Wanderlei Silva vs. Kazuyuki Fujita – An In-Depth Look

June 30, 2006

Wanderlei Silva (30-5-1) vs. Kazuyuki Fujita (13-4)

Wanderlei Silva and Fujita at Pride Open Weight Grand Prix

Wanderlei Silva and Fujita at Pride Open Weight Grand Prix

With so many great match-ups in the second round of the Pride Open Weight Grand Prix, fans are waiting in anticipation of Wanderlei Silva and Kazuyuki Fujita meeting in the ring for the first time. The MMA community is torn regarding the outcome of this particular fight. Some fans argue that the fight will potentially be an exciting war, while others argue that the match-up is a clash of styles and that the outcome will be similar to Wanderlei’s first encounter with Ricardo Arona. Let’s take a closer look at this highly anticipated fight.

Wanderlei Silva is the current Pride Middleweight Champion and the 2003 Middleweight Grand Prix Champion (the 205-pound division is known as the middleweight division in Pride). Known for his aggressive style, “The Axe Murderer” has been the most dominant fighter in the middleweight division for the last five years. Wanderlei holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and is a member of the well-known Chute Box Academy. Silva is coming off a close split decision victory over Ricardo Arona in a rematch. As many recall, Arona was the first fighter to defeat Wanderlei Silva in Pride at middleweight, which ended his long winning streak in the division.

Kazuyuki Fujita used to be a pro wrestler in New Japan Pro Wrestling. He made his MMA debut in a non-tournament fight at the first Pride Grand Prix event in 2000. “Iron Head” stunned many fans and critics when he handed former UFC Heavyweight Champion Mark Kerr his first professional loss. At Pride 26, Fujita almost became the first fighter to defeat Pride Heavyweight Champion Fedor Emelianenko in a Pride ring. During the fight, Fedor took a right hook from the Japanese wrestler that had him dazed and wobbly on his feet. Unfortunately for Fujita, he was unable to finish the champion, and Fujita succumbed to a rear naked choke shortly thereafter. After many Pride appearances, Fujita moved on to fight for K-1. At K-1 Premium Dynamite 2004, Fujita knocked out highly regarded Olympic Gold Medal-winning wrestler Karam Ibrahim. In his return to Pride, Kazuyuki knocked out James Thompson at Total Elimination Absolute 2006.

The inclusion of the current Pride Middleweight Champion into the Absolute, or open weight, tournament makes things very exciting. Though many are still disappointed about Fedor Emelianenko’s absence from the tournament, Wanderlei is probably the best possible replacement. Silva has never lost to a Japanese fighter, and Kazuyuki Fujita arguably has the best chance of any Japanese fighter to accomplish this feat.

Both fighters like to stand and trade punches. Silva favors left and right hooks in addition to foot stomps and knees from the clinch. Silva also has a strong low kick when standing with his opponents. For some reason, he hasn’t used his low kicks with effective power since his fight against Guy Mezger back in 2000. Wanderlei is susceptible to a straight punch down the middle, something that Fujita has rarely thrown.

Fujita possess a powerful right hook, which is something that Fedor Emelianenko and Karam Ibrahim can tell you. In addition to his hook, Kazuyuki likes to throw short uppercuts from the clinch. In the stand-up position, the advantage goes to Silva since he’s the more versatile striker and has better hand speed. However, Fujita’s power shouldn’t be overlooked.

Fujita is versed in submissions, and Silva holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Wanderlei has never been submitted in his professional career, and Fujita’s only submission loss was to Fedor Emelianenko. Though earning a black belt is an accomplishment in itself, we have yet to see Silva fully apply his offensive BJJ skills in a fight. Silva’s lone submission win was a rear naked choke over unheralded Bob Schrijber. Silva hasn’t displayed much of his BJJ abilities, so his ground skills could be considered untested at best. Fujita isn’t known as a wizard on the ground, but is competent enough to keep out of trouble.

