Quebrada Pro Wrestling, Puroresu, & Mixed Martial Arts Reviews by Mike Lorefice

3/16/03 Kanagawa Yokohama Arena (19,247 sellout)

Kazuhiro Nakamura vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira

A somewhat typical PRIDE match that starts out good, but grows progressively less interesting as you can see the overmatched native has run out of things to try. Nakamura appeared to be a keeper though. The judo practitioner was totally relaxed despite this being his first MMA match. Early on he did a nice belly-to-belly takedown and was doing okay at getting either leg kicks or diving punches in on Nogueira, who would only stand up if forced. Once Nakamura would dive in he'd be stuck in Nogueira's guard for a little while, but though Rogerio attempts submission after submission like his champion brother, Nakamura knew how to defend them. Still, Nogueira was controlling from the bottom due to keeping Nakamura on the defensive avoiding triangles and the like.

The positions grew more and more repetitive, but at least they kept attacking. Though Nakamura's ground defense is good, he seemed to lack any offense there. In standup, all he did was shoot in for the takedown. That can work if you are a great wrestler, but even then you usually need to have some major size or strength and while Nakamura has a solid build, he certainly isn't very tall or particularly strong.

Nakamura made one really nice move in the second round. He was on his knees with Nogueira to the side of him trying to roll him to his back. Nakamura hooked Nogueira's leg with his right arm though and rolled over his own left shoulder, which allowed him to put Nogueira on his back and momentarily have side mount. Of course, he immediately blew that going for full mount and instead getting stuck in guard again. Anyway, in round 2 it was generally pretty obvious Nakamura had run out of ideas and it was just a matter of time before he succumbed to one of Nogueira's submissions. The thing with the guys that want to fight from the guard is if you have good ground striking you can often beat the hell out of them, but if you don't then they have nothing to fear and will usually have you on the defensive until they catch you in a mistake. When Nogueira got Nakamura's back, Nakamura did a good job of avoiding the choke, but Nogueira was able to open up the udehishigigyakujujigatame by taking the free punches. The first round was definitely good, but to me the second was more toward tedious. 2R 3:30

Alex Stiebling vs. Akira Shoji

This was your classic PRIDE favorite gets the decision. Shoji did have success on an extremely rare occasion, but the reason neither guy had much was that he was running almost the entire fight. It should be rather obvious to give the win to the guy that's going forward all the time if the reason not much is happening is that the other guy is in a constant state of retreat. When Shoji did have his success it was because he lulled Alex to sleep and shocked him by actually moving forward. When Shoji wasn't backpedalling, he was usually grabbing or lying on top. He would change positions once in a while, but he wasn't striking or going for submissions from the top. The ref had most of the first round to stand them up for inactivity, but apparently Fujita rules were in full effect. So basically the first round consisted of Shoji "controlling" as a method of stalling and Alex lying on his back not able to do anything.

In standup, Alex would get a strike in here and there even though Shoji stayed out of his reach. 2 minutes into the second round Shoji decided to trade and caught Alex with a good left then put Alex down with a right. This was essentially the justification for giving Shoji the decision. Shoji paused to see what the ref was going to call then leaned over and flurried. The problem were his punches had little on them and he punched him self out so quickly. Alex was dazed from the knockdown and wasn't even defending well, but barring one of those moron refs that stops it as soon as someone throws a handful of unanswered punches from the top, Shoji didn't even come close to winning with this flurry.

Once Alex started defending semi-competently, Shoji gave up striking. Alex soon rolled Shoji, and after a few punches Shoji gave him his back. Alex couldn't choke Shoji out, but Shoji was just laying flat taking Alex's flurry. Shoji looked like he'd given up (mentally), and I thought the match was over. It would have been within 30 seconds, but Shoji was saved by the bell. So, in essence, Alex was the one that came close to winning out of all this second round action. He lacked any strikes for the highlight reel, but the strikes he was landing against a defenseless Shoji actually amounted to something, and I'd put more weight in that than luck followed by a pathetic display.

My problem with Alex is he came out more cautious in round 3. I understand he didn't want to get caught again, but I'd look at it the other way. Since Alex was the far superior striker, I'd hope Shoji had some newfound confidence and would be willing to exchange with me again based on the previous results. Actually, I have to criticize Alex for not knowing how to cut the ring off because Shoji was able to recover through more of his perpetual backing away.

The second round was very good with both having their moments, but the first and third just plain sucked. As this fight was close you'd hope both guys would want to put their best foot forward in round 3, but Shoji ran for the first 3 minutes. After that he was more waiting until Alex threw to back off, so even though Alex started hitting him these strikes weren't connecting with desired location and power. While Alex didn't do anything particularly noteworthy in this round, the legendary PRIDE scoring system is supposedly slanted toward the end. With Alex having Shoji beat at the end of round 2 and then being the only guy that did anything amidst Shoji's perpetual round 3 retreat, it's hard for me to fathom Shoji's split decision win. I would have liked to have seen Alex open up in round 3, but he's not one of those strikers that's going to have success lunging or diving in to try to catch his opponent before he's 5 feet away again. 3R

Alexander Otsuka vs. Kenichi Yamamoto

Are they that hard up for natives that they have to keep booking Yamamoto? I can deal with "boring" fighters like Pat Miletich that just find a way to win, but this guy has achieved nothing in 10 years of wrestling and MMA and just finds a way to stall. It's bad enough that he sucks, but he's also a punk, refusing Otsuka the traditional glove tap before the fight. That was about the most notable thing about the match, too.

