MMATorch columnist Shawn Ennis ten years ago this week looked at the differences between the two MMA powerhouses worldwide – Pride and UFC – and voted for which promotion was better in each category.
Look at any forum on any mixed martial arts site, and the debate resurfaces time after time. Which is better? UFC or Pride? A lot of times, the debate has to do with which organization has the better fighters. I don’t want to focus on that here. I don’t even want to focus on which one is better, truth be told. What I want to do here is unify the two. This can be looked at as what I would do if I were to build my own promotion using these two as guidelines, if money and regulations were not issues. So I’m going to go through a few categories here and picking which aspects I’d take from Pride and which I’d take from the UFC.
The rules in Pride and the UFC are similar, but there are a couple of key differences. In Pride, elbows are not allowed to the head and face. In the UFC, a fighter cannot knee or kick the head of a downed opponent, or stomp a grounded opponent.
Personally, I have a problem with stomping a guy who’s on the ground, and especially stomping him in the head. I’m not squeamish by any means, but I just think it’s excessive. Even if the fighter on the ground covers up, stomping can be pretty dangerous—especially the jumping stomps that some fighters occasionally employ. Kicking and kneeing are another story, as these are much easier to defend, and usually if a fighter does not defend them, he’s not going to take too many before the fight is called. Elbows to the head and face, to me, are part of fighting.
Preference: Even. (The only thing out of here that I’d disallow is stomping.)
You’ve heard it from me before, but I’ll say it again: I really, really don’t like fights in casinos. It just bothers me. It feels like a sideshow that’s in addition to everything else going on in a busy city, rather than the show at the arena on any given night. Pride does a good job of presenting their shows in venues where their fights feel like a big event. They don’t use a lot of different arenas, but that’s beside the point. The UFC doesn’t always do this. To me, UFC 63 at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim felt and looked light years better than the shows held at Mandalay Bay and the like.
And the cards that they present on Spike TV feel even more like small potatoes in Vegas. Take the UFC events held at “The Joint” in the Vegas Hard Rock. Have you ever felt like the crowd was into an event there? I haven’t. Now, that’s a small venue in a city that sees the UFC all the time. If you take your televised shows on the road, to real venues, I think you see a crowd that’s a lot more excited to see some live fights.
This goes along with the venues, but has more to do with how each promotion presents the event aside from where it is held. Production, entrances, lighting…that kind of thing. Pride does a good job of showcasing each fighter that will participate in a card before each event takes place. They introduce each fighter with music and video in the background; sometimes with live performers doing their thing during the introductions. The lights are dimmed, and it feels like a big deal and serves to warm up the crowd. Before each fight, they show each fighter giving an interview about the upcoming contest. Fighter entrances are done well, but you would almost have to actively sabotage an entrance to make it less than fine. I think overall, however, it hurts Pride in the US not to be shown live (at least on the presentation side of things.)
The UFC also shows interviews before each contest, and if a fighter has competed in the UFC before, there’s also fight footage. The fights are not introduced before the event starts as they are in Pride. Fighter entrances are straightforward for undercard bouts, and often the main event has pre-produced light shows and graphics for the big screens when fighters make their entrances. I think that’s a lot of fun, and it gets the crowd excited.
The UFC does an excellent job of hyping events beforehand, and I’m not sure how well Pride does that, but they definitely have the edge in hyping the event to the live crowd as it takes place.
This is the only personnel-based judgment I’m making. Both organizations have good announcers. Mauro Renallo in Pride and Mike Goldberg in the UFC have made big strides over the years as play-by-play commentators. Pride’s color commentator, Frank Trigg, does a pretty good job as well. He has MMA credibility in that he’s a fighter (he’s coming out of his brief retirement shortly to fight Jason “Mayhem” Miller for the ICON promotion in Hawaii), and that’s important, because the color guy should know his way around a fight. (Trigg, however, is a step down from Bas Rutten. Bas was a fantastic color commentator for Pride.)
Joe Rogan, color commentator for the UFC, presents an interesting situation. Here’s the thing: I’m not a fan of the whole “Fear Factor” deal. I watched the show when it first came on, and Rogan drove me nuts. I couldn’t stand him. When I started watching UFC again a couple of years ago, I couldn’t believe he was the guy they had doing color. But after I got past that fact and started listening to his commentary, I found that he’s actually pretty good. I think it’s a problem for the UFC, however, that he’s one of their public faces. He doesn’t present the most professional image, with his drug references (outside of his commentary obviously, but Rogan makes no bones about the fact that he enjoys the recreational drugs) and his occasional profanity in the booth. I know I’m watching fights, and it’s very testosterone-fueled and all that, but I don’t need my announcers cussing at me…regardless of how knowledgeable they are.
