Pride Fighting Championships.
All you have to do is read the name of the promotion and many memories come to mind for longtime MMA fans. The pageantry. The chaos. The amazing fights. Even though it's been gone for over six years now, fans still won't let the spirit of one of the greatest MMA promotions ever to wither away. We still wear Pride shirts, we still talk about Pride fighters, and we watch Best of Pride on TV with a hint of sadness that things will never be the same again.
And 16 years ago on this very day, October 11th, is when it all began.
Most hardcore fans know the story, but here's a brief summary of how it all came about. Nobuhiko Takada was a pro wrestler known for his shooting ability and was considered the top fighter in Japan in early 1997. After working with RINGS as the protege of owner Akira Maeda, he was hand-picked to defend Japanese honor and the fighting spirit of pro wrestling against the man touted as the greatest of the Gracie family, Rickson Gracie. This would be the main event of KRS-Pride's (soon to be renamed Pride Fighting Championships) first event.
Pride FC 1 was staged in the Tokyo Dome in front of 47,860 fans. The undercard featured one kickboxing bout and five MMA bouts under the main event. Most of the fighters were well-known even then, and some (Renzo Gracie, Dan Severn) went on to become legends. After Severn and UFC vet Kimo Leopoldo went to a thirty-minute draw, Rickson and Takada came out and got right to it. Rickson submitted Takada in under five minutes, stunning the Japanese crowd and ensuring Pride's survival for a while.
Exactly one year later in 1998, it all happened again. Pride 4 took place on the same day in the same arena with the same main event. More men that became legends (Kazushi Sakuraba, Igor Vovchanchyn) competed on the undercard. In the main event, Rickson once again defeated Takaka by submission, taking over nine minutes to do it this time.
Now we'll change gears a bit. Fast-forward to October 11th, 2007. The UFC was flying high with a bevy of top-level attractions and was raking in cash. One of their most marketable and revered fighters was heavyweight champion Randy Couture, who had famously come out of retirement to wrest the belt away from Tim Sylvia earlier that year. He was already in the UFC Hall of Fame. But on that day, he decided quit the organization.
The reasoning was pretty simple at first glance - Couture wanted to fight the best in the world, and at that time, no one was better than Fedor Emelianenko. Fedor couldn't come to terns with the UFC and instead joined M-1 Global, so Couture decided to quit. He didn't want to fight "just for the money" and in his eyes, there was no worthy or exciting challenge under the UFC banner.
There was a small problem though. He still had two fights left on his UFC contract. He then went out and publicly complained about his pay. The UFC wouldn't release him from his final two fights so he could go elsewhere, effectively putting the two sides at a stalemate. Eventually Zuffa sued Couture. Almost one year later, Couture finally decided to come back to defend his title against former WWE superstar Brock Lesnar. And we all know how that turned out.
Stay tuned for the next edition of The Day In MMA, which will probably be in six months or so when I remember to do it again.