10 YRS AGO: Keller’s “Pride: Real Deal” PPV Report from Las Vegas, Nev.: Coleman vs. Fedor, Vitor vs. Hendo, O’Haire vs. Butterbean, Robbie Lawler

By Wade Keller, MMATorch editor

Vitor Belfort (photo credit Per Haljestam © USA Today Sports)

OCTOBER 21, 2006

Thanks for joining us tonight for our coverage of Pride’s U.S. debut. I’m watching this on delay thanks to DVR technology, so check back over the next few hours for more of my analysis and ratings. For the more up-to-date report on the live show, check out Shawn Ennis’s report on the Main Listing.

-The announcers – Mauro Ranallo, Frank Trigg, and Craig Minervini – were shown at ringside with a sparce crowd in the background. They said it was the hottest ticket in town, which you just can’t do an expect to retain your credibility if the building is two-thirds empty; they needed to not say it at that point, or say the crowd would be late-arriving. As they previewed the card, Frank Trigg said that Kevin Randleman is a “50 percent fighter” in that half the time he’s unbeatable and the other half of the time he should be in the fourth row eating popcorn. They showed some of the fighters backstage. Then they explained the rules, which are different for this event than other Pride events because it’s sanctioned by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. The main difference is three five minute rounds for each fight with a 10 point per round must system. Illegal moves include strikes to grain, eyes, and throat, and also elbows, knees, or kicks tothe head of a grounded opponent. Of course, no biting, hairpulling, or headbutts. The announcers noted that Mark Coleman was disappointed and surprised that Feder was getting more cheers at the weigh-in. Then they went to the conclusion of the introduction to the crowd of the athletic commissioners, judges, and referees. Herb Dean, seen refereeing in UFC, received cheers. The announcers said they were surprised since he’s been part of some controversial, unpopular MMA decisions. For all the bragging Pride did about the Super Bowl production values, it was a shaky start here with a flat opening 15 minutes of announcers talking, no special video packages, a majority of seats empty, and the introductions of commissioners, judges, and referees.

After a mucic video featuring some brutal punching exchanges and knockouts, they went to the signature Pride opening ceremony with their female ring announcer who is easily the best ring announcer in the history of the business. Each of the fighters was introduced and walked out onto the stage. This is where a first-time Pride viewer who watches UFC got the first example of something better than UFC, although UFC’s scaled back intros are an acceptable part of UFC’s tradition. I really enjoy Pride’s openings, though.

1 — ROBBIE LAWLER (24, 5-11, 185, U.S.) vs. JOEY VILLASENOR (30, 6-0, 185, U.S.)

Lawler scored early with a great left roundhouse kick to the head and then KO’d Villasenor with a flying knee for a quick mild upset. Villasenor took that loss about as well as any fighter could take a loss. He congratulated Lawler after the fight. Lawler left with a trophy and a smile on his face. I like that Pride gives winners trophies, as it fits the tradition of martial arts tournaments on grassroots levels.

RESULT: Lawler in 0:22 by KO.

STAR RATING (**-) Great KO by Lawler.

RAMIFICATIONS: Considered a close match going in, Lawler moves up a notch with this redeeming victory. That will be part of his highlight clips forever. Villasenor can save face with it being more of a “lucky” successfuly early flurry than being dominated otherwise, so he’ll be back to see if this and his previous loss were flukes.

-Earlier, the announcers boasted that unlike some MMA PPVs they may be used to where there’s a fight, and then a 20 minute break where viewers get bored before the next fight. once Pride gets started, it goes non-stop. That proved to be the case here with a quick move right into ring intros for match two. The lower deck at least appeared to fill in respectably by this point.

2 — TRAVIS GALBRAITH (25, 6-0. 2-5, Canada) vs. KAZHIRO NAKAMURA (27, 5-11, 205, Japan)

ROUND ONE: Galbraith, making his Pride debut, was a heavy underdog by oddsmakers. After some stiff opening exchanges, Galbraith mistakenly kicked Nakamura low. The ref called a timeout. Seconds later, it was back on. Nakamura scored with a nice kick to the face at 1:00, then took Galbraith down with a punch. He looked to have him out for a second and threw more punches, but Galbraith stayed alive and defended himself enough for the ref to step back. He went for an anklelock submission. Nakamura took a few seconds, but spun out of it. Great exchange. Galbraith ended up on top against the ropes. The ref ordered them to separate and reposition themselves in center-ring. Ranallo explained that as a Pride-exclusive rule. Nakamura escaped and ended up on top at 3:00. They stood up again and took wild swings at each other. Galbraith was swinging for the fences throughout the first round. Nakamura judo threw Galbraith to end the round. Nakamura wins that round, and almost ended the fight in the opening minute. Galbraith, though, earned respect by hanging with Nakamura and applying a nice submission anklelock reversal early on.