I have to say that I enjoy a good tournament. I thought the open-weight Grand Prix that Pride put on was fantastic for the most part. There were a couple of participants that had no business being entered into the tournament in the first place (I’m looking at you, Zulu), but they were eliminated quickly. The UFC doesn’t do tournaments anymore, which I think is a shame. It would have been nice to see a tournament for the vacant lightweight championship, for example. So that particular part of fight format goes to Pride. But when we’re talking about champions and weight classes, that’s another story.
According to their website, Pride has two weight classes: Middleweight (less than 205 pounds) and heavyweight (more than 205 pounds). But still, we have a Welterweight (185 lb) Bushido Grand Prix champion and a Lightweight (155 lb) Bushido Grand Prix champion in addition to a regular Heavyweight and Middleweight champion. Now, if you’ve followed Pride for a while, you know what I’m talking about. If not, this makes no sense. How can you have two weight classes and then have four champions in four different weight classes? And what’s this whole Bushido thing? To be honest, this just doesn’t compute with me. Why do they have regular Pride events and Bushido events separate from each other? Why not just make everything regular Pride events and have your four weight classes? And what’s up with the lack of a 170 lb class, anyway? Is that enough questions about Pride’s format? No? Well, why doesn’t a champion defend his title in every fight in which he participates? Why do champions fight outside their weight classes? Why do champions participate in the Grand Prix tournaments? What’s the reward for winning a tournament besides the money and the honor in winning a tournament? Why not have the reward be a title shot? Seriously, though: what does a champion have to gain by winning a tournament in his own weight class? He’s already the champ. If he’s supposed to prove he’s the best, have him prove it by beating the winner of the tournament!
In the UFC, you have your champions and they defend their belts. Matt Hughes didn’t defend against Royce Gracie at UFC 60, but that was because it was a special attraction match. Takanori Gomi wasn’t defending against Marcus Aurelio earlier this year…why? Dan Henderson wasn’t defending against Misaki at the last Bushido event when he lost. But again, why was Henderson in the tournament? Way too many questions and not enough answers here. The UFC’s straight-ahead championship format gets the preference by a mile, even though I would really like to see them put on some tournaments for number one contendership.
Preference: UFC by a lot
This one’s not even close. Do you judge a fight based on who won two out of three five-minute periods, or do you base it on whether specific criteria that is evaluated throughout the entire fight was met? I think the judging in the UFC sometimes works against it. You get two close rounds that happen to be won by the same guy, and then his opponent dominates the third round. Who wins the fight? The guy who just barely did enough to win the first two rounds. To me, it’s not right. And don’t even talk to me about scoring a round 10-8. That’s just ludicrous, barring a point being taken away by the referee. It puts the fighter who loses the round 10-8 in a no-win situation automatically. He could lose the first round 10-8, only to come back and dominate rounds 2 and 3, and then the fight is a draw. That’s crazy. Here is the scoring criteria, straight from Pride’s website: “If the match goes the distance, then the outcome of the bout is determined by the three judges. A decision is made according to the following: the effort made to finish the fight via KO or submission, damage given to the opponent, standing combinations & ground control, aggressiveness and weight (in the case that the weight difference is 10kg/22lbs or more). The above criteria are listed according to priority. The fight is scored in its entirety and not round by round. After the third round, each judge must decide a winner. Matches cannot end in a draw.” The judging method in Pride is far superior to that in the UFC.
RING VS. CAGE
This is the one that gets a lot of people all worked up. The big argument against fighting in a cage is that it promotes the idea of MMA being a barbaric spectacle rather than a sport. People can see it as two caged animals going at it rather than two highly-trained athletes plying their trade to see who is better on that night. That argument is valid to a certain degree. But if you ask the question of whether a ring or cage is better suited to house a mixed martial arts fight, I don’t think there’s any question that a cage is the better environment.
Don’t get me wrong. Pride has great fights a lot of the time. But every time the fight goes to the outside edges of the ring and fighters get into the ropes, the action is stopped and the fighters are brought to the middle of the ring. You don’t see this in a cage, because there’s no danger of the cage getting in the way of the fight. There’s also no danger of a competitor falling out. To combat the problem of ring ropes, Pride employs a bunch of guys on the outside of the ring that pull on the ropes when the fight gets too close, with the object being to keep the ropes from interfering in the fight. But it doesn’t matter how many rope jockeys you have—the ring gets in the way of the fight. It’s fine for boxing for the most part, because the fight doesn’t go to the ground. But obviously that’s not the case in MMA. A ring also presents the added danger of a fighter falling out, which is rare, but it happens. Overall, the cage presents a stigma, but that can be overcome. The fact is it’s a better environment for this kind of contest.
That’s my ideal situation for a promotion. The rules are a combination of both organizations. The fights take place at venues that are well-suited to hold this sort of event and in a city where it feels special. The show does a lot to psych up the live crowd. You’ve got distinct champions in each weight class, and occasionally you hold tournaments to decide who’s the number one contender. Fights are held in a cage and are judged according to the whole fight rather than round by round. But that’s just me. What do you think?
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