Sunday, February 25, 2007

Chaotic Time for PRIDE Culminates in Night of Upsets

By Josh Gross

LAS VEGAS, Feb. 24 — It is undoubtedly a turbulent period for the PRIDE Fighting Championships.

Constantly rumored to be in financial peril and thus on the verge of sale, the Japanese mixed martial arts organization made its second trek to the backyard of the UFC on Saturday in a desperate search for stability.

The steadiest of all PRIDE assets have been its fighters, chief among them middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva, the Brazilian mauler who first captured the 205-pound belt against Kazushi Sakuraba before capturing the hearts of fight fans across the globe.

Under the umbrella of a teetering promotion, Silva stepped into the ring Saturday to defend his title for the fifth time — and, almost fittingly, ceded its control.

It was a different era when Silva first met Dan Henderson, tonight's challenger, in December 2000. With American MMA crumbling under the pressure of ill-informed politicians, a kowtowing cable industry and, as one would expect, a dwindling audience, Japanese promoters — with their liberal rules and deep pockets — made Nippon the dominant landscape for the sport.

Having taken the 1999 King of Kings RINGS tournament, Henderson was the known commodity in Japan when he and Silva, a replacement on two-weeks notice for fellow Brazilian Vitor Belfort, met in Tokyo.

Henderson, the current PRIDE 183-pound champion, nearly knocked out the Chute Boxe fighter in the opening round that cold night. No matter that Silva's left eye had swollen to the size of an orange by fight's end, the Brazilian survived, pounded Henderson and walked out of the ring a decision winner — and into a fight against Kazushi Sakuraba at PRIDE 13.

The rest, as they say, is history.

As important as that winter was for Silva, it will be remembered more as the time when a little known fighter manager from Boston convinced two childhood friends to purchase the Ultimate Fighting Championship — the dwindling U.S. MMA standard-bearer — in hopes that they could rekindle in what effect was a dead sport.

Six years later, with the UFC (and MMA in general throughout the U.S.) exploding to unimagined heights, it was PRIDE, once the most influential of all Japanese promoters, attempting to establish itself here as it lost a foothold at home.

Under this backdrop Silva made his American debut in front of a vocal crowd of 13,180 at the Thomas & Mack Center against Henderson, who was put in the fight more as a selling point for U.S. fans than a perceived challenger ala Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.

Knowing it would be counterproductive to trade power shots, Henderson, outweighed by five pounds on the scales Friday and at least triple that tonight, used his speed, dangerous hands, and often-forgotten wrestling ability to dismantle the Brazilian in less than three rounds.

Some suggested Silva was foolish for making this fight his first since being badly knocked out by Mirko Filipovic last September. From the outset, they appeared to be correct.

Silva moved backwards more in the first round than any of his other contests in recent memory. Even when Henderson slipped to the floor in the early going, Silva (31-7-1, 1 NC) hardly pressured with the mean shots that earned him the "Axe Murderer" moniker.

Continued stall warnings from referee Yuji Shimada changed little.

(Read More)

No comments: