10 YRS AGO: PRIDE FC “The Real Deal” Preview and Predictions including Fedor, Hendo, Vitor, Coleman, Barnett, Lawler, and O’Haire vs. Butterbean,

By John Taylor, MMATorch contributor

Dan Henderson (artist Grant Gould © MMATorch)

Ten years ago this week, MMATorch was setting the stage for Pride “The Real Deal,” a star-studded line-up of legendary names in the mix. Check out John Taylor’s full fight card preview, then stay tuned for our reports on the show later this week right here in the Flashback’s section of MMATorch.com.

After days and days of visa problems, lost urine samples, rumored Olympian wrestlers, bad pro wrestlers, and many public workouts, The Pride Fighting Championships are finally ready to make their ‘Sin City’ debut…Here’s hoping for a competitive card, with enough sparkling lights, and grandiose entrances to keep the American fans interested.

So without further adieu, let’s look at the matchups!

Heavyweight Bout: Sean O’Haire (1-1-0 w/ 1 KO) vs. Eric “Butterbean” Esch (6-2-1 w/ 1 KO/5 Subs)

Ahh…Where to begin with this one?…Mark Hunt was pulled from this bout, with the official reason being “visa problems”…From what I hear, the NSAC didn’t want Butterbean to get killed…O’Haire was bad at pretending to beat people up, so I don’t see him having much of a future at the real thing…I recall seeing O’Haire fight Gary Goodridge in K-1 last year (kickboxing rules), and he just got destroyed…Butterbean has been the sub machine in his short MMA career…Picking a fight between these two is like going to the deli and choosing between rotten egg salad and a crap sandwich…it won’t be pretty…Eric Esch by TKO Round 1.

Middleweight Bout: Phil Baroni (9-7-0 w/ 7 KO’s/1 Sub/1 Decision) vs. Yosuke Nishijima (0-3-0)

Baroni’s coming off 2 losses in his last 3 fights…He’s been nothing but inconsistent in his career, and I don’t expect that to change…He has quick hands, lots of pop, and moves his feet well…Nishijima is an established pro boxer with 24-2-1 record…He hasn’t won an MMA fight yet in his short career, losing by a variety of methods…He hasn’t fought a slouch yet, with Baroni being his best chance at victory thus far…Baroni will want to stand, but he’d be better off trying to take Nishijima to the ground, and pounding him out from there…My guess is that Baroni will be to macho for his own good, and stand in front of Yosuke…I’m going with Nishijima here…Yosuke Nishijima by decision.

Middleweight Bout: Robbie Lawler (11-4-0 w/ 8 KO’s/1 Subs/2 Decisions) vs. Joey Villasenor (22-4-0 w/ 10 KO’s/10 Subs/2 Decisions)

“Ruthless” Robbie needs a victory on the big stage to stay relevant…He’ll throw hands with anybody and everybody…He has an improved ground game as he showed in his loss vs. Jason Miller…Joey Villasenor is one of the original members of Greg Jackson’s gym, the spot where Diego Sanchez, Keith Jardine, and Nathan Marquardt now call home…Joey’s about as well-rounded a fighter that you’ll see on this card…He has no real weakness…He hasn’t fought the best competition and when he has, he’s come up short (Ryo Chonan, David Terrell)…I think Lawler will try to keep it standing, and see if he can catch Villasenor with his looping overhand right…I see Villasenor humoring Lawler by standing with him at first, but eventually taking the fight to the mat…I see Villasenor making a big splash in this one and securing an early W…Villasenor by TKO Round 1.

Light-Heavyweight Bout: Kazuhiro Nakamura (10-5-0 w/ 1 KO’s/2 Subs/7 Decisions) vs. Travis Galbraith (10-3-0 w/ 3 KO/6 Subs/1 Decision)

Nakamura is a judo technician that has fought a who’s who of the best fighters in Pride…He seems to get by the mid-level talent, and get beaten by the upper-echelon…He’ll do his best work from the clinch, where he’ll attempt throws and trips and follow up with strikes from the mount…He’s had trouble finishing fights in his career, but wins decisions by controlling the action…Galbraith makes his Pride debut in this one…He is a veteran of King of the Cage shows, and has fought a lot of good Canadian competition…This is a big step up in competition and would easily be the biggest win of Galbraith’s career…Nakamura will attempt to take Galbraith down, but that’s where the Canadian does his best work…I think Nakamura will be a little too much for Galbraith this time around…Kazuhiro Nakamura by Decision.

