PRIDE(FC)& Prejudice- The Loss of High Profile MMA Tournaments (Part 1)

To anyone who reads this, first and foremost I say thank you. I will hopefully be writing this as a series covering all of the Pride tournaments one by one, in the order of which I found the fight cards on wikipedia. After recently seeing the controversy over title shots and debatable fighter rankings in the UFC, coupled with the Brooks-Chandler Bellator fiasco of promoting the challenger more than the champion, I imagined several divisions, particularly the lightweight division of the UFC as a 16 man tournament, akin to the good old fashioned Pride days. So I then dug into the dark areas of the internet to help me remember the tournaments as they were, and to analyze and evaluate the competitors and the results of these events, to show what an amazing spectacle and incredible critical mass of talent was present for these events.

Why do I do this? I once saw Ta-Nehisi Coates post on Twitter that the only way to become a better writer is to read as much as you can, analyze all relevant data, and to keep writing until you perfect your own style. I hope that this becomes an exercise for me to both increase my capacity as a writer, as well as to entertain and potentially educate a (hypothetical?) audience. I owe a great deal of thanks to the youtuber known as Hiten Mitsurugi. He or she has uploaded the Best of Pride FC in a mostly contextual and highlight driven series, and has also done this for K-1 Hero's and Dream. His videos allow me to rewatch the fights in order to help me write this article.

To begin, the first tournament I found was actually not one, but two tournaments. Welcome to Pride Shockwave 2005, home of the Lightweight and Welterweight tournaments. I will in this post speak of the welterweight tournament.

Lower weight classes did not exist in the early days of Pride. Heavyweights (205+) and light heavyweights, then known as middleweights (203 limit), were the staples of Pride shows. However, as time went on, Pride introduced the Bushido shows, which started to focus on the welterweight (183 limit) and lightweight (161 limit) classes. Eventually, these shows and fighters within these divisions became so popular that Pride announced that they would roll them into the main Pride cards. To trumpet this inclusion, Bushido launched a two division tournament in order to crown inaugural champions in these divisions. In the welterweight division, 8 men entered. They were as follows: Akihiro Gono, Daniel Acacio, Dan Henderson, Ryo Chonan, Ikuhisa Minowa (The Minowaman), Phil "The New York Badass" Baroni, Murilo Bustamante, and Masanori Suda.

The Fighters

(All records, wins, and losses are retroactive to before the opening match of tournament as seen on Wikipedia)

Akihiro Gono- 23-10-7 draws

Notable Wins: Masanori Suda (x2), 1 draw against Chael Sonnen

Notable Losses: Matt Hughes

Daniel Acacio- 10-1

Notable Wins: Daiju Takase, Kazuo Misaki

Only Loss: Nilson de Castro (I have no clue)

Dan Henderson- 16-4

Notable Wins: Carlos Newton, Gilbert Yvel, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Renato Sorbal, Renzo Gracie, Murilo "Ninja" Rua, Murilo Bustamante

Notable Losses: Wanderlei Silva, Ricardo Arona, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira

Ryo Chonan- 10-5

Notable Wins: Hayato "Mach" Sakurai, Carlos Newton, Anderson Silva (Possibly one of the greatest submissions of all time), Roan Carneiro

Notable Losses: Masanori Suda, Ricardo Almeida, Phil Baroni

Ikuhisa Minowa "Minowaman"- 29-21-8 Draws

Notable Wins: Stefan Leko, Gilbert Yvel, Kimo Leopoldo

Notable Losses: Evan Tanner, Semmy Schilt, Paulo Filho, Ricardo Almeida, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Wanderlei Silva, Ryan Gracie

Phil "The New York Badass" Baroni- 8-5

Notable Wins: Amar Suloev, Dave Menne, Ikuhisa Minowa, Ryo Chonan

Notable Losses: Matt Lindland (x2), Evan Tanner (x2), Pete Sell

Murilo Bustamante- 10-4-1 Draw

Notable Wins: Dave Menne, Matt Lindland, Draw with Tom Erickson

Notable Losses: Chuck Liddell, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Dan Henderson, Kazuhiro Nakamura

Masanori Suda- 22-10-3 Draws

Notable Wins: Ray Cooper, Ryo Chonan, Brian Ebersole

Notable Losses: Akihiro Gono (x2)

Initial Thoughts

It would seem that the odds on favorites would be Dan Henderson and Murilo Bustamante. Ryo Chonan and Phil Baroni would be the wild cards, and Minowa, Suda, Gono and Acacio would be at a disadvantage.

