It is October 11th, 1997. Bill Clinton is in the White House. Ryutaro Hashimoto is the Prime Minister of Japan. The Florida Marlins win the pennant. The Yakult Swallows take the Japan Series. Forty-seven thousand in the Tokyo Dome for the momentous occasion of the first ever Pride Fighting Championships event. Bas Rutten and Stephen "The Fight Professor" Quadros are on the call. Let’s get it on!
1. Murakami Kazunari vs. John Dixson: This is totally fake, isn’t it? All comically flailing legs and grimaces. Ugh, what did I decide to watch?
2. Gary Goodridge vs. Oleg Taktarov: These guys are both UFC vets so hopefully they’ll bring something real… yes, that was definitely real. Just a tad late on the stoppage, ref. Big kiss for Gary. Have some CTE.
3. Renzo Gracie vs. Akira Shoji: Renzo takes him down. Shoji rolls out of the ring. 20 minutes later Bas says they are still "feeling each other out."
4. Koji Kitao vs. Nathan Jones: Holy hell, here come the 300 pounders. It can only go two ways: deadly dull or totally awesome. Or somewhere in between... and the Sumo guy gets the quick submission. Stephen tells me he’s a Yokozuna (sumo’s highest rank) and I call bullshit till I look at Wikipedia. It’s true! Despite never winning a basho (sumo tournament) he was promoted to Yokozuna and later kicked out of sumo in disgrace. Welcome to Pride Fighting Championships sir!
5. Branko Cikatic vs. Ralph White: The K1 champ kicks the other guy in the head when he’s down. That’s definitely not legal, not even in Japan (this is a kickboxing match). Ralph’s now got a softball growing out of his head. The commentators are talking about horror movies and doing voice impressions and sound effects: the Halloween theme, Psycho theme, Sigourney Weaver and David Cronenberg. Ten minutes of these comedians and there’s still no DQ. Winds up an NC. (Sadly, and weirdly coincidental with my watching this event, Branko Cikatic passed just the other day. RIP Branko.)
6. Kimo Leapoldo vs. Dan Severn: two early legends have a slap fight. One’s a hall of famer; the other a tribal Jesus Christ. Both carry crosses. Fast forward… to side mount ground and pound.
7. Rickson Gracie vs. Nobuhiko Takada: PRIDE cofounder, legend, pro-wrestler Takada against a Gracie. Let’s go to the videotape. Bas says Gracie looks like Yul Brenner. Might be the haircut. Takada running around in circles. Huge cheers for a missed low kick. Little home cooking from the ref before an arm-bar submission win for the Gracie. Surprise, surprise.
With that the first Pride event is in the books and I have to say it was a moderately entertaining show. Oh hell, they said (and I say), let’s do another. Moving to the next installment of Pride FC: a smaller show six-months later from Yokohama Arena, just south of Tokyo. Bas and Stephen still on the call.
1. Royler Gracie vs. Yuhi Sano: nice! Starting off with some old school 50-pound weight difference shit. No one’s thrown a punch yet… still no punches… they’re on the ground. This is like watching Quintet, which is okay, but it’s not MMA. Couple minutes in, Royler’s got him mounted and still not thrown a strike. Possibly of more interest than the fight is that the opposing corners were the headliners of Pride FC 1: Rickson and Nobuhiko cheer their fighters on. There still hasn’t been a strike. Bas singing Simon & Garfunkel tunes. Arm bar after half an hour.
2. Juan Mott vs. Akira Shoji: Quadros talking about how Akira was impressive in the draw against Renzo in Pride FC 1. I don’t remember it that way. But hey, at least they’re throwing strikes now. Oh, punches from the mount and takes the back. Shit, this looks like MMA. And it’s over.
3. Ralph White vs. William Roosmalen for some Muay Thai: Ralph’s the guy that got his forehead mutated by Branko last time. Apparently, William used to work as a bouncer at the same place as Bas. Bet that was a sweet happy hour. They’re wearing some weird ass gloves, 8 or 10-ounce gloves with fingers, like a cartoon character after the hammer comes down and the hand comically throbs. Between rounds the camera goes to Koji Kitao, the disgraced sumo wrestler from Pride FC 1, in the crowd. He appears to have gotten some blonde highlights. Knee to the liver puts Ralph down for the ten-count early in the fourth.
4. Vernon "Tiger" White vs. Kazushi Sakuraba: okay, after 1.5 okay fights, time for a legend and a Lion’s Den dude. Quadros: "We don’t know a great deal about Sakuraba." We will Stephen, we will. Tiger tags Sakuraba early, and the latter takes him down. Scrambles. Up and down. Quadros: "Sakuraba is really impressing me." Both fighters are reluctant to strike, but it’s sort of interesting as the grappling is entertaining. Sakuraba is doing some crazy acrobatic shit, but if they are punching with intent it’s quite a different fight. Frank Shamrock in Tiger’s corner: "Quit fucking playing around." Armbar for Sakuraba after 26+ minutes.
5. Renzo Gracie vs. Sanae Kikuta: Kikuta trying to grapple with the Gracie, which he’s not supposed to do. It’s the Gracie System, dude! But he’s actually doing pretty well. We’ll see how it turns out…. I fast forward for what seems like forty minutes. (It was literally forty minutes.) How fucking long is this fight? Kikuta taps out to the guillotine in the sixth round. Like fifty-plus fucking minutes.
6. Tasis Petridis vs. George Randolph: one huge dude kickboxing a normal size dude. It’s gotta be better than whatever that last thing was and it’s a 5-round decision…
7. Marco Ruas vs. Gary Goodridge: switching to a Japanese version on youtube to watch this one as my copy of Pride 2 stops with the last fight. Bye bye Stephen and Bas. This has been a pretty terrible event so far, but at least Goodridge can throw a strike. After getting punched for 10 minutes, Ruas pulls off a heel hook sub. Brazilians! Moderately entertained!
8. Mark Kerr vs. Branko Cikatic: this would be one of those classic striker vs. grappler match ups we hear about every other day. Or at least we used to. It’s also the Pride debut of the Smashing Machine née The Specimen. Well, that was nuts. Branko just straight up cheating, a Japanese crowd loudly booing, which is weird, and ends in disqualification to the guy who totally should have been disqualified in Pride FC 1… that’s like some Greg Hardy level shit. Mark Kerr looking like an absolute killer for what little time he had FWIW.
Aside from the thrill of early Sakuraba, awful event all in all. I’ll have to skip forward a few years for the next one. Fin.