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  • Pride.2

    March 15th, 1998
    Yokohama Arena(Yokohama, Japan)

    Here we go with Pride 2, which at the time was officially called "KRS Pride Two". KRS was "Kakutougi Revolutionary Spirits", the parent company that financed the first Pride event in the Tokyo Dome. Some of the key figures in KRS were Hiromichi Momose and a somewhat mysterious character named "Ishizaka"(Kim Dok Soo), also Nobuyuki Sakakibara was involved with KRS in some capacity. All three men were neck deep in the Yakuza, with Momose having connections with Takada and UWFI in their dying days in 1996 and being one of the main guys that put the first Pride events together. KRS was successful in promoting Pride 1 with over 45,000 in the Tokyo Dome and decent enough business on Japanese PPV that they decided to keep promoting these events. The big thing they were trying to work their way towards for later 1998 was a Rickson Gracie vs Nobuhiko Takada revenge match at the Tokyo Dome, which I believe had already been announced for October 98 before this show even took place.

    One of the major things about this show is the Pride debut of Kazushi Sakuraba. Sakuraba was one of the undercard pro wrestlers in UWFI(and later Kingdom Pro Wrestling with all of the UWFI cast offs after UWFI went out of business in December 96), a student at the Takada Dojo where he trained under Billy Robinson along with names like Kiyoshi Tamura, Hiromitsu Kanehara, Yoji Anjo, Kazuo Yamazaki among others. Sakuraba made a splash in the MMA when he was a late minute fill in for the 4 man heavyweight tournament at the UFC Ultimate Japan show in December 1997. They threw Sakuraba into a fight against the 250 pound Gracie Jujitsu black belt "Connan" Silveira. The referee Big John McCarthy was instructed by Japanese UFC promoters and matchmakers to try to protect Sakuraba from taking too much damage since he was just a small 190 pound pro wrestler. So in the fight as Connan went after Sakuraba with punches, Big John prematurely stopped the fight as Sakuraba dropped levels to shoot for a takedown. This caused a huge scene where Sakuraba tried to take the microphone from Bruce Buffer to protest the stoppage. They ended up working it out backstage for an immediate rematch later on that same night, in the finals of the 4 man tournament after the winner of the other match(Tank Abbott) backed out of the finals with a broke hand. So they set Sakuraba up against Connan again later that night and Sakuraba tapped him out and almost broke his arm in under 4 minutes. After the event at the press conference Sakuraba said his famous quote, "In fact, pro wrestling is quite strong" in response to the news headlines "Pro Wrestling Is Weak" in Japan in the wake of Takada's loss to Rickson Gracie two months prior at Pride 1.

    ^Sakuraba in action in UWFI wrestling Bad News Allen on the undercard of the Takada vs Vader event in December 1993

    ^Pretty sweet video chronicling Sakuraba's break out night at UFC Ultimate Japan 97 in December that year. They used Sakuraba and Yoji Anjo in that tournament because they were cheap local fillers from the Kingdom Pro Wrestling shoot wrestling promotion. Connan Silveira was a guy they had high hopes for in the fledgling heavyweight division, he outweighed Sakuraba by roughly 50 pounds and was a black belt in Jujitsu under Carlson Gracie. Sakuraba proved that night that real pro wrestling, the style that was passed on to him by Karl Gotch and Billy Robinson, was indeed a legitimate martial art that should be respected. It was such a huge huge victory for pro wrestling after Takada was embarrassed by Rickson Gracie a few months prior at Pride.1.

    The big story about this show was that it was supposed to be Royce Gracie vs Mark Kerr but Royce backed out of the fight at the last minute. They replaced Royce with Branko Cikitic, a Croatian kickboxer that was somewhat of a star for K-1(won the first ever K-1 Grand Prix in 1993). Kerr himself was a true monster for the time, coming off of dominant wins in the UFC 14 and UFC 15 heavyweight tournaments where he just looked absolutely invincible. Pride signing Mark Kerr for $90,000 to come fight at Pride 2. This got Kerr into some hot water with the UFC. UFC sued Mark Kerr for taking the fight but they settled out of court, the end result was that Kerr was never brought back to the UFC. So with the first Pride show they stole Dan Severn and Gary Goodridge from the UFC 15 pay per view(which took place 6 days after Pride 1), and here now with Pride 2 they have taken what was sure to be the UFC's biggest heavyweight attraction they probably ever could have had(at least up to that point). Not to mention Sakuraba, who made his name at the UFC tournament in December 97 and could have been a major factor in the UFC's (failed)attempt to break into Japan.