Middleweight Bout: Dan Henderson (20-5-0 w/ 9 KO’s/1 Subs/10 Decision) vs. Vitor Belfort (14-7-0 w/ 9 KO’s/2 Subs/3 Decisions)

If Belfort is on, this could be a very competitive fight…if he’s not, Hendo shouldn’t have many issues…Dan Henderson brings excellent wrestling, and explosive stand-up to this match-up…He’s been long regarded as the top American middleweight in Pride…Belfort has had a rough couple of years…Whether it’s been a fluke win for the UFC title (the famous glove-cut win over Randy Couture), the split decision loss (which many a ringside observer thought he won) versus Tito, or the sub loss, followed by the snore-fest in his pair of fights with Alistar Overeem, it’s been pretty much all bad lately…He did however knock-out the always game Yoshiki Takahashi in his last fight in Pride…If Hendo wants to trade (which he will, he loves his right hand), Belfort has a chance of clipping him…Belfort will likely be aggressive and try to get Hendo out of there in a hurry…I see Henderson eventually controlling the floor with his superior wrestling skills…Belfort is no slouch down there, but we haven’t seen him sub anyone in some time…I think Henderson has the edge here…Dan Henderson by Decision.

Heavyweight Bout: Josh Barnett (19-4-0 w/ 4 KO’s/12 Subs/2 Decisions) vs. Pawel Nastula (1-2-0 w/ 1 Sub)

Catch wrestling lives on with fighters such as Josh Barnett…This is actually an intriguing match-up of styles…You have the submission grappler vs. the acclaimed judo master…Barnett has a huge edge in MMA experience, and has fought just about every top heavyweight at some time or another…Nastula has only 3 pro MMA fights under his belt…He has fought “Big Nog” and Aleksander Emelianenko though, so quality of opposition isn’t in question…Barnett does a lot of his damage from the clinch, which could be dangerous with Nastula’s judo expertise…I see the fight going to the ground and Barnett having a distinct advantage when it does…Nastula will be game, but Barnett’s too tough right now…Barnett by Submission Round 2.

Light-Heavyweight Bout: Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (13-2-0 w/ 12 KO’s/1 Decision) vs. Kevin Randleman (16-11-0 w/ 5 KO’s/4 Subs/7 Decisions)

One of the less competitive fights at the top of the card…Rua is one of the best light-heavy’s in the world and Randleman is man who’s time has come and gone…If this fight happened in 2003, I’d be excited…Rua is a fierce striker out of the famed Chute Boxe Brazil camp…Randleman is an aging wrestler out of Mark Coleman’s Hammer House…Rua is coming off a victory versus Cyrille Diabate after a long lay-off due to a broken arm (trying to defend the double leg takedown vs. Mark Coleman 2-26-2006)…Randleman hasn’t beaten anyone of note since he pounded Mirko Filipovic back in ’04…I think Rua’s quickness and staunch sprawl will give Randleman issues…If “The Monster” can’t take “Shogun” down and establish mount, he has little-to-no chance at victory…I don’t see this taking all that long…Mauricio Rua by TKO Round 1.

Heavyweight Bout: Fedor Emelianenko (23-1-0 w/ 6 KO’s/10 Subs/7 Decisions) vs. Mark Coleman (15-7-0 w/ 4 KO’s/8 Subs/3 Decisions)

The Man, the Myth, the Legend, Fedor makes his US debut…The Guy is just, flat-out, the best Heavyweight in the world today, without a close second…I love CroCop as much as the next guy, but still, Fedor’s that damn good…Emelianenko is a powerful striker, and an outstanding ground fighter…There’s frankly not a lot of holes in his game…Mark Coleman is the original “2-fer” champion, winning both the UFC heavyweight tournament, and the Pride Open-Weight Grand Prix…That being said, his best days are clearly in the past, the fluke victory vs. “Shogun” notwithstanding…Coleman brings the powerful wrestling background, and appears to be in excellent shape…Fedor’s beaten him before and I can’t see Coleman improving much since then at his advanced age…Fedor is stronger, quicker, smarter, and better than Coleman in all aspects…Still, I think Coleman gives him some problems early on…Fedor hasn’t fought since December of ’05 so there could be some rust…I still this is Emelianenko’s night…Fedor Emalianenko by submission Round 1.

Contact me at johnsidtaylor@gmail.com or at www.myspace.com/mmanews

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