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

PRIDE Heavyweight GP Junkessho
DSE PRIDE FC Critical Countdown 2004 PPV
6/20/04 Saitama Super Arena (43,711)

Matt White: I am really on the fence regarding the quality of this show; there were some good matches, but there was nothing really blow away. To me, the event felt a little flat. Maybe it is just because everything I expected to happen did happen. There were no big surprises or anything. However, the action was solid, and there weren’t that many dull moments.

ML: It doesn’t get any more predictable than PRIDE Critical Countdown. Every match had a pretty obvious favorite, and in most cases that favorite wasn’t even tested. Rampage vs. Arona was by far the closest match on paper and in actuality, though it was not in the league with Jackson versus Murilo Bustamante at PRIDE Total Elimination 2003 8/10/03. Nogueira always has a good match because it takes time for a submission expert to tap his opponent, and he packs a lot of action into that time. Beyond that, weak matchups made weak matches. Randleman looked like he was going to be the underdog that once against surprised by at least being in the match, but Randleman’s not the kind of guy you can put any hope in. Either the stars will fall into alignment or he’ll find a way to underachieve.

MW: A little word on atmosphere here: The Saitama Super Arena looked loads better than when K-1 ran their MMA show Romanex on 5/22/04. They also had all these spiffy graphics they haven’t used since the New Years Eve show, and they blow away even the stuff WWE uses. One thing that disappointed me is Nobuhiko Takada came dressed in his civilian clothing. If he wore his M.Bison outfit during the broadcast, then I would have voted this the greatest PPV of all time. Will he just admit to the PRIDE fans that he is in fact a mad general set out on destroying pro-wrestling?

Kazushi Sakuraba defeated Nino “Elvis” Schembri by 3-0 judges decision

MW: So, Saku's theme for 2004 is the “Revenge Tour”!!!!!! Target 1: Nino Schembri, who should be the easiest guy for Saku to get revenge against. I don’t know if they explained this on the English broadcast or not, but the theme for this match was “Wake up wrestler!!!” They even delayed Sakuraba's entrance because they had to “wake him up,” and he came out in pajamas and a pillow. Funny stuff.

The first round was good but not great. Saku has obviously become a lot more conservative since his several losses. It seemed like he was getting a lot more confident as the match progressed. His punches were a little sloppy, but his low inside leg kicks were good. Schembri used his flexibility well to keep Saku at bay on the ground.

Round 2 had Sakuraba dominating once again in stand up, this time with two good liver kicks. The ref seemed intent on restarting them standing a lot more than PRIDE usually does.

Round 3 saw Sakuraba pull out the jumping stomp. There other points in the match where I thought he would use that move, but he built it up like a highspot I guess. It came down to decision, and since Saku did more damage, I guess that means he won, but he didn’t seem overly dominant. Afterwards, he said that he couldn’t “Do the Hustle,” and I wish some other people would say that.

ML: This wasn’t a good fight. A good fight requires two guys actually fighting. Elvis had no confidence, which I guess one should suspect from a person who believes they need their name on their back. When Sak took one step forward he took two steps back. Even though Elvis was only playing defense in standup, Sak had no problem striking around or through his guard. Sak was also dominating when Elvis was in butt scoot (which was often), with Bas Rutten making a good point about how much more damage blows to the legs do when the muscles are relaxed (receiver is on back) than when the muscles are tight (receiver is standing). Elvis did land one devastating kick square on Sak’s knee from butt scoot, bending it back against the joint at least as far as it could go and causing Sak to topple.

The main problem with Elvis is he has no takedown. He’s a legitimate mat fighter, but when you have no standup and no takedown there’s no reason for anyone to fight you on the mat. Sak usually loses because he can’t take his opponent down and they take him apart in standup, but he won this fight because his other skills were far superior to Elvis’. This was a more mature Sakuraba, finally seeming to have realized that winning is far more worthwhile than taunting.

