by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
In another MMAWeekly exclusive, Pride FC commentator Mauro Ranallo talked to us from Japan just 24 hours prior to Total Elimination Absolute. Ranallo discussed the recent defection of Kazushi Sakuraba to K-1, and the match-ups on Friday’s card.

The following are Ranallo’s comments to MMAWeekly from Japan:

Obviously the shock of seeing Kazushi Sakuraba in our competition’s ring caught us all by surprise. I don’t know the details of why he decided to jump ship in the twilight of what was a Hall of Fame Pride career, but seeing how they [K-1] handled his introduction I don’t think his defection will have a huge impact on the landscape in Japan.

Granted, Sakuraba helped Pride reach the pinnacle of success with his battles against the Gracies and his willingness to take on all competition. But injuries have slowed him down and his popularity amongst the Japanese fighters in Pride has been superceded by the likes of [Hidehiko] Yoshida and [Ikuhisa] Minowa. Time will tell if Sakuraba’s decision to leave Pride proves a wise career move.

Of course we are all more concerned with what will take place at the Osaka Dome on Friday night. Pride World Heavyweight Champion Fedor Emelianenko will be at the show supporting his brother Aleksander. Fedor is continuing to recover from hand surgery and has been given a bye into the second round of the tournament on July 1st.

Both Aleksander and Josh Barnett have shown up in phenomenal shape. Especially the Baby Faced Assassin, whose five week training stint in California with Erik Paulson has paid huge dividends in terms of physical appearance. I don’t think I’ve seen Barnett look this good, ever.

Josh feels he’s a better stand-up fighter than Emelianenko and wants to hurt Aleksander to “get to Fedor.” Not surprisingly Emelianenko has refused to get into a war of words with Barnett and has promised to finish the fight as quickly as possible.

Hidehiko Yoshida and Yosuke Nishijima is the main event and while Nishijima displayed a ton of heart against Mark Hunt in his MMA debut at Pride 31, most pundits are predicting a Yoshida win via submission.

Kazuyuki Fujita is very excited to be back in Pride, saying it is without a doubt the best organization in the world. His fight against affable Englishman James Thompson should be a barnburner. Fujita has never been knocked out, while Thompson’s fights usually last as long as a sneeze, win or lose.

Mirko Cro Cop showed up a few pounds lighter, tipping the scales at 220lbs. He respects his opponent Ikuhisa Minowa’s ground game, calling Minowa a “fish in water” on the canvas. The charismatic Minowa is referring to this fight as “Heaven Revolution,” while most experts predict he may be sent to a figurative heaven via one of Cro Cop’s patented high kicks.

The “Brazilian Bob Sapp” Zuluzinho promises to atone for his disastrous 26-second KO loss at the hands of Fedor in his last Pride appearance. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira is in great shape and hopes to do to the son of the mythical Zulu what he did to the real Bob Sapp at Shockwave 2002: submit him.

Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum is an intriguing match-up. “The Demolition Man” Overeem has little respect for the BJJ wiz Werdum’s striking abilities and promises a first round KO.

Tsuyoshi Kosaka says he will retire if he loses to supreme striker Mark Hunt. I hope “TK” enjoys his golden years.

In the tournament alternate match Roman Zentsov takes on Gilbert Yvel. This one should last about as long as a Hollywood marriage.

There will be special rules for the tournament. If opponents are separated by 44lbs or LESS, the lighter weight fighter can decide to allow or prohibit knees and kicks on the ground. If the two opponents are separated by OVER 44lbs knees and kicks will NOT be allowed on the ground.

In light of recent events away from the ring, Pride officials remain as excited as ever about the tournament and are looking forward to giving fans the best MMA action anywhere. Pride FC once again looks forward to putting on the greatest MMA event on earth. If you are truly fans of world class competition make sure to order Pride Total Elimination Absolute 2006 this Friday, May 5th on PPV. It promises to be a night of absolutely great fights!