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Length: 8 hrs 56 mins
With the Zuffa purchase throwing everything into a state of confusion and disarray, what with the likes of Shogun and Big Nog making quick tracks to OctagonLand, 2007 has deprived us of one of the traditional highlights of the annum in the form of the PRIDE GP. With grand significances such as the aforementioned brother Rua officially arriving in 2005, the pick ’em semi-final ensemble of Wanderlei, Rampage, Chuck and Overeem a year prior, and the like possibly a thing of the past, now is as good a time as any to relive the prototype event…. the 2000 Openweight Grand Prix, held across two separate events in the land of the rising sun.
- Royce Gracie vs. Nobuhiko Takada
- Mark Kerr vs. Enson Inoue
- Igor Vovchanchyn vs. Alexander Otsuka
- Mark Coleman vs. Masaaki Satake
- Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Guy Mezger
- Kazuyuki Fujita vs. Hans Nijman
- Akira Shoji vs. Ebenezer Fontes Braga
- Osamu Tachihikari vs. Gary Goodridge
- Wanderlei Silva vs. Bob Schrijber
The set also includes 4 quarter final matches, 2 semi final matches and the final match.
- Ken Shamrock vs. Alexander Otsuka
- Guy Mezger vs. Masaaki Satake
The cast, for what was at the time the most monumental MMA tournament of it’s kind ever to occur, was a veritable mix of bona fide legends, complete no-names, and many a stop in between. With this grandeur in mind, the opening round is positively under whelming, although factoring in the timeframe does make it significantly less so. The ridiculous mis-match would go on to become a trademark of PRIDE across the years- mix this in with a smattering of truly vapid almost-stalemates comprising the more competitive outings, and the initial sixteen (plus two) feels less like the knockout stages of the Champions League as it does the first round of the League Cup.
In the “Reserves” (sic) match (spotting graphical spelling and grammatical errors via way of translation makes for a lively drinking game as you work your way through the first of these three discs), Wanderlei Silva blasted through Dutch journeyman Bob Schrieber in less time than takes to read this very review to this point, setting the tone for a sizeable portion of the 30/01/2001 first leg at the Tokyo Dome. One thing that caught my eye was the lack of the ubiquitous Chute Boxe cornerman- who claps vigorously throughout the introductions-accompanying “The Axe Murderer”, with a totally out of place looking balding bloke in a cardigan stood there instead. But I digress. Mark Coleman and Gary Goodridge would go on to vanquish their respective opponents, Masaaki Satake and Osamu Tachihikari, with likewise ease. For comedic interlude, (undefeated until this point) Hans Nijman got a very early flurry of offence in on Kazuyuki Fujita, got ridiculously over-exuberant as a result, and was swiftly caught in a neck crank and forced to tap out.
By contrast, Akira Shoji and Ebenezer Fontes Braga bookended a soul-crushing fifteen minutes of lay ‘n pray with two decent, all too brief standing exchanges before the former advanced via unanimous decision. Mark Kerr and Enson Inoue weren’t feeling so generous: Kerr was able to take affairs to the mat almost immediately, and proceeded to lay atop the superannuated Brazilian, compelled to do a whole lot of not-a-lot en route to the judges’ nod. Yet the true stinker of the round saw the one and only Royce Gracie cruise to a fifteen minute decision over one time Puroresu pioneer Nobuhiko Takada: stationed in his preferred position on the bottom throughout, Gracie made the eventual verdict a no-brainer, by simple virtue of moving his limbs occasionally; Takada could easily have thrown a mannequin atop the BJJ-pilgrim, and only the eagle-eyed would’ve noticed.