Quinton “Rampage” Jackson defeated Ricardo Arona in 1R 7:32 by KO after a powerbomb

MW: Like a WCW storyline, I bet they are going to “ban” the power bomb after someone either gets seriously injured or killed. It looked like Jackson nearly killed Arona with his slam. I actually thought this was not going to be a walk in the park for Jackson because Arona is well, good. He dominated Dan Henderson, and that is not the easiest thing in the world to do. On the ground, Arona couldn’t do much with Jackson, who was opening him up with various punches all over the place. As soon as Arona was setting up a triangle, I knew immediately what was going to happen, and it was very nasty. Neither of these guys have the most exciting fights all the time, but Jackson’s matches usually end with a bang.

ML: This looked like the best match on the card, and I thought Arona made quite a good showing, certainly way better than hype Liddell did at PRIDE The Final Conflict 2003 11/9/03. His standup was good enough to keep him in the fight, and he was able to get Jackson to the mat, even if by pulling guard, which was the big question of the match because Arona is a big time ground fighter. Jackson’s ground and pound was at it’s least effective because he had to be as careful as he ever is due to the opposition’s submission prowess. Arona’s early triangle attempt failed, but when Jackson pulled out Arona nearly knocked him out with a kakato otoshi from his back and a series of punches. For some reason, Arona stopped striking and started talking to the ref, maybe he thought the ref should stop it, but in any case this cost him his best chance at victory. Later, Arona tried another triangle and it was Rampage time… time… time. Jackson made UWF-I look more credible performing the wickedest high angle powerbomb in history for the win.

Sergei Kharitonov defeated Semmy Schilt in 1R 9:19 by referee stoppage

MW: Schilt has quite the reach advantage. Early on it looked like Kharitonov decided standing with the Dutchman was not the swiftest idea in the world, so he took it to the ground. I thought the ground sequences were good, as was Kharitanov`s maneuvering. Near the end, the Russian was just beating the life out of Schilt. He locked the left arm of Schilt with his shin and then just pounded away for what seemed like forever until the ref stopped it. This was another impressive victory by Kharitonov. I would like to see him against Fedor.

ML: First we thought Kharitonov was a submission guy then we thought he was a striker. Today he was a ground and pounder. It’s time to recognize his diversity in exploiting his opponent’s weaknesses. Schilt did more damage in standup, but was still a disappointment because he couldn’t utilize his reach advantage and wound up turtled once again. Kharitonov was able to keep the distance close without eating Schilt’s wicked knees, which was particularly crucial post sweep when Schilt stood up after hurting him with a couple punches. Kharitonov got his bearings back hanging on then got the fight back to the mat, where it remained. Kharitonov’s patience on the mat was especially impressive. Even though Schilt reversed him the first time, Kharitonov had the confidence in his skills not to rush things. Schilt’s guard was weak, as he negated his own height advantage by not using the lower half of his body to create the distance necessary for him to strike from the bottom. Kharitonov was setting up the arm bar for a couple of minutes, but Schilt wasn’t able to defend much against the ground and pound and never tried to buck him off even though Kharitonov was about as high as you can get without sitting on your opponent’s neck. Kharitonov might have won quicker with the arm bar, but that might have given Schilt the opportunity to take top position. By taking what was available, Kharitonov won via pulping before he had to take that chance. Decent match - the third best on the show since Schilt did a little before things went against him - which once again increased my opinion of Kharitonov.

Naoya Ogawa defeated Giant Silva in 1R 3:29 by referee stoppage

MW: I wrote in my notes “who cares?” because I certainly don’t. At first I thought the stoppage was premature because Ogawa's punches didn’t seem to do much damage, but then I saw that Silva tapped. Ogawa has not been doing pro wrestling recently so, at least he’s taking his training seriously but the ending is rather suspicious. OK, with Kharitonov winning, I think it is fairly obvious that Ogawa will take on Nogueira and lose. Of course, after the match Ogawa plugged the Hustle house show at Korakuen and did the Hustle hump. I really hope PRIDE isn’t using this tournament as an excuse to pimp Hustle.

