Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) DVD Reviews

Pride 19 & 20 Double DVD Review

More official double-disc goodness from FightDVD! I could get very much used to this…

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Cert: 15

Length: 383 mins

More official double-disc goodness from FightDVD! I could get very much used to this!

Pride 19: Bad Blood

PRIDE 19, aka “Bad Blood” took place at the group’s spiritual home, the Saitama Super Arena, on 24.02.2002 Literally ten seconds into the opening footage, from the pre-event press conference, and we’re treated to the rare sight of Ken Shamrock… wait for it…playing his face!! A later interview segment in the broadcast saw Shamrock lambasting opponent on this occasion, Don Frye, over matters of “respect”& all that jazz; Zzzzzzzzz… give it a bloody rest, Ken, will you?

I was never a fan of the old piece-together skits with Stephen Quadros & Bas Rutten (best analytical duo in the game, btw) on these cards, but at least the opening gambit of “Bad Blood” gave “El Guapo” license to piss about jestingly with a samurai sword.

Into Saitama, and Tim Catalfo appeared on my TV screen, at which point I marked out. I’d seen Tim once before, on some early King Of The Cage event or other, where he rushed his opponent & guillotine choked him into submission inside twenty seconds, before indulging in a spot of post-fight pull-apart brawlingness with Don Frye. In the adjacent interview, when asked to pre-empt a potential challenge from Frye, Catalfo- who looks like an offbeat amalgam of Kurt Angle & Ox Baker- glared into the hard-cam & simply said “Bring your lunch!” Suffice to say, I’ve been a Tim Catalfo devotee from that moment to this. Alas, big TC was squashed in rapid order by fellow Yank Tom Eriksson in the opener of “Bad Blood”. It’s PRIDE- it’s the law. Eriksson quickly gained full mount, and finished the fight with a Rear Naked Choke once Catalfo rolled to his back in a bid to escape- shrieking English announcer woman amusingly declared victory by sleeperhold!

The pre-fight interview segments portrayed two engaging characters in Wallid Ishmel & Alex Stiebling: the subsequent distance-lasting scuffle between them came over as a gruelling experience for both, although it’s fair to say that the opening (endurance, hence longest) round can be described as similar to watch. The round opened with the American sprawling to avoid a single-leg takedown, the fight ending up on the mat, with Ishmel locked in Stiebling’s half guard, where they would remain for approximately the next eight minutes, as Stiebling nullified any attempt by Ishmel to pass, and in turn, the Brazilian prevented his foe from sweeping. Indeed, things only spiced up around thirty seconds prior to the bell, as WI passed the guard into the half mount, and from there into side control- his attempts to do so had clearly taken their toll, as he sat in his corner looking utterly shattered following the soporific first period. Rounds two & three were more gratifying by far, the highlight of the fight coming as Ishmel escaped an unorthodox Kimura attempt, resulting in the pair exchanging a series of unique reversals, that even the announcers were unsure how to call. The final minutes saw each exchanging position on top, with Stiebling unleashing a smattering of sturdy kicks from his back to keep his opponent at bay, & force him back into guard. “The Fighting Brad Pitt” (credit: Quadros) earned the unanimous nod from the judges to cap what was a pleasing fight, presuming you’re able to put a mental block on Round One.

Chute Boxe’s Pele wasn’t in the mood to hang around at the onset of his fight, launching an extravagant roundhouse kick at the head of upright opponent Carlos Newton, mere seconds in, and setting the tone for what was to follow. Pele hit a strong knee from the clinch position, to which the Canadian responded by front-sweeping, a la Randy Couture, and emerged from a mat-based tussle with a standing guillotine, from which Pele wriggled free to score a takedown of his own, only to suffer setback once again, being force to stave off an Oma Plata. Following more shenanagins, much to varied & fast-paced for me to comprehensively record, Pele attempted a further flurry of knee strikes from the Thai clinch, with Newton backing off only to be fed a severe flying knee to the head, to which he…. gave Pele the thumbs up??! Incredible stuff! Newton scored a single-leg, & with Pele attempting to manoeuvre his right leg behind the “Ronin’s” head, took hold of an arm, rolled over to fully extend into an armbar with Pele…. eventually…..tapping out. Right here are seven minutes that are well worthy of your time: this is truly one of the most exhilarating fights I’ve ever seen.

Igor Vovchanchyn & Heath Herring were top of the heavyweight-tree players in this time frame, and their clash at this event was an entertaining back & forth, if one that lost a little shine toward the end, courtesy of the referee, who dealt Vovchanchyn a perplexing yellow card after restarting the fight with a minute remaining when, previously, Herring had been on top landing punches. Perhaps Graham Poll could clear that one up for us? Herring’s legs akimbo/forehead to the face positioning whilst in mount during the second & third rounds was most intriguing. The Vovchanchyn-controlled second period was significantly slower paced than the two that sandwiched it, and HH’s superior visible urgency in the final five minutes, which he dominated, was likely the main contributing factor to the unanimous decision he was given at the conclusion.

