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Friday, Jun 02, 2006

Pride Bushido 11 Preview:welterweight Grand Prix And Single Matches Await

PRIDE Bushido 11 Preview:
Welterweight Grand Prix and Single Matches Await

By Eduardo Alonso

It can truly be said that MMA fans are becoming, thankfully, spoiled in a good sense. PRIDE has been putting on one intriguing Grand Prix after another and PRIDE Bushido has become one of the more captivating shows as of late, with maybe the most evenly-matched and exciting Grand Prixs on the scene.

This year is no exception, as Dream Stage Entertainment presents a "new and improved" version of their Welterweight [under 83 kg/183 lbs] Grand Prix with 15 of some of the best fighters in the world competing for the belt and plenty of professional prestige. 15 that is, because defending champion Dan Henderson gets a bye in the first round and watches with the rest of us as some competitive match-ups unfold this Sunday.

The level of talent this year is clearly recognizable, and many tough fighters have a legit shot at the title, such as current favorite Paulo Filho, last year’s runner up Murilo Bustamante, well-rounded and explosive Canadian Denis Kang, experienced Chute Boxe fighter Murilo "Ninja" Rua, heavy hitter Phil Baroni, and even some question marks and dark horses like Cuban Hector Lombard, American Joey Villasenor, and Japanese Kazuo Misaki, who if he can’t win it all, will certainly add fun to the mix.

If that list were not enough, some single bouts also add to the excitement in the first-ever PRIDE Bushido to be held in the Saitama Super Arena, in Tokyo, Japan. With names such as Tatsuya Kawajiri, Marcus Aurelio, Hayato Sakurai and the debut of Jason Black, it may be "cliche" to say, but the real winners are the fans, as another exciting night of fights is ahead. FCF took the time to bring you a small analysis of each fight, while we await the real action around the corner.

PRIDE Bushido 11 Single Matches:

Jason Black vs. Eoh Won Jin – American Miletich Fighting Systems Elite fighter, Jason Black has the potential to become a future solid PRIDE contender in his weight class, as his MMA record shows more than twenty wins counting amateur and professional bouts, and victories against the likes of John Alessio, Ivan Menjivar and other solid competitors. An experienced, well-rounded wrestler with the support of a great team, Black knows this opportunity is tailor-made against a much less experienced and somewhat one-dimensional fighter in Korean Eoh Won Jin. With good wrestling skills and courage, Won Jin can’t offer much more at this point. It’s known that PRIDE values its devloping Korean market, therefore the need to search for new Korean fighters is inevitable. However, Eoh might not be the one to last long, much less present a serious threat to Black, who will likely understand the size of this opportunity and take advantage of it.

Mitsushiro Ishida vs. Marcus Aurelio – Currently under PRIDE’s heavy spotlight, Brazilian American Top Team fighter Marcus Aurelio will have a world of pressure on his shoulders when he steps into the ring to face Japanese fighter Mistushiro Ishida. The reason is that after his upset submission win over superstar and current PRIDE lightweight champion Takanori Gomi, Aurelio became an instant candidate for a title shot in a rematch, and all of the sudden has the potential to become on of the show’s stars from now on. However, to achieve those goals, Aurelio can’t allow any unpleasant surprises in his bout against Ishida, as a loss could mean a major setback in this turning point of his career, and herein lies the pressure. his Japanese opponent for this bout is no pushover at all, and comes to the ring with solid skills. Clearly Aurelio’s ground skills and subsequent record is more impressive with wins against top notch opponents. However, Ishida won’t be easy to submit by any means, has better striking skills and can carry the fight to a judges’ decision win if the Brazilian relaxes too much or can’t find the right rhythm. Being stronger physically, Aurelio is still the favorite, but this fight can truly go either way – an upset could be in the cards.

Tatsuya Kawajiri vs. Charles Bennett – Former Japanese Shooto superstar Tatsuya Kawajiri has been trying to claim the same level of fame he got in the traditional minor promotion on the big stage of PRIDE, and he knows this is a key opportunity for him as he’s faced losses only to some of the top names in his weight class. PRIDE knows that he has talent and skills to fill an important role in the show, not to mention the obvious fact that he is Japanese, so giving him a fight with Charles Bennett is giving him a good opportunity to shine again, against a marketable and somewhat credible opponent, in what could be also an exciting fight. Bennett has heavy hands, good boxing skills and a lot of charisma. However, as far as things go in a fight with Kawajiri, who has good takedowns and better ground skills, as well as a lot of power at this weight, he will most likely end up on the receiving end of a submission or TKO.