ROUND TWO: Galbraith scored with a knee, but Nakamura powered him to the mat and went for a choke. Then he stood up and backed down, inviting Galbraith to stand with him. Galbraith was happy to accomodate his wish. Nakamura scored with a knee to the face, and Galbraith dropped to his knees. Nakamura punched away as he covered his head and the ref called for the stoppage. The announcers talked about how in Pride, unlike some organizations, if you lose, that doesn’t mean it’s the last you’ll see of that fighter as long as they showed great fighting spirit. They said Galbraith put up a good fight and earned a return visit.

RESULT: Nakamura via TKO early in round two.

STAR RATING (**+) Really fun, energetic fight. A little too sloppy to make it to three stars, but the judo throw by Nakamura and the reversal into an anklelock by Galbraith were nice moments to go along with the punching.

3 — PHIL BARONI (30, 5-11, 195, U.S.) vs. YOSUKE NISHIJIMA (32, 6-0, 195, Japan)

ROUND ONE: The announcers said Baroni is having a ton of personal issues at home and that earlier it appeared to be affecting him, but that he seemed to have shed that stress during ring intros. Baroni ducked Nishijima’s first punch and tackled him to the mat. He then threw punches at Nishijima on the mat, then shifted to a side mount. Ranallo noted that Baroni is not known for his ground fighting, but was dominating the former Japanese boxing champion. Baroni locked up Nishijima’s arms and then threw some low-leverage, but still punishing punches. Thenhe slipped on a Kimura. Nishijima shook his head no as the ref asked him if he was giving up at 3:00. Nishikima finally gave up verbally, as he didn’t have a free hand to tap. Marello sounded like he had trouble even saying “Baroni by submission” when recapping the finish.

After the fight, Baroni said he was feeling sorry for himself since he felt abandoned by someone closest to him, but he feels lucky right now. he threw out several f-bombs and the interviewer Minervini pulled the mic away.

RESULT: Baroni in round one at 3:29.

STAR RATING (**) Disappointing that there wasn’t any stand-up action to see how Baroni could hang with a former pro boxer, but the novelty of seeing Baroni win via tapout to a move he said in his post-fight interview he “saw on TV the other day, so he decided to try it,” was memorable.

RAMIFICATIONS: Baroni showed there’s more to his game than go-for-broke stand-up. Nishijima can either be a novelty fighter against other stand-up guys or work hard to at least get a better ground defense so he can be taken more seriously.

4 — DAN HENDERSON (36, 6-0, 196) vs. VITOR BELFORT (29, 6-0, 205, Brazil)

ROUND ONE: Henderson pressed early and ended up taking Belfort down a few seconds into the fight, landing in his guard. Belfort leveraged himself over on top of Henderson at 1:30. Belfort went for an arm, but ended up standing. Rather than let Henderson stand, Belfort moved in and remained on top. Henderson didn’t seem to fight it. A minute later Belfort went for a leglock, but Henderson slipped out and ended up on his feet. Henderson threw some low roundhouse kicks to Belfort’s legs, but the ref stood Belfort at 3:00. Henderson landed a couple punches, but didn’t seem to do much damage. They clinched against the ropes. Henderson ended up on top with a bear hug, taking Belfort to the mat at 4:00. With about ten seconds left, Henderson went for a guillotine choke. Round one to Henderson, but the fight never seemed close to ending and Belfort was respectable on the mat.

Between rounds they showed Chuck Norris, Wanderlei Silva, a top ranking Chinese official, and a Philadelphia Philly.

ROUND TWO: Belfort and Henderson clinched, and Belfort jumped into a guard. Henderson slammed him hard to the mat. Henderson measured some punches from a mount position. He got some momentum with some landed punches. The ref then stood them and moved them to mid-ring with the same positioning. At 3:00 Henderson allowed Belfort back to his feet, but not before throwing some reverse mule kicks at Belfort’s legs from a standing position while Belfort was on his back. They had a stalemate cliche in the corner, so the ref sent them back to the center. Henderson again took Belfort to the mat hard. The round ended with a whimper. Blah round, once again to Henderson.

