Seven Wage “survival” At Pride Welterweight Grand Prix
Seven Wage "Survival" at PRIDE Welterweight Grand Prix
Misaki, Gono, Chonan, Suloev, Filho, Kang and Mousasi Advance
Report and photos by Nori Yoshida
TOKYO, June 4 — It was a fairly empty Saitama Super Arena with only 13,371 fans, about a third of the capacity, showing up to watch the first round of PRIDE’s second Welterweight Tournament. The 14-man line-up would include some of the most recognizable names in the 83kg/183 lbs (and under) division, with a few new ones sprinkled in for dramatic measure. Current PRIDE welterweight champion Dan Henderson was ringside most of the night, a first-round bye his ticket to join the whittled-down-to seven that would remain at the end of the evening. Lightweight champion Takanori Gomi was also in the arena, watching the four non-tournament lightweight fights, which proved to be as exciting as the welterweight bouts.
Jason Black and Won Jin Ou squared off in the first non-tournament match of the night. Although both lightweights had a wrestling backbone, Black was the clear superior, scoring takedowns at will. A rear-naked choke early in the round and then a front choke a little later from Black both looked like they would end it, but Ou managed to hold on and break out of both. While Ou was aggressive on his feet, throwing punches and pressing the fight, he was overmatched on the ground. He looked completely exhausted halfway through the first round and Black took advantage, setting up for a huge knee to the head on the ground. Another knee was sure to come, but the Korean’s corner threw in the towel at 6:25 in the first round, before any more damage could be done.
The two Brazilian Top Team Welterweight tournament favorites Murilo Bustamante and Paulo Filho fought in the first two tournament fights of the GP. The 39-year-old Bustamante, a leader figure of the famed Brazilian Top Team, faced Amar Suloev, a member of the PRIDE heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko’s Red Devil Fight Team. Suloev showed great defense against Bustamante’s takedown attempts, and Bustamante never got to take the fight to the ground. Suloev was not aggressive on his feet, but was accurate with the punches he threw. The 15-minute fight resembled an extremely slow boxing match, and the referee warned the two in the middle of the match to fight a "more aggressive fight." Bustamante pushed most of the action throughout the fight, yet there was no significant damage done by either fighter until halfway through the second round, when Suloev landed a flying right straight to the Brazilian’s face that sent him backpedaling and onto the ground. That proved to be enough for the unanimous decision, but Suloev, who never really showed any signs of going for the KO, will probably have a tough time drawing attention from fans or from PRIDE.
Filho fared better in his match, though his fight with newcomer Gregory Bouchelaghem also went the distance. A member of the French Top Team, Bouchelaghem showed good defense on the ground, which is where most of this fight took place. Filho repeatedly took the Frenchman down with ease, and also passed his guard and took a full mount on several occasions. While Filho dominated the fight, he showed a clear inability to finish it, even from a mount position where his punches seemed to do little damage. Even an attempt to submit his opponent with an armlock failed and the Brazilian needed the judges to secure the win.
The decisions continued into the third Grand Prix fight of the night, though the split decision, which went in favor of Ryo Chonan, was the most controversial of the night. His opponent, Joey Villasenor, 15-0 in King of the Cage and its middleweight champion, took his first loss in years. The first round was completely even with neither landing anything significant, but both scoring takedowns and using the same strategy from the top of the guard, where both stood up out and threw punches and kicks from standing position. Chonan did take Villasenor’s back on the ground right before the end of the first, but the bell sounded before he could do any damage.
Both were aggressive in the second, but Villasenor seemed to throw heavier punches, any of which could have ended the fight if they landed. On the other hand, Chonan looked a little tired as he went for takedowns in the last minute of the fight. Villasenor was on his feet again before the end of the fight almost landing a stomp to a downed Chonan’s face. However, it was Chonan that moved on the second round.
After a forfeiture and three decisions, the unsatisfying endings continued into the fifth fight of the night. Makoto Takimoto and Gegard Mousasi entered the ring to decide the fourth fighter to move on in the welterweight Grand Prix. Mousasi, a Red Devil International Team member is the youngest in the tournament at only the age of 20, but he proved more than enough of an opponent for Takimoto. Early on though, it seemed as though Takimoto would control the fight, taking Mousasi down and almost submitting him with an armbar. He was just a moment too late in getting his left foot over to finish the lock as he already had Mousasi’s arm pulled back. It was the last chance he had, and the moment after Mousasi broke out of the armbar, he was on Takimoto’s back and in full control. A few failed rear-naked chokes were mixed in with a pounding to the Japanese former Olympian’s face and a doctor check at 5:36 in the first round ended the fight. Takimoto’s right eye was heavily swollen, and his pupil was barely visible on the Jumbotron.
