Pride With Fresh Eyes: Pride 1
What is this? While I realize that it might be dangerous admitting this, but I am completely unfamiliar with Pride FC. As someone who regularly writes about MMA, this offence cannot continue any longer. Therefore, I am going to go on a journey through every single Pride event chronologically, and report on it as if I am experiencing it in real time. I am going into this completely oblivious. I have no idea who is going to win any of these fights. Nor do I have any insight into the legitimacy (or lack thereof) of any these fights. Regardless this will be an interesting social experiment into the staying power of a promotion that died over a decade ago.
(* While this report is done is a similar style of MMATorch live event reports, it contains considerably less detail, and much more editorializing. Instead of a technical breakdown, this is more of a stream of consciousness.)
(**I am watching this via UFC Fight Pass. If anyone has any alternate recordings, please comment below on any noticeable differences.)
October 11, 1997
Tokyo, Japan at the Tokyo Dome
Commentators- Stephen Quadros, Bas Rutten
Alright, from the get go I dig the VHS quality. The anti-piracy notice is reminiscent of any tape that was played continuously in 1990’s.
The intro is basic but very cool. It looks like something that would have played before a real-life version of “Mortal Kombat.” We get dragons and flames interspersed with a fighter hanging out in the bottom of a building. This fighter also has lightning all over his body. The music during this intro has all the charm of the very best/worst video game tracks.
The start of the actual fight card comes across a little awkward. The intro just goes directly into a tale of the tape for the first fight. The commentators get a very brief introduction; but they never really welcome the audience to the event. No attempt is made to inform the audience of what they are about to see. This feels very different from the early UFC cards, where the announcers gave extended exposition of the rules, while also revealing the bracket.
Kazunari Murakami vs. John Dixson
Dixon looks unenthused but deadly.
The two men engage in some brief striking before the action goes to the ground for a brief period. Once they make it back to the feet, Murakami lands an amazing looking takedown. On the ground Murakami is very aggressive and quickly locks on an armbar. Dixon taps immediately.
Result: Murakami by submission at 1:34 of the first round.
Murakami is presented with a massive trophy.
Analysis That was a brief bout of fun. Looking at these two guys standing across from each other, Dixson looked much more intimidating. However once the bell rang, Murakami looked like a much better athlete. For the most part, this resembled a modern MMA fight, with Dixson looking like a “classic” MMA athlete.
Gary Goodridge vs. Oleg Taktarov
These are some familiar SEG-era UFC fighters. The announcers acknowledge the UFC past of both fighters.
Standing without action before a big punch by Taktarov. The two men exchange a quick flurry that leaves Taktarov with a streak of blood down his face. More standing around. Another punching exchange, with Goodridge looking dominant. Goodridge lands some impressive striking and even a kick while Taktarov is on the ground. Taktarov shoots but goes nowhere. Suddenly a Goodridge right hand knocks Taktarov out cold. Takyarov lands on is stomach, while Goodridge pounds him in the back of the head before the ref steps in and a towel is thrown. Rutten is somewhat critical of the timing of the stoppage.
Result: Goodridge by knockout at 4:57 of the first round.
Analysis: That was both fun and very brutal. The power that Goodridge had was a different kind of strength. The other thing that really stood out in this fight was the lack of movement by both fighters. Instead of circular motion or bouncing around, these two men simply stood in front of each other in between any meaningful action.
Renzo Gracie vs. Akira Shoji
Well I have no idea who Shoji is, but I am familiar with Renzo Gracie.
Shoji grabs the ropes to avoid a takedown. Ref intervenes. Gracie gets the takedown. They end up in the corner of the ring. THREE REFS ARE DRAGGING THESE TWO MEN TO THE CENTER OF THE RING WHILE THEY ARE STILL GRAPLLING. Shoji gives up his back, Shoji stands up, goes to the ropes, before falling out of the ring. Commentators unsure of what will happen. (They are stood up in the middle of the ring.) Stand up clinching into to ropes. Headbutt attempt by Soji. Standing submission attempt by Gracie. Announcers comment about silent Japanese fans. Gracie gets Shoji to the ground. End of round one.
Back to the ground. Triangle attempt by Gracie leads to Shoji standing up. Gracie eventually stands up. Gracie shoots as they get locked up, refs yell at them not to move while they are moved back to center. Shoji picks up and drops Gracie. Gracie laying out. End of round two. (How long are these rounds?)
Uneventful round so far. Gracie shoots but Shoji gets knees to Gracie’s head before ending up on top. Gracie ends up on top, but Soji stands up immediately. Shoji suddenly fires up and gets the best of Gracie on ground before standing up, and Gracie lays out. End of fight.
After the fight, Shoji gets on the mic and gives what sounds like a very passionate program. This crowd absolutely loves Shoji.
Analysis: This fight was very boring, but had its moments. Both fighters seemed very frustrated throughout the fight. With that said, Shoji was the far more entertaining and charismatic fighter. I want to see more of him, when he is not fighting a BJJ expert. This fight was the first time on this card that it was clear that I was watching something vastly different from modern UFC. For one, the image of the referees dragging two grapplers to the center of the ring was wild. Additionally, the visual of two fighters falling out of the ring was just bizarre. Despite the moments of inactivity, the fight was made mildly entertaining by the commentary of Quadros and Rutten.
Koji Kitao vs. Nathan Jones
As a pro wrestling fan, I have spent a good amount of time laughing at how sorry Nathan Jones’s WWE career turned out. I had no idea that he ever tried his hand at MMA.
Koji Kitao has a very unique look, he appears to be a sumo wrestler that has lost a lot of weight.