Yamamoto is a bad opponent for Otsuka because Otsuka can't create on his own and Yamamoto never tries anything. During crunch time Yamamoto reversed into the mount and still didn't try anything. Of course, he was allowed to stall for around 18 minutes before it got so embarrassing that the ref had to give him a yellow card. This occurred when Yamamoto was on top, but I'd like to know why Yamamoto is allowed to hold Otsuka close the whole fight and constantly tie him up including pinning both of Otsuka's arms against his chest so nothing could happen, while Silva tries this for a few seconds and is immediately penalized?

Otsuka controlled for the most part, but neither really had any offense to speak of. Yamamoto seems to spend all his time on defense. Even when Otsuka had side mount he had to hold Yamamoto's head down and jump on it to get a knee in. Sometimes Yamamoto's defense is impressive, but for the most part it's simply clam style prevention. Otsuka unanimous decision victory was more because there were occasions when he actually attempted to fight than anything else. There was an interesting moment when he had Yamamoto in a front facelock and pulled him off his knees into something of a cradle piledriver, but to say either fighter really did any damage would be an exaggeration. 3R

Carlos Newton vs. Anderson Silva

I had major expectations for this match, but it only delivered a spectacular KO. Newton was in control almost the entire match, but he was basically only able to punch from Silva's guard. This wasn't great action, but unlike the last match these guys were actually doing and trying some things. Suddenly the ref brings out the yellow card and tags Silva for stalling. Silva had been tying Newton's hands up to try to curtail the ground strikes, but the dullest 30 seconds on the ground here had far more action than any 30 second span on the ground in the first round of Shoji vs. Stiebling. This is why PRIDE just drives me crazy. I can live with them letting the guys stall or forcing them to fight, but just make a decision and ride it all the way to the end of the line.

As it turned out, the yellow card was the best thing that could have happened to Silva (aside from the 10% purse reduction). I'm not sure if Newton was trying to shoot or he thought Silva was going to use his right knee (I lean toward this), but he ducked when Silva jumped and wound up ducking right into a left knee. This was one of those KO's that they'll be showing for years to come. Whether Newton wins or loses, his matches always seem to have spectacular finishes. 1R 6:26

Dan Henderson vs. Shungo Oyama

Very exciting short fight with a lot of big blows. It was almost all action, only slowing briefly after a Henderson takedown. You knew Oyama was in trouble when Henderson connected with several rights at the outset because Henderson was going to have the takedowns and ground over Oyama. It was impressive that Oyama even survived this initial barrage, and he did surprise us once with his offense as well. When Henderson got his favorite high clinch, Oyama quickly threw Dan down and kneed him as he was getting up. For the most part the match was Henderson's though, and he quickly knocked Oyama out. The KO was a bit odd because the big right hand seemed more designed to allow Henderson to grab Oyama then to do the damage it wound up doing. Henderson did immediately latch on and throw Oyama down into a side mount, where he flurried for the stoppage, but it appeared Oyama was out before the takedown. 1R 3:27

Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Nino "Elvis" Schembri

Perhaps the biggest MMA upset of the last decade. It really depends how you want to judge the word upset. I tend to think along the lines of how much ability the underdog has (I saw very little), what kind of fighter they are (ground), and how their skills match up with their opponent (poorly). I don't really know anything about Elvis other than he never wrote anything and made his living ripping off better musicians that weren't accepted nationally because they were the "wrong" race. Oh, that was that donut munching one that delusionals still believe is alive. Anyway, from what I could tell this Elvis only had ground ability and wasn't close to Sakuraba in that area, so his chances were very very small.

The other thing to consider is whether the guy that was upset is suspect, and I have to say that's become the case with Sakuraba. It's been a while since he's beaten anyone of note, and he was injured in both his big losses to Silva. In addition, he looked as bad as he ever has on PRIDE.23, even against a DUD of an opponent. I put this factor separate because it might turn out that Sakuraba is simply done, but it looked like he was back until he was suddenly defeated.

What sets this upset apart from almost any other is Sakuraba was going to town on Elvis the entire fight. This was yet another incredible mismatch, nothing more than a tune-up for Sakuraba to help get him back on the right track. What I liked about Sakuraba here is that he wasn't afraid to strike like he was on 23. Maybe this is where I'm wrong because in the end it cost him, and had he fought another boring fight he would have at least won a dull decision. Even in light of the result it's hard to fault Sakuraba though because he was having so much success in standup that it would seem foolish not to continue to exploit Elvis' biggest weakness.