In his first round fight against James Thompson earlier this year, Fujita looked lackluster. Though he was victorious, the ring rust was apparent. Fujita had many of his takedown attempts stuffed and was only able to capitalize when Thompson’s cardio began to fade. Within nine minutes of the opening bell, Fujita’s cardio also began to diminish. Wanderlei Silva usually fights at a consistently aggressive pace. His more recent fights have shown him to be a bit more cautious, but his style still remains consistent. If Fujita chooses to stand with Silva for the majority of the fight, he will be facing two opponents: Wanderlei Silva and his own conditioning. There’s no need to question Silva’s conditioning. He has proven that he can take a fight to the distance many times in his career.

Can Silva be the first fighter to knock out Fujita?

The consensus says “no.” Fujita has never been knocked out in his professional career. I’ve always stated that any fighter can be knocked out at any given time, and Fujita is no exception. However, the likelihood of that happening is slim. Though Fujita has a great chin, he has been stunned by a good punch. It’s possible that Silva could force a referee stoppage from strikes or by a cut.

What if Fujita lands one of his powerful right hooks?

Silva has a good chin and one of the best recovery times in MMA today. He was dropped twice in his fight against Mark Hunt, who is arguably the hardest heavyweight puncher in Pride today. Silva regained his composure and finished the fight. Though he lost a much debated close decision against Hunt, Silva earned the respect of many and proved that he could fight with the heavyweights in Pride.

One of best things to ever happen to Wanderlei Silva was Ricardo Arona. Arona exposed Silva’s susceptibility to takedowns in their first fight. After losing to Arona by decision, Wanderlei re-dedicated himself and worked on his takedown defense and strength conditioning. His training helped him win a very close decision over Ricardo in their rematch. The new emphasis on takedown defense may prove to be beneficial against a strong wrestler like Fujita.

So, will this be a carbon copy of Wanderlei Silva’s first fight with Ricardo Arona?

Not likely. Fujita isn’t a takedown artist. His takedowns are usually telegraphed, and they are often neutralized with a good sprawl. Unlike Ricardo Arona, a man who could probably take anyone down, Fujita’s shots are made with the intent of securing single-leg takedowns. I’m not saying that Fujita won’t be able to take Silva down, because I believe it will happen at least a few times in the fight. However, with the proper preparation, Silva will probably defend against a lot of takedown attempts. The simple fact that Silva can be taken down might diminish his aggression. However, a good sprawl and some well-placed knees might keep Fujita from being over confident in his takedown attempts.

Wanderlei stated that he will weigh approximately 215 pounds for this fight. while Fujita will probably come weigh around 240 pounds. Since the weight discrepancy will not likely exceed 44 pounds, Wanderlei has the option of allowing the four-points attack (permitting knees or kicks to the face of an opponent in the “four points position”). In the event that the weight discrepancy is 44 pounds or more, neither fighter is allowed to use the four-points attack. I highly doubt that Wanderlei will not approve of the four-points attack, as it would take away from his offensive arsenal.

Fujita’s game plan:

Conserve energy and take the fight to the ground. Fujita’s limited stand-up skills consist of a powerful right hook and uppercuts from the clinch. His left jab is almost non-existent. Though he has a great chin, it might not be an ideal strategy for him to underestimate Silva’s punching power and use his face to block strikes. ‘Iron Head’ needs to use better head movement if he plans to exchange with Wanderlei, and he needs to throw straight punches to negate Wanderlei’s quickness. If the fight hits the ground, Fujita needs to utilize his knee strikes and superior wrestling control. Fujita hasn’t shown a lot of improvement since his fight with Fedor Emelianenko, so he needs to take advantage of the abilities that he already has.

Silva’s game plan:

Keep the fight standing and take advantage of his superior striking while avoiding Fujita’s right hook. Wanderlei should use his quickness to make up for his disadvantage in physical strength. Silva must effectively utilize his sprawl against every takedown attempt and counter with knees. If he finds himself on his back, he should apply his BJJ skills and go for submission attempts, rather than merely defending and waiting for the referee to intervene. Throwing punches from the bottom is ineffective and will not score many points with the judges.

