The following is my original MMATorch.com report on Pride FC’s “Final Conflict Absolute” event which aired live on PPV ten years ago this weekend, on Sept. 10, 2006. Alistair Overeem fought on this Pride event; exactly ten years later, he’d fight for the UFC Hvt. Title at UFC 203 this past weekend. This was a star-studded one-night tournament with some of MMA’s biggest names of the 2000s.
PRIDE FC: Final Conflict Absolute
SEPTEMBER 10, 2006
SAITAMA SUPER ARENA
AIRED ON PPV
-They opened with clips from the first round at the Osaka Dome of various match finishes. Really well done video, although if I were Pride, I’d take every chance to add names to the screen to teach newer viewers everyone’s names.
-They went to the arena for the great introductions with the greatest ring announcer in the world. Each of the fighters stepped out onto the rampway who would be fighting later – from the opener to the tournament finals. Wanderlai Silva resembles Kurt Angle with his bald head, mouth piece, body language, and intensity.
1 — YOSUKE NISHIJIMA vs. EVANGELISTA “CYBORG” SANTOS
Cyborg may be the person who I’d most hate to run into if I were to accidentally run over his dog. Cyborg went right after Nishijima. The announcers agreed that if you’re considered the lesser striker, your best chance to begin aggressively. He did with punches, two hard knees, and a flurry of punches that looked like a potential finish. He threw some more knees that didn’t connect. Cyborg had Nishijima against the ropes, then took him to the ground. Nishijima held his neck from underneath and the fight slowed. Cyborg finally yanked his head out from the guillotine and got into a full mount. Cyborg pounded down with hammer fists, which led to Nishijima turning onto his stomach. That left him vulnerable for a choke sleeper, which Cyborg applied. He knocked him out cold. As Cyborg celebrated, trainers and handlers tried to wake Nishijima. Cyborg postponed his honeymoon for the fight.
RESULT: Santos in the first round.
STAR RATING: (**-) Really good early flurry by Cyborg, which Nishijima impressively withstood. The sleeper finish was decisive.
RAMIFICATIONS: Nishijima’s previous losses to Mark Hunt and Hidehiko Yoshida have more impact now that he lost to a lesser fighter. The more well-rounded style of Cyborg dominated the boxer, who made the killer mistake off giving his back.
-They went to a promo for the October “Real Deal” PPV.
-They aired promos with Silva and Cro Cop each saying they respect each other as fighters, but don’t like each other personally. Cro Cop said he doesn’t like Silva’s aloof attitude outside of the ring toward other fighters. He also talked about having to prevent much damage to himself in the first fight to be ready for the second fight.
2 — MIRKO CRO-COP vs. WANDERLEI SILVA — Semi-Finals of Grand Prix Tournament
Silva actually came in heavier than Cro Cop by four pounds despite being the one who is usually a middleweight, not a heavyweight. They went wild with punches early. Cro Cop got the better of it after 20 seconds and Silva went for a takedown. Cro Cop ended up on top and threw more punches. Silva teased an armbar. Cro Cop backed off, adjusted his cup, complained briefly to the ref, and let Silva up. Silva looked shaken and went down seconds later to a left punch. Cro Cop jumped on him and threw hammer fists. The announcers noted Silva’s amazing recovery ability when he’s hurt. The ref stood them at 2:00. Silva’s left eye was badly swollen. The doc checked his vision in the corner. They gave him a lot of rest, but Frank Trigg noted that the longer they wait, the more his eye will swell up and get worse. Trigg said either start it or end it, but don’t wait longer. Silva got anxious and asked to continue. Cro Cop banged his gloves together, wanting to get going again. Silva kept pleading for the fight to continue. After more than two minutes, they restarted. Cro Cop reminded the ref that they should start on the mat where they last were. They restarted them center-ring. Silva threw punches wildly from the bottom. Cro Cop held his ground, but wasn’t getting in any offense as he was patient in waiting for an opening. Trigg said if he were Cro Cop, he’d be going after his eye, but he said it pays to be patient because Silva’s eye will continue to swell the more he draws out the ground war. The ref stood them up. The ref gave Silva a yellow card (a 10 percent deduction in his purse; three yellow cards is a DQ) for spitting up blood on the mat as he got up. Cro Cop pointed it out to the ref. Silva tried to cover it with his hand to hide it. Silva threw some punches. Cro Cop hit a roundhouse to the ribs. Another good stand-up exchange. Cro Cop hit another roundkick to the ribs, then finished Silva with a left roundhouse kick to the side of his head, KOing Silva cold.
RESULT: Cro Cop in 5:22.