ROUND THREE: Ranallo called it a “very entertaining match-up” so far. That’s overstating it. Henderson came out swinging, then ended up on top Belfort again. Henderson wasn’t resting in round three, as he was aggressive with punches on the mat. Belfort slippedo ut from under Henderson and ended up on top of him. A brief “Vitor, Vitor” chant broke out. Ranallo noted it was “bizaro world,” but then said these fans are educated to great fighters rather than just chanting for their home countrymen. A minute later, Henderson ended up on top again after Belfort spun out of a leglock attempt by Henderson from underneath. With less than 30 seconds left, a “Henderson” chant broke out. They changed positioned twice, ending with Belfort on top. The two fighters immediately hugged. Another round to Henderson, but closer than the other two.

RESULT: Henderson via judges’ decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-24)

STAR RATING: (**-) Okay fight. There was a lot to appreciate about the ground work from both, but overall not particularly exciting. It felt like a half-effort.

RAMIFICATIONS: The 30-24 judging was a little much, but Belfort never looked like he had a chance to win. Henderson was more aggressive and effective on stand-up, and a better ground fighter. Belfort didn’t silence critics who point to his inconsistency and sense that he lacks heart or killer desire at times. But he didn’t get KO’d or submitted, so Belfort remains the same mid-range enigma he’s always been. Henderson just firmed up his status as able to dominate someone of Belfort’s status. No big news here.

5 — ERIC “BUTTERBEAN” ESCH (38, 5-9, 398) vs. SEAN O’HAIRE (35, 6-6, 275)

It’s a small thing, but it’s annoying when the ring announcer has a different height or weight than the on-screen graphic. She had Butterbean at 5-11, but the graphic had him at 5-9. O’Haire was a late replacement for Mark Hunt. O’Haire threw a couple early round kicks that did no good. Butterman rocked O’Haire with an early punch, then KO’d him with a barrage of tight, stiff punches to win quickly.

In his post-fight promo, the educated fight crowd was mildly booing him, as if to say politely they weren’t there to see him. He kissed up to the fans over and over and tried to say they make fighting fun, and a few fans bought into it and cheered. He was asked if he was prepared to go to the ground. He said he has trained enough to know how to stay out of trouble and get back to his feet.

RESULT: Butterbean at 0:29 of round one.

STAR RATING (*) O’Haire walked away with slightly more dignity than Bart Gunn did in his Brawl for All match at WrestleMania 15 back in 1998.

RAMIFICATIONS: Pride looks a little foolish or gimmicky for featuring this in the first place, but to their defense it was a replacement for a boxing match between Butterman and Mark Hunt, which was changed due to Hunt’s travel problems. Otherwise, it was what it was, and it was what was expected. Too bad the Butterbean-Hunt match didn’t take place.

They announced a 20 minute intermission. The announcers recapped the fights so far. Trigg talked up the Pride product and complimented the crowd they’ve drawn for not being beer-guzzling “USA” chanting fans, but instead are cheering the fighers they respect regardless of their nation or origin. Trigg and Ranallo kept talking about Pride being for families, and Trigg said he wouldn’t say that about other events in Vegas. Is he talking about UFC? What’s the big difference? It came off bad because of Baroni’s f-bomb filled interview earlier. It’s also just strange sounding because you would not take a family to this event unless they happened to be into the fight game and the kids were old enough. Then they cut to a replay of the Henderson-Belfort fight. Embarrassingly, Minervini introduced Vitor as “Victor.” Someone needs to correct him. There were a lot of things they could hae done with the 20 minute intermission, including a clip of one of their all-time great fights, profiles of fighters, a mini-documentary on the history off the organization, a music video, or plugs for their DVDs. A replay of a relatively mundane fight earlier was bush league and lazy.

The announcers previewed the final three fights. They showed Coleman with his kids. Trigg made a case for Coleman having a chance against Fedor based on his showing in their first fight. Fedor was shown backstage totally relaxed, playing cards. They talked about Fedor’s shock and joy at having the 1,000 fans chant his name during his weigh-ins at Caesar’s Palace. They said Fedor wants to be popular in America. They didn’t show any footage. Then they replayed the Butterbean vs. O’Haire fight.

Live in the ring, Pride President Nobuhiko Takada greeted the fans, then bowed on each of the four sides of the ring toward the crowd. In broken English, he said he was very happy to be in Las Vegas. He then introduced three of Pride’s warriors – “Mach” Sakurai, Hidehiko Yoshida, and Kazuyuki “Ironhead” Fujita. The crowd was nice to Takada, empathizing and appreciating his attempts to speak English. The announcers talked over him a few times, though. He concluded with enthusiasm: “America, are you read? Are you ready for Pride?!” Their ring intro set and showmanship is great, but otherwise this felt like a public access TV production, and some of these mistakes and clunky pacing are amateurish and inexcusible. That 20 minute intermission was handled very poorly, and given their bragging earlier about how once Pride starts, it’s one fight after another without boring 20 minute interruptions, this was even worse.

