Did PRIDE FC legends ever make waves in modern MMA? Or are they just a cheap commodity for bloody entertainment?
In the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the proverbial torch has been in the process of passing for a few years now, ever since the influx of lighter weights, athletic heavyweights, and scientific weight cuts. The Lightweight division is taken over by the WEC with technicians like Anthony Pettis and Benson Henderson putting UFC standouts to shame, young athletes like Jon Jones train to become the best and in the process embarrass the best Light Heavyweights ever inside the Octagon, and last we have Cain Velasquez, who we all saw as a small Heavyweight, but with amazing wrestling and powerful combos can take out the rest of the big guys who are weighed down by too many pounds.
So, in lieu of all this change, all this new meat, new athletes showcasing the new age of the sport, where do the PRIDE FC guys stand? Have the best fighters from the classic Japanese promotion been able to make their way into the modern era and make an impact on the MMA world? Following this weekend’s UFC Fight Night: Shogun vs. St. Preux, it’s easy to say no, the PRIDE guys are outdated. Young, athletic, powerful — and somewhat unknown — fighters like St. Preux can take out a legend in just 34 seconds, what does that mean for where MMA is going?
Let’s take a look at some of the best PRIDE fighters who are still in the fight game or are recently retired:
Winning records, titles with defenses, and improved techniques.
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson: During his PRIDE days, Rampage amassed a 12-5 record, which is one of the worst compared to the rest of the fighters on this list, but he was able to make the most impact on MMA post-Japan, actually walking away from the UFC with a winning record of 7-5. While in the UFC, Rampage had an interesting rivalry with Rashad Evans, some issues with weight and his celebrity status, but what is most important is that he was the only one of this list to gain a UFC belt and actually defend it. Since he has made a move to Bellator, he has gone 3-0, but we all know he isn’t fighting anyone close to his caliber, so it’s not much to add while talking about his legacy.
Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira: One of the best submission fighters, if not the best, in the Heavyweight division, Big Nog has had his ups-and-downs in the UFC. Nogueira has only been able to put back-to-back wins in his first two fights for the promotion, but in the process he was able to pick up an interim Heavyweight championship, along with four post-fight awards. With a 5-5 record in the UFC, he’s not winning or losing, just staying leveled with the pack, which might be the most we can ask from these PRIDE legends. Although, as of late he is showing a downslope, we can only hope he either picks up his game or gets out.
THE (kind of) BAD
Losing records, weakening chins, and the downfall of legends.
Dan Henderson: At 44-years-old, most would expect Hendo to be on the “should retire” list, but really, he hasn’t had a terrible career since his 13-5 run in PRIDE. Not including his two wins in 1998 for the UFC, Dan has a 5-6 record with the promotion, and more importantly a 3-1 run in Strikeforce, even winning the Light Heavyweight title. He’s gone 2-4 in his return to the Octagon, which included some close calls with former champions, but also some terrible performances against Vitor Belfort, and next contender Daniel Cormier, most recently. He has had some great times, but nothing that will compare to the two-division champion from his PRIDE days, and lately it seems to all be going downhill for the aging Hendo.
Takanori Gomi: What Gomi was able to accomplish in PRIDE was beyond amazing, a 13-1 record, the 2005 Grand Prix winner, and the promotions Lightweight championship. Coming into the UFC, a lot was expected of the Fireball Kid, who was given a main event fight against Kenny Florian in his first outing, which unfortunately ended in a third round submission loss for Gomi. Since then he was able to put on some exciting fights, but nothing to get him closer to a title shot. Currently at a 4-5 record, most recently losing to the up-and-coming Myles Jury, we can only hope to see some more exciting fights from Gomi, I’m sure we won’t see him in a title fight any time soon.
Fedor Emilienenko: It seemed nothing but uphill for Fedor since the downfall of PRIDE. He was the most wanted fighter, with the most perfect record, and the most “best ever” attached to his name. Leaving the Japanese promotion with a 14-0 record, a Heavyweight belt, and a stone-cold demeanor, it seemed like nothing could dethrone The Last Emperor. Look, Fedor actually has had a good run since leaving PRIDE, with a 8-3 record, but those three loses really chop the legend down. Those unexpected loses, and a failed signing by the UFC, taint the career of one of, if not the, greatest fighter ever. Retirement has been good to him, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t expect him to make one more appearance before he really retires, and hopefully it will be in the UFC, and hopefully it goes well for Fedor.
