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Pride: Critical Countdown 2005 review
by Scott Newman (MMA)
Posted on June 18, 2007, 9:44 AM

Pride: Critical Countdown 2005

06/26/05
Saitama, Japan


-Your hosts are Mauro Renallo and Bas Rutten. A video package airs to run down the line-up for the Middleweight Grand Prix Quarter-Finals, with Shogun vs. Nogueira, Overeem vs. Vovchanchyn, Arona vs. Sakuraba and Silva vs. Nakamura being our match-ups. Renallo and Rutten then talk about the additional matches, including Rizzo vs. Kharitonov and Cro Cop vs. Magomedov.

-Into the arena for the fighter introduction, where nothing of note happens.

Sergei Kharitonov vs Pedro Rizzo

Rizzo was coming off quite a long layoff here, almost two years since he’d last fought against Ricco Rodriguez in UFC. Kharitonov, on the other side of the coin, was still riding the wave of momentum he’d created for himself following a strong run in the 2004 Heavyweight GP.

They begin, and Sergei takes a low kick right away, but then counters and tags Rizzo with punches, stunning him early. Rizzo throws out another kick, but Kharitonov catches it and then drops the Brazilian with a right hand! He tries to pass the guard, but Rizzo switches and goes for a single leg, so Sergei lands some knees to the head and they come back to standing. Kharitonov continues to tag him with punches, working a stiff left jab to snap Rizzo’s head back a few times as Rizzo tries to counter with little success. More combinations wobble him, and finally a BIG KNEE and a follow-up soccer kick put Rizzo down, and a big right hand on the ground finishes.

Damn. Real one-sided beating as Rizzo had literally no offense, and pretty much everything Kharitonov threw was hurting him badly. Rizzo just seemed way off the pace here and I think his long layoff did more harm than good. Nice showing for Kharitonov, but in reality, this wasn’t the Pedro Rizzo of the late 90’s.

Middleweight Grand Prix: Quarter-Finals: Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua

These two had probably the most impressive performances of the GP’s first round, taking out Quinton Jackson and Dan Henderson respectively. Really interesting match too as it’s the old Chute Boxe vs. Brazilian Top Team rivalry, which I believe at this point Chute Boxe were leading 2-1 in terms of matches in Pride.

They exchange to a clinch early, where Shogun gets a quick takedown to half-guard. Nogueira reverses to his feet, where he takes a couple of right hands, and they exchange to the clinch where Shogun gets another takedown. Shogun works from the top with some punches and elbows to the body, before standing to attempt a stomp. Nogueira blocks it though, so Shogun goes back into the guard and carries on where he left off. They come back to their feet, and Shogun comes forward swinging, but Nogueira counters with a beautiful right that puts Shogun DOWN! Shogun somehow bounces right back up, and they trade off with Nogueira getting the better of it, but Shogun gets a clinch and manages to take him down again. Nogueira goes for a kimura; and then transitions to an armbar, but Shogun manages to step over to avoid and pulls out, standing back up. Ref calls Nog back up, and they exchange punches with both men landing, before Nogueira tries a trip takedown. Shogun gets a nice reversal though and ends up on top, before he stands and lands a DIVING PUNCH into the guard! Some more good punches land, including another pair of diving shots, but when he decides to bring it back to standing, Nogueira counters his wild punches and rocks him with another combination.

Nogueira gets a takedown to side mount, but Shogun turtles up, and takes a couple of knees to the head before avoiding an attempted anaconda choke to end up in top position. Shogun stands up and lands a kick to the body, but then the ref calls time to fix some problem with Shogun’s glove. They restart, and exchange punches again, with Nogueira again getting the better of it; his crisper shots landing much cleaner than Shogun’s wilder swings. Nogueira even grabs a plum clinch and lands a heavy knee, but Shogun manages to get hold of him for a throw down to guard. He lands some punches, including another diving one, and avoids a triangle attempt to pass into side mount and land a couple of hard knees. Shogun stands, and a glancing stomp ends the round.

Awesome opening round.