The non-title fight between Heavyweight kingpin Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira & Enson Inoue was quite the mismatch on paper, yet with the latter seemingly feeling the moment & raising his game accordingly (for the first five or so minutes, at least) a perfectly stimulating clash resulted. This was somewhat of a flashy-submission exhibition for Big Nog, with Inoue struggling, scrapping & generally fighting off all the BTT-man’s showboat entangling-stuff through sheer willpower, until Nog was finally able to fully apply a triangle choke, transitioning from a Kimura, for the academic tapping session. Take that old Jushin Liger-Barry Houston squash from WCW Pro & drop it into an MMA setting…that’s what this was.

The sight of Kiyoshi Tamura invoked much lamenting of the mighty U-Style promotion in my front room. The former UWF mainstay was systematically dismantled by Middleweight champ Wanderlei Silva, although in his role as babyface native challenger, KT did manage to squeeze a couple of “hope spots” into his ultimate decimation. Wandy inflicted the majority of damage towards the end of Round One, sitting comfortably in the guard, grounding & pounding with the shots getting progressively more serious, something that was etched across the face of Tamura during the solitary two-minute break. About a minute into Round Two, Tamura decided he fancied a rally of punches, but left himself open to be levelled with a textbook right hook from Silva, resulting in the knockout. The result was never in doubt, but Silva made sure to give us a performance.

The audience was akin to a hot-plate for the emergence & introductions of the veteran duo who comprised the main event. Some western wrestling promoter could do a lot worse than to give Don Frye a run as a heel- “The Predator’s” dark pre-fight interview showcased his intense charisma. A watchable finale ensued, with Frye looking more likely to finish things standing up, and Ken Shamrock displaying an array of leglocks, toeholds and the like on the mat. Ryan Shamrock is shown in the crowd (Ken’s one-time storyline sister later became his girlfriend, for those who weren’t aware), to my slight amusement. The fight caught fire at the onset of the final round, with both coming out of their respective corners swinging for the fences, before Frye dropped Shamrock with a right hand, to a big pop, from which KS was fast to recover, locking in half guard to prevent DF from swooping in to finish the fight. A reversal of position saw Shammy take mount, winding up with the combatants applying stereo ankle locks- with Ken having his applied more affirmatively, Frye released in order to concentrate on escaping, and it was in this position that time elapsed. The pioneers made their piece, Frye was awarded the split decision (that knockdown in the third likely swung it), and Shamrock took it on the chin.

PRIDE 20: Armed & Ready

PRIDE 20: Armed & Ready emanated from Yokohama on 28.04.2002. I imagine Quadros & Rutten had great fun filming the opening secret-agent’s meeting gambit, yet if anything like this was to appear on Monday Night Raw, I’d no doubt be condemning it to hell, so if you are using this show to give someone their MMA-initiation, you might want to fast forward past this bit, as it’s pretty embarrassing…

Bob Sapp’s MMA bow was a swift & uncultured affair, as he scored a first-round KO of comparative dwarf Yoshihisa Yamamoto when one of his numerous big, wild swings finally connected. Again, ’tis advisable to skip this one if you’re looking to convert a friend or relative to the sport: they may not take you entirely seriously in the future, otherwise.

One man that demands, with his mere presence, that you take him deathly seriously is Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, particularly when’s he’s on classic (as in, pre-finding religion) form of tearing his opponent the proverbial new one in an interview with Quadros (of which I’d wager 40% was bleeped out), before hitting the ring & kicking his arse. Masaaki Satake never really gave the Tennessee native any trouble, prior to scrambling into an upright position after being held in side control, only to have Jackson German Suplex him out of his boots for the instant stoppage- a true highlight-reel finish. As a contest, this is a non-event, but “Rampage” is awesome, as he always used to be.

Lil’ Nog, as in Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, then made his PRIDE debut, taking the best part of thirty seconds to guillotine & submit Yusuke Imamura. The more PRIDE you expose yourself to, the more you come to expect the marquee battles to be interspersed with one-man exhibition mismatches such as this.