Three lightweight matches followed back-to-back before the final three Welterweight GP cards. All three proved the force that rival promotion Shooto has become in the lightweight ranks, and each fight was enough to forget that there was a welterweight tournament going on that night. Mitsuhiro Ishida faced the toughest opponent in upstart Marcus Aurelio, who came off of a milestone win against current PRIDE champion Gomi Takanori in April. Ishida showed incredible power taking Aurelio to the ground repeatedly, but in both the first and second rounds, Ishida found himself in trouble stuck in a front choke, but managed to break out both times. The majority of the fight was Ishida on top in Aurelio’s guard, with Ishida pounding away. While Ishida was in control most of the way, the last minute of the first round showed the danger of Aurelio’s guard, as Ishida spent considerable energy avoiding triangle chokes and armlocks. It was a different story in the second round, though. While they were in the same position, it was Aurelio who was in trouble the entire time. It seemed as if Ishida was punching from Aurelio’s guard continually through the last five minutes. There was no room for Aurelio to make a move as Ishida’s hands were flying down without a break. There were no clean blows to end the fight, but the incredible performance left the arena sounding like there was a much larger crowd in attendance than what was actually there.
Tatsuya Kawajiri didn’t need as much time to finish American Charles Bennett. Well known for his antics inside the ring, "Crazy Horse" Bennett didn’t disappoint as he sat on the ropes in his corner at the beginning of the fight, gesturing for Kawajiri to come. Bennett’s ground skills couldn’t keep up with his entertaining skills, though, and Kawajiri took Bennett down quickly. After an attempt at an armbar, Kawajiri caught Bennett, who was trying to stand up, in a kneebar and tapped his opponent out in just two minutes and 30 seconds.
Hayato Sakurai needed even less time to finish his fight against WEC star Olaf Alfonso. Alfonso learned the hard way that one mistake is all it takes in the PRIDE ring. In just over one minute, Alfonso took two huge blows to the head. The first came from a overhand right hook by Sakurai and the second from the canvas as he fell, hands down and face first into the mat.
While the lightweights stole the moment, they didn’t steal the show as the final three welterweight fights held plenty of action. Liters of bad blood between Akihiro Gono and Hector Lombard spilled over to the ring. Gono showed little respect for his opponent with a 5-minute choreographed dance performance before entering the ring. Lombard clearly let his emotions out in the ring as he charged Gono at the bell. The rustle of laughter could be heard from the crowd as Gono ran away and fell to the ground several times. The fight looked like it would end quickly when Lombard began throwing punches at Gono, who had fallen against the ropes. Gono somehow maintained his composure and reversed a leglock attempt by Lombard and took backmount. The two ended up back on their feet, where they exchanged punches. Neither seemed hurt while Gono continued to throw heavy punches, which missed by just inches. Both were more composed in the second round and Lombard scored a takedown early, but was unable to use it to his advantage as he looked fairly exhausted. Gono was looking for the KO in the last minute of the fight with a variety of punches, but it ended in a decision and the more aggressive Gono took the win.
Six tournament matches ended in five decisions and one doctor stoppage. The only KO came in the second to last fight of the event between what was hyped to be a fairly unpredictable fight between Denis Kang and Murilo "Ninja" Rua. It took just 15 seconds for Denis Kang to show that this fight should have been more foreseeable. An early straight right had Rua turning and almost running away. Kang continued throwing punches as Rua fell to the ground and after a few misses, a clean left was enough to drop Rua’s guard and for the referee to stop the fight.
The main event provided plenty of main event action and the less-heralded Kazuo Misaki claimed the victory over Hammer House’s Phil Baroni. Misaki was full of tricks, the first of which came seconds into the match – a flying knee, which almost landed cleanly. The flying knee came a few other times in the fight, along with high kicks, low kicks, knees and foot stomping within the clinch. A missed flying knee at the five-minute mark led into a guillotine choke attempt, which ended up with Baroni on top of Misaki’s guard. Baroni took advantage with huge blows to the body, but a lack of action had the fighters back on their feet with two minutes left. Misaki continued to land strong low kicks, which, in the end may have done the most damage. Baroni was flailing by the end of the round and looked fairly winded. Misaki, on the other hand, looked fresh in the second round and took Baroni down. He went for a Kimura lock taking side mount, but settled for a few knees to Baroni’s face before they were back on their feet again. Baroni was still throwing punches at the end of the fight, but looked dead tired and there was no question the unanimous decision would go to Misaki.
Three Japanese fighters, Kazuo Misaki, Akihiro Gono and Ryo Chonan moved onto the second round, along with Amar Suloev, Paulo Filho, Denis Kang and Gegard Mousasi. Current champion Dan Henderson was in the ring during the intermission with this message for them. "I’ll be waiting." So will the fans.
PRIDE Bushido "Survival" Welterweight Grand Prix Opening Round Results