MMA on DVD: Pride: Final Conflict 2005

Pride: Final Conflict 2005

Saitama, Japan

-We open with a LONG video package showing highlights from the whole of the Middleweight GP. And really the highlights are *all* you want to be seeing of that opening round.

-Your hosts are Mauro Renallo and Bas Rutten. Naturally the talking points are the semis and the finals of the GP, and of course the big Heavyweight Title match between Fedor and Cro Cop, which they’re pushing as the biggest fight in MMA history.

-We get the full fighter introduction segment, BIG pops for Mirko and Silva especially. Oh, and Yoshida slips and nearly falls over, hilarious stuff.

Middleweight Grand Prix: Alternate Bout: Kazuhiro Nakamura vs Igor Vovchanchyn

Announcers strangely don’t mention it at all, but this is the tournament alternate bout should one of the winning semi-finalists have to pull out, so like the semis it’s just a two-round fight, one ten-minute round and one five-minute round. Nice fair choice on the participants too, as both of them had been eliminated in the quarter-finals.

They begin, and Nakamura presses forward, but misses a low takedown attempt and ends up on his back. Igor works his way into side mount, and lands some punches, but Nakamura gets back to half-guard and holds on from the bottom. Igor works the body, but Nakamura gets a nice sweep to guard, and avoids a surprising kneebar attempt. Nakamura stacks up and lands a few shots, but Vovchanchyn reverses to his feet and catches the Judoka coming up with an uppercut. Igor lands a combo into the clinch, and gets a takedown to guard, but doesn’t really land much from the top. Igor falls back for a leglock and we get the duelling ankle lock spot, but both guys avoid and Igor ends up in side mount. He steps over to full mount, but Nakamura manages to turn him over onto his back in guard again. He passes to half-guard, and then side mount, where he works for position, using an arm triangle setup to pass to full mount in a nice move. No work from the mount though, and he goes back to side mount, where he tries a keylock, but Igor manages to block it. Nakamura mounts again, and then tries an armbar, but Vovchanchyn manages to slip free into Nakamura’s guard to end the round.

Igor looks to strike to open the second round, but Nakamura shoots in, so Igor sprawls back and ends up in full mount. Nakamura rolls and gives his back, but before Igor can capitalize Nakamura reverses and ends up on top in Igor’s guard. Few hammer fists land from the top, and Nakamura works his way into half-guard, and then side mount. He tries a far-side kimura from there, but Igor defends well, so Nakamura spins for an armbar, only for Igor to slip free and end up in Nakamura’s guard again. Ref stands them up and shows Vovchanchyn the yellow card. They restart and Igor lands a left, then misses a knee, but he blocks Nakamura’s takedown attempt and gets into top position in guard. Igor passes into half-guard, but doesn’t really do anything and the fight ends there.

To the judges, and it’s a unanimous decision for Nakamura. Well, he controlled most of the fight and had all the submission attempts, while Igor didn’t do much at all, so I guess he deserved the win regardless of neither guy causing any significant damage. Fight wasn’t horrible or anything from a technical standpoint, but there was very little in the way of excitement here and Igor at 205lbs ended up disappointing again, not to take anything away from Nakamura.

Middleweight Grand Prix: Semi-Finals: Ricardo Arona vs Wanderlei Silva

As an Arona fan this was the fight I was most looking forward to on this card, given that both men had been sniping at one another in interviews for a long time, and Arona had widely been known to be looking for a fight with Silva for years (narrowly missing out on the opportunity when he lost to Rampage Jackson a year prior). With Silva having fought almost exclusively Japanese opponents (outside of the afore mentioned Rampage) in the Middleweight division for a long time, there was definitely a lot of interest too in how he would handle a far tougher opponent style-wise than he had been used to.