    According to the Observer the announced attendance for this show was 11,860 but it was an inflated number, the real attendance was closer to around 5,600 with the paid attendance being around 3,000. The rules of this event vary from fight to fight. Some fights have no rounds, some fights have 10 minute rounds, some fights are fought under kickboxing rules. I believe that none of these fights had any type of time limit so the fights with rounds were set with an infinite amount of rounds, which results in some pretty long and boring fights and one hell of a sleepy show. There are no big introductions or fighter intros for these shows yet, we just open up with the fighters in the ring for the opening fight.

    Royler Gracie vs Naoki Sano

    Royler Gracie is the younger brother of Rickson and Royce Gracie. He's only fought 2 other MMA fights up to this point but he's won a few Brazilian Jujitsu World Championships. Naoki Sano is a pro wrestler from New Japan and SWS, he wrestled some critically acclaimed matches against Jushin Liger, including the WON Match of the Year for 1990. He also wrestled a fucking excellent shoot style pro wrestling match against Wayne Shamrock in Pro Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi in 1991, probably one of the best shoot style wrestling matches I've ever seen. Sano eventually jumped to Takada's UWFI and trained at the Takada Dojo, I believe he was a part of the UWFI contingency that invaded New Japan during that co-promotion angle in 1995.

    Sano outweighs Royler by roughly 50 pounds here. Takada is in Sano's corner and Rickson is in Royler's corner, and they constantly show their faces on camera throughout the fight to build up their rivalry. I get a kick out of Stephen Quadros(commentator) calling Takada the Hulk Hogan of Japan. There is no time limit or rounds for this. This fight is a long slow grind that a normal person would probably find to be super boring. I've always kind of had a thing for these no time limit Gracie fights through because of the strategy at work, this fight is a great example of it. Royler uses some pretty beautiful open/butterfly guard work throughout this fight, including a nice butterfly sweep early on. Royler takes the full mount pretty quick but Sano is able to overpower him to turn him over. Nothing really happens for like 20 minutes of this fight, Sano's strategy here is pretty bizarre as he NEVER throws a single strike and he never tries to go for any submissions. I'm not sure but I'm assuming there was a deal made to make up for the 50 pound weight difference, I don't think Sano was allowed to throw any strikes. Sano's whole gameplan here looks to be just to survive.

    The crowd chants for Sano early on but as the action stalls out they go completely silent. Royler never throws any strikes until the final minutes, he pretty much just smothers Sano with a constant grappling attack for the early parts, just wearing him down by constantly working to advance his position. What makes up for the lack of action in this fight is the commentary by Quadros and Rutten. To me they are the best commentary duo in the history of MMA, they are so informative and educative, they don't really try to hype or sell anything it's more like two friends relaxing and watching fights together, but they are just absolutely loaded with knowledge about combat sports and pretty funny too. Royler's strategy here is to just wear Sano out with grappling, taking the full mount and grinding his forearm into Sano's throat. This fight goes over 30 minutes with very little happening until the final minutes. Royler opens up and destroys Sano with strikes and upkicks fro the bottom, bloodying his nose. Royler turns up the offense slowly and gradually through the fight, finally after 33 minutes Sano is completely exhausted and bloodied, Royler overpowers the bigger man to take the full mount and snatch his arm for an armbar submission at 33:14.

    Akira Shoji vs Juan Mott

    Shoji is coming off of a pretty good performance against Renzo Gracie in a draw at Pride 1. Juan Mott is a Brazilian that I don't know much about. These guys circle around each other throwing low kicks for a while before Shoji uses a jab to close the distance and clinch up to take the fight to the ground with a leg trip. Shoji lands in the full mount. Mott tries to make a move but Shoji keeps his position and takes his back, sinking in the rear choke for the tapout at 3:47.

    Kickboxing Bout:
    William Van Roosmalen vs Ralph White

    This is a standard kickboxing rules match but they are wearing the Bruce Lee Enter The Dragon gloves with open fingers. The fight is split up into 3 minute rounds. Roosmalen is a dutch kickboxer with a flabby physique. Some pretty decent striking technique from both guys in this fight, nice low kicks, clean punches and some good clinch work. Nothing really special about the early rounds as both guys fight somewhat conservatively. Roosmalen starts to really chop White's legs with low kicks in the 3rd round. The finish comes when Roosmalen nails White with a knee to the chest in the clinch. White drops for the full 10 count, Roosmalen wins by KO in round 4. Not a bad kickboxing match at all.