ML: Ogawa makes this tournament a complete joke. Not only has he never done anything in MMA to even warrant being in the tournament (he had worked wins over Gary Goodridge at PRIDE 6 7/4/99, Masake Satake at PRIDE 11 10/31/00 & Stefan Leko at PRIDE Total Elimination 2004 4/25/04), but he magically draws the worst opponents, a bunch of pro wrestling types with no shoot experience that magically lose to him about same way in about 2 minutes.

Ogawa got a high takedown right away when Silva, who would have the leverage advantage over just about anyone on the face of the earth, inexplicably backpedaled until Ogawa was able to trip him. The rest of the fight was Ogawa positioning. After missing countless chances to submit Silva he mounted him and threw the same disgraceful flurry of punches he does in his pro wrestling matches, the vaunted hustle punch, most of which missed as always. He did nudge Silva, who in a particularly pathetic scene just put his hands up like he was begging for mercy, a few times in the row before they called a halt to it. No replays were shown to avoid further embarrassment, but I didn’t see Silva tapping so he must have cried uncle.

To me the latest sham looked more realistic than the previous Ogawa works, if only because he simply did nothing, not even applying the submissions he so easily could have if the fight wasn’t about getting HUSTLE over by doing his puroresu finisher even though it looks terrible and in this case made him appear to be that much less of a judo expert. However, it is possible, given the ineptitude of Silva, this was a Bob Sapp work (the opponent isn’t necessarily taking a dive but the ref stops it the second Sapp’s opponent is in a position that could possibly be described as compromising). The important thing is the illegitimacy in Ogawa’s grand prix fights that is obvious to the naked eye, not the specifics behind the illegitimacy which no one will ever know for sure (even if someone that knew admitted it, the doubters would say it was because of a grudge, to get revenge, etc.). One match could be a mistake or fluke, but two fishy fights in a row now (especially above and beyond all the ones from the past) is a string of consistency that’s too hard to simply write off.

Hidehiko Yoshida defeated Mark Hunt in 1R 5:25 a triangle

MW: Hunt surprised me. He wasn’t completely helpless on the ground and he seemed to be doing the right things to try and counter Yoshida (like sitting on his face). The problem is, he just kept walking right in to Yoshida’s takedowns. I remember Ken Shamrock kept doing the same thing way back in his second match with Royce Gracie at UFC 5 4/7/95. To Yoshida's credit, he was patient enough to finally hook a submission on the K-1 Grand Prix champion. Not a bad first showing by Hunt, but not a great one either.

ML: Hunt didn’t look like a kickboxer, which was a good thing as well as a bad thing. On the positive side, it was obvious Hunt has taken MMA training seriously. He had some takedown defense and wasn’t lost on the mat. The problem is he was so conscious of what Yoshida would try in standup, shooting in, that he never tried his own offense. If this comes, Hunt might just be decent in the future, but Hunt isn’t going to without using his offensive strengths. Yoshida knew what he had to do, and partially because Hunt didn’t even keep him honest, was able to go about his business with ease. Hunt did at least partially catch Yoshida with a knee when he shot (couldn’t tell the damage from the camera angle but Yoshida wasn’t slowed nor his confidence shaken), but otherwise his only offense were some embarrassing punches while in the arm bar (perhaps he was just trying to agitate Yoshida while deciding his escape because this was after he’d alleviated the risk by putting his knee on Yoshida’s face). The match itself was adequate at the very best, but went as DSE would have wanted with Hunt showing enough to be considered an MMA fighter and Yoshida defeating a big name chump without being beaten up.

