Monday, February 26, 2007

Pride Fighting tries to gain a foothold in Las Vegas

By Jeff Haney

After a training session last week at Caesars Palace, both headlining fighters on Saturday's Pride Fighting Championships card described the difference between fans in Japan, where Pride is based, and those in the U.S.

In Japan, fans watch quietly, as if they're in church, Dan Henderson and Wanderlei Silva said.

In America, they make their feelings known, never hesitating to jeer or boo.

A full range of emotions was on display Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Center, where Henderson scored a third-round knockout against Silva to win Pride's middleweight (205-pound) championship in the mixed martial arts organization's second U.S. show.

Many in the crowd of 13,180 reacted with boos when Henderson and Silva began the first round fighting at a deliberate pace.

But as the action picked up, so did the response of the crowd, which cheered wildly as Henderson took control of the bout and finished off his Brazilian opponent by landing a big left hook to the chin.

"This was the biggest fight I've ever had," Henderson, of Temecula, Calif., said. "I could have lost and it wouldn't have made as much difference to me, but I won and it meant everything."

By wresting the middleweight title from Silva, Henderson, Pride's reigning welterweight champ, became the first fighter to simultaneously hold belts in separate weight classes for a major mixed martial arts organization.

Henderson, a betting underdog of nearly 3-1 in the fight, also avenged a 2000 loss to Silva.

Henderson broke his right hand in the first round, he said later, which is why he relied on his left rather than his signature right.

"I was like, (shoot), I just got him with my left hook," Henderson, a former U.S. Olympic wrestler, said. "I better punish him. In practice I tend to admire my work too much.

"My body's feeling really good. I'm ready to go whenever Pride wants to put me in."

Daren Libonati, director of the Thomas & Mack Center (which also hosted Pride's U.S. debut last October), called the nine-fight card a success. Saturday night's attendance surpassed the 11,000-plus at the first Pride show in Las Vegas.

"Seven days ago we had the NBA All-Star Game here," Libonati said. "Today we had the MMA all-stars in the building. What a show they put on. It was outstanding; the crowd was lively.

"I'd like to tip my hat to Mr. Henderson. In a real-life Rocky story, he got a second chance seven years later. He came and redeemed himself and showed what a champion he was."

Libonati said negotiations are taking place with Pride USA president Ed Fishman and Nobuyuki Sakakibara, CEO of Dream Stage Entertainment, creator of Pride, to bring another Pride show to the Thomas & Mack before summer. Officials could not confirm a date of April 28 for the card, which appeared in some Pride promotional material.

Fishman, a veteran gaming entrepreneur with experience in television production and casino management, said he's convinced of Pride's long-term viability in the U.S. market.

"I've never seen such showmanship, and I understand how hard it is to put on a show," Fishman said. "There was only one place in the U.S. to start it, and that's Las Vegas. ...

"Everyone says Pride has the best fighters. They have the best athletes in the world. Every show we do in the U.S. is going to get better, and a lot more people at home are going to be watching."

Jeff Haney can be reached at 259-4041 or at


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