6 — PAWEL NASTULA (36, 6-0, 235, Poland) vs. JOSH BARNETT (28, 6-3, 245, U.S.)

ROUND ONE: Ranallo noted that Barnett beat Randy Couture to win the UFC Hvt. Title back in 2002, but didn’t get into where his UFC career went from there. The announcers talked about Nastula’s pre-Pride credentials, but didn’t give much of a perspective on the difficulties he’shad in going 102 in Pride. They cliched against the ropes for the opening two minutes. Nastula took Barnett to his back on the mat. The crowd booed a minute later as Nastula tried to throw some punches or slip on a submission, but wasn’t getting anywhere against Hunt’s great defense. Nastula had a side mount and great positioning, but the ref stood them up. The announcers were surprised. Nastula ducked a Hunt roundhouse swing. He powered Hunt to the mat again, Barnett blocked Nastula’s attempts at power punches. As the bell rang to end the round, Barnett rolled and applied a leglock. Nastula winced and then limped to his corner. It was a late torque by Barnett, and Nastula may have let his guard down a second sooner than he should have. Round one goes to Nastula in a surprise.

ROUND TWO: A minute into the second round, after another early clinch against the ropes, Barnett opened up with some big swings. Nastula came back with four big left and a couple rights. Barnett came back with a big knee. Nastula tackled Barnett to the mat. This put Barnett in huge jeopardy of needing to win by submission of KO in round three given the way this round looked half way in. Nastula went for an armbar. Barnett instead slipped on an anklelock and got an immediate tapout. Barnett leaped up, wiped blood off his nose, and then wiped the blood on his tongue. What an image. Nastula stayed down and had medics look at his ankle.

In a post-match interview, Barnett said he hadn’t trained as hard as he should have because he’s been run ragged with seven fights over the last year. He said he started slow, but ended with an anklelock “which you don’t see very often.” When asked if he got worried, Barnett chuckled and said, yeah, but he wasn’t going to let that happen. Barnett pleaded ignorance about the late kneelock at the end of the first round. He said if you stick a bodypart in front of him, it’s like food, it’s going to get bit. When Minervini said Barnett snatched victory out of the jaws of defeat, Barnett begged to differ and said there was a lot of the fight left.

RESULT: Barnett via submission at 3:02 of second round.

STAR RATING (**+) The drama of Barnett being on the verge of potentially losing two straight rounds to a huge underdog, and then the out-of-nowhere veteran submission, made for a dramatic fight overall, even if the quality of the ground stalemate during the first round and a half wasn’t exciting otherwise.

-Wanderlai Silva walked out and said he was happy to be in the U.S. He made a reference to Chuck Liddell, without mentioning him by name. He said, “I want to fight him, but he don’t want to fight me. I don’t know what is the problem.” Then he said, “Chuck, I’m standing here now.” Then something I couldn’t make out, but maybe something about “no use running.” He said there is no way he can run from him because he is standing there and will be back in February. He thanked the fans and left. The announcers said Pride will be back in Vegas on Feb. 24, 2007. They discussed the Silva challenge to Liddell. As Trigg talked about how they left the fight in the hands of the other organization, but it didn’t happen, they cut him off mid-sentence to go to a video package on Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Kevin Randleman. The directing on this show is an embarrassment. They’re talking over each other, stalling, getting names wrong, and looking disorganized in general. And no, UFC owns this country’s MMA market and there’s no reason, short of Liddell pride getting ahead of business, for him to fight Silva at this stage, much less let it happen on a Pride event, sending UFC fans to the much lesser known (in the U.S.) Pride organization.

7 — MAURICIO “SHOGUN” RUA (24, 5-10, 206, Brazil) vs. KEVIN RANDLEMAN (35, 5-10, 203, U.S.)

Once again, the on-screen graphic had Shogun at 5-10, but the ring announcer at 6-1. In an honest mistake, but not particularly excusible either, the ring announcer had Randleman at 5-1 instead of 5-10. Randleman was totally wound up and almost charged through the ref to get to Shotgun as the bell rang. He tackled Shogun and took him down. He went for a leglock and applied it as he was in the ropes. Shogun almost reversed it and applied his own anklelock. Randleman’s facial expression changed quickly. Randleman fought it for more than a minute. Shogun slipped into a kneelock. Randleman appeared to be very close to tapping one second, then almost escaping a few seconds later, but he finally frantically tapped out once Shogun torqued his leg with all of his body weight on top. It looked like it might be really bad for Randleman’s leg, but after a few seconds, he stood up and limped over to Shogun to congratulate him on the win.