The Quarterfinals

Gono and Acacio have a battle, which allows Gono to escape with a unanimous decision victory.

Henderson fires an H-bomb to Chonan's jaw and then finishes him off with strike in only 22 seconds for the TKO victory.

Baroi and Minowa stage a back and forth brawl which ends in a Minowa UD victory.

Suda initially rocks Bustamante, but while inside his guard he gets caught with an armbar. With agony visible on his face, the referee steps in and declares Bustamante the winner by first round armbar.

The Semifinals

After Henderson wins most of the standing exchanges, he rocks Gono with hard shots, dropping him to the canvas and forcing him to turtle up. Henderson lands strikes to the unintelligibly defending Gono's head, forcing a late first round stoppage by TKO.

Bustamante dominates Minowa almos tthe whole first round, and eventually brutalizes Minowa's head with soccer kicks. Bustamante gets the stoppage with only 9 seconds left in the first round for the TKO victory.

The Final

Dan Henderson and Murilo Bustamante wage a destructive war from one side of the ring to the other, with both landing heavy shots throughout It all ends up in the hands of the judges, and the winner by split decision and first (and what would unfortunately be the only) welterweight champion is...Dan Henderson.

So What Happened After That?

Suda did not fight again in his career, the battle with Bustamante was his last pro fight.

Acacio's ascent slowed, then plateaued. The loss to Gono set off a 4 fight losing streak. While he did win several titles, his current record stands at 30-17, indicating that including his lone fight in the tourney, his career record from that point on is 20-16, suggesting a more journeyman status. He has wins of Tor Troeng and David Bielkheden since, but is consigned to a relegated status.

Baroni fell harder than Acacio, but at least did it in style against tougher opposition. Baroni went 7-13, with most of his losses suffered against quality opposition. He has also fought for, in addition to the UFC and Pride, Strikeforce, EliteXC, Cage Rage, Titan FC, One FC, DREAM and Bellator. One could say that if he fights in WSOF he may very well have fought for almost every major MMA promotion since the turn of the 21st century.

Chonan went on to a 12-8 record to end his career. He fought in the UFC, going 1-3 there with a win of Roan Carneiro. He won the DEEP welterweight championship about a year ago and promptly retired as champion.

Minowa still fights today, compiling a 30-16 record post tournament. He has still lost to almost every mid-to elite level fighter he's faced, but he is also the Dream Super Hulk 2009 Tournament Champion, giving him at least a title. He bested a field that included Bob Sapp, Sokoudjou, Gegard Mousasi and Mark Hunt (Though since Mousasi fought and beat Hunt, then withdrew due to injuries, it is debatable of how highly you value this achievement).

Gono's career went sideways record-wise at 11-9-1 Draw, but he did get moved to the UFC for a three fight stint (He went 1-2), and in addition to a win against Hayato "Mach" Sakurai, he is one of only five men to beat Gegard Mousasi and one of only four men to beat Hector Lombard. Crazy World out there.

Bustamante didn't fight many more times in his career. He was, before he signed with Pride, the current UFC middleweight champion, but he suffered many tough losses He is currently retired and teaching BJJ, Submission Grappling, and MMA at Brazillian Top Team. If things had broken better he might have beaten Rampage and been a semifinalist at the middleweight tourney, and a one judge swing and he would have been the spiritual champion of the UFC and reigning champion in Pride.

Henderson was already an elite fighter before the tourney began, but it solidified his spot and gave him a Pride crown to wear. Hendo is 14-8 post tourney, but even more impressive is the list of opponents he's faced and/or beaten. Bustamante, Belfort, Wanderlei, Palhares, Franklin, Bisping, Babalu, Fedor and Shogun (twice!) have all fallen before Hendo. And his losses, aside from an upset loss against Kaz Misaki, have been to elite fighters like Rampage, Anderson Silva, Jake Shields, Machida, Rashad, Vitor, and DC. Hendo was already a champion, winning the UFC 17 middleweight tourney and the 1999 Rings King of Kings tourney, but it gave him his first title in 6 years. And I would argue that the win helped spring him forward towards the bout with Wanderlei and beyond, moving Henderson from simmer to full boil in the MMA rankings.

All in all, the Welterweight tournament in 2005 might have been the most star-deprived tourney in all of Pride. I would say that all other tourneys featured more icons and idols, and awesome memorable matches. But the welterweight tourney was a fun one, and a fair way of crowning an inaugural champion in the weight class.

Part 2- We meet again, Welterweights-the 2006 tourney-now twice as large!

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