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Pride Fighting Championships Comes To America - A Look at the Fighters...

By Robert Rousseau,
Get ready mixed martial arts (MMA) fans, because America's fight scene is about to change in a big way. For the first time ever, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is about to feel pressure from a true challenger to their domination of the sport in the United States. From who you ask?

Japan's biggest and best MMA promotion, Pride Fighting Championships.

Pride is slated to come to the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas on October 21st (the event will be called The Real Deal). Their plan? Domination of the American mixed martial arts scene. Will it work? Well, that still remains to be seen. However, their visit comes at a price to those that have enjoyed Pride's unique slant on Pay Per View over the years. Unfortunately, they will have to follow America's MMA rules in Vegas. That means shorter rounds (3 rounds, 5 minutes a piece), no knees or kicks to a downed opponent, and round by round scoring (Pride bouts are scored on the whole fight, not individual rounds). Further, this event will not allow elbows to a downed opponent (Pride's choice).

Still, it should be great, especially considering Pride Heavyweight Champion Fedor Emelianenko and former UFC champs turned Pride stars Josh Barnett and Mark Coleman are slated for the show. Wondering about the match ups that have been already announced and the way it will all turn out? Then keep reading.

Mark "The Hammer" Coleman vs. Fedor Emelianenko

What Mark Coleman brings to the table: Coleman brings an overall MMA record of 15-7 into this bout with 4 (T)KO and 8 submission victories. This former UFC and Pride Grand Prix Heavyweight Champion is a ground and pound nightmare with world class wrestling skills and tons of power. Beyond that, he has a lot of experience in big fights, having bested Igor Vovchanchyn, Dan Severn, Don Frye, Kazuyuki Fujita, and Gary Goodridge during his illustrious career.

Coleman is a below average stand up fighter (in the MMA world), and can look slow at times. Further, he's an excellent ground fighter when in the top position, but on his back in the guard he's not as adept. Of course, he's made a career out of not ending up in such predicaments.

What Fedor Emelianenko brings to the table: The Pride Heavyweight Champion sports a 23-1 overall MMA record with 6 (T)KO and 10 submission victories to his credit. In short, he's the reigning best fighter in the world, having outdone elite competitors like Mirko "Cro Cop", Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (twice), Renato Sobral, Heath Herring, and even Mark Coleman himself in convincing fashion in the past.

Fedor is inhumanly strong as he showed in 2 fights against a man that many consider to be the best MMA submission fighter in the world, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Against the Brazilian he literally powered out of submission attempt after submission attempt as if they weren't even there. Further, Fedor's the best ground and pound fighter in history while in someone else's guard, literally changing the rules of combat one vicious punch at a time.

He's also a very good stand up fighter, particularly on the inside, and showed these skills in effectively out striking a former kickboxing champion in Cro Cop. Beyond all the aforementioned, he's got a good jaw, above average submission/ jiu- jitsu skills, and great cardio. In other words, this is why he's the champion.

Prediction for Mark Coleman vs. Fedor Emelianenko

Coleman may have invented ground and pound, but Fedor has perfected it. Even though Coleman may have a mild advantage in takedown skills, he won't be able to keep Fedor on his back for any length of time even if he's able to get him there. Like in their first fight, expect Fedor to eventually gain a dominant position and then employ a submission hold. He just has better overall skills.

Fedor wins via a 1st round arm bar (just like last time)

Mauricio "Shogun" Rua vs. Kevin "The Monster" Randleman

What Rua brings to the table: Rua sports an overall MMA record of 13-2 with 12 (T)KO's. He's an excellent striker that tends to overwhelm opponents early with rapid fire punches, knees, kicks, stomps-- basically whatever works. Further, he fights out of one of the best camps going in Brazil's Chute Box Academy, which is the current home of Pride Middleweight Champion, Wanderlei Silva.

Rua has great cardio, is a better than average grappler, and, well, doesn't really seem to have any major weaknesses. Along with this, he's defeated elite fighters like Quentin "Rampage" Jackson (KO), Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (decision), Akihiro Gono (TKO), Alistair Overeem (TKO), and Ricardo Arona (KO). His only two losses came at the hands of Renato "Babalu" Sobral (way back in 2003), and to a much heavier man in Mark Coleman (Rua broke his arm in the bout during what really amounted to a freak accident).

What Randleman brings to the table: This former UFC champion and world class wrestler sports an overall MMA record of 16-11. Randleman has some of the most explosive power-- both in grappling and striking-- that this sport has ever seen (just ask Mirko Cro Cop Filipovic about his punching power). Further, his takedowns are sometimes breathtaking because of that power. However, his career has been somewhat tainted by poor submission/ jiu- jitsu skills and a lack of focus. At times, Randleman seems great and then wham-- he makes a mental error that gets him knocked out or submitted. Still, he's exciting to watch. His fights are like a box of chocolates-- you never know what you may get.

Prediction for Mauricio Rua vs. Kevin Randleman

Rua has a score to settle with Hammer House (Randleman's camp), due to shananigans that happened after his losing effort against Coleman. Don't underestimate Randleman early in this one as he is always dangerous, but expect Rua to eventually take over the stand up game. Soon after, it will be all over.

Rua wins via 2nd round TKO.