RESULT: Rua in round one.

STAR RATING (**-) Really dramatic two minutes with Randleman showing real resistance to tapping once he got reversed.

RAMIFICATIONS: Hard to say what this means. A loss for Shogun would have hurt more than this loss does to Randleman. This loss proves what is suspected about Randleman, which is even if he were to get a win in a title match, he wouldn’t keep it long because he loses more often than he wins. He went for broke early, but submitting Crocop wasn’t going to happen easily. He gave it a nice try, though, and his pre-match energy makes him a memorable fighter who can be utilized to test fighters working their way up the card. Crocop showed he is still among the elite.

8 — FEDOR EMELIANENKO (29, 6-0, 224, Russia) vs. MARK COLEMAN (42, 6-1, 224, U.S.)

FIRST ROUND: The announcers did their best to play up the underdog role of Coleman, and the fact that he was fighting with his family present as inspiration. Coleman went for an early takedown. Fedor avoided it, then landed some punches that looked threatening. Coleman went for a desperate single-leg takedown and in the process stopped the punching barrage. Fedor then slipped on a guillotine. Coleman slipped out and went for another takedown. Coleman took Fedor down briefly, but Fedor slipped right back to his feet since Coleman was in so low. Fedor looked totally relaxed as Coleman tried to lift him and slam him out of the corner. Fedor slipped out and landed a punch. Coleman moved in again. Fedor swung wildely and landed several. COleman again crasped at Fedor’s leg to stop the barrage. Fedor threw some light punches to Coleman’s head and body. Coleman just hugged his leg. The crowd loudly chanted “Fe-dor! Fe-dor!” Coleman wanted to stay in tight on Fedor to avoid getting punched. That appeared to be his sole strategy. The camera showed his left eye bleeding and badly swollen. At 4:00, the ref ordered Coleman’s cut to be checked by the commission doctor. They let the fight continue with 1:00 left in the round. Coleman ducked Fedor’s first punch and then bearhugged him, spending a lot of energy in the process as Fedor appeared relaxed. Fedor appeared 100 percent as he walked his corner.

SECOND ROUND: Coleman missed with a left and grazed Fedor with a right, then shot in and hugged his right leg again. Fedor wouldn’t go down, though, and remained relaxed. Coleman finally leveraged Fedor onto his back. Fedor looked as relaxed as ever, though. Coleman began the ground and pound. Fedor saw an opening and slipped on an armbar and forced a pretty rapid tapout by Coleman. Coleman stayed down for a half minute, then stood up and hugged Coleman. He then had his arm iced as his terribly swollen face was tended to.

Coleman invited his daughters into the ring. They cried at the sight of their dad, as any five or six year old girls would. He kept telling them he felt great. Then he carried them over to Fedor and said, “So hit to Fedor, he’s a nice guy.” Fedor smiled. Coleman told them it was okay. They looked scared, but as Coleman and Fedor joked around and Coleman threw a few joke punches at him, the daughers laughed and smiled. Through an interpretter, Fedor said he wanted the fight to last longer to get a feel for what Coleman had.

RESULT: Fedor Emelianenko in round two.

STAR RATING (**+) Coleman put up a nice fight. It might have made for a better story if his home country fans were actually cheering for him, but you can’t blame them for not wanting to boo or cheer against perhaps the most unstoppable fighter in the world today. Coleman had the right strategy to even have a chance, but in reality, he had no chance other thank a fluke cut.

RAMIFICATIONS: Fedor added to his legend, but since the odds were so heavily in favor, it’s hardly major news and doesn’t change the fact that anyone who follows MMA is in awe of him and his potential to never lose by countout or submission for years to come, despite Pride’s strong heavyweight division.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Overall, good but not great show for an MMA event. Not overly newsworthy since no titles were on the line and the line-up was set up to be U.S.-centric, which didn’t matter since the U.S. fans didn’t at all buy into cheering for home countrymen if they respected or liked another non-U.S. fighter better. No classics and not worth ordering a replay on PPV if you already know the results. The ring intro set was impressive as usual, but the directing and overall production of the event was way behind UFC to the point of embarrassingly amateurish at times.


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