Hayato Sakurai vs. Olaf Alfonso – Japanese superstar and seasoned veteran Hayato "Mach" Sakurai brings plenty of skills, aggressiviness and experience everytime he steps into the ring. Having fought in many shows all over the globe such as the UFC, Shooto and even PRIDE a number of times, Sakurai is easily a fan favorite who engages in any battle and faces all the top opponents he needs to face, throwing his arsenal of stand-up skills against his opponents. As with all brave and skilled fighters, Sakurai — who’s not a kid anymore and has battled many injuries throughout his career — deserves a break every now and then. It seems the charismatic Mexican fighter Olaf Alfonso is this much deserved reprieve, as there’s no indication whatsoever in Alfonso’s career that he can present a challenge to "Mach," who will mostly likely win by KO with little effort, unless we are to see one of the biggest upsets in PRIDE’s history.

PRIDE Bushido "Survival" 2006 Welterweight GP First Round Matches:

Murilo Bustamante vs. Amar Suloev – This is one of the matches in the Grand Prix where fans easily recognize and know plenty about both fighters. Brazilian Top Team ground wizard Murilo Bustamante has proved throughout his career that he can not only hang with the "top dogs" in many weight classes, but that he can also beat them. A former UFC champion and runner-up in a somewhat close and controversial bout with Dan Henderson in last year’s PRIDE Bushido Welterweight Grand Prix, Bustamante wields a nice combination of jiu-jitsu and boxing skills, along with decent wrestling and great composure. His main weakness could be his lack of kicks, and lack of low kick defense, which Armenian fighter Amar Suloev, being the very good kickboxer he is, certainly can and will try to exploit. However, this problem can be compensated with Bustamante’s considerable reach advantage over Suloev, his sharp jabs, and straight right hand punches, which can serve as the perfect counter to Suleov’s low kicks and lead way to the Brazilian imposing his game. On the ground, Suloev can’t hang with Bustamante, and will most likely be submitted, so unless he manages to find the right distance early on and rock his opponent with strikes, a likely scenario suggests the BTT representative might advance to the second round, wherethings can get rougher. Still it’ll be an interesting fight to watch unfold, as both are two very experienced gamers.

Paulo Filho vs. Gregory Bouchelaghem – Considered by many the biggest favorite to win this Grand Prix after his dominant win over rival Murilo "Ninja" Rua and submission win over Amar Suloev, Brazilian Top Team standout Paulo Filho was originally set to face Korean judo player Yoon Dong Sik. As Dong Sik got injured recently, PRIDE had to replace him with French fighter Gregory Bouchelaghem, and as funny as it may seem, fans were the winners here – not that the French fighter can likely pull off an upset and defeat Filho, but he is surely a tougher task than the Korean, who had Filho comfortable in not having to care about strikes which are the weakness in his game. Filho has amazing power and strength, awesome takedown skills, an even better and extremely tight ground game, and can even throw some punches every now and then. His height and reach may be his biggest problem, and curiously, Bouchelaghem is a very tall fighter for this weight class, giving him a flying knee chance of some kind during the match. Make no mistake, however, coming in as a late replacement and likely not preparing properly, Bouchelaghem will likely get submitted early in the first round after he is unable stop Filho’s takedowns. On the ground, the Frenchman will be easy prey for judo and jiu-jitsu black belt Filho, who will be one of the key figures of this Grand Prix.

