September 10, 2006

by Al Yu – MMAWeekly.com

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Open Weight Grand Prix Finals: Mirko Cro Cop Dominates, “Shogun” Rebounds from Injury

Anticipation for PRIDE Final Conflict Absolute was very high. After two exciting events, this year’s Absolute Grand Prix has produced two stellar final four match-ups. Dream Stage Entertainment, the parent company of PRIDE Fighting Championships, put on another great show with the quality production value that PRIDE is known for. A new Grand Prix champion was crowned and fans were treated to many exciting fights.

In the opening fight of the evening, former pro boxer Yousuke Nishijima faced off against Chute Boxe’s Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos. The Brazilian fighter had Nishijima stunned early, throwing hooks and knees from the clinch. Santos took the Japanese fighter down and soon transitioned into a full mount. Nishijima showed his inexperience on the ground and was submitted by a rear naked choke shortly after.

PRIDE middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva and former contender Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic finally had the opportunity to settle some unfinished business in a highly anticipated rematch. The two fighters originally met at PRIDE 20 where the fight was ruled as a draw due to special rules. Silva started the fight aggressively, charging forward and throwing hooks as Mirko evaded. “Cro Cop” looked very sharp, countering punches and even dropping Silva with a straight left. Throughout the fight, Mirko connected with hard left kicks to Silva’s side. His strategy paid off when the Croatian landed one of his patented left high kicks to the Brazilian’s head as Silva was trying to protect his side. Wanderlei crumbled to the mat and the ref ended the fight immediately. The loss signified Silva’s most devastating defeat since being stopped by Vitor Belfort early in his career.

In one of the best fights of the evening, Josh Barnett and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira exceeded fans’ expectations with an exciting ground battle. Nogueira established his boxing skills early, landing a couple straight rights. The two engaged in a few clinches but the fight remained standing early on. A left hook dropped Nogueira about three minutes into the round and would signify the start of many ground transitions. Near the end of round one, Nogueira attempted an armbar but was unable to extend Barnett’s arm. Josh did a great job of locking his arms together. The second round saw much of the same action with both fighters gaining the advantage on top. The end of the fight saw Barnett almost securing a knee bar on the Brazilian Top Team fighter. After two exciting rounds, Josh Barnett earned a split decision in a very close match and moved onto a third showdown with Mirko Filipovic.

Top Russian heavyweights Sergei Kharitonov and Aleksander Emelianenko faced off in the evening’s tournament reserve match. Sergei pushed the pace by walking forward while Aleksander was content to circle around and fight from the outside. Both fighters landed jabs early on. About three minutes into the first round, Emelianenko was dropped by a straight right. Kharitonov consequently gained a full mount while Aleksander held on. After a few minutes of inactivity, Emelianenko was issued a yellow card and the fight was stood back up. The fighters would continue to circle each other while exchanging jabs until Aleksander landed two clean right hands. Kharitonov stumbled to the mat and Emelianenko proceeded to throw 20+ unanswered punches and a few knees. Though the fight was halted shortly after, the ref should have stopped the fight sooner.

Korean Ssireum champion Lee Tae-Hyun made his PRIDE debut against Ricardo “The Mutant” Morais. I felt like the two fighters conspired to waste almost 9 minutes of my life in what was one of sloppiest and uninspired fights I have ever seen. Morais threw looping telegraphed punches while the Korean blocked with his face. The fight was stopped due to Hyun’s exhaustion and a swollen eye.

Kazuhiro Nakamura earned a unanimous decision over Yoshihiro “Kiss” Nakao in a rather insipid fight. Nakamura was the busier fighter and landed the cleaner punches as well as some flying knees. Nakao wasn’t able to offer much of an offense and take advantage of his strong wrestling background. Neither fighter wanted to over-commit throughout the fight which resulted in a double yellow card issued in the final round by the ref. On a positive note, no fighters were kissed during this fight.

Mauricio “Shogun” Rua returned to his winning ways with a TKO stoppage of Cyrille “The Snake” Diabate in the first round. Rua seemed to have a difficult time landing clean shots early due to Diabate’s height advantage. Mauricio took the fight to the ground multiple times and was able to stomp and soccer kick his way to victory.

Ricardo Arona rebounded from two straight losses after forcing Alistair Overeem to tap out from unanswered punches. It appeared that Overeem may have forfeited due to an injury, possibly a broken eye socket. The fight started with Alistair closing in while the Brazilian Top Team fighter tried to create space a few kicks. A strong low kick from Ricardo caused Overeem to lose his balance and allowed Arona to control the remainder of the fight on the ground.

In the final fight of the night, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and Josh Barnett met for the third time in their careers. Barnett was no match for Mirko’s superior striking and powerful side kicks. Filipovic used his great takedown defense to keep the fight standing. The Croatian dropped Barnett with a shot to the body and proceeded to punish Josh with barrage of hammer fists and straight punches. After a straight left hand, fans saw Barnett wincing in pain as he tapped out do to an apparent eye injury. Mirko walked back to his corner and sat down in tears.

After his emotional victory, Mirko proclaimed, “This is the happiest day of my life.” Winning the Absolute Grand Prix almost guarantees “Cro Cop” a rematch with current PRIDE heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko. In one of the most dominant performances of the year, Mirko utilized his superior striking and excellent takedown defense to dismantle two top ranked fighters. As the icing on the cake, Mirko won the coveted crown on his birthday. Happy birthday Mirko, you earned it.

Final Conflict Absolute 2006 was a great show and resulted in many exciting matches. Lee Tae-Hyun’s PRIDE debut was painful to watch and his fight with Ricardo Morais served as the only blemish on a star-studded fight card. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Josh Barnett produced a competitively close yet memorable fight with many ground transitions. With another successful show behind them, PRIDE looks forward to their highly anticipated US debut.

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