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

4/25/04 Saitama Super Arena (42,110)

Matt White: April 2004 has been a great month if you are an MMA fan. First, UFC had a great PPV on April 2, and now PRIDE put on an "A-level" show. Every victory was decisive (only one fight went over five minutes), so it kind of felt like a good preview for the next show. However, though I enjoyed this show, due to some shenanigans I preferred UFC 47 because it was top to bottom awesome matches whereas PRIDE was pretty much top to bottom exciting but nothing special matches. It is really aggravating that PRIDE rarely puts on shows like this when they have such great roster depth. Out of the past six PPV’s, I would only say three have been good (the two middleweight GP shows - Total Elimination 2003 & The Final Conflict 2003 - and Otoko Matsuri), while the other three (Bushido 1, Bushido 2 and PRIDE 27) were quite lackluster. Not to mention it took them forever to get a line-up for this show. I know booking a tournament this big will produce problems, but they had been planning this thing so long in advance, there is really no excuse. I wonder how good this show would have been had all the guys been able to prepare longer. Well, no point in crying over spilled milk, but if I were PRIDE I would announce the line-up for the next round tomorrow.

ML: UFC shows were always far better than PRIDE in terms of match quality. Even though PRIDE bought all their big names, they were a heavyweight promotion while UFC was a titles promotion, meaning all the champions were considered important headliners and an effort was made to give them the best available opponents for their defenses. Unfortunately, that trend reversed when Dana White took over UFC and turned it into a pro-wrestling oriented hype machine where they blabbed endlessly about a bunch of oversized punks and didn’t bother to promote the lightweight and middleweight divisions that were having such good matches in 2001-2002. It was kind of similar to 1997 WCW where the chance for all these great junior matches quickly went by the wayside, and everyone wound up giving up. UFC largely bored me in 2003 and was off to a terrible start in 2004, but with UFC 47 they went back to actually having matches. And all of them were good, highlighted by the excellent match between 150 pounders Yves Edwards and Hermes Franca. PRIDE had some better shows in 2003 because the middleweights were featured, but with this show they were back to being much ado about nothing.

The PRIDE show wasn’t going to live up to UFC 47 regardless. They’ve never had a show on that level in my opinion, but this show also looked like a turkey going in. It’s the same old problem with PRIDE. Yes, they have some tremendous talent, but they are rarely willing to put tremendous talent against tremendous talent. Even though this was the first round of the big tournament, it was more like the old King of the Ring Qualifying Matches. The big stars fought semi stars or scrubs the promotion doesn’t really care about, and even though in this case the possibility existed that they could get lucky, instead of being a supershow it was a cheap appetizer for the main course. It should have at least been what the October K-1 show was, but instead was more like the preceeding K-1 Grand Prix qualifiers where passing the guys they wanted to be in the finals was just about the only concern.

Heath Herring defeated Yoshiki Takahashi in 1R 4:53 via KO

MW: The over-tanned Takahashi got points in my book because he had an ’80`s song for an opener. As a fellow Texan, I enjoy Herring’s fights but he is not all that great. He started the match being his over-eager self with some sloppy kickboxing, but Takahashi got him in the north/south position. Nice reversal by Herring (one thing I think he does well) in getting out. I finally saw some of Herring’s ground skills when he tried a double leg shoot on Takahashi. However, he ended the fight with an old fashioned beat down. I heard Mauro Ranallo say on an internet radio show he thought Herring could be in the final four of this tournament. I doubt it, but it will be interesting to see where he ends up. With the recent destruction of Ikuhisa Minowa via Wanderlei Silva and now Takahashi getting hammered, I wonder if it`s PRIDE’s goal to bury Pancrase??

ML: This bout served two purposes. First, as Matt mentioned, it dealt another blow to rival, if they can even be called that, Pancrase. PRIDE has the WWE mentality that their world domination is the most important thing, even though this domination means they make far less money. What the promotion has needed from day 1 are top natives, but because the good Pancrase or Shooto fighters winning in PRIDE would also help Pancrase or Shooto they want these guys to lose. If you notice, PRIDE almost always puts the fighters from these leagues against PRIDE’s maulers that outweigh and outpower the natives by as much as possible (or Silva who they will be stuck standing with the whole fight). This makes it difficult for the natives to have the technical match that’s more prevalent in their home promotion, and helps ensure that when it does go to the ground they will be getting pummeled. The second purpose was to rebuild Herring, who reeled off a streak of wins against mediocre opponents then was overwhelmed by the top opposition. Herring continues to be a guy that beats the people he should, and with four straight matches against that kind of opposition he’s rehabilitated his reputation. He’s not going to win the tournament, but especially if he can get one more win people will be thinking he’s good again.

