by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
If recent history tells us anything about the lighter weight classes, it is that this weekend’s upcoming Bushido: Survival event could end up being one of the best MMA events of the year.

Along with the first round of this year’s 183-pound Grand Prix (which is referred to as the welterweight division within Pride), Bushido: Survival features an undercard of four lightweight bouts. These matches feature some of the best talent in the world, along with new faces making their Pride debuts.

In Part One of an interview that was conducted by MMAWeekly’s Mick Hammond earlier this week, Pride commentator Mauro Ranallo discusses Pride’s year thus far, the current feeling within the company, and the undercard of the Bushido: Survival event.

MMAWeekly: First off, Mauro, we’re at the half-way point of the year. Tell us how you feel the past six months have been going for Pride.

Mauro Ranallo: Obviously, it’s been a very eventful beginning to the year 2006 for Pride Fighting Championships. We’ve seen a few stars emerge, really exciting fights, and sort of a changing of the guard with Kazushi Sakuraba moving on. So, there’s definitely a clear cut feeling of a new beginning for a lot of people in Pride. I think it’s been a very entertaining first half of 2006, and it can only get better from here.

MMAWeekly: I know there has been a definite sense of a beginning of a new era for the company this year.

Mauro Ranallo: I definitely believe that to be the case, not only for Pride, but for the entire sport. Since MMA began in Japan and the US in 1993, and with the advent of Pride in 1997, it’s a sport that’s scratched and clawed its way to try to gain mainstream acceptance. Things are definitely heating up, and Pride has definitely stepped up with the tournaments… first the open weight tournament last month and now heading into our welterweight tournament. In terms of it being a rebirth, definitely, and I also look for Pride to be the truly global leader in MMA, with new countries coming to Pride every week, it seems.

MMAWeekly: Are Pride officials happy with the year so far and the current state of things?

Mauro Ranallo: I would say so, yes. Considering what’s been happening in a ring, for sure, I would say they’re very happy. We had 27,000 people in the Osaka Dome for Total Elimination Absolute, and the Bushido shows have always done above and beyond what they [management] expect. All you have to do is do the research. See for yourself, there’s really only truly one international MMA organization, and I think Pride FC is just going to be stronger for the effort.

MMAWeekly: All right, let’s get into the show itself, starting off with the undercard and the debut of two new fighters to the company with Jason Black taking on Eoh Won Jin.

Mauro Ranallo: Jason Black comes from MFS Elite, the Pat Miletich-trained team that is really the team of champions in the US. Any time you can put Pat Miletich down on paper as your trainer, you know you’re someone to contend with. I’m really looking forward to seeing Jason Black in action in Bushido taking on a newcomer, Eoh Won Jin. Black, as they say, has “all the tools.” He’s only lost once in MMA, when he suffered an elbow injury against Shonie Carter in February. When you look at his credentials, he’s one of those fighters that probably deserved an opportunity a lot earlier than this, but is finally get his chance. He has that great grappling background, the training with Miletich… he’s definitely going to make a definite impact at Bushido: Survival.

Eoh Won Jin from South Korea was a national ranked wrestler in from 1996 to ’98, so he should have good takedowns [and] takedown defense, and against Jason Black he’ll need all those skills and more. Being a chance for both of them to step up on the big stage, it’s going to come down to whom really wants to impose his gameplan and win. Just on paper alone, in terms of experience and training background, I would say Jason Black is the one to look for in that fight.

MMAWeekly: Next we have Top 10 ranked Tatsuya Kawajiri taking on the enigmatic Charles “Krazy Horse” Bennett. What do you think about this potentially explosive match-up?

Mauro Ranallo: We last saw Kawajiri involved with the fan-voted Pride Fight of the Year against Takanori Gomi, where he lost, but he definitely loves to let his hands go and is a very entertaining styled fighter. You talk about an enigma… the unorthodox Charles “Krazy Horse” Bennett may not be the most technically skilled [fighter], but what he does have is the heart [and] desire, and knows how to put on a show… and with apologies to the purists and everything, the sport is about entertaining the fans. You want to deliver exciting fights, and styles make fights. As far as that goes, especially in Japan and even here in America, we like to be entertained, and win or lose, Charles Bennett always entertains. I predict that this one is going to be a lights-out fireworks display, and anything can happen in a fight. Being a Champion [in Shooto], maybe Kawajiri has the advantage and is the favorite, but in this, the year of the upset, anything can happen. I do think Bennett has untapped potential and is very marketable, and I look forward to a very thrilling encounter between he and Kawajiri.