    Kazushi Sakuraba vs Vernon White

    Here we have a UWFI vs Pancrase matchup as Sakuraba is a vet from UWFI and Vernon White was a regular guy in Pancrase who has fought Suzuki and Funaki multiple times(beat Suzuki by decision in 1996). White is from Ken Shamrock's Lions Den. Something interesting that was going on during late 97 as the UFC was actually trying to make a deal with WWF to allow Ken Shamrock to fight Nobuhiko Takada at the UFC Ultimate Japan '97 event that December(similar to what happened with Brock Lesnar for UFC 200 last Summer). They were in serious talks to make it happen but I believe Vince Mcmahon backed out of it and called it off. So with this fight you have UWFI vs Pancrase but also Takada Dojo vs Lions Den. This is only Sakuraba's 3rd MMA fight while it's Vernon White's 31st fight(though he had a losing record of 11-20, he was pretty much a jobber in in the early days of Pancrase).

    This is a really really good fight. Vernon White comes out and lands a big punch early but Sakuraba kind of rolls with it and immediately drops down to take a single leg takedown. Some pretty good scrambles on the ground here in this first round, Sakuraba goes for a lot of double wrist locks and almost catches a straight armbar later on but Vernon White gets out of it. This feels like a worked match, similar to a worked Pancrase or PWFG match where it's not necessarily choreographed or anything, it's a stiff intensity to where they are really going for the submissions but there isn't this sense that they are trying to kill each other like what you get in a real fight, it feels like what goes down in a dojo training sparring session. Some of the strikes Vernon lands are stiff but no more stiff than some of the shots you would see in shoot wrestling matches in PWFG/Rings/UWFI matches from the early 90's. One particular spot comes near the end of the first round where Vernon takes Sakuraba's back, he's wide open to just destroy him with strikes but it's like he hesitates and throws a pulled punch before giving up the position and standing up.

    The fight is split up into 10 minute rounds. The second round Vernon comes out with some pretty stiff doubled up jabs that pop Sakuraba in the face. They take it to the ground pretty quick. Both guys land some pretty light ground and pound strikes. Pretty good spot there where Vernon takes Sakuraba's back standing and Sakuraba catches his arm with a reverse double wrist lock, with a roll that spins Vernon to the mat. They tie up in a weird position with their legs tangled up as Sakuraba has the double wrist lock on the ground. In the third round they both come out trading kicks to the legs and body. Sakuraba takes Vernon down and mounts him. They go back and forth with some good escapes and counters until Sakuraba catches Vernon's arm and cranks it with the cross armbreaker.

    I really think this fight was a worked shoot style wrestling match, the way they hit each other with the strikes. I'm not going to rule out the possibility that this was a legit shoot but from what I've seen, this really felt like a PWFG or UWFI match, with just enough stiff strikes to make it look legit. There were multiple times where they could have taken each other out where they didn't, even the finish Sakuraba could have probably broken Vernon's arm but he kind of held back with it. I don't know but I'm leaning towards a work here, a very good one, probably 3 & 3/4 Stars. Some damn good technique here from both guys even if it was a work, some legit scientific mat wrestling on display.

    Renzo Gracie vs Sinae Kikuta

    Kikuta trained at one of Satoru Sayama's gyms when he was in the 6th grade, he was a really good Judoka, he also trained in the NJPW dojo and at times trained with the UWFI and Rings gyms. Years later after this fight Kikuta would have a lot of success in Pancrase and the ADCC grappling competition, he was also the founder of the Grabaka gym in Tokyo which produced a lot of talented MMA/grappling fighters. As far as Kikuta's fights in Pride go he is absolutely one of the most boring fighters of all time. This fight is set up with unlimited 10 minute rounds, going into the 6th round with 50:43 minutes of fighting with very little action at all. Most of this fight Kikuta spends laying in Renzo's guard just holding him. The commentators bring up some interesting points during this fight about the aura that the Gracie family had at this time, there was a certain fear of the unknown when it came to the Gracie's. A lot of fighters were just scared to do anything in their fights against them, it was considered a victory just to survive.

    The first two rounds of this fight are not that bad. There is some decent action as they fight in the clinch, Renzo even lands a pretty nice left jab early in the 2nd round. Very little happens in round 3 or 4 other than the scrambles in the clinch at the beginning of the rounds. Once they take it to the mats Kikuta just lays on Renzo trying not to get swept or submitted. Early in the 5th round Renzo catches Kikuta in a standing guillotine and lands some great knees right on the nose. Once Renzo tries to drop down and sink in the choke Kikuta slips his head out and we are right back to the stalemate in the guard. Renzo lands light punches from his back to try to get Kikuta to do something but he won't budge. The finish comes early in the 6th round as Kikuta scrambles to take it back down, Renzo sinks in a guillotine with the arm in, forcing the submission for the win. Bas and Quadros are thanking god that it's finally over. Gracie Jujitsu wins again.