Prediction: Wanderlei Silva will defeat Kazuyuki Fujita by decision


Other Tournament Matches:

Hidehiko Yoshida (7-3-1) vs. Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic (18-4-2)

Hidehiko Yoshida and Mirko Cro Cop at Pride Open Weight Grand Prix

Yoshida and Mirko Cro Cop at Pride Open Weight Grand Prix

Hidehiko Yoshida fought a great striker when he met Wanderlei Silva. He now faces arguably the most dangerous striker of his career. This is not a good match-up for Yoshida. I can’t see him being able to take Mirko down. Even if Yoshida managed to get Mirko on his back, Cro Cop is competent enough to hold his own on the ground. Mirko is well aware of the advantages that Yoshida gains by wearing a gi and has been training for five weeks with BJJ sparring partners in preparation for this fight. Yoshida’s submission skills are good, but still can’t be compared to those of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, who is the only man to have ever submitted Mirko.

Yoshida was out-boxed by Rulon Gardner, and I don’t think he’ll have an answer for Mirko’s versatile striking abilities. Yoshida has a pretty good chin, and it will be put to the test in this fight. My prediction is that the very popular Judoka will likely suffer the worst loss of his career. Look for Cro Cop to finish Yoshida with strikes in the first round.

Prediction: Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic will defeat Hidehiko Yoshida by TKO in Round 1


Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (27-3-1) vs. Fabricio Werdum (8-1-1)

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Fabricio Werdum at Pride Open Weight Grand Prix

Nogueira and Werdum at Pride Open Weight Grand Prix

Werdum has stated in the past that he wanted to fight Nogueira. The opportunity is almost here, as he faces his toughest opponent to date. Both fighters have strong BJJ skills, but I would have to give the edge to Nogueira. Nogueira is arguably the best heavyweight BJJ fighter in MMA today. In addition to a strong ground game, his boxing is solid and he has a great chin.

As a result of training with Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Werdum has improved his striking. With that said, I still foresee Nogueira getting the best of him when the fight is standing. On the ground, it’s probably going to be a stalemate. Both fighters are skilled enough to avoid getting submitted. Since these two fighters match up so well, aggression will be one of the major factors that determines the winner. My prediction is that after three competitive rounds, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira will earn a decision and move on to the next round of the Grand Prix.

Prediction: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira will defeat Fabricio Werdum by decision


Mark Hunt (5-1) vs. Josh Barnett (17-3)

Mark Hunt and Josh Barnett at Pride Open Weight Grand Prix

Mark Hunt and Josh Barnett at Pride Open Weight Grand Prix

This is a good match-up and one that I’m looking forward to. In the first round of the tournament, Josh Barnett faced Aleksander Emelianenko. Aleksander got the better of Barnett in the stand-up position, but later succumbed to a submission after running out of gas in the second round. Hunt is a dangerous puncher, but he doesn’t have the hand speed of Emelianenko. Though Hunt’s conditioning is better than Emelianenko’s, it still might play as a factor against him. Barnett constantly pressures his opponents and has proven to be able to last three rounds. Even though Barnett doesn’t always look like he is in the best physical shape, he has always had the discipline and ability to last through an entire fight.

Barnett has a very good chin and has only been stopped once in his career. Will he be ready for the heavy-handed Hunt? I feel that Barnett will be able to hold his own, just like he did against Cro Cop and Aleksander. Mark Hunt has shown a lot of improvement in his short career. However, Barnett will arguably be the most well-rounded fighter that Hunt has ever faced, and Hunt’s inexperience might hurt him in this fight.