We get an absolutely CRAZY staredown before the fight, with Silva glaring at Arona psychotically, but Arona not backing down an inch and glaring right back. They begin tentatively though, squaring up and pressing back and forth, but neither fighter looks to want to engage first. They exchange a few leg kicks, before Arona avoids some of Silva’s early punches. Finally, Arona draws first blood, landing a HUGE leg kick that catches Silva off balance and puts him down! Arona quickly follows him down into the guard with a few punches, and begins to work from the top, hitting Silva with punches and hammer-fists. He stacks up to land some nice punches, and then continues to work from the top, but the ref decides to bring them up, and shows Silva the yellow card. They restart, and Silva presses forward, swinging, but Arona gets a takedown again off a knee attempt and works him with punches in the guard. More punches and hammer fists continue to land from Arona, as Silva is visibly frustrated at this point. Finally Arona looks to lift him up for a slam, but Silva manages to stand as he does, and they have a brief exchange to end the round.

Certainly Arona’s round there.

They come out tentatively again to open the 2nd, with Arona avoiding an attempted overhand right. Silva begins to land a series of low kicks, but Arona steps in on one of them and catches him with a right hand. More leg kicks follow from Silva, before Arona lands a nice one of his own. Things really degenerate into circling, though, and the referee calls time to deliver a warning to both men. Silva tries a combo, but Arona avoids it and lands a knee to the gut, before getting a big takedown to the guard! Arona stays active from the top, landing hammer fists, and then a couple of ridiculous double-hammer fists, as Silva squirms from the bottom until the round comes to an end.

To the judges again, and…it’s a unanimous decision for Arona. To say the announcers are surprised would be an understatement – of course, not at the decision, but how the fight went – this was Silva’s first loss at 205lbs for over five years. With that in mind though, watching this fight brought back memories of his last loss at 205lbs, that being the loss to Tito Ortiz at UFC 25. That fight saw Silva’s striking stifled by the takedowns, control, and top work of Ortiz, and the fact that Arona was able to basically implement the same gameplan here and succeed equally as well is very telling. There’s no doubt that Silva is a great fighter, but you’ve got to wonder whether he would’ve had the success that he had if Pride had matched him with tougher opponents – after seeing Arona do this, I don’t think it’s out of the question at all that potential contenders like Kevin Randleman, or Quinton Jackson, with a different gameplan, could’ve done the same.

Anyhow, back to this fight – a dull one for sure, but good for Arona for being able to defeat Silva and take away the unbeatable aura that surrounded him coming in.

Middleweight Grand Prix: Semi-Finals: Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua vs Alistair Overeem

With the way both of these guys fight this was basically guaranteed to be a more explosive fight than the one previous, I think. Overeem had made his way to the semi-finals by defeating both Vitor Belfort and Igor Vovchanchyn using his guillotine choke, while Shogun had been on probably the most impressive run to the semis, taking out Rampage and Lil’ Nog.

They clinch right away to open, and Overeem wastes no time in landing a knee and following with a takedown to side mount. Shogun quickly works his way back up to a front facelock though, and breaks off. Overeem lands a right and a glancing high kick, so Shogun clinches and goes for a leg trip, but ends up being reversed onto the bottom in half-guard. He grabs Overeem’s leg though, and they come back up to their feet in a clinch and exchange some knees. Another takedown by Overeem follows, into side mount, and then Shogun turns into a front facelock and takes some knees to the head. Shogun works his way to his feet, and tries a takedown again, but Overeem sprawls to avoid. Shogun reverses, but still can’t get the takedown, and they exchange in the clinch before Overeem grabs the GUILLOTINE OF DOOM and pulls guard! Crowd go crazy for this, naturally, but Shogun keeps fighting and manages to pull his way free! He goes into Overeem’s guard, and lands some punches, before standing and kicking him. Overeem comes back up, but takes a knee into the clinch and then Shogun reverses a takedown attempt with a rear waistlock to get into top position. Overeem suddenly looks EXHAUSTED, and Shogun passes into side mount, and then gets the knee-on-belly position, before standing and landing a couple of soccer kicks. Overeem tries an ankle pick out of desperation, but Shogun blocks it with a BACKHEEL KICK!~! He ends up on top in Overeem’s guard again, and this time quickly works to mount, and then side mount. Some hard knees to the face of the Dutchman follow, before Shogun mounts and OPENS UP with a flurry of punches. Overeem can barely defend himself, and the ref steps in there.

