For years, PRIDE Fighting Championships was the biggest MMA organization in Japan. Building its popularity off of tournaments, open-weight “freak show” fights, and some of the biggest names in MMA putting on exciting shows for their fans from all over the world. Just as with the UFC today, for years, if you didn’t fight in PRIDE, you didn’t get any recognition.
In 2007, when Zuffa, UFC’s parent company, bought out PRIDE and eventually closed down its offices, many of the bigger names branched out into the other MMA organizations. The bigger companies like The UFC, the now defunct EliteXC, Strikeforce and DREAM are where most of the talent went. However, many of the diehard PRIDE fans have come to embrace the credo, “PRIDE never dies.” With many of the former PRIDE stars, such as Shogun Rua, The Nogueira Brothers, Wanderlei Silva, Fedor Emelianenko, Josh Barnett and Mirko Cro Cop now being in the UFC and Strikeforce, they would get enormous cheers from the fans and “PRIDE never dies” would come out again.
Unfortunately, over the past year or so, it appears as if “PRIDE never dies” is starting to slip away and PRIDE might actually be dying right in front of our eyes. It all started last February at UFC 110 when “Big Nog” Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira was brutally knocked out by Heavyweight prospect Cain Velasquez. Following his defeat, Nogueira was scheduled to face Frank Mir at UFC 119, but withdrew to have knee and hip surgery, with no scheduled return as of yet.
The next big hit to PRIDE’s legacy has been the downfall of the great Fedor Emelianenko. For years, Fedor seemed to be untouchable and unbeatable. However, in June of 2010 he handed his first loss in 10 years when he was submitted by Fabricio Werdum. Many fans and media chalked up the loss to a simple rookie mistake and that it was just a fluke. Fedor was then entered into the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament and his fight against “Big Foot” Silva ended with him being unable to continue and talks of his retirement began floating around. In the matter of one year’s time, the mighty Fedor had gone from being talked about as a man of myth to being referred to as being washed up.
At last nights UFN 24 former PRIDE star “Little Nog” Antonio Rogerio Nogueira was set to face Light Heavyweight prospect Phil “Mr. Wonderful” Davis. Many thought that Little Nog’s striking and BJJ would be enough to finish Davis, or at least earn him a decision victory. However, this was not the case. Davis out-worked, out-struck and out-wrestled Little Nog to a unanimous decision victory. Previously, Little Nog had faced another wrestler in Ryan Bader and was met with the same fate. Bader was not only able to beat Little Nog on the ground, but he also got the better of him numerous times in the striking department.
One more, big hit to the PRIDE fans comes in the form of the downfall of Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic. At UFC 115, Cro Cop was matched up with Pat Barry, a man who idolized him and looked up to him. For two rounds, Barry picked Cro Cop apart, breaking his hand and foot in the process. In the third round, Barry couldn’t mount any more offense and was submitted via rear naked choke. Even though he had won the fight, people began questioning Cro Cop’s desire to fight. In his next fight, at UFC 119 against Frank Mir, Cro Cop showed no desire to finish the fight and in turn was put to sleep with a wicked knee in the final round. Again, Cro Cop’s heart and desire to fight was questioned again. Nevertheless, he was scheduled to fight Brendan Schaub at UFC 128 last weekend. For two rounds, Schaub got the better of him but he looked much better than he had in his past two fights. Unfortunately for Cro Cop, he was again brutally knocked unconscious in the third round. This time, he, too, began to question his desire to fight and Dana White stated that he was unsure as to whether or not Cro Cop would return to The Octagon again.
The big shot that has dropped the PRIDE legacy and forced it into survival mode though came at the hands of current UFC Light Heavyweight champion, Jonny “Bones” Jones. Last weekend, Jones stepped in The Octagon to face his toughest opponent to date, the legendary Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. Fans were split on this fight, with many thinking Shogun would destroy Jones with his striking and BJJ and many under the impression that Jones would be able to use his striking along with his wrestling to defeat Shogun. Unfortunately for Shogun, the Jones fans were right.
From the opening bell, Jones took the fight to Shogun and overwhelmed him with his unorthodox striking, took him down and worked some nice ground-and-pound. For two rounds, Jones dominated Shogun from bell to bell. In the third round, Jones rocked Shogun with a vicious knee to the body on the ground, followed up with a big hook to the body. And as Shogun was sliding down the cage he took another knee to the head. Just as the referee jumped in to stop the fight, Shogun hit the floor and began tapping due to the strikes.
With PRIDE now only having a weak pulse, there is less than a handful of men keeping PRIDE alive. One of the few legends left standing, Wanderlei Silva, has been on the shelf since late July 2010, with no set return date.
Alistair Overeem, who may be the man with the greatest chance of keeping the legacy alive, is scheduled to face Fabricio Werdum, the man who defeated Fedor, this June.
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, who is another strong candidate to keep the PRIDE legacy alive, is slated to face Matt Hamill at UFC 130.
Let’s also not forget Dan Henderson, who just recently won his third championship belt and has a good chance to help keep PRIDE alive.
In just over a year’s time, a handful of PRIDE legends had fallen to the “New Breed” of MMA fighters. No longer are the days where a fighter can come in with a strong background in one martial art and expect to excel. Nowadays, the better-rounded you are, the better your chances are to succeed. The more comfortable you are in more scenarios, the better your chances of winning. While the memories of PRIDE may never die, the careers of the big names that helped bring in fans may very well be slowly dying.