As you’d expect, Dan Henderson & Ricardo Arona brought the top-shelf technical goods to the table in a riveting twenty-minute battle of wills. Round One was tremendous: both exchanged position in mount, respectively working constantly to pass guard/reverse, utilising intermittent strikes to supplement & further their station. Or, if you prefer, it was the sort of the stuff your average 2006 UFC crowd would boo out of the building, down the street & into a taxi. Bloody heathens- this is exactly the reason why I’m 50/50 on whether I’ll be going along when Dana & Co grace these shores in 2007, but I digress. The ten-minute mark arrived with Arona going all-out to pass guard, & the Team Quest man halting his progress with a front facelock, bringing the fight back to a standing position before taking advantage of an erratic kick from Arona to go to ground on top, and hit a succession of blows. The following rounds, whilst still entertaining, couldn’t really follow that: Arona’s skillful control from atop throughout the third was decisive in his split-decision triumph, although a significant attempt to finish with a Rear Naked Choke, from which Hendo clinically escaped to roll into mount, played it’s part, no doubt. A fight for the connoisseurs.

Likewise, the first big-stage battle between Chute Boxe & Brazilian Top Team, in the form of Murilo “Ninja” Rua & Mario Sperry, unfolded into a story of a spectacular first-round, fought at a pace & with a vigour they couldn’t hope to sustain past that point. Still, this just edged the forerunner as fight of the night. Proceedings open with both throwing bombs, and the younger “Ninja” dropping Sperry with a neat right hand. The fight went to ground, with both exchanging submissions & reversals, with the round conclusion seeing Rua escape a guillotine to drop the elder a second time. The highlight of a slower second round saw Rua attempt a Kimura from the bottom, only for Sperry to block, apply half guard & look for one of his own. As the second rest period arrived, Sperry was notably gassed- a difference in stamina levels that Bas Rutten had highlighted beforehand. Rua took the unanimous decision, as both camps inclined into a bit of a state…. emotionally, like. Fifty quid cash to the first person to go up to Minotauro & say “Ha, ha! I saw you cry on TV when your mate got beaten up!”

Ex-Battlarts mainstay Alexander Otsuka, on the evidence of his three-round semi-final mauling at the hands of Pancrase standout Sanae Kikuta, simply can’t resist reverting to his carny pro-wrestling roots…. good for him! In lieu of a synopsis, I’ll simply tell you that two of Otsuka’s three corner-men were wearing masks, AO managed, throughout the duration of the bout, to land more than one sly low-blow, and at the moment the final-round-closing bell signalled the end of his twenty-minute methodical bludgeoning, he leapt to his feet to parade around the ring & punch the air in “victory”…. obviously, one ne’er a judge would subsequently award him. A timeless definition of MMA this may not have been, but ripsnorting fun it was nonetheless, especially given the sight of Otsuka’s dismantled mush by the end.

At this time, Mirko Cro Cop was, by definition, still a K-1 fighter, not a fully-fledged martial artist: the main event of “Armed & Ready”, pitting “The Croatian Sensation” against Wanderlei Silva, is one which I’m still struggling to reconcile the motivation behind with the fact that it did come to pass. The result of Matt Hughes-Royce Gracie may never have been in any serious doubt, but at least it wasn’t hard to comprehend what the UFC were hoping to achieve by putting that fight together, and at the time they did. In this instance: one fighter is a superstar from another organisation, an upstart in PRIDE/MMA, and potential (that he would go on to fulfil) big draw for Dream Stage; the other, an established fighter and undefeated champion in a weight class his opponent was- let’s face it- never going to drop down into, and rules were customised to encapsulate 5×5 minute rounds, with no judge’s decision in the event of the fight going the distance. A marquee match-up it was, fair enough, but beyond that…. huh??

Anyroadup… had the scorecards been utilised, Wandy would’ve walked away with this bad boy, controlling the overall pace expertly, and carefully selecting his moments of outright aggression in contrast with his workaday fight approach, which effectively beseeched Cro Cop into fighting on edge, staying vigilant of any potential takedown attempt at all times. Cro Cop’s striking throughout, in particular a number of heavy kicks to the torso, scored big, and the extent of the damage inflicted was visible, yet from the third round onwards, it felt inevitable that the fight would go the distance & a draw would result. As such, this fight is a curiosity more than anything- a starting point in charting the rise of (an almost naive, at this juncture) Mirko Cro Cop into the fully-fledged beast that will, fingers crossed, be getting a second crack at Fedor Emilianenko on New Year’s Eve. The second meeting between Cro Cop & Silva is another story for another time…..

Overall: Make it your business to (at least) see PRIDE 19 which, along with UFC 49 & Bushido: The Tournament, ranks as one of the finest top-to-bottom MMA cards anywhere to date. Newton-Pele is pretty much essential viewing, and indeed, the only thing that the event has going against it (on a personal note) is that UFC 40 & PRIDE 31 give you more bang for your anti-Shamrock buck. “Armed & Ready” is a solid event at worst, although it does drag the combined rating of this package down a notch, given that once the show gets past halfway (Nogueira-Imamura) , there’s not a decisive finish to be found.

Points: 8.5 / 10

Stew Boyd