Great fight I thought – both men set an absolutely crazy pace right from the get-go, and it did look like Overeem was getting the better of it before he ended up gassed; ironically his own guillotine attempt looked like it was the thing that did him in cardio-wise. It’s been said before, but there is nothing more important at the top level of fighting than conditioning. Good showing from Shogun to advance to the finals, although in terms of how physically demanding their semis were, I’d definitely give Arona the advantage when it comes to gas in the tank.

Fabricio Werdum vs Roman Zentsov

Announcers are referring to this as the “appetiser” before the “main course” of Fedor-Cro Cop, as Werdum is Cro Cop’s training partner while Zentsov fights out of the Red Devil Sport Club, home to the Pride champion. Not much else to say really.

Werdum comes charging right out to begin, but misses a telegraphed flying knee and then Zentsov sprawls to avoid a takedown. Werdum manages to get him to the mat in the corner of the ring, and then takes full mount, but Roman holds on to keep close distance. He gives his back, but then slips free into Werdum’s guard before the Brazilian can capitalize. Werdum tries a triangle, but Zentsov flips him over into a front facelock, only for Werdum to reverse and get a takedown again, this time in side mount. He goes for a kimura, and then looks to transition to an armbar, but ends up mounting Roman instead. Zentsov gives his back again, but like before, manages to reverse into Werdum’s guard. This time though it does him no good, as Werdum quickly slaps on a triangle/armbar combination out of nowhere for the tapout.

Pretty strong performance from Werdum against a solid opponent.

Hidehiko Yoshida vs Tank Abbott

No clue why this was set up but then again it’s a Japanese hero against a bizarre foreign opponent so I guess that’s reason enough. Tank was actually coming off a win at least, over Cabbage Correira in their rematch at Rumble on the Rock a couple of months previous. Yoshida was also promising, apparently, to stand with Abbott in this one.

They come out and Yoshida makes good on his promise, pressing forward and actually hitting Tank with a decent left high kick (!), before Tank shoots in and gets a takedown to Yoshida’s guard. Yoshida holds on from the bottom, looking to work for a gi choke, as Tank just lays there, for some reason throwing no strikes whatsoever. He pushes Yoshida towards the ropes, but still doesn’t bother to land any strikes. Nothing happens for a while, before Yoshida tries an armbar, which Tank avoids, and uses to pass to side mount. For no apparent reason though, Tank steps back into half-guard, and finally he lands a couple of punches to the body. Yoshida gets full guard, so the ref calls them back to standing and gives both men the yellow card. Yoshida comes forward, landing some punches and a knee, before blocking a takedown and getting a front facelock. Yoshida drops some knees, then takes the back and hooks on a rear naked choke for the tapout.

Don’t know whether Tank was there to take a dive, or what went wrong really, but I have no idea why he didn’t decide to throw any strikes outside of a couple of body shots there. He basically played the role of a one-dimensional wrestler, rather than his usual role of a one-dimensional striker, and Yoshida came away with the easy – and pointless, if I may say so – victory.

Pride World Heavyweight Title: Fedor Emelianenko vs Mirko Cro Cop

This was the one everyone had been waiting for, and boy did it take long enough to finally happen. Backstory was basically that Mirko was supposed to get his shot at Fedor back at Final Conflict 2003, but Fedor injured his thumb, and was replaced by Rodrigo Nogueira, who subsequently beat Cro Cop via armbar and captured the Interim Heavyweight Title. Following that, Mirko beat a couple more opponents and most thought it academic that he’d face Fedor somewhere in the 2004 HW GP, but he ended up falling victim to Kevin Randleman’s left hook, while Fedor went on to win the tournament. Since the Randleman loss Mirko had gone on another tear, beating various opponents including Fedor’s brother Aleksander, and Randleman in a rematch, building to this inevitable showdown. To say this was a huge match would be an understatement.

