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Pride 33 “The Second Coming”
Saturday, February 24, 2007
Thomas & Mack Center
Las Vegas, Nevada

By Stephen Quadros, “The Fight Professor”

I’m sure religious zealots just LOVE this event title. Ah yes, the fine art of “marketing”…


Wanderlei Silva - Champion  

  Dan Henderson - Challenger

Title fights by nature are supposed to represent the best that combat sports have to offer, top contenders vying for the top position…in their division. And both champion Wanderlei Silva and challenger “Dangerous” Dan Henderson are surely two of the best fighters…in their two separate weight categories. Yeah, Dan finally moved down to 183 pounds a few years back and (as expected) won the Pride belt there on New Years Ever (2005) after a grueling tournament that saw him best Murilo Bustamante (a second time) by decision in the finals. 

Since he entered Pride in 1999, Silva has been on a scorched Earth binge against mainly Japanese opposition and has for the most part had his way.

But in the last 3 years “The Ax Murderer” (Silva) has seen growing challenges…and three defeats: Mark Hunt (split decision-December 31, 2004), Ricardo Arona (unanimous decision-August 28, 2005) and Wanderlei’s last fight where he was KO’d by Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic (September 10, 2006). His invincible aura was now in question.

Which brings us to this Pride middleweight title match (205 pounds) and how one qualifies to get a shot at it.

Arona “lost” his last fight (a rematch) with Wanderlei by a razor close split decision. But many in attendance that night thought Ricardo had done enough to win. Either way Arona truly deserves a third shot at Silva because he beat him the first time they fought, in one of Pride’s infamous “non-title” fights.

The ‘other’ Nogueira, Rogerio, has also earned his chance at the Pride belt by a unanimous decision over Kazushi Sakuraba, two wins over Kazuhiro Nakamura (one by submission, one by split decision), two victories against Alistair Overeem (one unanimous decision and one TKO) and of course his armbar submission against…Dan Henderson.

So WHY is Rogerio Nogueira not fighting Wanderlei in this title fight? It’s anyone’s guess. We’ll just have to chalk up another championship match seemingly staged for marketing purposes first and sportive semblance second. “Oh, no one knows Rogerio Nogueira in the states and Dan Henderson is an American, so everybody here will automatically know him” might be the range of “thinking” behind this. Oh, OK…I guess.

Henderson and Silva met previously on December 9, 2000 in a fight that saw Dan rock and lump up Wanderlei early only to be beaten, stomped and barely escape on the wrong side of a decision. 

It’s actually ‘possible’ for Dan to pull off a victory in this rematch®, mainly because Silva has been at the top for so long (27 appearances in Pride, 38 fights total) that he theoretically may be teetering on that mountain and about to fall off. I say possible, because I feel it is also unlikely. Silva is probably more motivated than ever, mainly because he was knocked out in his last fight! He must protect his legacy now. He MUST beat Dan Henderson!

Dan is one of those fighters who, like Sakuraba, should have never had to compete in the upper division (205) in my opinion. Yet he did quite well considering, even though he had to bulk up to fight the naturally larger men. But no matter how many protein shakes he drank and how much food he consumed, he never exceeded the maximum weight of 205 pounds, when most of his opponents were cutting down to make that weight.

Now that Hendo is closing in on 37 years old, the guts and mental fire that propelled him to rise to those David versus Goliath moments will be harder and harder to summon. But Dan never backs down from a challenge, thus he sees this fight with Silva as the golden opportunity it is, a chance to cement the bookend on his library of achievements, by being a sort of MMA Billy Conn.

Because the first match was competitive this one will be too. Silva should again expect Hendo’s power packed right hand. And because the fight is taking place in the US, soccer kicks and knees to the head of a downed opponent, two of The Ax Murderer’s favorite tools, are illegal. But Silva’s swarming Muay Thai style will be in full effect.

I doubt this will be anywhere near as exciting as their first grind out. It would be too easy for me to say that Silva would take this because in the back of my mind I honestly believe it could go either way.
 

