September 19, 2006

by Al Yu – MMAWeekly.com
Dream Stage Entertainment, the parent company of Pride Fighting Championships, held a press conference today regarding Pride 32: The Real Deal, which will be Pride’s first event in North America. At the beginning of the conference, Dream Stage CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara announced two new fights on the nine-fight card.

After coming up short against Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic in the finals of the Pride Open Weight Grand Prix, former UFC Heavyweight Champion Josh Barnett has been added to ‘The Real Deal’ lineup. His opponent will be legendary Polish Judoka Pawel Nastula. Coming off of an impressive win over previously undefeated Edson Drago, Nastula is looking to get his second victory in a Pride ring.

Dream Stage also announced that former K-1 kickboxing champion Mark Hunt will face Eric “Butterbean” Esch. Both fighters are looking to rebound from recent losses, with Hunt’s loss coming at the hands of Josh Barnett and Esch’s loss coming at the hands of Ikuhisa “The Punk” Minowa.

As of now, four match-ups have been officially announced. The two previously announced fights were Emelienaneko Fedor vs. Mark Coleman; and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Kevin Randleman. There will be some additional fights announced within the next week, with the remainder of the card being announced by the end of September.

Since the event is taking place in Nevada, the rules will be the same as those in the UFC, with two exceptions. The fights will take place in a ring instead of a cage, and unlike the UFC, there will be no elbows to the head allowed on the ground. While elbows to the head are legal under the rules of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, individual promoters still have the option of making elbows legal or illegal on their shows. Pride has chosen to make elbows illegal, as they are during Pride’s fights in Japan.

Given that the event will be taking place in Nevada, a few things that are normally allowed in Pride will not be allowed on this show. Kicking or kneeing the head of a downed opponent is normally legal in Pride, but is illegal in Nevada and will not be allowed in any of Pride’s fights. The same goes for wearing shoes or a Gi.

Each fight will consist of three five-minute rounds (instead of Pride’s usual 10-5-5 format), and if a fight goes the distance, it will be decided by a group of NSAC-appointed judges using the NSAC judging criteria, which is different from Pride’s usual judging criteria. Among many other differences, the judging criteria in the United States calls for each individual round to be judged on a 10-point must system (10 to 9, or 10-8, etc), while the usual judging criteria in Pride calls for the fight to be judged as a whole.

For those fans worried about the production values for which Pride is known, they can rest assured that the quality of the show will remain intact, according to Sakakibara, who said, “[The production] will definitely blow the crowd away. We will bring the ring from Japan, as well as the net LED screens that we usually use for our events. Most of the equipment we need for our event will be shipped to the US.”

In addition to a United States pay-per-view, which will be a live four-hour broadcast instead of a three-hour event, Pride: The Real Deal will be able to be viewed all over the world via internet pay-per-view. The event will be available through traditional PPV outlets in the United States, Japan, Brazil, and South Korea, but now MMA fans in other countries will also be able to watch the event live, according to DSE. More details regarding the service will be disclosed soon.

After Josh Barnett won the UFC Heavyweight Championship in March of 2002, he failed a post-fight drug test, as banned anabolic steroids were found in his system. Although he was suspended, Barnett went on to fight in Japan and has not fought in the United States since the suspension. When asked about Barnett’s status, Sakakibara said, “Regarding Josh’s suspension in UFC, that term is over and he is able to fight. He was injured from the Grand Prix last Sunday, but he has told us that he will be back to his best fighting condition by October.”

Having just won the Pride Open Weight Grand Prix, fans were curious if Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic would be able to fight in October. Sakakibara said, “It is not yet official that he will fight in October, because he has a swollen left foot. We are still talking to his manager regarding the condition of his foot. However, I’m sure that he will come to see the event.”

At UFC 61 in July, history was made when UFC President Dana White brought Pride’s 205-pound Champion Wanderlei Silva into the Octagon to announce a November fight against Chuck Liddell. However, as reported in our Rumors section, sources have been telling MMAWeekly that the Liddell-Silva fight (or Liddell vs. anyone from Pride) has been off since mid-August, even before Liddell’s fight against Renato Sobral on August 26th or Silva’s fight against Cro Cop on September 10th.

Nonetheless, Sakakibara remained steadfast when he was asked at the press conference about the possibility of someone from Pride fighting Liddell in the UFC. Sakakibara responded, “Speaking on behalf of Pride, we are ready anytime. Also, Wanderlei is ready. We just need the doctor’s confirmation regarding his injury from last week. We are still waiting for the UFC’s response. Mirko even said that if Wanderlei is not ready to fight in November, he would fight in his place. In some interviews, Mr. Dana White stated that this fight won’t happen. However, speaking from Pride’s side, we are ready.”

Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle recently reported that Liddell vs. Silva is off because “as far as [Dana] White is concerned, since Silva finished that fight [against Cro Cop] on his back, he doesn’t deserve a shot at the UFC’s top dog.” The Chronicle then quoted White saying, “It kind of defeats the purpose now. The guy just got, literally, destroyed. They’re [Pride] still saying we can do a fight in November. They can’t do a fight in November. The athletic commission would put them on suspension for 90 days. The guy got knocked out cold. First, he got beaten to death, then he got knocked out cold. There’s no way the guy could fight again in a month and a half. Plus, he just lost.”

Again, despite what both Zuffa and DSE are saying, sources have been telling MMAWeekly that the Silva-Liddell has been off since mid-August.

In any case, four of the nine match-ups on Pride’s U.S. debut show have now been announced, and the show will be taking place on Saturday, October 21st at the Thomas & Mack Center. The show will be televised live on pay-per-view in the United States from 9:00 PM Eastern Time to 1:00 AM Eastern Time.