Two fights do manage to invoke more than a fleeting interest…. enter our fruity old mucker Alexander Otsuka! Fresh off a pro-wrestling match earlier in the day and with none other than The Great Sasuke stationed in his corner, the loveable loon commendably managed to last the full fifteen minutes with Igor Vovchanchyn, even though he was figuratively dismantled throughout the duration. In the highlight of the disc, Lion’s Den prodigy Guy Mezger tussled with Kazushi Sakuraba, who was already on the way to becoming “The Gracie Hunter”, coming as he was off a victory over Royler Gracie at PRIDE 8. An itch-ingly close, tactical fifteen minute battle came to pass, with Mezger looking as sharp as I’ve ever seen him, and a decision that literally could’ve gone either way ending in a draw, which under the rules of the GP would’ve meant a period of overtime….. if it hadn’t been time for…. (drumroll)…. The Ken Shamrock Show! Old Shammy had made an appearance earlier on the card, emerging to his WWF theme and announcing his impending PRIDE debut in tickling WWF promo-esque style, hence he’d stuck around as morale support for his trainee Mezger. When the tie-decision was announced, Ken went truly bananas, getting in the face of the referee, Sakuraba, and anyone else who’d listen, presumably calling hometown shenanigans working against his guy. Yeah, I’m as shocked as you… Ken Shamrock in “I’m not happy” stunner! The upshot of all this joviality was that the Lion’s Den head honcho ordered his man from the ring, with Mezger duly trudging to the back and the officials deciding “Well, if that’s the way you want it….” and awarding the fight to Sakuraba via forefeit. Saku would immediately go on to carve himself a fabled MMA legacy in the latter rounds, while Mezger…um…
The quarter finals, presented alongside the final stages on 01.05.2000, had much more to offer. Indeed, as the first PRIDE event to air in the US, the quality in editing and production takes a noticeable leap (and the looooong analysis sequences with the trio of Steven Quadros, Bas Rutten and Maurice Smith on the version I saw previously have mercifully been left on the cutting room floor).
The fights are actually out of chronological sequence on this disc, resulting in a faux-pas in the form of a spoiler, as the commentary specifies that the winner of the “first” quarter will go on to face Igor Vovchanchyn in the semis. Said quarter final is
notorious, and of the multiple versions I’ve seen, the one included here is the definitive best… it’s complete. I refer, of course, to Royce Gracie vs Kazushi Sakuraba. With special rules requested by the Brazilian camp in the wake of Saku’s defeat of Royler, there is no time limit, no referee intervention… basically, it’s a Vale Tudo contest of fifteen minute rounds, and it goes a staggering ninety minutes in total.
Whilst by no means the most bombastic or aesthetically pleasing scrap you’ll see even this month, it’s essential viewing based on historical significance alone- what Citizen Kane is to the motion picture aficionado, this fight is to students of MMA. Sure, there’s tussling, holding, and long periods of tentative feeling-out, but beneath the veneer lies a stunning tale of endurance-in-craftsmanship. The mental game began in earnest during the introductions, as three masked men of similar stature stood in the native corner, dressed to fight, with the real Kazushi Sakuraba unmasking & stepping forward mere seconds before battle commenced (how unnerving must that be, knowing the man you’re about to fight is studiously watching you, while you’re not even certain where he is?), and the first spell ended on tenterhooks with Royce trapped in a kneebar. Sakuraba utilises Gracie’s ubiquitous gi to his own advantage throughout, as a tool to control on the ground, and to frustrate in the clinch, as he pulls & tugs in an almost-frenzy “undressing” manner in an attempt to raise the veteran’s ire. It’s a good hour before the fireworks properly kick in, as the yarn unfolds: Saku’s persistent working of inside and outside leg kicks began to bare fruit, as Gracie became hindered to the point where he lacked sufficient mobility to quickly close in to take the fight to his domain. This all builds to an epic and exciting crescendo in the sixth round, as Gracie stands almost forlorn- unable to attack- equipped only to stave off around half his opponent’s striking attacks to the face, with frequent cut-shots to his corner showing elderly Gracie patriarch Helio looking increasingly concerned. The rest period arrived, the corners conversed for a good few minutes before Rorion Gracie threw in the towel, the audience exploded, and the ring degenerated into a bit of an enveloping emotional wreck. In truth, as many folks will see this fight as a snoozefest as will find it compelling, but either way, it MUST be seen.
The remainder of the card feels like light viewing by comparison: “Ice Cold” Igor dispatched Gary Goodridge in an entertaining stand-up tussle, which boasts a tasty finish in the form of a counter right-roundhouse to what the late Gorilla Monsoon would call the external occipital protuberance, causing “Big Daddy” to almost Flair-flop, prompting the ref’s intervention.
Mark Coleman thoroughly dominated the significantly smaller Akira Shoji for fifteen minutes, inflicting significant- and harshly visible, in a fetching form of onyx-tinged purple- damage to the ribs by way of continual mid-section punches from the guard. The studious Tokyo crowd enabled the boom-mic to pick up Coleman making an early outburst after the fight was paused for an inadvertent low-blow; one of those little escapist bonus features. In the one true upset of the tourney, Kazayuki Fujita toppled an unusually out-of-his-element Mark Kerr in a clear decision: “The Smashing Machine” looked to be in typical form in the early stages, bossing the standup as expected. ‘Twas in the grappling portion where momentum swung towards Fujita- with Kerr scrapping to return the fight to his stratosphere, the American was cut-off and trapped in the turtle position for a very lengthy period, from whence the Japanese put the verdict in no doubt, raining continual knees to the body and hammerfists to the head, with Kerr powerless except to cover up and weather the storm. The most dramatic of the non-Sakuraba tournament fights also constituted what remains unquestionably the biggest win of the former IWGP Champion’s career.
The intrepid tale of Sakuraba’s Grand Prix climaxed in the semis, as the inconceivably energised hero came agonisingly close to submitting Vovchanchyn, desperately clutching at the left arm of the Soviet and managing to summon the energy to apply a fully-extended armbar for all but the crucial few seconds. The meticulous, workmanlike “Ice Cold” took control of the pace, physically smothering Saku for the second half of the initial period, with the clock running down and the judges (fairly) rendering a draw decision, spelling overtime…. with point proven and moral victory apex attained, the valiant Sakuraba’s corner threw in the towel, ensuring that regardless of how the remainder of the evening would pan out, there would be no doubt over who the star of the show was. Meanwhile Fujita, left knee heavily strapped, was prepared to gut it out against Mark Coleman, but wincing in pain when shooting out of the blocks, his corner anticipated the consequences and immediately (sensibly) called it.
The final disc is supplemented (depending on your viewpoint) by two non-tournament matches: Guy Mezger decisioned Masaaki Sakate in an interminable bore. Skip this chapter, I compel you. Before the main event, the calculable chickens come home to roost: Ken Shamrock KO’d Alexander Otsuka in just shy of ten minutes with a neat combo to the jaw, in a fight highlighted by jest: the house lights momentarily went out in the first minute, and Otsuka later mocked running the ropes. Yet the battle is prefaced by footage from a face to face meeting between the two at a King Of The Cage event, with Shammy on the mic, bleating like a mule about being “disrespected” by Otsuka, and just generally behaving in a manner that would fast become typical. Nonetheless, this heavily-favoured victory would actually go on to constitute the high-point (but not highlight, oh no, no, no!) of the Ken Shamrock comeback tour, so all can’t be that bad.
The final, like much that prefaced it, was deliberate and unspectacular. Coleman spent the bulk duration of both rounds controlling motion from the guard, with opportunities for both men few and far between. Vovchanchyn seemed intent to let the understandably more florid Coleman wear himself out searching for openings, but this strategy caught up with him, as “The Hammer” took the tournament spoils in style, landing a succession of brutal knee strikes to the head from a reverse full-mount position, and celebrating in jocular manic fashion, bringing a gangly haul to it’s conclusion.
The vacillating nature of a number of the tournament bouts made parts of this set something of a chore to sit through- added to the sombre-toned commentary throughout/visual presentation (a combination which gave the whole coverage a distinct “Eurosport” feel), and there’s absolutely no way you should attempt to watch this set in one sitting- this coming from he who watched Wrestlemania IV in it’s entirety several times in his early teens. To do so would be akin to subjecting oneself to Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy, back to back. However, there’s really no excuse for not watching Sakuraba vs Gracie at least once in your lifetime, and there’s enough fair-to-good stuff besides to keep the score away from the doldrums. If it’s a collection of stimulating individual fights you’re after, though, there are plenty of other later PRIDE tournaments that more closely fit the bill.
Points: 6 / 10