by Ricardo Mendoza – MMAWeekly.com
Back in June, fourteen fighters started out and Pride Welterweight Champion Dan Henderson joined them in August with all of them having one goal in mind to become the Pride Welterweight GP 2006 Champion. Only four men remain and one of them will accomplish their dream of becoming a champion. Japanese hopes are high for a second Japanese champion to emerge being that half of the field that remains are Japanese. One fighter looks to turn personal tragedy into personal glory and another fighter looks to take a title to one of MMA’s prolific fight teams. Not only will a champion emerge but also a challenger for Pride Welterweight Champion Dan Henderson with a possible showdown on Pride’s New Years Eve show.

Pride Welterweight GP 2006 Semi-Final: Akihiro Gono vs. Denis Kang

Akihiro Gono has a 26-11-7 record in MMA and trains out of Team Grabaka with Kazuo Misaki. Gono is coming off a submission victory at Pride Bushido 12 over Armenian striker Gegard Mousasi. Gono was able to survive Mousasi’s striking onslaught early in both rounds of the fight. Gono was able to control Mousasi on the ground, almost submitting Mousasi with an armbar in the first round. Mousasi finally succumb to Gono towards the end of the fight, as Gono was able to end the fight with an armbar. Gono once again was able to survive an early onslaught, this time from Hector Lombard at Pride Bushido 11. Lombard came out with all he had to start the fight, having Gono backpedal in the opening moments of the fight. From that point on, Gono was slowly able to pick apart a clearly exhausted Lombard en route to a decision win. At Pride Bushido 10, Gono once again survived an early ground assault from Kim Dae Won, only to reverse him and submit him an armbar in the first round. Gono has established in recent fights that he does indeed have a solid ground game. Gono is also the former All Japan Kickboxing Heavyweight Champion and is known for his excellent counter-punching.

Denis Kang has a 25-7-1 record in MMA and trains out of the American Top Team with Marcus Aurelio. Kang is coming off a submission victory over Red Devil fighter Amar Suloev at Pride Bushido 12. After a brief feeling out process on the feet, Kang dropped Suloev with a punch and on the ground he never let up until he got the rear naked choke that forced Suloev to tap out in the first round. Kang showed off his impressive striking skills at Pride Bushido 11, knocking out Chute Boxe fighter Murilo “Ninja” Rua. Knag never gave Ninja a chance to get started as Kang dropped him with a punch and finished it on the ground with strikes in mere seconds of the first round. Kang made his return from injury at Pride Bushido 10, disposing of British striker Mark Weir in the first round. Kang and Weir mixed it up on the feet with Weir getting the better of the exchanges, so Kang then took it to the ground and dominated the fight from there on. Kang was relentless with the ground and pound, forcing Weir to tap out in the first round. Kang is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt and has developed his striking over his past couple of fights.

This one is going to be exciting while it last. Kang is coming off a personal tragedy and word is that to cope with he spent all his time in the gym getting ready for the biggest night in his MMA career. Gono is quickly becoming of the more popular fighters in Pride with his eccentric endurances and fighting attitude. Kang should take this one simply because the game plan has already been laid out on how to beat Gono, just keep constant pressure on him. Both of Gono’s recent losses have come because both fighters have keep constant pressure on Gono and haven’t let him use his counter-punching in effect. Both Lombard and Mousasi didn’t keep constant on Gono and it cost them in the end. As long as Kang keeps the pressure on Gono on the feet and on the ground, he should be able to take this one and move to the finals.

Prediction: Denis Kang by TKO in the first round

Pride Welterweight GP 2006 Semi-Final: Kazuo Misaki vs. Paulo Filho

Kazuo Misaki has a 17-6-2 record in MMA and trains out Team Grabaka with Akihiro Gono. Misaki is coming off the biggest win of his career at Pride Bushido 12, outworking Dan Henderson en route to a decision victory. Misaki was able to outwork Henderson the entire fight and beat him to the punch at every instance of the fight. He was the busier of the two fighters on the feet and landed the cleaner shots of the two fighters. At the end of the night, Misaki had done more then enough to avenge his loss earlier in the year to Henderson by winning the decision. At Pride Bushido 11, Misaki was able to be the quicker and busier fighter as he took a decision over American Kickboxing Academy fighter Phil Baroni. Misaki was again able to outwork his opponent, as Baroni had no answer for Misaki’s quick pace. Misaki again was able to land the cleaner shots of the two fighters and stay the busier of the two fighters en route to a decision win. Misaki lost a decision at Pride Bushido 10 to Dan Henderson, much in the same way that he beat Henderson at Pride Bushido 12. Misaki has shown that he is an excellent striker and its going to be hard fro anyone to keep up with his pace.

Paulo Filho has a 13-0 record in MMA and trains out of the Brazilian Top Team with Murilo Bustamante. Filho had an easy night at Pride Bushido 12; he easily disposed of Ryo Chonan with a submission victory. Filho took the fight to the ground and from there it only took him a matter of minutes to submit Chonan with an armbar in the first round. Filho again made easy work of his opponent at Pride Bushido 11, winning an easy decision over Gregory Bouchelaghem. Filho took Bouchelaghem down with ease and even mounted him several times in the fight. Filho used his superior ground game to easily control Bouchelaghem en route to a decision win. At Pride Bushido 10, Filho took out Murilo “Ninja” Rua, easily dominating the fight en route to another decision victory. Ninja was unable to defend Filho’s takedowns throughout the entire fight and it cost him the fight. Once on the ground, Filho was able to use his positioning on the ground to control Ninja from getting any effective offense in the entire fight. Filho’s biggest strength is his ground game and the way he can easily control his opponents on the ground.

I smell a huge upset in this fight and here is why. Filho is an excellent fighter and is one of the top middleweights in the world but besides his ground game, he doesn’t have anything else to offer. Even when he gets it on the ground he has shown that he has a hard time to finish his opponents on the ground, he has a hard time to finish the fight once he gets an excellent position like mount and thus doesn’t seem to have the killer instinct. Misaki has an excellent sprawl and has a decent enough ground game that he can survive Filho’s onslaught until he can get back on the feet and tag Filho with shots. Its hard to judge what kind of striking Filho has since he usually takes the fight to the ground rather quickly. Misaki is going to pull off the upset much like he did in his last fight and move on the finals.

Prediction: Kazuo Misaki by decision

Pride Welterweight GP 2006 Final: Denis Kang vs. Kazuo Misaki

The final should be an entertaining fight, as both fighters will fight at a high pace that they are accustomed to. Kang should be the fresher fighter of the two because Misaki will more then likely have fight the full fifteen minutes to advance to finals, while Kang should be able finish it within the distance to become the fresher of the two fighters. Either way both fighters should bring an intense pace to the fight as they are both going to leave it all out on the table to become champion. Kang should be able to take this fight simply because of the immense improvement he has shown both in his striking and ground games since he started to fight in Pride Bushido. Misaki is probably Japan’s best welterweight but I don’t think he will able to beat Kang in either aspect of the fight. Kang should be able to beat Misaki to the punch in every aspect of the fight but he won’t finish him as Misaki has shown in the past that it is nearly impossible to finish him.

Prediction: Denis Kang by decision to become the Pride Welterweight GP 2006 Champion