Herring got off to a slow start, but most of Takahashi’s success was an illusion. He guillotined Herring on the takedown, but he didn’t have the choke locked so he was just burning energy until Herring got his head out. From that point, Takahashi looked like a clueless rookie. He just lied on his back doing nothing, allowing Herring as much room as he wanted to beat the crap out of him. Takahashi’s face looked pretty bad after a minute or two of this, particularly his left eye which was swollen shut.

Sergei Kharitonov defeated Murilo "Ninja" Rua in 1R 4:14 via KO

MW: I love PRIDE’s pre-match packages on the Japanese shows. They portrayed this as the hardened Russian soldier vs. the Latin Lover. Amusing. I was really interested in this match, and I wasn`t disappointed at all. This match almost could have been a K-1 match, with exception to the Russian using a SWEET Judo flip on Ninja. This had a great opening 90 seconds. They just slugged it out. Kharitonov basically did counterstriking (which worked because Ninja wasn’t waiting for his opponent) but eventually, with the aid of his height and reach, the Russian got aggressive and overwhelmed Ninja. I’ve only seen Kharitonov twice but I’m really digging him thus far. I think Ninja is one of those guys who is a lot better than his record says he is.

ML: Pretty good match, the second best on the show, though disappointing given the quality of some of Ninja’s past matches and the probable best bout hype. Ninja is a guy that comes to fight, and he gave this tournament a try. Unfortunately, putting on 20 pounds to become a heavyweight made him a bloated Shinjiro Otani type. What he lost in athleticism, speed, and (probably) stamina certainly were not made up for in power. Though pound for pound Ninja is the stronger striker, Kharitonov had no fear of his punching power at this weight.

Kharitonov showed much improved standup. He moved well and did an impressive job of mixing his punches. His right body blows were particularly impressive. They not only softened Ninja up, but opened up the right hook that was the key to the KO. Good action while it lasted, but this isn’t exactly going to bring to mind the best standup wars of Pedro Rizzo.

Giant Silva defeated Sentoryu in 1R 4:04 with the Kimura arm lock

MW: Another reason I love PRIDE’s pre-match packages: They come up with excuses to explain a fighter’s crapiness. First they said Yoshihisa Yamamoto defeated Mark Kerr with a "DDT," now they called Silva’s wide loopy things (I think they were supposed to be punches) he throws, "dunks." Well, he was a basketball player (so that qualifies him for this tournament). In the "Thank You, Bob Sapp," segment of this review, Fuji TV demanded that DSE have a freakshow match on the card because of the high ratings they deliver. What about the high ratings that great cards deliver, like K-1`s middleweight shows and the GP finals? Anyways, Sentoryu isn’t as big a joke as Akebono, and it looks like he`s been taking his Stacker 2. However, I’ve never seen a Sumo win in MMA and the streak continues with this match. Well, it was short, on the bottom of the card and inoffensive enough that it didn’t really hurt the show, like it does to K-1.

ML: Today’s new rule – whenever you need your unskilled freak to win, put him against a sumo. Sumo provides you with no particular skills that translate to MMA. I’d bet on the sumo in the clinch, but the sport gives you no offensive weapons and provides very little defense as well. On top of that, sumo training is for brief outbursts of energy not to go a 10-minute round, so if worst comes to worst the freak should win the decision. Oh, but according to the announcers Silva isn’t a freak because he works hard to improve. It’s good that he might not be lazy, but if he was 5’2" he’d be getting tapped in Amateur Shooto.

The freakshow element of the match came after Sentoryu got the takedown. He couldn’t ground and pound Silva’s head because Silva is so tall, and in fact the natural distance was to punch just above Silva’s waist. Sentoryu got side mount, but Silva neutralized him with a Kimura. Silva appeared to have nothing, but since this was amateur hour Henry Miller managed to serve his purpose by working his way into getting submitted. Miller’s loss came as a surprise to no one, I mean, the odds of Anais Nin winning were probably even higher. One lame match.

MW: They then did a heat up angle for Bushido 3 with Yuki Kondo and Wanderlei Silva. There was nothing of note here. I am looking forward to this match though. Once again, is PRIDE trying to bury Pancrase?