STAR RATING: (***+): Great finish to a huge fight, called “one of the most shocking knock outs in Pride history” and Silva’s “most brutal beating ever.” Cro Cop might have not gotten that kick in so clean if Silva could see out of his left eye. Really dramatic match. That mid-match pause took a little steam away, but it started back with such intensity that any loss of drama or momentum was erased. Cro Cop took some blows and showed a strong chin against Silva. A knockout for the ages, though. That will be replayed a lot.
RAMIFICATIONS: Obviously, Cro Cop moves to the finals, and does so in really good shape by all indications. He took a few punches, but didn’t seem overly spent. The announcers asked if Silva would be ready to fight in November, mentioning that UFC wants him to fight Chuck Liddell. They said both UFC and Pride want it to happen, and Silva and Liddell want it to happen. The fight loses some luster now that Silva lost to Cro Cop. UFC may be less willing to risk Liddell’s rep, but more confident that won’t happen. Trigg said he thinks Silva can beat Chuck Liddell.
-Barnett and Nogueira cut promos on each other. Barnett said he’d like to submit him to prove a point.
3 — JOSH BARNETT vs. ANTONIO RODRIGO NOGUEIRA
ROUND ONE: Trigg said he thinks Barnett is the most well-rounded fighter in the tournament. Nogueiro has never been KO’d or submitted in 32 pro fights, but only one of Barnett’s 18 pro fights has gone the distance. Something has to give. Nogueira scored with an early punch as they felt each other out for distance. Barnett kicked Nogueira’s leg in the opening minute. The cliched on their feet and maneuvered for leverage. At 2:00 they went back to center ring and threw some jabs and punches that didn’t do much damage. Barnett hit another low roundhouse then a straight jab to Nogueira’s face. Nobody seemed to be hurt at this point. Barnett knocked Nogueira down with a fast left roundhouse, then jumped on top of him. Nogueira went into guard. Trigg said that was the fastest punch Barnett’s ever thrown. Nogueira is used to taking beatings an opponent can’t help but be tentative because he can slip on a submission and end it in two seconds. Nogueira grabbed Barnett’s ankle and Barnett stood. Nogueira got the takedown and passed guard into a side mount. Nogueira tested leverage for an armbar, then re-shifted and threw some punches. Barnett tried to slip out, but Nogueira repositioned and held position on top with a half guard. At this point their fight had gone a minute longer than Cro Cop’s. They ended up back on their feet and Barnett applied a guillotine that looked dangerous, but Nogueira slipped out. Good dramatic moment while standing in the corner. Trigg said Barnett was having trouble making contact with his punches, standing a half step too fa away. They each ended up on their backs and each went for a leglock or anklelock. They mirrored each other, and Nogueira ended up back on top quickly. Nogueira got a full high mount and threw punches, but none had knock out power as they entered the final minute of the opening round. Nogueira got very near an armbar submission. Barnett tried to hold on and did – eventually pulling himself out of it. Miraculous escape is right. Barnett ended up on top as the round ended. Great first round. Close and competitive, but Nogueira gets the edge. Barnett had the one knockdown punch of the round, but Nogueira otherwise had more offense. You almost want to give Barnett points for escaping two serious submission attempts, but Nogueira wins the round based on those instances.
ROUND TWO: Barnett sprawled out of a single-leg takedown attempt by Nogueira. Barnett ended up on top on the mat. At 2:00 Nogueira maneuvered to the top of Barnett. Trigg touted the submission and ground skills of these two and said it’s rare among heavyweights to be this good on the mat. Nogueira got into a full mount. Barnett bridged and threw Nogueira onto his back in a really nice reversal. The ref moved them to center-ring out of the ropes. Nogueira slipped to Barnett’s back and went for an arm from behind. Barnett locked arms and slipped back on top. Barnett went from a kimura attempt to a kneebar attempt. With eight seconds left, Barnett locked on the kneebar, but Nogueira was saved by the bell. Both men stood and raised their arms in the air, but both looked very spent. Trigg said Cro Cop will be at 85 percent for the finals, with a lot more gas in his tank than the winner of this.
RESULT: Barnett on a 2-1 split decision.
STAR RATING: (****) I loved that fight. There weren’t a lot of impressive punches, but the reversals on the mat were incredible, as were the near submissions by both guys. As for the decision, I wouldn’t have argued if it went the other way. A case can be made for both. It was close. The second round went to Barnett, and the first to Nogueira, but in Pride in Japan, the entire fight is what matters, not rounds.