Shogun opens the second round with a one-two into the clinch, where he reverses an attempted trip and ends up on top in side mount. Nogueira moves to half-guard, so Shogun stands and lands another diving punch into the guard, before they come back up and both men land in an exchange of punches into the clinch. Shogun gets another takedown to half-guard from there, but avoids an armbar and decides to stand back up. Nogueira blocks a stomp, so the ref calls him back to his feet, and we get another exchange before Shogun gets another takedown. Nogueira goes for the kimura-armbar transition once more, but again Shogun avoids and gets to his feet, before landing another diving punch into the guard. Man, that move really looks good. Nogueira tries a triangle, but Shogun avoids and uses the attempt to pass to side mount, where he looks to take the back, and ends up almost mounting instead, but Nogueira bucks him off, so he stands and lands the diving punch again, and the round ends with Shogun in Nogueira’s guard.

Third and final round, and both guys are looking pretty tired at this point; rightfully so. They exchange into a clinch to open the round, and this time Nogueira pulls guard, but Shogun avoids a sweep attempt and gets back to his feet. Diving punch connects glancingly, and he avoids a triangle attempt and brings the action back to their feet. They exchange punches and once again Nogueira gets the better of things, but this time Shogun lands a left hook and PUTS NOGUEIRA DOWN! Nogueira manages to avoid a stomp though, so Shogun goes down into the guard momentarily before standing and dropping a stuff shot into the guard. Nogueira manages to kick him away, but Shogun drops right back into the guard where he avoids a kimura. They come back up, and exchange again before Shogun gets yet another takedown. Nogueira catches him with a good upkick, but takes a stomp and a hammer fist for his troubles, before the official brings him back up. They exchange shots again, but this time Shogun looks too exhausted to complete his takedown attempt, and Nogueira ends up on top, where he gets a waistlock. Shogun catches an attempted soccer kick though, and gets a single leg to Nogueira’s guard, where they exchange, both men looking absolutely drained, as the fight ends.

Announcers refuse to pick a winner, but the judges have it unanimously for Shogun, and boy, that’s definitely a fight that could’ve gone either way.

Hell of a fight there; Fight of the Year-level stuff from start to finish. Really surprising too to see Nogueira get the better of the standing exchanges, while Shogun looked better on the ground, but in the case of the former I definitely think that shows the limitations of the wild Chute Boxe striking style. When I first saw this I was leaning towards Nogueira winning due to him doing more damage standing, but I think the right decision was made in reality, as Shogun survived the standing exchange and pretty much controlled the pace and more importantly, the positioning of the fight by being able to take Nogueira down at will. Very interesting fight to see some of Shogun’s more innovative moves too, including the diving punches and the stomp/hammer fist combo that ended up paying dividends for him in later fights. So yeah, awesome fight and a definite candidate for the Fight of the Year.

Middleweight Grand Prix: Quarter-Finals: Alistair Overeem vs Igor Vovchanchyn

Pre-fight Vovchanchyn says he’ll knock Overeem out, and the announcers mention that he was apparently upset with his performance against Kondo in the opening round. Overeem has a massive nine-inch height advantage here though, so that could prove to be difficult for Igor for sure.

They get underway and press forward tentatively, before Overeem throws a knee into the clinch. Vovchanchyn looks for a shoulder throw, but Overeem blocks it and they exchange some knees, before Alistair gets a takedown into side mount. Igor reverses almost right away to his feet, but as he does so Overeem locks up a tight standing guillotine, and then leans right back, using all his height for leverage, and Igor taps out there!

Post-fight Mauro explains that Overeem’s now not only tapped out both Belfort and Vovchanchyn with the guillotine choke, but he also won the European Abu Dhabi qualifiers with it, submitting all three of his opponents using the same hold. That’s serious skill with the guillotine, but I guess when you’re that tall it gives you a lot more leverage on the hold. Never expected Igor to be dispatched that quickly and easily, that’s for sure.

Mirko Cro Cop vs Ibragim Magomedov

Magomedov has Fedor Emelianenko in his corner here and the basic premise of this fight was a warm-up for Cro Cop to get him ready for the upcoming match with Fedor at Final Conflict, which I believe had been announced a few weeks prior to this event. Cro Cop looks SUPER calm and relaxed for the fight and I do not envy Magomedov as the one who has to stand between Mirko and his shot at Fedor.