ML: Kondo at least got to get a win before facing the Wanderlei buzz saw, but that was only because he got past a very tough opponent in Mario Sperry. Again, if they were smart they would give the easy wins to a guy like Kondo instead of walking murals or ridiculous hairdo clowns. Those things might be "good" to laugh at, but if a really talented native went into a match with Silva off a good winning streak that would be big money, just like the early Sakuraba vs. Silva matches were. Instead of giving Kondo that chance, it’s closer to what they did with Tamura, killing him off as quick as they could because of his association with smaller shoot organizations.

Semmy Schilt defeated Gan McGee in 1R 5:02 with a cross-arm scissors

MW: This match was made like three days before the show. I wasn’t expecting these guys to go to the ground nor was I expecting Schilt’s winning with a jujigatame. With this victory, Fuji TV has a freak show match handed to them on a platter with Schilt vs. Giant Silva!!!!

ML: Schilt has a ton of experience, and in Pancrase no one wanted to stand with him because of his reach advantage, so he spent a lot of time on the ground. I know he’s a better standup fighter than McGee, especially in this matchup because McGee is a guy with questionable technique and punching power that has some success in standup because of the reach advantage he normally has.

McGee was off to a good start, getting the takedown and maneuvering into side then full mount. I don’t think I agree with Bas Rutten on side mount being preferable to full mount as a whole, but styles make the match. McGee wants distance when he’s on top and Schilt is one of the better punchers from the bottom when given room to work. If McGee had stayed with side mount Schilt wouldn’t have had the opportunity to strike. While it’s rare that the fighter on the bottom does much damage, Schilt busted McGee’s nose up and was a pest trying to buck him off. All this got McGee out of his game, and resulted in him taking a chance in trying to apply a heel hold. Schilt countered this with the udehishigigyakujujigatame for the win. Schilt’s counter was hardly of the lightning variety, but it was very impressive for a big guy.

MW: At this point, the show seems to be moving at lightening speed (especially for a Japanese show). This is obviously throwing them off because they spent a minute just sitting there in silence, with the announcers mics accidentally tracked up for a few seconds (I know this wasn’t on the American broadcast). They went backstage to show Leko wearing MMA gloves for the first time, then cut to Ogawa in the gorilla position. The crowd popped for that one. This segment had me smelling work already.

ML: The brevity of the matches is one of the big reasons I’m down on this show. For the most part, a quick knockout is only exciting to me if it was something I didn’t expect. There was one of those on this show, but generally the favorite simply made short work of the underdog so the finish didn’t make up for the lack of competitive action. I want to see good matches, not a highlight reel. These matches weren’t boring, but I wasn’t believing in or getting into the fighters either. There wasn’t time to.

Naoya Ogawa defeated Stefan Leko in 1R 1:34 with a shoulder submission

MW: To build my case this is a work: 1) Ogawa signed on for this match only with two weeks notice, and given his status he doesn’t need to accept a fight just to get a fight. 2) This would naturally be a main event, but they mysteriously put it on before intermission. 3) To add to point #2, Leko was one of K-1`s top kickboxers, so him jumping to PRIDE would naturally lead to having the whole show built around him (preferably winning). 4) The Hustle 3 (pro-wrestling) match between these two was announced before the PRIDE match. Now onto the match itself, it started with Leko landing some inside low kicks. Fair enough, but then Ogawa downs the German with a punch of his own (Leko might have slipped). As soon as I saw that I threw up my hands. The ref quickly stopped the match once Ogawa got the submission locked, but Leko didn’t even try to protest. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ogawa announces an "injury," and won’t be able to continue in the tournament. Intermission time.

ML: Ogawa’s matches are always works, and Leko is getting into pro wrestling. The rematch already being booked on a puroresu show sealed that something would once again be up. I know some people still don’t believe that PRIDE works tournament matches, but if there was any question this should stop it because this didn’t approach the "realism" of any of Hidehiko Yoshida’s works. I’m not always sure if Yoshida knows his fights are worked, his works might be more realistic because he’s a Toro Moreno and only his opponent is not fighting the way he’s capable of, but every sign of a work was present here. It was incredibly short, way too glamorous, had the quick and easy position changes, and was marred by missed strikes that were sold as hits. Ogawa has never developed into a good worker and Leko looked like someone who wasn’t ready to debut. Even by the standards of Ogawa’s worked win over Gary Goodridge at PRIDE 6 7/4/99, which was brought up by Mauro Ranallo as evidence of how good Ogawa is, this was atrocious. To add to the showiness, they did the Bulk Hogan staples of the staredown before the match and after the match Ogawa went around to each side with the "let me hear you" ear signal.

