Welcome to Bloody Elbow's newest weekly feature: Fight Rewind. Each week we'll take you back to a classic fight (that can either be famous or infamous) from UFC, PRIDE, Strikeforce, EliteXC, King of the Cage, WFA and more. My DVD collection is large, so expect a nice variety of bouts here. We start Fight Rewind off with a classic bout for the PRIDE heavyweight championship.
The date: March 16, 2003
The location: Yokohama Arena, Yokohama, Japan
Event: PRIDE 25: Body Blow
Why it was memorable: This was the fight that really brought Emelianenko into the upper echelon of mixed martial arts. After throughly crushing both Semmy Schilt and Heath Herring in his first two PRIDE fights, Emelianenko earned a title shot against the No. 1 heavyweight in the world, Nogueira. At that point, Nogueira had submitted six of his seven PRIDE opponents, with the only decision coming against Herring at PRIDE 17 in a fight to crown the first PRIDE heavyweight champion.
At that time, it was universally accepted fact that you shouldn't play in Nogueira's guard, just from the fact that four of his six wins in PRIDE had come via triangle chokes alone. Announcers Stephen Quadros and Bas Rutten were openly talking about how Emelianeko shouldn't go in there. Then, when he did, they kept saying he should get out. Instead of being submitted, Emelianenko landed some of the most vicious and impressive ground-and-pound in the history of the sport. To this day, I still wonder which was more impressive: The bombs Emelianenko landed during his first-round barrage or the fact that Nogueira just took them.
"It sounds like somebody hitting a buffalo with a baseball bat," Quadros said, adding later, "both these men are playing right into the danger of the other man." And that is quite the apt statement for this fight. Here is Emelianenko defiantly just sitting in Nogueira's guard. And here's Nogueira just taking shot after shot while trying for submissions.
As the two battled on the ground, the crowd reacted to each punch and each submission attempt with loud roars. As the first round came to an end, Nogueira swept Emelianenko only to have Emelianenko sweep him right back. An absolute masterful showing.
"This match has easily surpassed any kind of hype that it had prior," Quadros said as the two fighters walked to their corners after an amazing first round.
The second round was more of the same: Emelianenko working out of Nogueira's guard for much of the round. Nogueira would sweep Emelianenko right as the round ended, but the bell sounded as Emelianenko's back hit the canvas.
The third round again saw Emelianenko gain top position and work from inside Nogueira's guard. Nogueira would try for a leg lock, but Emelianenko would have none of that and would cruise to victory. "Emelianenko is fighting a perfect fight. A flawless fight of laying in the open guard and exhibiting ground-and-pound at its finest," Quadros said.
It was indeed. In terms of a high-level fight, I'm hard pressed to think of ground-and-pound as vicious as Emeliaenko's was in this fight.
As the bell sounded, Emelianenko stood up, helped Nogueira to his feet and embraced him. Nogueira would drop to and then slap the mat, knowing his championship reign was over. All three judges felt the same way, scoring the bout for the new PRIDE heavyweight champion, Fedor Emelianenko, just one of two title changes in the history of PRIDE.