Takanori Gomi  

    Nick Diaz

Huh? I thought Pride had announced recently that they would NOT have their “champions” compete in any more non-title fights? Maybe I didn’t read the fine print… 

*(Gomi was choked out in a “non-title” fight by Marcus Aurelio in April 2006 only to come back in November of that same year to win the rematch with Aurelio in a “title fight” by…split decision).

But at any rate, this is Gomi’s second foray in the US (he got pounded and choked out by BJ Penn in October 2003 in Hawaii). Since then Gomi has stormed to the top of the sport by destroying the likes of Ralph Gracie, Jens Pulver, Tatsuya Kawajiri and Hayato Sakurai (then of course came the Aurelio matches).

Gomi’s opponent is the durable and defiant Nick Diaz.

This should be a great collaboration simply because Nick Diaz brings the ‘attitude,’ along with the competitive technical threats. Most people who only know the UFC universe recognize Nick from his recent losses in that organization and his derailing KO win over “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler (who at the time seemed as he was being groomed by the UFC as a standup star). But if you look closer at those statistics you will see that those Ultimate® losses were in fact against some of the world’s best fighters (Sean Sherk, Diego Sanchez, Karo Parisyan) and they were all by decision.

An interesting thing is that 2 of the 3 losses on Gomi’s record are by submission. And Nick Diaz has a really accomplished yet largely unknown (at least in the punch first, grapple later slant of the recent UFC) jiu-jitsu game.

Gomi will have problems with Nick. I’m not saying he will outright lose to the rebel from Stockton, California, but he’d better watch his back…and make sure Nick does not end up on it. Otherwise this may turn into another BJ Penn situation.

Gomi by decision.

Kazuhiro Nakamura  

   Travis Wiuff

Kazuhiro Nakamura is too good to get beaten by Travis Wiuff at this time. Nakamura by submission.
 
Hayato Sakurai 

   Mac Danzig

Mac Danzig has a solid record and is undoubtedly a tough dude. Problem is that his adversary here, Hayato “Mach” Sakurai, has all that, but has faced a much higher caliber of opposition. If Sakurai is not fighting one of his many past injuries, it should be a case where Mach beats Mac.
Kazuo Misaki  

    Frank Trigg

Frank “Twinkle Toes” Trigg is probably still riding high off his unexpected victory over Jason “Mayhem” Miller last year at 185 pounds. And remember, Frank’s career losses were all against the best 170-pound fighters in the sport (Matt Hughes, Georges St, Pierre, Hayato Sakurai). No doubt Frank is as game a competitor as the sport can produce. But the reality of fighting up in weight again, against the Pride CHAMPION, will prove to be extremely difficult.

And speaking of unexpected, Kazuo Misaki was the surprise winner of last year’s “welterweight” (183 pound) grand Prix with a huge victory (split decision) over Denis Kang. Previous to that he decisioned Dan Henderson and Phil Baroni.

Misaki’s comfort level at 185 (183 whatever) will be too much for the spirited American and will cause Misaki to take this by…you guessed it, decision.
 
Mauricio Rua  

  Alistair Overeem

Mauricio “Shogun” Rua had an almost invincible aura about him after he decisioned Rogerio Nogueira and KO’d Ricardo Arona on his way to becoming the Pride tournament champion in 2005. But the freak arm break loss he suffered against Mark Coleman, along with a laborious judge’s verdict over everybody’s latest problem child, Kazuhiro Nakamura, could have put a crack in his rising star image.

Alistair Overeem has had a rough go as of late against the boys from Brazil, having been TKO’d by Ricardo Arona and Rogerio Nogueira and submitted by Fabricio Werdum. And because he was trashed in the first round the last time they fought Rua, Overeem will be facing long odds against Shogun in this rematch.

Mauricio Rua by Chute Boxe violence.
 
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira  

   Sokoudjou

There’s one on every card…

Minotoro (Rogerio Nogueira) will steamroll right through (Rameau Thierry) Sokoudjou, a.k.a. “The African Assassin” (2-1)…and then wait by the phone (for his now overdue title shot).
 
Joachim Hansen  

   Jason Ireland

Another match made to showcase the beatdown ability of Pride’s international roster. Joachim Hansen will take Jason Ireland to school on his feet, but must be careful of the Michigan man’s ground repertoire.

Hansen by TKO.