Ryo Chonan vs. Joey Villasenor – In a Grand Prix card filled with stars of the sport, this bout may be one of the less interesting ones for most of the fans. However, when we look further down the road, apart from what happens in the finals of the Grand Prix, this fight can mean a world to both contestants. For Japanese fighter Ryo Chonan, this may be a defining moment in his role with PRIDE, while for American Joey Villasenor, it can be a perfect first step into a new and bigger career. Chonan started his PRIDE appearances after an interesting run in Deep, a minor Japanese promotion, which included a win over superstar Hayato Sakurai. While in PRIDE, Chonan surprised many in surpassing his inital role of a regular fighter on the promotion’s stellar roster, and pulled off a series of upsets which included Carlos Newton and Anderson Silva, and giving hope that he could be a new Japanese hero for the show. However, as of late, he has been falling short in facing top opposition, and a loss here in the first round of the Grand Prix could very well turn Chonan into a gatekeeper and nothing more. Unfortunately for him, heavyhanded Villasenor seems as bad a match-up as any, and an awkward submission that plays to the support of the local crowd may be his only resort to win. On the other hand, for the American KOTC Champion, this is likely a perfect start in a big organization, facing a regarded opponent that he probably can beat. Villasenor will likely be able to control the game in most areas against Chonan, and work his game towards either a TKO or a judges’ decision victory. The question mark for Villasenor is how he will be able to react once hitting the big stage, facing better opposition than he has of late.

Makoto Takimoto vs. Gerard Mousasi – Japanese judo player Makoto Takimoto is once again utilizing his fame in his home country, and using it to help hype the show and hopefully bring even more new fans to the already popular PRIDE in its effort to finally make Bushido, their lighter weight show, as big a hit as its main one. Unfortunately for him, this is likely as much as Takimoto can bring to the scene. Although he has been showing evolution, he seems to still lack the y strength, the striking skills and a general adaptation to the MMA game. His opponent, Armenian Gerard Mousasi, based out of Holland, comes in with much more ring experience, impressive striking skills and the toughness that is usually common in fighters from the eastern European block. Coming off five straight wins, including two in the Japanese Deep promotion, Mousasi has been identified as the favorite with a likely scenario being a knockout or TKO win. If Takimoto is able to pull off an upset it would be most likely by submission, however, he hasn’t shown anything as of now to make this believable at this point. Sharing the same situation as Villasenor, but with an even easier start, Mousasi will most likely benefit from this match in developing a PRIDE Bushido career, despite the fact that he will probably be no match for more seasoned and well-rounded fighters in this Grand Prix, such as Murilo Bustamante, Dan Henderson, Paulo Filho, Denis Kang or Murilo "Ninja" Rua.

Akihiro Gono vs. Hector Lombard – A Cuban judo player based out of Australia, Hector Lombard has been billed as the "dark horse" of this tournament. Reported as an amazing natural talent for fighting, with high caliber judo credentials that include Olympic Games participation and several titles, and owner of impressive raw power and newfound obxing skills, he may very well be the next big thing in PRIDE’s welterweight division. Whether he can develop and be a threat to take the belt when it’s all said and done is to be seen, but his first bout against seasoned veteran Akihiro Gono may be a perfect test to start of his run. Gono comes into the fight more experienced, composed, calm and well-rounded. However, his lack of particular greatness in any area, and also his lack of raw power — where Lombard seems to excel — may be his downfall in this match-up. However, he may use a good strategy to ride out a judges’ decision, mostly if Lombard isn’t as spetacular as he is reported to be, since Gono is most likely his toughest opponent to date. Soon we will know, but this is an very interesting and intriguing bout, that can have a serious impact on the analysis for the second round of the Grand Prix.