Another lame ass work is the other big reason I’m down on this Total Elimination 2004. I want to care about the tournaments and belts, but I’m not allowed to because their legitimacy is thrown out the window. Even if this match has no bearing on the rest of the tournament because Ogawa bows out, two potentially good fighters were denied entrance in favor of this show. That’s the best case scenario, the worst case is Ogawa does appear on the next show and then there won’t be anything close to an even playing field because money will compromise his opponents and eventually you’ll once again have a fighter who did a shoot meeting a fighter that did a work.

Kevin Randleman defeated Mirko "Cro Cop" Filiopovic in 1R 1:57 via KO

MW: I thought this match would be short, but I didn’t think it would be with Randleman’s hand being raised. Since this is an "open weight" tournament, Randleman can roid all he wants, oops, I mean, bulk up. Supposedly, from what I’ve read on the net, Randleman watched Mirko’s matches and figured out the Croatian turns his hips before executing a high kick (that is where all the power comes from). Thus, when he saw Mirko turning, he socked him. Watching those tapes must have worked. Well, I’ve read a lot about the endless potential of Randleman, but never saw it, so maybe this is what everyone has been talking about.

ML: A stunning upset, arguably one of the biggest in MMA history. I have a hard time putting it in that class because Mirko is still very unproven on the ground and Randleman is capable of beating anyone if his head isn’t in the clouds. In this instance, Kevin Rodman bothered to participate in the huddle, and imagine this, actually employ strategy instead of doing whatever the hell he felt like. Rodman, amazingly, fought a smart fight using his own strengths and staying out of his opponents. He was either right up against Mirko or so far away he couldn’t read him, so there were only brief instances when Mirko had the opportunity to try a strike. Randleman was especially guarding against the lethal high kick. All this being said, his win was extremely lucky. Mirko thought he was shooting, so he tried to bend over quickly to push Randleman into the mat. Unfortunately for Cro Cop, Randleman’s move was instead throwing a left hook, so Mirko ducked right into it. Extremely short and prior to this there was no action, but this will be the most memorable fight of the night because that one punch sent shockwaves through the MMA world.

MW: Out of nowhere they announced Mark Hunt has jumped to PRIDE. I wrote on my notes, "This is war!!!!" Now that Inoki has teamed with K-1, I guess DSE feels they have to raid their talent. K-1 has already landed Don Frye (and by the Inoki affiliation, Josh Barnett and Kazuyuki Fujita), so I guess we’re in a good ol’fashioned territory war!!!! That means UFC is going to play the ECW role in all of this. K-1, I think, has already signed Pedro Rizzo.

ML: Now we can officially say that PRIDE IS WAR!! Excuse me while I yawn. As far as Hunt goes, I think he’ll have a very hard time converting to MMA because he’s a guy that wins by being able to withstand more punishment than the opposition. Those guys are best in boxing because so few techniques are available that both people almost have to land many blows and worst in MMA because so many techniques are available that there might not be any striking in the match. I see him being, at best, a less pathetic version of Cabbage.

Antonio Rodrigo Minotauro Nogueira defeated Hirotaka Yokoi in 2R 1:25 with a front choke sleeper

MW: I will reveal my bias and say Nogueira is my favorite PRIDE fighter. That being said, this was probably the best match on the show. People are already talking about Yokoi being really "impressive" in this fight, but I beg to differ. Nogueira rarely puts guys away quickly (Herring went the distance with him, for example). He is very patient and waits for his opponents to give him openings. He pretty much dominated the fight in both standing and on the ground. Yokoi practically imitated Randleman`s offense when he got the Brazilian on the ground, but it is here where ground efficiency shows its merits because Nogueira fended him off quite well. Yokoi had some great reversals (I really like reversals), but I hated his taunting of Nogueira. He did show more life in this match than anything he’s done in Zero-One though. Nogueira was never in trouble but he gave us a good exciting fight.

ML: Just because graffiti boy thinks he’s hot shit doesn’t mean anyone else should. Any other Yakuza wannabe could taunt Nogueira because he isn’t going to attack you. He’s going to stay patient and wait for the opening or for his opponent to gas out, in Yokoi’s case the later helped allow for the former.

