As already discussed, today marks the 5th anniversary of the UFC purchasing Japan's PRIDE organization. At the time, the purchase was seen as one of the biggest business moves in the history of MMA. While it didn't quite pan out to be as big as we had hoped for, that sale did have a significant impact on the MMA landscape. Mainly, it effectively killed Pride off, and along with it, the entire Japanese MMA scene. Sure there was Dream and Sengoku afterwards, and many small Japanese organizations still exist, but at that Pride-sized grand level, Japanese MMA is a thing of the past.
With the collapse of Pride and the Japanese scene also came a significant impact on many fighters. Some Pride greats, like Dan Henderson and Rampage Jackson, made a successful transition to the US, integrating themselves into the UFC ranks and making their mark. But for others, this collapse also marked the end of their own time at the top.
Here, we take a look at 5 men who saw their careers irreversibly changed for the worse by the buy-out, plus 2 men who avoided that curse. First up, the top dogs who couldn't find that same success post-Pride. And we start off with a big one:
1. Fedor Emelianenko - Let's get this out of the way: Fedor has a winning record post-Pride. He's 7-3, with 2 of those wins coming against top 5 Heavyweights. Not bad, right? Maybe. But for the Fedor of the Pride era, "not bad" is not good enough. In Pride, he built up a powerful legacy as an unstoppable machine, and that legacy has been forever tarnished by events post-Pride. From the failed negotiations with the UFC, to the 3 straight losses, to the multiple wins over sub-par opposition, Fedor is just not the same mythological figure he once was in Pride, and he never will be again.
2. Mirko Cro Cop - The final Pride GP champion, Cro Cop left before the end of the company, but the writing was already on the wall. He came to the UFC with a mountain of hype, but never delivered. When Gabriel Gonzaga head kicked him into unconsciousness inb his 2nd post-Pride fight, Cro Cop was never the same. For fans of the steely KO artist from Pride, Cro Cop's UFC career has been downright painful to watch at times.
3. Takanori Gomi - If you've only seen recent Gomi, it's hard to understand just how hyped he was at the end of Pride. From 2004-2007 he was THE best Lightweight in the world, beyond a doubt. He had an incredible 13-1 run in Pride (or 13-2 depending on how you view the Nick Diaz fight), dispatching everyone put before him. Then he took a year off to sort through contractual issues when Pride closed. From his first fight back, it was clear that he had lost some of that famous fire. He's 6-5 since, and has only found that old Gomi magic on rare instances.
4. Paulo Filho - Like Gomi, Filho was seen as the world's #1 when Pride closed, this time in the Middleweight division. With a 14-0 record and (almost) a Pride GP crown, he seemed unstoppable. When he came to the WEC post-Pride it was a huge coup, and at first, he looked poised to keep dominating. Then he had the bizarre showing against Chael Sonnen in 2008, and that was that. Immediately his reputation changed from best in the world, to unreliable headcase. He's had very public issues with substance abuse, which have seemed to get the better of him in recent years, which is a shame, as he could have been one of the sport's true greats.
5. Ricardo Arona - Arona is an odd one. Near the end of 2005 he defeated Wanderlei Silva in an absolutely massive win. He made the finals of the 2005 Pride GP, and though he ended his Pride career with an upset loss to Sokoudjou, he was clearly one of the world's best at 205. Then Pride closed and Arona just... vanished. He's had one fight only in the past 5 years - a dull 2009 win over Marvin Eastman. Why did this possible champion just walk away? We may never know.
Mention has to be given to two men who, at one time, I was sure would be on this list. Both Shogun Rua and Mark Hunt seemed destined to join their companions as post-Pride wash-outs, yet both men have managed to pull together solid UFC careers. They are among the last vestiges of the Pride Never Die mentality, and it's been great watching their resurgences in recent years.
Who's your pick for biggest post-Pride fall? Anyone major I overlooked?