by Ken Pishna
Coming into Sunday’s Pride Final Conflict, Wanderlei Silva was once again the odds on favorite to win the Pride Middleweight Grand Prix. Well, it was Chute Boxe once again in the winner’s circle, but for a change of pace, it wasn’t the expected Silva; it was his Chute Boxe teammate Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.

Silva has ruled the Pride middleweight division for the past five years and at one time, it appeared that Shogun’s brother, Maurilo “Ninja” Rua would be the Chute Boxe heir apparent. Silva is still in the driver’s seat, holding the Pride Middleweight Championship, but having lost four of his past six fights, Ninja has basically dropped off of the map.

Enter Shogun. While many expected to see Silva and Alistair Overeem in the Grand Prix finals, it was Ricardo Arona and Shogun that ended up at the finish line. While Silva looked lackluster, Arona seemed to overpower the champion in their bout taking him down and actually appearing to frustrate him on the feet en route to a unanimous decision. In the other semi-final, Shogun weathered an early storm, including a tight guillotine attempt by Overeem, put him on the ground with superior takedowns and pummeled his way to victory.

The semi-final against Overeem was impressive for Shogun, but it was in the final with Arona that he really did shine. Fighting with the fury of his entire team behind him, none more vocal than Wanderlei Silva, Shogun destroyed Arona. He didn’t give the Brazilian Top Teamer a chance to even compete for the Grand Prix belt.

Shogun started with a spinning capoeira-style kick that threw Arona off and he never recovered. Arona was caught in an omo plata early on that he escaped, but Shogun never relented, taking Arona down and making various attempts at the Chute Boxe stomp. The stomp never landed flush, but a hammerfist did. Actually, not just one, but several hammerfists found their mark as Shogun put the lights out on Arona and claimed the Grand Prix title.

With Silva holding the Pride middleweight strap and Shogun the Grand Prix gold, does this mean that the two teammates are on a collision course? Not necessarily. There is definitely a viable route for Pride to go, even with the two Chute Boxers reigning atop the same division.

Shogun has proven that he is the real deal. With a 12-1 record, his only loss early on in his career to Babalu Sobral, he has proven his metal. In the Pride ring, no one has defeated Shogun. He has mowed his way through the competition, taking out such luminaries as Quinton Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Hiromitsu Kanehara, and now Overeem and Arona. In eight Pride bouts, Shogun is 8-0, all by knockout save for a hard fought decision over Nogueira.

So what happens to Wanderlei Silva? Simple, he moves up to heavyweight. Though he may not dominate the division the way he has at middleweight, Silva has always been a rather large middleweight fighter and has some wonderful matchups available at heavyweight. The most appealing scenario in my eyes being to have him move up and rematch Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic. If he wins that bout, send him into a fight for the ages to challenge Fedor.

With Fedor’s victory over Cro Cop at Final Conflict, he has basically cleaned out the heavyweight division. If Silva were to take care of business with Cro Cop, they drew in their first bout under special rules, it would be one of the biggest fights ever, maybe even thee biggest, for Silva to attempt to be the man to wrest Fedor’s belt from him.

At just 23 years of age, Shogun is ready to become the king of Pride’s middleweights. With Silva and Shogun being teammates and with the way that this year’s Grand Prix went, it would be easy to have Silva walk away from his middleweight title and move up to the challenge of the heavyweights, thus leaving the middleweights in the capable hands of his teammate without a fight between the two. Then we would see if Chute Boxe could possibly take over both divisions.

If something like this doesn’t happen, if Silva stays in the middleweight division, then he and Shogun are sure to be on a collision course. And as Shogun proved on Sunday, he is the future of the middleweight division… and the future may just be now.