-Backstage, Barnett was interviewed. He said he got fatigued in the match and that disappointed him. He said if he could have kept the pace up, he felt he could have finished him. He said he had to lay on the bottom a couple times to catch his breath. Barnett said he thought he won because Nogueira was screaming in the final seconds with the kneebar. “As far as I know, when you yell, it’s a tapout,” he said. He also accused him of pulling his trunks. He said he’s not worried about how he feels now because he has another fight. He said he know Cro Cop is going to come after him hard and he’ll be ready.
4 — SERGEI KHARITONOV vs. ALEKSANDER EMELIANKENKO
I love Aleksander’s nonchalant demeanor. He looks like he’s walking up to the DMV on his approach to the ring and waiting in line for his number to be called during the staredown before the fight. AE scored with some casual lefts early. A casual opening two minutes, but deceptively dangerous for both guys. AE threw some kicks, too. AE was knocked down with a straight right by SK, who went into a mount immediately. AE recovered and hugged SK, then went for a sudden bridge out. SK held his position in the full mount. SK stood and leaned in and punched at AE from above. AE tried to block headshots and figure out his next move. They settled back into the closed guard at 4:30. The ref stood them for inactivity. He issued a yellow card to both fighters for stalling. The punches picked up, and SK threw some nasty kicks, drawing a welt on AE’s inner upper left thigh. SK actually challenge AE to throw a second punch after a first connected. AE obliged, and when it hit, SK volunteered himself to the mat to avoid a third, potentially fight-ending punch. He went for a takedown, but AE ended up on top and threw a barrage of punches to the side of his head. AE threw some knees and the ref stepped in as SK was definitely not defending himself or showing any signs of life. The ref let it go long enough to be decisive and not controversial, yet SK sat right up and said he was fine; he wasn’t. They hugged, then SK walked away shaking his head as if unhappy with the finish.
RESULT: Emelianko at 6:45 of the first round.
STAR RATING (**+): Casual opening couple minutes, solid mat work, and a nice finishing sequence. Definitely an entertaining fight.
-Promos aired throughout the night for Pride’s “Real Deal” in Las Vegas, Nev. on Oct. 21.
5 — MAURICIO “SHOGUN” RUA vs. CYRILLE “THE SNAKE” DIABATE
They replayed the nasty arm break from February where Rua landed on his right arm and broke it. Rua said he is totally recovered from the break. Diabate, from France, said he is a heavy underdog, but he plans to shock the world. He said if he doesn’t win, well, no big deal because it’s Rua he lost to. Diabate, tall and lanky, had a big reach advantage. Diabate landed a couple early punches to little effect, then went for a flying knee and a right hand. Shogun took him down, where Diabate hugged his arms on the mat. Rua flipped out of it and slipped into a side mount. Nice sequence. Diabate slithered out from under him and went back to stand up. Shogun took him back down right away. Diabate went for a jump front kick and even a spin backfist. Neither connected. Shogun got him down again and powered him onto his back. When Shogun got a full mount and began throwing punches, Diabate slithered out again, but Shogun stood and began stomping toward his head again. He landed two hard stomps, prompting Diabate to tapout, so the ref stepped in. The first camera angle didn’t show the tapout, but the replay showed it was a submission, not a knockout.
RESULT: Shogun at 5:29 via tapout.
STAR RATING: (**) Interesting match. Diabate was unorthodox, but interesting to watch. He had decent ground defense for a pure stand-up fighter. He took a big chance by rolling out of the full mount the way he did, leaving Shogun with the opening for the relentless stomps.
RAMFICIATIONS: Diabate probably did exactly what he said he would do in his pre-match promo – he lost, but he looked good enough to worth bringing back. His resume is pretty good, including a win over Babalu. He’s raw on the ground and has to get better, and his stand-up didn’t look particularly powerful, but he was so unorthodox, I want to see how he’d do against someone a notch below Shogun’s level. A good warm-up performance for Ruo as he preps for Kevin Randleman in October in Las Vegas.
-They announced attendance as a sellout of 47,410.
6 — ALSTAIR OVEREEM vs. RICARDO ARONA
Two Middleweight contenders coming off losses against top opponents. Overeem kicked Arona’s leg and Overeem collapsed to the mat. Arona passed guard impressively. Overeem gave up his back at 2:00. Arona held his position, but didn’t accomplish much otherwise. He finally began throwing a few hammer fists. Arona then high mounted Overeem’s back and threw punches. Overeem just covered up and tapped out. The announcers thought it came out of nowhere. They speculated he lost his wind or his leg was injured earlier and he couldn’t power out of that vulnerable position. Overeem sat on the mat afterward as trainers tended to his right leg.
RESULT: Arona in about 3:00.
STAR RATING (*+)
RAMFICIATIONS: With Arona losing a close decision to Wanderlei Silva at Shockwave 2005, and winning here against a solid opponent, he is back in contendership.