Mega crowd heat for this, naturally, and a good staredown – albeit not hate-filled like Silva/Arona – before we begin. Got to point out too that Fedor is practically ORANGE, like he’s been taking tanning tips off Colleen McLoughlin or something, too.

They begin, and Fedor presses forward right into a clinch, but Mirko breaks it immediately. Fedor blocks a body kick, and continues to push the action, as both men miss punches. Cro Cop lands a couple of straight lefts, and then a low kick, but Fedor counters and catches him with a left hand, then follows with a combo as Mirko back-pedals! Mirko throws the left high kick, but Fedor ducks and goes for a takedown, only for Cro Cop to avoid, causing Fedor to fall through the ring ropes. Serious tension so far, but little in the way of damage. Fedor continues to walk Mirko down, taking a glancing kick en route to landing a heavy one-two. More of the same follows, as Fedor continues to press the action, before Mirko finally catches him with a heavy left hand that looks to have stunned the champion. Cro Cop smells blood and follows up with a combo, but takes a counter that wobbles him, and he hits Fedor with a glancing high kick that puts him off balance, allowing Fedor the takedown. Fedor drops some punches from the top position, but then the ref calls a halt to things to check a cut on the bridge of Fedor’s nose.

Replays can’t tell whether the punches or the glancing kick caused the cut, but it’s not a bad one and they restart in the guard. Cro Cop does well to avoid a guard pass, and then they stop things momentarily to clean up the cut again. Fedor works with short punches when they restart, standing to drop a good right hand into the guard. He stands and manages to avoid some upkicks, passing into the north/south position, but when he tries a mount, Mirko spins to guard and takes some more punches. Cro Cop does well to retain full guard, but continues to take some punches, including a good left hand, as the round comes to an end.

Round Two gets underway, and Fedor opens up with a body kick and then a combination to the body. He follows with a surprising right high kick and another combo, and then presses, but takes a left kick to the body. Mirko’s left high kick misses though, and they exchange into the clinch before Fedor shoves him away. Fedor lands a right hand into another clinch, and then blocks an unexpected takedown attempt, breaking off with a left. Mirko looks very tired now, and although he lands a left hand, Fedor starts to counter well and catch him backing off with punches. They go into a clinch, but Mirko blocks a throw and breaks. More of the same follows, with Fedor pushing the action, before he gets a clinch and this time trips Cro Cop to the mat. He tries to pass, but Mirko works to keep full guard as the round ends. This fight is definitely slipping away from Cro Cop at this point.

Third and final round, and Cro Cop looks seriously fatigued now. Fedor opens with some more shots to the body, and then clinches, and despite first reversing the takedown attempt, Cro Cop still ends up on the bottom in guard. Fedor passes to side mount and lands a quick series of hammer fists, but Mirko works his way back to full guard quickly. Fedor works to pass the guard, while Mirko works to keep it, and eventually the ref calls them back up and shows Cro Cop the yellow card. Restart, and Fedor takes a left hand, but gets another takedown to guard. Cro Cop tries to elevate him off, but Fedor’s balance is too good and he stays on top until the ref stands them a second time. Mirko desperately tries to land something, anything, but Fedor’s having none of it, and gets another takedown to close the fight out.

To the judges…and it’s a unanimous decision for Fedor Emelianenko, who retains his title yet again. Announcers are selling it as an epic, a sure-fire classic, and while I wouldn’t go that far, it was definitely a very good fight. The story of the fight was basically that things were pretty even early on, but Fedor just kept pressing the action no matter what, and this ended up sapping Cro Cop’s cardio badly at around the beginning of the second round. From there it was pretty much all Fedor, as Cro Cop just didn’t have the energy to maintain his counter-striking style against the champion, who worked his gameplan perfectly throughout.