Nogueira is by far the most skilled fighter in this tournament, but skill shouldn’t be confused with domination. He doesn’t overwhelm his opponents like Cro Cop or Fedor, in fact, they usually kick his ass before he submits them. He’s not likely to get any quick wins considering his clean finishers are always submissions. Furthermore, he’s arguably at his best when he’s on his back, so he’s going to give up more to get his win than the other two.

Yokoi did do a couple of nice throws, but though they look good and score points one can’t forget they also get Nogueira to the place where he wins all his matches. By the standard of the typical Nogueira match, Yokoi did worse as he didn’t put a beating on him or have Nogueira in any sort of trouble.

I do think Yokoi fought a smart fight in a sense. I don’t think he necessarily had good strategy, but I do think he learned some things from pro wrestling. He understands how a crowd reacts, and he was able to play on that to make it seem like he was doing more than he actually was. For instance, he didn’t throw that many punches from the top, but when he did throw they would be a flurry so you felt like he had the advantage and was making some headway. In actuality, the slow methodical Pat Miletich style ground and pounders are far more effective because they open up the whole body and thus it’s hard to know where to block.

This was the best match on the show because Yokoi did enough to be competitive. I never felt Yokoi would win, I wouldn’t have even if he actually had managed to hurt Nogueira or get him in trouble because I’ve seen this happen to Nogueira time and time again, and he never gets KO’d or submitted. To his credit, the inexperienced pro-wrestler was a competent fighter who was always in the match. Due to Nogueira’s style and the way he wins it was going to take a while for him to beat this guy and he wasn’t going to come out unscathed.

Fedor Emelianko defeated Mark Coleman in 1R 2:11 with cross arm scissors hold

MW: I joked about this in an email being a MMA version of Vader vs. Sid (THE BATTLE OF THE GROUND N` POUNDS!!!!!). Luckily, nobody had any scissors the week before, so the match was actually able to take place. All joking aside, I’ve been thinking about this match-up for a while (since Fedor won the title and announced he wanted to fight Coleman), and I was a happy camper for the two minutes the match lasted. This is the most exciting fight I’ve ever seen from Coleman. He couldn’t keep Fedor down, but at the same time Fedor had the same trouble. Being one-dimensional proved to be a problem for Coleman again. Even though both are ground and pound specialists Fedor is more versatile and he was able to get an armbar out of the original Grand Prix Champion. one of the best two minute matches I’ve seen.

ML: This was at least an interesting matchup because there was no guarantee Fedor was going to get to spend most of the match in his opponent’s guard. I knew Coleman would be the stronger of the two and the better takedown guy, but the issue with Coleman is always that he has no alternatives. I figured he could take Fedor down at some point, but there’s a big difference between doing that and being able to keep him down the entire match since the only way Coleman can win is punching from the top. Normally I cringe when people give up their back, but against Coleman I thought it was a good move. Bas Rutten made the excuse for him that it’s hard to choke with the gloves they wear in PRIDE, and certainly that does make it more difficult than in some other leagues, but even if Coleman has a couple choke victories in his career does anyone really believe Coleman would have choked Fedor out if they fought barefisted? Coleman got the only two takedowns of the match, but Fedor had answers for his ground and pound so the takedowns weren’t worth much.

I was really impressed by the finish because Fedor isn’t the guy I’d expect to see utilize a high guard to quickly arm bar a ground and pounder. We knew he could win the way he wants to, but for the most part we’d only heard about his judo and sambo skills. His stock should really rise getting this win via a totally different method and from a totally different position than his usual pounding from guard. Good while it lasted because there was a lot going on and it was unpredictable (or rather Fedor busted out some new techniques).

MW: I know that this probably didn’t appear on the US broadcast but there was so much shilling for Hustle 3 it was pathetic. Really, Ogawa’s match was just one big advertisement for that show. The only thing they didn’t do was have Goldberg and Kawada cut an angle (with Kawada’s broken hand, I don’t even know if the match is taking place). DSE should really only worry about their PRIDE shows because they are the meal ticket for the company. They need enough help in putting together a good MMA show, and these pro wrestling shows are only going to hurt in the long run.

ML: Again, one of the reasons almost every sports league is declining is they are trying to be too many things. It’s hard enough to put on a good show of any type, but now PRIDE wants to be two different leagues that promote every type of martial arts and wrestling, which then means getting into soap opera and a bunch of other nonsense. Just do one thing well and provide a legitimate alternative to all the other people that do a million things poorly.

Special Thanks to: Matt White

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* MMA Review Copyright 2004 Quebrada *