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UFC Champion vs. Pride Champion in a UFC-Pride Title Fight?

By Cliff Montgomery,
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) was born in the early 1990s from a simple idea: If various martial arts and fighting styles were pitted against one other in competition with minimal rules, which style(s) would prove most effective in a real combat situation?

MMA's two principal organizations arose in different parts of the world, each at least somewhat independent of the other. Stated simply, MMA derives from vale tudo events in Brazil, and shoot wrestling in Japan.

Vale tudo started in the 1920's with the celebrated "Gracie challenge" issued by Carlson Gracie, and later on by H"lio Gracie and both of the men's sons. MMA would gain extensive promotion in the U.S. in 1993, when Rorion Gracie exhibited the Gracie challenge as the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). This is the form of MMA most popular in North America.

In Japan in the 1970's, a number of MMA events were hosted by Antonio Inoki, stimulating the shoot-style movement in Japanese pro wrestling, which ultimately lead to the formation of the first Mixed Martial Arts associations such as Shooto. In Japan in 1997, lasting interest in these MMA events finally resulted in the birth of the PRIDE Fighting Championships.

So here comes the most recent question concerning MMA: is it possible we may one day see some 'deciding match' between a UFC champion and a PRIDE champion?

The simple guess is a tentative 'no'. Of course they could announce some interaction of the two MMA bodies next week, and make me look like a fool...but I doubt they'll make such an announcement anytime soon. And the longer they remain separate entities, the more sure we may be that they will never combine in any meaningful way.

Why? Take for example the difference between the UFC cage and PRIDE's ring. This contrast is more than simple style; it impacts the type of strategies the fighter may employ.

For instance, a popular and effective UFC strategy is to pin a competitor into the region where the fence meets the mat, and then destroy the trapped man with strikes; this is not possible in a roped ring. Seen the other way, a roped ring can result in tangled limbs and fighters falling through the ropes, often requiring the referee to stop the fight and reposition both fighters in the ring's center. Such happenings--and how to avoid them--are unknown to UFC fighters.

As the two organizations continue to develop separately, we will more than likely see an ever greater difference in fighting rules and effective techniques. This perhaps already makes a head-on competition between UFC and PRIDE champions unlikely--a fact which should only become more apparent as time goes on.

Besides, producing a recognized "grand champion" who has proven himself as the best in both sanctioned bodies would surely bring pressure to combine UFC and PRIDE into a single organization, as the two American football leagues of the 1960's combined to form the modern NFL.

Naturally, the professional American football leagues of the 60's faced two issues which almost ensured their merger: money and markets. These same essential issues no doubt affect the UFC and PRIDE today, but instead work to keep the two organizations apart.

[A football primer: Due to expanding interest in professional football throughout the 1950's, a second professional football organization, called the American Football League (AFL), premiered in 1960 as a rival to the already established National Football League (NFL).

Two governing bodies for one sport, each active in the same market, produced a ferocious competition for the same small pool of talent, and an equally ferocious competition for the hearts and dollars of essentially the same fans. For instance, salaries skyrocketed as demand for professional-grade players nearly doubled overnight. By the mid-60's, such matters had made the pro game an increasingly troublesome venture for both governing bodies.

A merger of the two leagues was formally announced on June 8th, 1966. This eventually resulted in the modern game's two conferences, the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC).]

I know--in pro football direct competition was the issue, and the relatively limited talent pool and audience made such competition a business minus.

But having even one 'deciding match' between UFC and PRIDE champions would almost surely bring calls for more PRIDE-related events here in North America, alongside--and in many ways, in competition with--a well-established UFC. Such 'deciding matches' wouldn't bolster some small, non-threatening second Mixed Martial Arts organization in the UFC's principal market, but rather promote to the UFC's prime audience a known, established rival (obviously, the same goes for PRIDE).

And whatever they say in public, businessmen only believe in competition when they're the competition.

Of course these statements are educated guesses, and the UFC and PRIDE may eventually host a direct competition of champions. But I doubt it.

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