Sakuraba came out striking and was picking Elvis apart the entire fight. He threw punishing kicks to the thighs, which were welting. He got plenty of punches in as well. Really, this was looking like a striking clinic. It was funny how easy Sakuraba was winning. Elvis couldn't even succeed in pulling guard. Sakuraba just stood there hunched over punching Elvis in the ribs as he was holding on until the ref finally broke it to check Elvis' bloody nose.

Where Sakuraba deserves criticism is in his "comedic" antics. This is the one thing about Sakuraba that bothers me, but since I liked him years before he started acting like he was the second coming of Hector "Macho" Camacho I've generally ignored it. Wearing masks to the ring or whatever is fine, but there should be no place in MMA for making fun of your opponent. A good fight, which this was, is the entertainment. The other stuff is all bullshit. But Sakuraba has to get cute and give his fans what they supposedly are paying for, pulling out his Mongolian chop that's corny and pointless enough when Hiroyoshi Tenzan uses it in works. This gave Elvis the opening to deliver a huge knee, essentially his only offense of the fight up to this point, and push his head down so he could do a couple more knees and punt Sakuraba. The first knee was all that was needed though, the rest was just more punishment before the ref could figure out that he needed to stop it. This finish reminded me of my all-time favorite Super Bowl play when Leon Lett was being the hot-dogging punk he is thinking he had a free return TD, but Don Beebe caught up to him and made him fumble. Like my poor Bills, Elvis looked like a stiff the entire time. The difference is football is a clock game and that mistake cost Dallas a TD that wasn't necessary given how far ahead they were, while MMA is a finish game and this cost Sakuraba the match and probably his standing as an elite MMA fighter. They should show this on SportsCenter instead of Sammy Sosa hopping around like he never hit a homer before. Round 1 6:07

Middleweight Title Next Challenger Decision Match:
Kevin Randleman vs. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson

I was psyched for this match since Randleman was actually going to have to fight someone in PRIDE. Not surprisingly, he wasn't up to the task. Randleman has had his way with the native losers PRIDE has thrown his way, but none of them were very skilled and more importantly they weren't any match for his size and strength. Randleman hasn't fought anyone that he couldn't outpower, until Jackson. I wouldn't say that Jackson was even stronger than Randleman, but he was strong enough that Randleman couldn't push him around, and Randleman didn't seem to know what to do once his usual m.o. was worthless.

For the most part, in fact outside of the finish, this was incredibly boring. Neither could get a takedown since they were just muscling, so it quickly turned into a clinching stalemate. Randleman was just trying to push Jackson back, while Jackson was at least throwing some knees. The ref would break them up from time to time, but they'd wind up in the same position 30 seconds later, so eventually he gave them both a yellow card.

Finally Jackson was able to knee Randleman when he didn't have a good hold of him. Proper distance and momentary control with Randleman prone while he was trying to regain his lock made all the difference in the world. Unlike Henderson's match where his transitioning after the big blow was only notable as further proof of what a good fighter he is, here it made the difference. Jackson immediately following with his right uppercut and a left was what put Randleman down, then his pouncing on top into the mount and throwing a flurry of punches was what put Randleman out. Jackson hadn't done anything impressive today until this point, but these perfect immediate follow-ups show the kind of fighter he can be. Randleman has poor defense on his back, but he probably would have survived if Jackson wasn't able to get the mount right away. After the fight they did a pro wrestling angle where Vanderlei Silva, who was watching from ringside, got in the ring and pushed Jackson after Jackson said, "I want you boy" and told Silva he had his title belt. Of course, they were held back and the ring flooded. Round 1 6:02

PRIDE Heavykyu Senshuken Jiai:
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Fedor Emelianenko

This fight showed what a ground fight between a submission guy and a ground striker can be. The fight essentially took place from Nogueira's open guard, with Nogueira trying every submission he could think of and Fedor regularly clubbing him. It was exciting action with no stalling. We know Fedor has the best ground and pound in the game, but what really impressed me was his submission defense. He not only didn't fear Nogueira's submissions, he pretty well let Nogueira try them and just brushed them off. At worst, he recognized them right away and went with the motion so he'd turned out of harms way before Nogueira ever had a lock.

Nogueira took one hell of a beating. He not only survived but kept going long after withstanding a flurry that would have beaten the majority of the fighters. Fedor's ground and pound just has to be seen, but essentially it's all about throwing from the proper distance. When you look at the impact of his blows, you forget that what he's doing is ground and pound. He's always on his knees and coming down at the opponent, so it's almost like it's a different form of standup punching designed to hurt an opponent on his back than the trap and tap crap that is supposedly worthy of points. The tangible result was little cuts all over Nogueira's head, but more important was for once Nogueira was the worse for wear and wasn't building toward victory. He kept trying to win, but I gave up on him in the second round, something I'd never done on Nogueira before, because Fedor had solved his guard and his submissions. Nogueira either didn't have the energy or wasn't willing to try his hand at standup. I thought that would have been worthwhile because Fedor was becoming more and more dominant on the ground and he didn't look that good when he was on his feet. Fedor took the title via unanimous decision, an easy one given all the damage he did combined with limiting Nogueira's success rate to almost nothing. Very good fight. 3R

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* MMA Review Copyright 2003 Quebrada *