From the start of this fight, Barnett will pressure Hunt. He will look to avoid Hunt’s powerful punches and go for clinches. From there, he will throw knees and try to get the fight to the ground. Once Mark begins to slow down as a result of Barnett’s persistent pace, Josh will take advantage of his better cardio. In the second round, I predict that Barnett will take the fight to the ground and secure a heel hook, winning the fight by submission.

Prediction: Josh Barnett will defeat Mark Hunt by submission in Round 2


Non-Tournament Matches:

Vitor Belfort (13-7) vs. Yoshiki Takahashi (28-19-3)

Vitor Belfort at Pride Open Weight Grand Prix

Vitor Belfort at Pride Open Weight Grand Prix

Vitor Belfort is a Pride and UFC veteran who really needs no introduction. Belfort holds wins over David “Tank” Abbott, Heath Herring, and Wanderlei Silva.

Yoshiki Takahashi is a long-time Pancrase veteran and has made a successful appearance in the UFC. This will be his third appearance in Pride.

Vitor Belfort is slowly turning into a shadow of his former self. Coming off of a lackluster loss to Alistair Overeem, Vitor looks to rebound and get back on the winning track. Apparently, Pride heard his cry for help. Yoshiki Takahashi is hand-picked for this confidence-building tune-up fight.

I don’t foresee Takahashi lying down for Belfort, and I expect him to take the fight to Vitor. Whether Belfort is washed up or not, I believe that Takahashi will be overwhelmed by the former top UFC contender. After a short feeling out process, I predict that Belfort will get back to his winning ways with a first round stoppage of Yoshiki Takahashi.

Prediction: Vitor Belfort will defeat Yoshiki Takahashi by TKO in Round 1


Kazuhiro Nakamura (8-5) vs. Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos (14-8)

Kazuhiro Nakamura and Evangelista Cyborg Santos at Pride Open Weight Grand Prix

Nakamura and "Cyborg" Santos at Pride Open Weight Grand Prix

Kazuhiro Nakamura is a Judoka who fights out of Yoshida Dojo. Though his record may seem unimpressive, his losses have come against the likes of Wanderlei Silva, Dan Henderson, and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. Since his MMA debut in 2003, Nakamura has defeated a list of fighters that includes Yuki Kondo, Igor Vovchanchyn, Kevin Randleman, and Murilo Bustamante. Nakamura is coming off of a loss to Josh Barnett at Pride 31 earlier this year.

Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos is a Chute Boxe fighter and a Cage Rage veteran. He is coming off of a win over Francis Carmont at World Free Fight Challenge. This will be Santos’ Pride debut.

After fighting in many MMA organizations, including Meca Vale Tudo, Pancrase, and Cage Rage, Evangelista Santos finally makes his Pride debut. Though “Cyborg” may not be the most gifted or technically proficient fighter in the world, he does come to fight and makes his matches entertaining. Nakamura’s last fight against Josh Barnett proved that weight classes are sometimes a good thing. In defeat, he did fight to the best of his abilities. Nakamura now faces an aggressive striker in Santos.

Santos is a dangerous opponent, but I feel that Nakamura will handle himself well. If “Cyborg” has a weakness, it’s his conditioning. Though Santos may have had more fights under his belt, the list of significant fighters he has fought pales in comparison to Nakamura’s opposition. My prediction is that Nakamura will weather Santos’ storm and sink in a rear naked choke after his opponent begins to fade.

Prediction: Kazuhiro Nakamura will defeat Evangelista Santos by submission in Round 2


Edson Drago (9-0) vs. Pawel Nastula (0-2)

Edson Drago is an up-and-coming Brazilian heavyweight. He is a Cage Rage veteran who trains with former Pride Heavyweight Champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.

Pawel Nastula is an Olympic Judo Gold Medalist and a legendary Judoka. He is still looking for his first victory in Pride, while Drago is looking to make a statement in his debut.

I like Nastula and I believe that with the proper “building,” he has the potential to be a top ten fighter. It’s almost apparent that DSE has no interest in retaining Pawel’s services because he can’t get a break with the match making. He made his professional debut against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and followed up with a tough fight against Aleksander Emelianenko. Though he was thrown to the wolves, Nastula looked very good in defeat. Now Pride has pitted Pawel up against another tough fighter in Drago.

