Despite being a slight favorite in betting odds going into the fight, Russian fighter Sergei Kharitonov seemed somehow to be a big underdog by many critics in his match-up with Pedro Rizzo. Kharitonov, although rated in the top ten by most, had yet to really defeat a top ranked heavyweight in his tenure. His win over a bloated and undersized Maurilo “Ninja” Rua in last years heavyweight Grand Prix didn’t garnish much attention, and his biggest fight to date was a decision loss to perennial favorite, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
In the fight with Nogueira, even in loss, Kharitonov proved that he could hang for an entire fight with one of the world’s best fighters. He was able to hold his head up high knowing that he had taken the very best from Nogueria and didn’t give up. He also made a name for himself reaching the semi-finals in a tournament featuring some of the top heavyweight fighters in the world. Fans started to notice the fast rising star, but many questions still remained unanswered, the top one being, would Kharitonov be able to defeat a top ranked fighter?
Although Pedro Rizzo fell out of the spotlight sometime ago, many people still showed respect to the Marco Ruas prodigy and ranked him among the top fighters in the world even though he hadn’t fought in over a year. The limelight on Rizzo faded after a few lackluster performances inside the octagon of the UFC and a move to Pride seemed like the logical choice to spark a much needed fire under the man who just years ago seemed primed for greatness. Rizzo’s counter punch style seemed like the perfect match for the aggressive nature of Sergei Kharitonov and many writers and critics picked the Brazilian in his comeback fight to take out Kharitonov.
Sergei may have been listening.
In a fight that saw Rizzo battered from the opening bell on, Kharitonov solidified his name among the top of the game. Now that the critics have been proven wrong, many will say that Rizzo hasn’t been a top fighter in years, but Kharitonov’s win deserves much praise. He was able to take the middle of the ring with one of the most feared strikers in MMA history and beat him at his own game.
What’s next for Sergei Kharitonov? Well, he may want to bide his time and get the winner of the aftermath of CroCop vs. Fedor. If not, the loser may take a shot at Kharitonov to get back on the saddle. Josh Barnett is still looming large in the Pride picture with a return in October being possible, and Kharitonov is sure to remember the name of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira as it is the only blemish on his record.
The sky is the limit for a fighter with the talent of Sergei Kharitonov and time can only tell how great he may be one day, but in the Pride ring this weekend, Kharitonov didn’t earn his respect…he took it.