MMAWeekly: Okay, moving onto the next fight, this is another potential barn-burner between Pride 2005 Lightweight GP finalist Hayato “Mach” Sakurai and one of the true underground cult favorites in the sport of MMA, Olaf Alfonso.

Mauro Ranallo: Hayato “Mach” Sakurai, not too long ago, was one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, and in Japan has really turned his career around since dropping down to lightweight. You can really thank the likes of Matt Hume and the rest of his training partners at AMC Pankration in Washington State. He went into the Lightweight Title fight against Gomi [at Shockwave 2005] injured, but he’s not using that as an excuse and has recovered from the injury… [he is] coming off, before that fight, one of the greatest nights of his career at Bushido: The Tournament [where he beat Jens Pulver and Joachim Hansen in one night].

For Olaf Alfonso, I’m looking forward to seeing him fight in person. Like Charles Bennett, his record may not be enviable, but this guy comes to fight, plain and simple. He’ll go toe-to-toe with anybody. He’s been involved with some very memorable battles on smaller shows in the US, is absolutely fearless, and displays tremendous heart, and what he lacks in technique he makes up for in fighting style. With this [being] his first crack at the big time, it’s going to be interesting to see what he’s going to be able to do against Sakurai. I think he’s going to try to keep it standing and try for the KO, but against Sakurai, it’s going to prove to be a very difficult task.

MMAWeekly: Lastly on the undercard, there’s Marcus Aurelio, a fighter that many feel is the uncrowned Pride Lightweight Champion, going up against Kawajiri’s teammate Mitsuhiro Ishida.

Mauro Ranallo: I can understand some people being a little perplexed as to why Aurelio’s fight against Gomi at the last Bushido was a non-title match. In Japan, not every fight is a title fight, and I know a lot people here in America may find that hard to believe, but there is a method to the madness. What it does is give Marcus Aurelio the biggest win of his career and does set up a title fight later in the year against Gomi, should Aurelio prove successful against Mitsuhiro Ishida. Marcus is a tremendous wizard when it comes to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He’s on top of the world, but again, it’s back to business for him. Ishida looked very good himself in his Pride debut at Bushido 10 when he took out Paul Rodriguez in a very entertaining fight in itself. I think Ishida provides a pretty good challenge for Aurelio, but I think you have to go with Aurelio just because of what he’s been able to accomplish and knowing how hard they work at American Top Team.

MMAWeekly: Just how important is it that Marcus Aurelio wins this fight to prove that he is indeed the real thing, and not the sometimes inconsistent fighter he has been in the past?

Mauro Ranallo: Obviously, in his mind and in everyone’s mind, this is paramount. It’s dangerous to take a fight like this knowing you just defeated the champion and down the line you have a title shot coming. There could be a situation where a champion loses a non-title fight and the guy that beats him loses his next fight, so for Marcus Aurelio it is paramount that he does win this fight if he wants to secure that title shot for sure.

MMAWeekly: On a side note for a second, does Ishida have the ugliest ears in MMA, or what?

Mauro Ranallo: [Laughs] Having seen a few of them up close, they may not be the nicest things, but you know they’re called badges of honor in his line of work and wrestling background.

MMAWeekly: Okay, getting back to business, to close out part one of our interview, give us your overall thoughts on the undercard of Bushido: Survival.

Mauro Ranallo: The lightweights are always entertaining, and when you have Tatsuya Kawajiri and Hayato “Mach” Sakurai, two of the top lightweights in the world, on the card fighting who they are fighting, in Charles Bennett and Olaf Alfonso, they could very well end up stealing the show. I always have trepidations telling people what’s going to steal the show because I’ve found in my career in Pride, going on 25 events or so, that the fights just keep getting better and better… but you do bring up a good point. I think that Kawajiri and Sakurai’s fights may not last long, but they may definitely be the most entertaining fights of the night.

Stay tuned to MMAWeekly for Part Two of our interview with Mauro Ranallo as he continues to break down the remainder of Bushido: Survival, in particular the all-important seven bouts that comprise the first round of Pride’s 183-pound Grand Prix.