by Damon Martin
The main event for Pride: Fully Loaded is a very highly anticipated rematch between two of the very best heavyweights competing in the world today. Mirko Cro Cop and Josh Barnett both have a lot to prove in this fight and a loss by either man will set them back quite a ways from climbing up to the top of the championship ladder.

In their first fight, the storyline was much the same as it is this time around…can Barnett get Cro Cop down and submit him or will Cro Cop unleash his hellish barrage of striking on Barnett.

“The Baby Faced Assassin” Josh Barnett, who is a former UFC champion, was expected to do some very big things when he debuted in Pride in October of 2004. His first test was Mirko Cro Cop, who is widely considered one of the top two or three heavyweight fighters in the world. Barnett was able to impose his will early on in the fight by taking Cro Cop to the mat, but unfortunately a freakish shoulder injury forced a stoppage and the Washington native tasted defeat for only the second time in his career.

It’s been a long hard road of recovery for Barnett who has spent the better part of the last year rehabbing his shoulder and making sure when he returns that he is at full strength. Barnett has assured everyone that he is very much ready for this fight and expects to go out perform at full capacity.

Barnett is often categorized as a strict ground fighter with excellent submissions, but he did go toe to toe with Pedro Rizzo in their fight. Granted, Barnett lost by KO but he did land some very good shots and was able to sustain much of the attack put on by Rizzo. Josh has also shown that he is a complete mixed martial arts fighter winning by both strikes and submissions and over his career has shown to be a finisher as he has only had one fight go to a decision.

Mirko Cro Cop steps into this fight like a wounded animal, ready to strike at any moment when threatened. Cro Cop finally got his title shot when he took on perennial champion, Fedor Emelianenko back in August, but was unable to pull the trigger and land any truly devastating shots to the champion and eventually lost a decision. Losing to Fedor isn’t a terrible mark to have on your record as only one fighter can actually claim a win over him (and that was a doctor’s stoppage due to a cut), but Cro Cop truly felt that it was his time.

Now, Cro Cop will make his return and his opponent will be a true test to see if he can bounce back from a loss of this magnitude. The former Croation police officer is no doubt the top striker in all of MMA, but recently with the help of training partner, Fabricio Werdum, he has also started to put together a ground game to add to his arsenal.

Although it is not likely that Cro Cop will be flashing any triangle chokes to finish this fight, it is possible that he has learned enough to escape from positions like those that led to his submission loss to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in 2003.

Cro Cop wasn’t able to stop Barnett from taking him down fairly easily in their first fight, but he still has one of the best sprawls in the business. Cro Cop’s plan is never a secret, as he will bide his time until a fighter opens up enough for him to unleash one of his famous high kicks, or simply pummel his opponent with his wide array of striking ability.

The biggest disadvantage that Barnett has to have coming into this fight is his inactivity over the last year due to his injury, but he has largely been sporadic with his fight schedule over last few years while he was working with New Japan pro-wrestling.

Barnett has always come well prepared for every fight he’s been in and honestly this fight should not be much different. He is very focused and seems ready to catapult his name back into the mix as a top contender.

Cro Cop always seems ready to fight and is one of the most dangerous opponents anyone can have due to the unbelievable power he possesses in both his hands and feet. He does have to really work to keep this fight on the feet though, because no matter how good he has gotten on the ground, he’s not Josh Barnett good on the ground.

Pride has to have mixed feelings about this fight because Cro Cop is one of the most marketable and popular fighters out there, but did just lose Fedor and a quick rematch doesn’t seem the route to go right now. Barnett on the other hand, with this win and maybe one more, could be just the man to test Fedor when he comes back from his hand surgery.

The very beginning of this fight will answer a lot of questions. First, can Barnett come out and get Cro Cop down quickly like he did in their first fight? Second, if the fight does progress and Cro Cop doesn’t get the KO in the first round, has he worked on his cardio to really push the pace for the full fight? Lastly, is this the same Josh Barnett that was poised to be the top fighter in the world just a few years ago?

Josh Barnett is one of the most well rounded fighters on the planet and if he comes in good shape, and doesn’t let the prospect of standing and trading with Cro Cop get the best of him the way it did with Pedro Rizzo, he stands a very good chance of winning this fight. Cro Cop on the other hand will always have a great chance of winning because with one punch or more likely one kick, he can end anyone’s night in a hurry.

Prediction: Josh Barnett by submission, Rd 2