Denis Kang vs. Murilo "Ninja" Rua – This is likely the most even, intriguing and interesting fight of the first round of PRIDE Bushido 2006 Weltwerweight Grand Prix, and has the potential to be the most exciting one as well. Chute Boxe’s seasoned veteran from Brazil, Murilo "Ninja" Rua comes in for his thirteenth apperance in PRIDE, this being the second in the PRIDE Bushido series. Aggressive, with good striking and underated ground skills, as well as amazing cardio, Ninja is no pushover, having fought some of the toughest fighters the 93kg weight class had to offer, such as Quinton Jackson, Ricardo Arona, Kevin Randleman and Dan Henderson. Presenting a tough challenge to all of them, and often seeing himself in the middle of controversial judges’ decision, Rua dropped weight to the 83kg class, like Dan Henderson also did previously. Rua had to face the tough task of fighting Paulo Filho right away, which left people with a bad impression, but likely his bout with Kang will prove that it was no measure of his skills and chances in this new weight class. Ninja is reported to be now much better adapted at the new weight, with more power than in his last fight along with his usually great cardio, which may be a big factor in the bout. A Canadian of Korean heritage, fighter Denis Kang has also been having a solid career with impressive skills, sporting 15-fight undefeated streak that give him more than the needed credentials to be in this Grand Prix. As a matter of fact, Kang should have been last in year’s edition, and it’s a shame that either Ninja or Kang will have to leave after the first round, as matched up against different opposition, both could have likely advanced onto the second round. With very good striking skills, solid ground skills, and being very explosive and fast, Kang has the tools to make this a every exciting fight, and is considered the favorite by many. However, althoug Kang’s run is impressive, he hasn’t faced the level of opposition that his Chute Boxe opponent has, with Andrei Semenov being maybe his toughest opponent yet, and their dual fights went the distance . Also, Kang possibly lacks the power to score an early knockout standing up against a guy that has been taking bombs from heavy strikers throughout his career. With Ninja’s ground skills mostly underrated, it’s not likely either that the Canadian can pull a submission off where Ricardo Arona, Mario Sperry and Paulo Filho couldn’t. All that gives a slight edge to the Brazilian, who can win a judges’ decision in a very even, and most certainly exciting bout with all the potential to be the fight of the night!

Phil Baroni vs. Kazuo Misaki – Living what seems to be the best leg of his career, American fighter Phil Baroni has found a home in the PRIDE Bushido promotion, where he has been having more success than ever before. With knockout power, good wrestling skills and lots of physical strength, Baroni can be a threat to any fighter in the first minutes of a bout, as his extremely quick KO of Yuki Kondo proved in the last PRIDE Bushido. However, his cardio is still a big question mark and has failed him many times throughout his career. Although he comes in as one of the favorites for the later stages in the Grand Prix, Baroni’s first bout is not a keen one, as styles makes fights. Experienced and well-rounded, Japanese fighter Kazuo Misaki may not be flashy or have the charisma of one of the Japanese stars in the show, however, he is one of the more solid fighters the country has to offer in PRIDE’s welterweight class as of now. With good reach, composure, and decent boxing and ground skills, one thing that he won’t lack is cardio. Although he doesn’t seem to have the power to compete with Baroni early on, he has faced some very tough opponents and showed he belongs in there, and he has the smarts and experience to ride the clock early on and gear it up as the fight progresses, exploiting his opponent’s weaknesses. Regardless, this is a bout with many different scenarios possible, and will certainly be very entertaining, either with a Baroni KO early, or a Misaki TKO or judges’ decision later in.

Bustamante Gives Second Welterweight Tourney a Try
By Eduardo Alonso

When it’s all said and done, Brazilian Top Team great Murilo Bustamante will surely be considered one of the legends of our sport due to his sharp technique, great composure, bravery and list of impressive accomplishments, from his many jiu-jitsu titles to his UFC Middleweight Championship title.

One belt is missing in his collection though, and like many MMA greats, Bustamante simply refuses to let age affect his performance in his pursuit of the missing piece – a PRIDE Championship belt. Coming very close last year as a runner-up in the title bout against Dan Henderson, Bustamante shows his greatness once again in engaging battle in a Grand Prix that might be considered tougher than its prior version. As a warrior ready to depart for battle, FCF caught up with the Brazilian in the airport just minutes before his flight for Japan.

FCF: Let’s start with last year’s PRIDE Bushido Welterweight Grand Prix [up to 83 kg/183 lbs], where you ended as the runner-up. When the final match against Dan Henderson was over, before the judges’ decision was announced, did you think you were going to be awarded the win, or did you think they would give the decision to Henderson?
Murilo Bustamante:   Well, I thought I did well in the fight and that I could have
won, but I wasn’t sure because I didn’t see the fight. After I saw the fight, then I was absolutely sure I had won the bout.

FCF: What did you think of that decision? Some people thought you won that fight. Watching it again, what would you have done differently to get the nod from the judges?
MB:   I think I paid the price because of my impetus, you know. I fought to finish the fight, to submit or KO until the very end. I was winning the fight well into the first round and could have remained in the lead in the second round, but instead I kept going forward and received a blow that kind of made the fight even. What I would do differently is what my corner was telling me to do, to avoid the “in fight” and control the bout. Instead I kept going forward trying to finish the bout – I don’t think it was a mistake because this is my way of fighting, but to not leave any room for doubts regarding the result of the fight, I would control the ending of the fight, like the last three minutes.