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira defeated Heath Herring 2R 30 seconds with a spinning choke sleeper

MW: This was the best match on the show. Their fight at PRIDE 17 11/3/01 is one of my all time favorites, and while this match didn’t live up to that one, it was still good. I'd read a few reports before this show that Nogueira had been sparring with the Cuban boxing team, and was even considering trying out for the Brazilian Olympic boxing team. Thus, he wanted to show off his standing skills against Herring. At the beginning of the match, I really hoped that Nogueira would not be stupid enough to keep it standing, and fortunately he followed my advice because he took it to the ground fairly early. The match quickly brought back memories of their PRIDE 17 bout because every submission Nog tried, Herring would somehow escape. I find stuff like this really entertaining. The second round ended quickly enough has Nog applied his anaconda choke, the spinning choke that is probably the coolest submission ever.

ML: A very good match, easily the highlight of the night. I thought Noguiera’s upgraded standup game did play a key role in the fight. In R1, it opened up a waistlock takedown into side mount. In R2, Herring arguably tried to shoot because Nogueira was getting the better of standup, so with Nogueira catching Herring in the guillotine and then rolling into his anaconda choke one could say the standup indirectly won the match for him.

Luckily, this wasn’t one of those boring boxing matches between juvenile thugs like UFC seems to think everyone wants to see. What was great about this match was the second half of R1. Nogueira had been dominating on the mat for three minutes and while he never came that close to a submission it seemed only a matter of time because he was always in position to try something and Herring just couldn’t get going. However, Herring scored a reversal and came alive. The rest of the round was reversal after reversal, with several coming when you thought the reverser was at their most vulnerable. Herring actually had less offense than Yokoi did in the first round match, but with his submission defense and reversals he probably showed why he’s a good fighter more than in his recent squash wins.

The only negative about the match had nothing to do with the fighters themselves. Rampage was the guest announcer and he spent the whole time taking away from the fight; trying to put himself over through adolescent wisecracks. Heaven forbid Herring isn’t yet another one of those cattle that’s so insecure he believes he needs to make himself look like a calf. Granted Herring isn’t exactly the toughest guy to pick on given his hairstyle sometimes seems to take precedent over his fighting, but not over and over during one of the shoot matches of the year.

Fedor Emelianenko defeated Kevin Randleman in 1R 1:33 with an arm lock

MW: Fedor is just stepping it up more and more with every fight. He's demonstrated on the past two shows that he isn’t just a typical ground and pounder, but also a fighter who is adept at submissions as well (submitting Coleman and Randleman is not the easiest feat in the world). Randleman looked to have the advantage early with a great bodyslam, but it didn’t seem to faze the Russian one bit and he quickly got the arm lock. Talk about a step forward and a step back for Randleman.

ML: This started off as if it was going to be memorable, but turned out to be another of Randleman’s head scratchers. Randleman did this amazing suplex that looked like it was going to be a German, but he twisted Fedor in the air for this crazy head dropping that would surely put a smile on Kenta Kobashi’s face. Randleman, I guess, blew his wad on that one move though; he was just listless the rest of the fight. He had Fedor wide open for knees, but hesitated and Fedor reversed him. Randleman inexplicably held on, I can’t even guess what he was thinking but he had this ground bear hug and was getting pulverized by Fedor’s punches. Randleman was considerably softened up by the time he got around to releasing the waistlock then Fedor applied the submission for the win.

MW: Afterwards, Sergei Kharitonov came out to congratulate Fedor and it looks like they might be already teasing a match between the two. Add that to Nogueira vs. Ogawa and Yuki Kondo vs. Wanderlei Silva and the next big PRIDE show looks interesting to say the least, but this whole tournament has been rather lackluster, especially because of the Ogawa shenanigans. It’s almost come to the point that I don’t even care who wins this thing, and I really hate saying that.

ML: The only way the tournament can be saved is if Ogawa gets injured nudge nudge and they get a real fighter in there. But even then it would have to be somebody big because whoever fights Kharitonov could have a fight on their hands and be at a big disadvantage in the final.

Special Thanks to: Matt White

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* MMA Review Copyright 2004 Quebrada *