    Kickboxing Bout:
    Tasis Petridis vs George Randolph

    Another Enter The Dragon gloves kickboxing bout. Randolph is a big 6' 6" guy that towers over Randolph, but Randoph is the much better striker. So you got like a David vs Goliath. I don't know anything about either of these guys but Quadros talks about some of Petridis' opponents, Rob Kamen, Manson Gibson. Petridis is also Australian according to Quadros on commentary. This is actually a good match as Randoph just constantly advances forward trying to use his size advantage. Petridis lands some really good combos to set up his kicks. The longer the fight goes the more and more Petridis picks Randoph apart, landing a huge right hand and an uppercut to the body early in the 4th round that hurts him. The big man just won't go down though, he ends up grinding this out to go the full 5 rounds. Tasis wins a decision. Pretty fun fight.

    Gary Goodridge vs Marco Ruas

    One of the main things that drew me to Pride was how they would put together these types of fights that should have happened in the UFC. This was something they would later do with Rings and Shooto fighters in the early 2000's. Another UFC dream match put together here by Pride as UFC 7 tournament champion takes on UFC 8 finalist, "Big Daddy" Gary Goodridge, who after losing his last couple of UFC fights kind of started a career resurgence in 1997, winning the IVC 1 tournament in Brazil followed by the brutal knockout of UFC 6 champ Oleg Taktarov at Pride 1. Now Goodridge gets his chance to knockout another UFC tournament champ. Marco Ruas has his young protege Pedro Rizzo in his corner for this one. This is a damn good fight. A great camera shot happens early in the fight as Goodridge backs Ruas into the corner of the ring and just unloads with a furious flurry of punches, just the way the camera angle catches it, the positioning in the ring, you don't get these kind of shots/moments in the UFC cage fights. Ruas survives and flips Goodridge to the ground after a clinch. Goodridge takes the top side mount position. We get a little color with a cut in the corner of Ruas' eye from Goodridge's flurry of strikes earlier.

    Goodridge manages to posture up in the half guard and drop some ridiculously heavy punches, even without any real leverage Goodridge drops such heavy bombs just with pure arm strength. Ruas survives and works his way to the full guard but Goodridge starts cranking on his neck. Ruas pushes out of the neck crank and works some really good wrist and bicep control to nullify any type of offense. You can see Goodridge's gas tank start to run out here as Ruas is working some really good Jujitsu from his back, constantly trapping the wrists and making him work. The end of this fight works out like a pro wrestling match as they take it back to the standing position, Gary goes after Ruas with murderous punches in the corner. Ruas evades Goodridge's strikes and causes him to slip. Goodridge scrambles back up and sells the knees. Ruas ties up with him and gets flung to the mats but Ruas goes right after his hurt knee and wins it with a heel hook to force the tap at 9 minutes. The battle for the heel hook was a pretty sweet looking spot. Great fight.

    Mark Kerr vs Branko Cikitic

    Mark Kerr if you've never seen him is quite a specimen, he's about 255 pounds with like maybe 2% bodyfat, a NCAA Division 1 Champion at Syracuse, he's coming off of 2 UFC tournament wins going into this fight, he's pretty much the Brock Lesnar of 1997 MMA except he was undefeated. Kerr was on track to becoming the biggest star in the UFC until Pride stole him away for this fight, which more or less ended Kerr's UFC career after a lawsuit. This is a pretty pure grappler vs striker match here as Branko is a K-1 kickboxer. Kerr has Bas Rutten in his corner for this, he also looks a lot more slimmed down compared to his previous fights before this one. Something that gives away the commentary being recorded after the fact is that Bas is shown on camera cornering Kerr while also talking on commentary at the same time.

    This fight turns out to be a huge debacle as Kerr shoots in with such a beautiful double leg takedown only for Branko to cling to the ropes with a death grip while dropping downward elbows into the back of Kerr's head. Holding the ropes is illegal in Pride so the referees stop the fight and restart it standing. They restart the fight and the same thing happens, only this time Kerr goes crazy berserk mode and starts wailing away at Branko while the referees are trying to pull them apart. The fight gets called off and Branko gets disqualified for holding the ropes. The crowd is furious about it. Kerr cuts a promo saying that he's sorry and he wanted to make a good first impression for his Japan debut.

    So that's Pride 2. The kickboxing bouts were ok, Sakuraba vs Vernon White and Ruas vs Goodridge were both really good but for the most part this was one long sleepy ass show that will knock you right out on the couch on a lazy afternoon. You can start to see with this show how KRS was losing money, paying Kerr $90,000 for a fight that turned out to be a disaster and sent the crowd home pissed off. I don't think I would recommend this whole show to somebody that is curious about Pride but I still kind of liked it, some good fights and even the boring fights were interesting to watch just for Quadros and Rutten's commentary. Sakuraba's ascension begins here and he gradually becomes Pride's biggest star. Pride also stole the top heavyweight in the world away from the UFC in Mark Kerr so things were starting to come together.