Josh "The Babyface Assassin" Barnett vs. Pawel Nastula

What Barnett brings to the table: Barnett brings a 19-4 overall MMA record into this bout with 4 (T)KO's and 12 submission victories to his credit. In short, he's very strong, has great takedowns/ wrestling, is underrated as a submission fighter, and is a better than average stand up fighter. This tough former UFC Champion- the youngest fighter to ever grab the UFC belt at age 24- is very, very good and seems as if he's getting better every fight. His victory list reads like a who's who in mixed martial arts"Randy "The Natural" Couture, Bobby Hoffman, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Aleksander Emelianenko, and Mark Hunt, amongst others.

In the recent Pride Open Weight Grand Prix, Barnett took on two of the best the sport has to offer on the same night in Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Cro Cop. He won the first fight via a split decision against Nogueira, a fight that ended with Nogueira in a leg lock (the bell rang). Then of course he was stopped by Cro Cop, which is nothing to be ashamed of. After the fight Barnett looked like The Elephant Man (according to his own reports). So the question is, will he be ready for a fight so soon?

What Nastu la brings to the table: Sports an overall MMA record of 1-2 with 1 submission victory (against Edson Drago). However, the people he's lost to have been no slouches"Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (via TKO) and Aleksander Emelianenko (via submission). Nastula is a below average striker that hasn't achieved the level of MMA cardio he needs yet. However, Nastula won a gold medal in Judo in the Atlanta's 1996 Olympic Games and once won 312 consecutive judo matches; he's obviously great at takedowns and is extremely strong.

Prediction for Josh Barnett vs. Pawel Nastula

Here's the thing"unless Barnett is still hurt from the Open Weight Grand Prix, Nastula is in trouble. Their takedown skills will be pretty close, perhaps going to Nastula, but everything else will weigh in on Barnett's side (experience, striking, submission skills, size, etc.). Therefore, expect an interesting few minutes before Barnett takes control.

Barnett wins via 2nd round (T)KO.

Eric "Butterbean" Esch vs. Mark Hunt

What Esch brings to the table: Esch's early claim to fame came via the Toughman Contest. Though he never actually won the event" which consisted of 3 round amateur boxing matches" his power and sheer size captured the imagination of fans. After sparking the public's imagination in such events, Esch then tried professional boxing before breaking onto the MMA scene. Since coming to MMA, he has accumulated a 6-2-1 record. In short, Esch is huge (350 lbs.), hits like a truck, and has surprisingly good technical boxing skills for someone his size.

Though his biography reads like he has 5 submissions and 1 (T)KO to his credit, the reality of the situation is that he possesses little in the line of true grappling skills (the majority of his submission wins have really come via strikes). His last and only Pride fight against the much smaller Ikuhiso "The Punk" Minowa seemed to reinforce this as he was taken out by arm bar in the 1st round.

What Hunt brings to the table: Hunt has accumulated a 5-2 record since leaving kickboxing"where he was a world champion"for MMA. Hunt is big (250 lbs.), hits like a truck, and has a jaw that seems made of granite more than bone (as he evidenced in a recent fight against Pride Open Weight Grand Prix Champion, Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic). However, although he has shown the ability to escape some submissions, he's wholly well below average on the ground as Josh Barnett recently showed in an easy 1st round submission victory over him. In fact, both of Hunt's losses have come via submission (the other was to Hidehiko Yoshida).

Prediction for Eric Butterbean vs. Mark Hunt

This one will stay standing, which makes things very interesting. Both Butterbean and Hunt have extreme power, and the speed difference isn't that great. However, Hunt's jaw is made of granite, and that alone may be enough to allow him to survive in a fight that could easily go either way. If the fight lasts beyond the 2nd round, expect Hunt's conditioning to come through. But this one could still end earlier.

Hunt wins via 3rd round (T)KO

Dan "Hollywood" Henderson vs. Vitor "The Phenom" Belfort

What Henderson brings to the table: World class wrestling skills (he made it to both the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Wrestling Teams), a great jaw (he's never been stopped via knockout and survived against potent strikers like Wanderlei Silva), and a very powerful right hand (he's won 9 of his fights via knockout). Henderson is always in good shape and is finally in the right division (for the majority of his Pride career he fought in the division above the one he's champion of right now" middleweight). His overall MMA record is 20-5.

Hollywood has also been hard to stop via submission. He's survived against the likes of Carlos Newton (win), Renzo Gracie (win), Ricardo Arona (decision loss), Renato 'Babalu' Sobral (win), and Murilo Bustamante (win) without being submitted. On the other hand, he's been submitted by each of the Nogueira's. Of course, being submitted by the likes of them isn't exactly terrible (together they've finished 23 people that way). Despite all of this, half of Henderson's wins have come via decision (10). Further, he lost his last bout against Sasaki via decision in a grand prix style match (it was not a championship bout, so he retains his title).

What Belfort brings to the table: Sports an overall MMA record of 14-7 with 9 (T)KO's to his credit. Though he is a Brazilian Jiu- Jitsu black belt, Belfort's real strength is in his striking. He has extremely fast and powerful hands. Despite this and a more than adequate grappling pedigree, Belfort has gotten a reputation for being somewhat soft when things get a little dirty. He's lost to most of the elite competition he's faced, with the exception of a 1st round (T)KO of Wanderlei Silva way back in 1998.

Prediction for Dan Henderson vs. Vitor Belfort

Henderson is hard to knockout, and most of the time when Belfort doesn't knock out his opponent, he loses. Though he's fighting a very dangerous opponent because of his flash knockout power, Henderson is better when things get ugly. Further, his alliance with Randy Couture, a man that has fought Belfort 3 times during his career, may help with game planning.

Henderson wins via a unanimous decision.

That's it so far, but expect Pride to announce more fights in the upcoming days and weeks. They're always good for a long and worthwhile show.

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