Not the greatest fight of all time and probably not even one of the best of the year, either, but it was definitely one of huge importance to Pride and in that sense, it lived up to the hype by proving Fedor to be the undisputed #1 Heavyweight in the world once again.

Middleweight Grand Prix: Finals: Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua vs Ricardo Arona

And after all the build, fourteen matches over almost half a year; it all came down to this for the finals of the Middleweight Grand Prix – another Chute Boxe vs. Brazilian Top Team showdown, albeit probably not the one that most fans were anticipating would take place in the finals. Both fighters look pumped and so do their corners (not least Paulo Filho, who taunts the Chute Boxe guys during the introduction), but this time at least the two seem to respect one another unlike Arona’s fight with Silva.

We begin, and Shogun presses forward and then throws a LUDICROUS Jean-Claude Van Damme spinning wheel kick that flies over Arona’s head! No idea why he’d try that! Arona tries a takedown, but ends up being reversed into the mat head-first, and Shogun quickly scrambles from the bottom to lock on an oma plata. Arona crawls forward and manages to escape, but can only roll onto his back and Shogun narrowly misses a big stomp. He lands some punches in Arona’s guard, but Arona works his way to his feet, only to take a right hand and some knee strikes! Arona looks wobbly now, and takes another punch before he manages a takedown. Shogun pops right back up though, and then gets his own takedown to half-guard from the clinch. Shogun passes out to the side and lands some elbows to the body, and then stands, narrowly missing a stomp, but then he reaches down and NAILS Arona with a pair of hammer-fists, knocking him silly, and the ref stops it there! Holy crap.

Post-fight Chute Boxe flood the ring, and Wanderlei Silva especially looks happy for his teammate, which is pretty cool. Big celebration follows as Shogun gets presented with the trophy, and Brazilian Top Team do NOT look happy.

Arona later on claimed that he was flash-KOd by the botched takedown attempt early on, and this is what lead him to the fatal knockout, but you can’t fault Shogun’s performance as he came out looking completely fresh and fought at a tremendously high pace, as if the Overeem fight earlier had never even happened. And while the title situation was rendered a bit of a mess by the Grand Prix (Silva still had the belt, despite losing to Arona, who himself lost to Shogun) there’s no denying that Shogun earned the tournament victory thoroughly, beating four incredibly tough opponents along the way. All hail Shogun I guess!

And we end there.

The Inside Pulse
: Final Conflict 2005, despite not really featuring much outside of the tournament and Cro Cop/Fedor, was probably the most anticipated card of 2005 on paper, and in that sense it definitely lives up to the hype. You’ve got Silva’s first loss in five years as a 205lbs fighter, an energetic fight between the young pretenders of the tournament, and finally the guy who knocked Silva off being absolutely destroyed to end the tournament and crown a new heir to the Pride Middleweight throne. And that’s just the tournament – while Fedor-Cro Cop isn’t the greatest fight ever, it’s certainly one of the most epic-feeling matches I can recall from Pride, and that alone makes it more than watchable. The rest of the card outside of those four matches is relatively meaningless and that keeps Final Conflict 2005 from being considered up there with the best shows of all time, but it’s definitely worth a strong recommendation.

Coming Soon….

Pride: 30.
UFC: Ultimate Japan, Ultimate Brazil, 68, 69, 70, 71 and 72.
WEC: 10 and 11.
WFA: 1, 2 and 3.
Strike Force: Shamrock vs. Gracie.
Rumble On The Rock 7.
Gladiator Challenge: Summer Slam.
King of the Cage: 23, 29, 30, 32, 33, 36, 42, 48, 52, and 58.
Best of Shooto 2003 vols. 1 & 2.

Until next time,

Scott Newman: