April 8 is the two year anniversary of the last Pride FC show, Pride 34. These things tend to make me nostalgic, especially when it comes to my favorite MMA promotion of all time. When I watch my library of old Pride DVDs, I am overcome with memorable moments, things that define the sport at the time for me. I tried to list ten of the more memorable characteristics that made Pride the spectacle we knew and loved. If I missed anything please leave your choices in the comments section below.
10. 40,000 screaming (at the proper time) Japanese fans – Japanese fans are some of the most knowledgeable and respectful fans in all of MMA. To watch 91,000 fans file into the Tokyo Dome for Pride Shockwave 2002 was both staggering and beautiful. It set the mood for a live event that the UFC has yet to reproduce.
9. “Screaming Pride Lady” Lenne Hardt – What can I say about Lenne? She moved from annoying to irreplaceable in one event for me. Lenne Hardt is an icon of Japanese MMA and helps contribute to the level of showmanship that sets Pride apart from all others.
8. Kazushi Sakuraba – The greatest Japanese MMA fighter of his generation, he was both an innovator and a ferocious competitor. Sakuraba fought the best of the best in his career, and never failed to put on a show. He may have been a victim of his own dominating and electric style, as with each win came a more impressive and larger opponent. Sakuraba was almost as well known for the punishment he took as for the wins he collected. Always a gentleman outside of the ring, his infectious personality made him even more of a fan favorite. To this day he is an icon of Japanese MMA and a true national treasure.
7. Any fight could happen at any time (Japanese match making) – Gotta love the Japanese. They can make any match up of fighters seem like a good idea. From Bob Sapp vs Big Nog to Butterbean vs Minowa, They can make the impossible possible, regardless of the fighters well being.
6. Bas Rutten and Stephen Quadros – In their hay-day, the best announcing duo the sport had ever seen. From Quadros’s logical approach to Rutten’s school-boy enthusiasm, they explained the sport while giving you the feeling you were watching it in a living room full of your pals.
5. Fight Posters – Some of the most amazing event poster themes ever made. They were modern day artwork and still populate my desktop background from time to time.
4. Pride theme music – The sound of the fight music and the winning fighter music still give me goose bumps. Nothing drove the point home to me how much the music had become part of my consciousness more than when Mirko Crocop walked out to it at his first UFC fight.
3. Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic – Many iconic fighters came out of Pride FC, but none had such a dramatic turn from top of the heap with his win in the 2006 open weight tournament to his disappointing performance in the UFC. Crocop had build a legend of epic proportions and earned his reputation as the deadliest striker in MMA. No other fighter offered such a mixed bag of feelings of both dread and wonder at the same time.
2. Chute Boxe vs. Brazilian Top Team – It was the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry of our sport. Two complete camps of fighters who hated each other with a passion. Two camps who fought both within the ring and in the locker room. The feelings were not manufactured, they were real and palpable. Whenever there was even a chance that a fighter from each group may run into each other, it immediately heightened the suspense. The pinnacle of the feud for me had to be when Murilo “Ninja” Rua fought Mario Sperry at Pride 20. You felt like the whole stadium would ignite at any moment as these two fought a back and forth battle. We may never see a rivalry between camps of this magnitude ever again.
1. Tournaments – The greatest memories for me from Pride center around their tournaments. A format we cannot support here in the states due to the athletic commissions, they pitted the best of the best against each other and allowed the cream to rise to the top. From Royce Gracie vs. Sakuraba in the 2000 Grand Prix, to Wanderlei Silva vs. Rampage in the 2003 Middleweight tournament final, they produced memorable fight after memorable fight. Although not a perfect answer for who was best at the time, they provided the matchups that conventional matchmaking would almost never supply.