Blood and brawn, legacy over wins, and Fight of the Year candidates but with no back-to-back wins.
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua: This is a tough one for me to write, as Shogun has been one of my all-time favorite fighters, but Saturday night cemented my decision that he is just not fit for the the young guns. When I caught sight of the 22-year-old Shogun for the first time in PRIDE, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one impressed by his ferocity, will to win, and incredible skills. Leaving the promotion with a 12-1 record (the only loss coming by injury), he was a prized commodity for the UFC, until he walks into his first fight and loses to Forrest Griffin… not what we expected from the trained killer coming over from Japan. After this setback, he gained some traction, won and quickly lost the title, and after being decimated by the young Jon Jones, was never able to put a string of wins together. Sure, he had a Fight of the Year performance, but that is nothing to brag about when you’re on a 2-5 skid. I’m not sure what to expect from the Shogus vs Anderson Silva Ultimate Fighter showdown, but I am sure what to expect after that fight: retirement. You did well, Shogun, hang them up.
Wanderlei Silva: It’s always been hard for me to make a case for Wanderlei Silva. We all know he is exciting, we all know he can put on a show, but what is it all worth in a sport that now demands win streaks and professionalism? Stuck in the old days, The Ax Murderer wants the exciting promos, the angry stare downs, he doesn’t care about the wins and the title fights, or at least it doesn’t seem like he cares about them as he flings his arms wildly and throws defense out the window. Wanderlei has racked up Fight of the Night, KO of the Night, and Fight of the Year bonuses, but at the end of the day, he hasn’t put together a win streak since 2006, a year before he moved into the UFC. Wanderlei left PRIDE with a 22-4-1 record, he had a 4-year undefeated streak, something few have achieved, but a lack of adapting to the times, unwilling to change with the sport, Wanderlei has since gone 5-7 in the UFC, never had a title fight, and left the promotion tainted with unprofessionalism and a bad temper. This is a guy that knocked out the legendary Sakuraba three times and Rampage Jackson twice. Where was that Wanderlei when he stepped into the Octagon? Drowned out by cheers, applause, and blood. Exactly where Wanderlei wanted to be.
Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipović: “Right leg, hospital; left leg, cemetery.” If that’s not the best legacy for a fighter, I don’t know what is. It’s too bad he wasn’t able to carry that into the UFC. Heading into PRIDE, Cro Cop was quickly feared, amassing a 18-4-2 record, and winning the 2006 Open Weight Gran Prix, KO’ing Wanderlei Silva along the way with his patented head kick. But as he transitioned into the UFC, it was nothing but finishes in the Croatian’s fights, unfortunately Cro Cop was on the giving and receiving end of them, ending his career in the Octagon with a 4-6 record (although he later took back his retirement, and is now 2-1 outside the UFC). Another story of big promise, little output from a legendary PRIDE fighter.
Looking into all these fighter’s history, it could either be age or inability to change with the times that led these legends to ugly records and ugly memories. It’s hard to tell, but ultimately, these fighters are not what they used to be, it’s hard to be after so many years of competition, and it’s hard to stay relevant in a sport filled with new blood and young athletes, but that’s on them to realize when to hang up the gloves, not on us to tell them when it’s time.
Saturday we are treated with a rare anomaly, at UFC 180. A PRIDE fighter, who went into the UFC with a losing record but a lot of leftover pride, without much change to his game and was able to bring his career into a beautiful resurgence, gaining an interim Heavyweight title shot, and looking like a man who actually has a chance. Mark Hunt, the Super Samoan, was gifted a shot after an injury to the current Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, and with a tough test in front of him, Hunt can shut me up with all this PRIDE-let-down talk by going out and doing what he does best: walk away KO. And I sure do hope he proves me wrong, because I would want nothing more than to see a fighter once unwanted by the UFC, in just four years, become the Heavyweight champion. Wouldn’t that be the greatest comeback story you’ve ever heard? I think so.
– Nahuel F.A.