In the stand-up position, Drago will have the advantage, as he is an aggressive striker with heavy hands. I feel that Edson’s ground game is underrated. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira admitted that he was unable to submit Drago during training. That says a lot about his abilities. In both of Nastula’s losses, we witnessed his conditioning fade as the fight progressed. Drago’s conditioning is also suspect, as he has only gone the distance once in his career.

Though undefeated, Drago has been criticized about the quality and credibility of his past opponents. Compared to Drago, Nastula’s winless record can offer no rebuttal. I predict that Drago will finish Nastula with strikes late in the first round. Unfortunately for Nastula, this may be the last time we see him in a Pride ring.

Prediction: Edson Drago will defeat by TKO Pawel Nastula in Round 1


Yoshihiro Nakao (4-0, 2 no-contests) vs. Lee Eun Su (0-0)

Formerly fighting for K-1 Hero’s, Yoshihiro Nakao will be making his Pride debut. Fans can recall the infamous kiss Nakao gave to Heath Herring during their pre-fight staredown in K-1. Their relationship was short lived after Herring dropped Nakao to the canvas with a short right hook. Seeking a new challenge, Nakao has jumped ship to Pride.

Lee Eun Su is a young heavyweight and will be representing Korea. Coming from a military background, this will be Korean’s professional MMA and Pride debut.

Nakao is an up-and-coming fighter with a strong wrestling background. He holds wins over Don Frye and Wesley “Cabbage” Correira. Not much is known about Lee Eun Su, as he is new to the sport. I believe that Nakao will make sure Su receives a nice warm welcome to the sport of MMA by finishing him with strikes in the second round.

No kisses necessary.

Prediction: Yoshihiro Nakao will defeat Lee Eun Su by TKO in Round 2


Alistair Overeem (24-7) vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (11-2)

Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Alistair Overeem at Pride Open Weight Grand Prix

Rogerio Nogueira and Overeem at Pride Open Weight Grand Prix

Alistair Overeem is a Golden Glory kickboxer who holds wins over Vitor Belfort (twice) and Igor Vovchanchyn. The “Demolition Man” proved that he is worthy of being in the heavyweight division by stopping top ten ranked heavyweight Sergei Kharitonov with strikes at Pride 31 earlier this year. In the first round of the Open Weight tournament, Overeem suffered his very first submission loss, which came at the hands of Fabricio Werdum. Most recently, Overeem defeated Vitor Belfort for the second time at Strikeforce 2 in June.

Antonio Rogerio Nogueira is the twin brother of former Pride Heavyweight Champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. The Brazilian Top Team fighter is coming off of a loss to eventual tournament winner Mauricio “Shogun” Rua during the second round of last year’s middleweight tournament. Nogueira holds wins over Dan Henderson, Alistair Overeem, Kazuhiro Nakamura (twice), and Kazushi Sakuraba.

These two first met at Pride 29 in early 2005. It was a hard fought match for both fighters, and Nogueira came out with the unanimous decision victory. Since that fight, Overeem has been the busier fighter, going 5-2. In contrast, Nogueira has gone 1-1 and hasn’t fought in over a year. Though Alistair has improved as a fighter since they last fought, I still think that Nogueira has his number. Suffering his first ever submission loss to Fabricio Werdum may have affected Overeem’s confidence. Like his brother, Nogueira has a very good ground game and uses a very active guard.

Overeem is known as a kickboxer, but as I watch more of his fights, his striking seems less and less impressive. On the other hand, Rogerio has refined his already solid boxing and has shown his willingness to trade with strikers. Though their first fight went to a decision, I feel that Nogueira will pull off a submission victory this time.

Prediction: Antonio Rogerio Nogueira will defeat Alistair Overeem by submission in Round 2