Last minute replacement James Lee came out firing, immediately dropping Travis Wiuff with a straight right. Once they hit the mat, he kept up the pace, quickly securing a guillotine choke to submit Wiuff just 39 seconds into the first round.

Lee later stated that he took this bout on just “48 hours notice and had to cut nearly 20 pounds in about 13 to 14 hours to make weight.”

Fighting broadcaster Frank Trigg, who flirted with retirement in 2006, fought in his second bout since making his return this past December. No small task before him – MMAWeekly.com #4 ranked middleweight Kazuo Misaki – Trigg dominated this three-round bout en route to a unanimous decision victory with all three judges scoring the bout 30-27.

Following the bout, Trigg said, “I got hit hard in the first, and then again in the second, and the third. But he wasn’t able to hurt me. I just took him down and worked my game on him.”

Appearing very strong at 185 pounds, he used to fight at 170 before retiring, Trigg was unsure about his future in the sport. “I used to have to fight because it was how I made my living. Now, I fight because I want to, not because I have to. It’s not my only source of income any more,” he mused. “We’ll see what the future has in store.”

Highly ranked Scandinavian fighter Joachim Hansen faced a tough battle in the form of rising talent Jason Ireland. Although Hansen was in control of the action for the better part of the fight, Ireland continued to threaten with a solid striking game and some decent takedowns, but Hansen established his dominance in a brief exchange in the second round when he established a Thai neck clinch and hammered Ireland with knees and nearly secured an armbar as the round closed.

Hansen started in with the knees again at the beginning of round three. Ireland took him down in an attempt to defend, but Hansen locked on a triangle choke, landed a few hard punches to Ireland’s face and then transitioned into an armbar that he had extended for some time, but Ireland would not tap. Though he never submitted, the pain and forthcoming damage was evident as referee Steve Mazzagatti stopped the bout halfway into the third round.

Dan Henderson def. Wanderlei Silva by KO at 2:08, Round 3
Nick Diaz def. Takanori Gomi by Gogoplata at 1:46, Round 2
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua def. Alistair Overeem by TKO at 3:37, Round 1
Sergei Kharitonov def. Mike Russow by Armbar at 3:46, Round 1
Hayato “Mach” Sakurai def. Mac Danzig by TKO at 4:01, Round 2
Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou def. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira by TKO at 0:23, Round 1
James Lee def. Travis Wiuff by Guillotine Choke at 0:39, Round 1
Frank Trigg def. Kazuo Misaki by Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Joachim Hansen def. Jason Ireland by Armbar at 2:33, Round 3

• Pride returns to the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nev. on April 28. Their next show, however, is scheduled to air on American pay-per-view, for the first time broadcast live from Japan, on April 7 in the U.S.

• Pride’s Lightweight Grand Prix tournament, featuring fighters up to 160 pounds, was confirmed by president Nobuyuki Sakikabara to begin on May 20 in Japan. The tournament will feature 16 fighters. Current champion Takanori Gomi will likely participate said Sakikabara, but may be exempt from the first round of competition.

• Despite rumors to the contrary, an emotional Sakikabara would not confirm that Pride is for sale. Speculation has risen lately that both Zuffa LLC (the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s parent company) and Pride USA President Ed Fishman are each in separate negotiations to attempt a purchase of the financially troubled promotion.