FCF: Having fought in last year’s Welterweight Grand Prix, having had some great performances, and having should have won the title according to some, where do you find motivation to enter this year’s Grand Prix facing so many tough challenges instead of opting for the easier path of doing just single bouts from now on?
MB:   Man, this is my life, this is what I enjoy doing. I already had this question asked and I even found it funny that people might have thought I would lose my motivation. But I even understand, it’s kind of obvious. Instead of losing my motivation I got angry, wanting to fight more. I want to fight again, to fight for the belt again, to fight Dan Henderson again, fight against the best in the weight class as long as I can, and when I can’t anymore, I’ll retire.

FCF: This year the PRIDE Bushido Welterweight Grand Prix features 16 fighters instead of 8 like last year, and lots of new names are taking part in the hunt for the belt. Do you expect a tougher tournament this year? And what fighters do you think are the main favorites to win it all?
MB:   I think it’s a tougher tournament this year with more fighters, more fights, and there are some new fighters in the tournament that weren’t there last year like Denis Kang, Murilo “Ninja” [Rua] and Paulo Filho. In my opinion the biggest favorite is Paulo Filho. Denis Kang and Murilo Ninja are also two favorites, as well as Amar Suloev and Phil Baroni, who’s a fighter that can provide a lot of trouble and come far in the tournament. As far as the Japanese fighters go, I don’t see any that can become the champion, but I see some that can present some trouble, like Akihiro Gono, Ryo Chonan and Makoto
Takimoto. However, once again, I don’t believe any of the Japanese can become the champion of the Grand Prix.

FCF: In the first round you will be facing experienced fighter Amar Suloev, who’s a very good striker. Even though you are a jiu-jitsu master, you also show some very good boxing skills in your fights. Do you intend to trade some strikes with him as well?
MB:   I’ll fight as I always do. I’m ready to fight standing up or on the ground – I’ll wait to see what he will present me. If he gives me opportunity, I’ll try to land my punches, but if he allows, of course I’ll take him down. My goal is always to go to the ground, but not
desperately, always in the right moment, and that’s why I need to have a good performance and good training in the stand-up, and that’s what I do.

FCF: You have suffered a number of times with injuries right before your matches, like when you fought Matt Lindland for the UFC belt once. How was your preparation this time? Are going into the fight 100% healthy?
MB:   I’ll tell you that I’m in shape, but I suffered a lot through my training with injuries as well, some that I’m still carrying, but I managed to complete my training. Physically I
think I’m not 100%, but for my first fight of the year I think I’m in much better condition than usual.

FCF: Although this question has been asked a million times, it’s always worth asking. What will happen if you and teammate Paulo Filho both reach the finals of the Grand Prix?
MB:   Well, we’ll have to fight, there’s no other way, you know (Laughs). Paulo is like a younger brother to me, I’ve known him since he was 10 years old, and he is one of my best friends in the academy. But we know we have to be professionals and if we reach the final, we have to fight. We can only fight if we reach the final bout of the tournament,
so imagine two Brazilian Top Team fighters in the final? We will be laughing with joy, and we will do our work! Still, it’s such a long way until we get to that point, we’re not even concerned about that right now.

FCF: No matter what happens in the Grand Prix, do you already have a plan on what you will do for the rest of 2006 and the year 2007? Do you intend on fighting in the USA again, competing often, or to take some vacation time?
MB:   Well, I have a desire to fight in the USA again, but I didn’t receive any offers yet, and in short terms my goal is the Grand Prix, of course. Let’s see what will happen in my fight, and if things go according to plan, my focus will be all on the Grand Prix. I had as a
goal for myself to do at least four fights per year in 2006 and 2007.

FCF: Any final message for your fans?
MB:   The only thing I can say is that I want to thank all for the kindness and care that I received after my bout with Dan Henderson last December 31. I was impressed with the support and care from even the American fans, and even fans of Dan Henderson, saying good things about my performance, and this gives me only motivation to continue fighting, so I want to thank you and say that I’ll always do my best for the MMA fans, not only from Brazil but from any nation.

posted by Full Contact Fighter @ 8:00 pm
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