-A video montage aired of the wins by Cro Cop and Barnett earlier.
7 — MIRKO CRO COP vs. JOSH BARNETT – Grand Prix Finals
Nobuhiko Takada read the pre-match statement “officially authenticating” the match. Trigg called this one of the biggest fights in the history of MMA. Before the match they chatted briefly during the pre-match “staredown.” Barnett told Cro Cop he had something in his eye. Cro Cop rubbed his eyes and they had a nice laugh and shook hands. Cro Cop appeared to be looking for a killer punch and Barnett looked to be in the market for a takedown, although he wasn’t shying away from throwing punches, either. Barnett threw two nice legkicks. Cro Cop nailed Barnett with a roundhouse to the ribs. Barnett caught his leg and hugged it. Cro Cop threw Barnett into the ropes and appeared to be reeling, but then suddenly came back with two knees and then fell to his back. The settled into a Cro Cop mount. At about 2:00 the ref stopped the fight to have Cro Cop’s cut over and to the right of his right eye checked out by a doctor. The crowd moaned in fear that it could be a fluke ending. Barnett caught his breath in the opposite corner. Barnett neutralized Cro Cop in a guard and threw some strikes. Cro Cop backed down and allowed Barnett to get to his feet. Barnett threw two right roundhouse kicks. Cro Cop fired back with a flurry of punches. Barnett no-sold them. Cro Cop threw another punch and a knee. Barnett came back with a roundkick to Cro Cop’s leg. Josh had spring in his step despite taking a lot of blows to his head. While clinched against the ropes, Cro Cop floored Barnett with two uppercuts. He leaped onto Barnett threw a barrage of ten hammerfists, then spun around and hit a come more. Barnett recovered and defended himself intelligently. “Holy crap, I can’t believe he recovered from that,” said Trigg. Cro Cop may have gassed. He threw a few more punches after catching his breath, but Barnett held on tight. Barnett seemed to recover relatively nicely as Cro Cop had to catch his breath. Cro Cop sat up and measured some punches. Barnett hugged him tight to close the distance. As Cro Cop leveraged himself over Barnett, Barnett shouted, “Oh shit!” Then he tapped. He took an inadvertent poke to the eye during a hammerfist and couldn’t see. He clitched his right eye. Cro Cop collapsed to the mat and cried. Trigg said Cro Cop has a rep for being difficult to work with and get ahold of and doesn’t show any emotion ever. His trainers circled him and celebrated with him. After a post-fight speech, in which he noted it was his 32nd birthday, Cro Cop put his arm around runner-up Barnett for post-fight photos. Barnett’s right eye looked rough. Then they chatted with each other, presumably about the fight.
RESULT: Cro Cop at 7:32.
STAR RATING (***+): Another good fight with a slightly disappointing finish. Clearly Cro Cop was ahead in the fight, and probably on his way to a win, but you got the feeling Barnett was surviving and could surprise him with a submission if he gassed on a flurry of punches and let his guard down. Overall, a worthy final match, and you have to wonder how a fresh Barnett would have done without that long fight earlier, whereas Cro Cop had a shorter fight from which he came out unscathed. I give the match a slightly higher rating than it otherwise would have gotten as a mid-card match given the prestige of the moment and what was at stake.
RAMIFICATIONS: The announcers said Cro Cop is probably in line for a title shot against Fedor Emeliankenko for the Pride Heavyweight Title on New Year’s Eve 2006 at Shock Wave. They said they hope Barnett is healthy enough to fight on Oct. 21 in Las Vegas.
-Backstage, Cro Cop was interviewed. He said it’s the happiest day in his life. He said he worked ten years for this. He said he proved to people that he is no. 1. Cro Cop said he swore to himself if he didn’t win the match, he would walk away from MMA forever. He said that is why he cried after the match. He said he trained harder than he ever has for this. He said there is no bad blood with Silva and he’d like to shake his hand. He said he doesn’t hate him and respects him as a fighter, even though he was acting a little weird before the fight. He said his father died 12 years ago and didn’t see his fighting success, so he dedicated the win to him.
-Barnett imitated Elephant Man backstage. He said he couldn’t get into second gear against Cro Cop. He said one of his corner men said all of his hard training may have caught up with him. He said it ended when he took an accidental poke to the eye. He said he let go of his leg and covered his face, then realized he didn’t know where he was and decided to tap at that point. He said most of his injuries are superficial, so he thinks he’ll be ready to fight in Vegas.
RECOMMENDATION: Yes, buy the replay. Even if you know the finish of the matches, they were dramatic and historically significant. The three tourney matches were each very different from one another, as it was striker-striker, ground-ground, and ground-striker combos.