The announcers make a Godzilla reference. They warn that all of Tokyo is going to get leveled. Jones fires a cool looking reverse crescent kick that misses. Jones attempts guillotine. Kitao takes him down. Kitao quickly gets a submission by keylock. After the fight both announcers burry the fighters. The commentators do not have a lot of confidence in either one of these athletes.
Result: by submission at 2:14 of the first round.
Analysis: Believe it or not, Nathan Jones appears to have been a better MMA fighter, than pro wrestler. Take that for what it’s worth. There really was nothing to this fight. Before the bell rang this felt like a fight created in a video game world. Please let that be the last time I ever encounter Nathan Jones in a combat sports environment.
Branko Cikatic vs. Ralph White
I am not really familiar with either of these men.
Cikatic looks like a villain from an 80’s action movie.
Cikatic is hyped as K-1 World Grand Prix tournament champion. So apparently this fight is being contested under standup rules not MMA. I am guessing this means that this is a kickboxing match. Wow the Jeet Kune Do gloves really stand out. Right on cue, Rutten makes a Bruce Lee reference. A quick exchange of punches knocks down White. Cikatic gives White a shin kick to the head while on the ground. The kick results in hematoma on White’s head. One of the announcer’s comments, “Good thing John McCain didn’t see this fight” and “(He) would’ve banned everything.” Commentators are killing it while White is being attended to. White’s corner protests the shin kick. Commentator’s call for DQ. A random Don “The Dragon” Wilson reference. Cikatic is angry when he realizes that he has been disqualified. The two fighters ultimately shake hands.
Result: No Contest 1:52
Analysis: What else can you say, that was really weird. The fight was only one exchange, before a whole lot of confusion ensued. The hematoma looked pretty nasty. The announcers were downright fascinated by the bump growing out of White’s head. The lull while everything was being sorted out was made more palatable by the jokes of the announcers.
Kimo Leopoldo vs. Dan Severn
Alright this should be fun. I have always liked Severn. I feel that he was/is a mythical MMA figure. I wish fighters of today had the aura of Severn.
I will admit that I was disappointed that we were deprived of an entrance by Kimo. Kimo entering the Octagon while caring a cross was pretty amazing.
Very sloppy punching/swatting. Some clinch work. Rutten compares them to tough man competitors. This a very dull round. Bas Rutten call Severn “Eddie Mercury?” Brief attempts at shooting by both men. So, for some reason this fight does not have rounds, this will be one 30-minute round. Rutten relays my sentiments that, “The rules are all over the place.” The announcers are annoyed by the lack of action but are trying to be diplomatic, they are much more entertaining than the fight. Action picks up slightly at the 20 minute mark. Announcer tells a story about his pay-per-view feed of Royce Gracie vs. Dan Severn being cut off. (I wish I was watching that fight instead of this one.) Severn nearly gets on top of Kimo, but Kimo flails out of the ring. The announcers parody themselves. Severn gets a late fury that finally results in a takedown. THANK GOD, IT’S OVER!
Analysis: That was very disappointing. These two tough looking men had a slapping contest for a half hour. They spent a lot of time doing nothing, when they would engage, the punches were as sloppy as possible. Considering the great fights that these two men had with Royce Gracie at the early UFC’s; this should have been better. The saving grace was the announcers. I might sound redundant at this point, but the commentators are really the stars of this show. In particular, it is very entertaining how the announcers do not pretend to sell this fight as aesthetically pleasing.
(Interesting note: After watching this event, I went through the back issues of the Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter to see if Pride 1 received any coverage. Well, not only were the results reported, but an interesting tidbit emerged. It turns out that Severn got injured in this fight, and shook up the main event of UFC 15. Instead of the scheduled main event of Dan Severn and Maurice Smith, UFC fans in St. Louis got a main event between Tank Abbott and Maurice Smith.)
Rickson Gracie vs. Nobuhiko Takada
Rickson Gracie is usually referred to as the G.O.A.T. Gracie. I am genuinely excited to see him dismantle someone.
I recognize the name of Takada from pro wrestling, but I could not tell much about him.
The Brazilian national anthem is played. The Japanese national anthem is played. Takada is compared to Hulk Hogan. Takada runs in circles. Gracie has no expression. Gracie corners Takada but they are broken up before the takedown. Takada gains a short advantage before Gracie lands a fierce takedown. Very quick tap out by Takada after a swift armbar.
Result: Gracie by submission at 4:47 of the first round.
Analysis: That was a gigantic mismatch. Before the fight ever started, the commentators let me know that this fight would be over quickly. Despite the lopsided fight, this did have the feel of a main event. Takada is obviously a star, just not a fighter. Just like an early UFC, this event ended with a Gracie looking dominant. My only criticism, would be that there were no stakes in this fight. It might have had a greater impact if Rickson was holding a giant check or a belt after he won.
For the most part, this was a very enjoyable show. If anything, the pacing of this card was a little awkward. The two fights that went the distance were a slog to get through. On the other hand, all the other fights were over before you could settle in. Compared to the slow moving FS1 cards, the editing was a welcome experience. In some cases, a ring entrance would have helped the overall presentation.
Without a doubt, Stephen Quadros and Bas Rutten were the most entertaining part of this card. They have amazing chemistry. When you compare this with the awful commentary of the early UFC’s, the difference is significant. Perhaps the greatest strength of this duo is the ability to make the mundane entertaining. They were very self-aware of the slow points, and adjusted accordingly. Even their naivety of the rules was charming.
I am looking forward to continuing my journey through Pride. I hope the general feeling of controlled chaos that this card carries over throughout the entire existence of Pride. Just no more Kimo and Dan Severn, please.