They circle tentatively to begin, with Mirko avoiding a big, clubbing right early. Cro Cop lands a couple of glancing kicks, and then a left hand. Left body kick lands with authority and Magomedov’s side is marked up right away. Magomedov tries the big right again, but Mirko dodges and throws his left high kick, but it doesn’t land cleanly. Body kick and left hand from Mirko follow, and he stalks Magomedov down before catching him with a glancing left high kick, still enough to hurt the Russian badly. Magomedov starts to swing wildly, but Mirko avoids the shots and then dodges an attempted shot for the takedown, landing a counter left. Cro Cop continues to circle off, and then lands a BIG LEFT KICK TO THE BODY, and Magomedov gets the horrific Heath Herring DELAYED REACTION!~! before collapsing in a heap, and the ref stops it there.

Calm; workmanlike showing from Mirko who basically came out and did exactly what needed to be done to put Magomedov away without really breaking a sweat.

-Post-fight Cro Cop calls out Fedor to the ring, and they shake hands and pose with Takada to hype up the upcoming title fight, which Renallo sells as the biggest match in MMA history.

Kiyoshi Tamura vs Makoto Takimoto

Oh man, and this show was going SO great too. Issue here is the usual Tamura vs. Yoshida Dojo thing (yawn!) and I still don’t give a crap, even when Renallo teases DISSENTION between Takimoto and Yoshida. Takimoto is in full gi here, whether that will help him or not, who knows.

Tamura works some low kicks to begin, escaping a takedown and getting to his feet quickly. Takimoto gets a bodylock, but can’t throw Tamura so he ends up breaking off, and Tamura begins to pick the judoka apart, landing a variety of strikes while avoiding Takimoto’s flailing punches. Low kicks continue to land for Tamura, and then he lands a nice front kick to the chest too. Tamura continues the leg kicks, before Takimoto catches one and gets a bodylock takedown, but Tamura scrambles right back to his feet and the ref breaks the clinch for inactivity. More leg kicks land, before Takimoto manages to catch another one, landing a right and taking Tamura down, but again he pops back up, and a high kick and some punches end the round.

Tamura continues where he left off to begin the 2nd round, still landing strikes and still mainly catching Takimoto with the leg kicks. Takimoto tries to answer with punches, but doesn’t exactly do a great job of it and Tamura catches him with a left that stuns him. Takimoto finally lands a combo towards the end of the round, but doesn’t follow it up, and the round ends not long after.

Third and final round, and Takimoto gets the clinch, but can’t trip Tamura down, and Tamura breaks off with a right hand. More low kicks land, but Takimoto swings for the fences and catches Tamura off guard, before getting a takedown to guard. He works for some sort of gi choke, but can’t really do much with the position, and the fight ends in Tamura’s guard.

To the judges, and it’s a unanimous decision for Tamura. And hey, there’s twenty minutes of my life I’ll never get back...

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs Pawel Nastula

Nastula is a really famous Polish judoka, apparently he won 360 judo matches in a row, which has to be pretty great I think. No clue why they would throw him right in with the second-best fighter in the world, but then this is Pride. Apparently Nastula had made some demands for the fight, like asking for both men to wear a full gi, and dropping the duration down to a Bushido (one ten-minute round, one five-minute round) match. Nogueira of course refused, and who can blame him?

Round 1 begins, and Nastula clinches right away, so Nogueira pulls half-guard and Nastula looks to pass. Nog reverses though, getting into top position in Nastula’s guard, and he lands some punches. Nastula reverses him though, and ends up in Nogueira’s full guard. Nastula lands some punches, but they’re pretty ineffective. Nogueira tries to work back to his feet, but Nastula grabs a front headlock to keep him down, and the crowd pop big for that thinking it’s a possible sub. It’s not, of course, and Nastula stands, so the ref brings Nog back up to join him. Nastula gets the clinch off the restart, and pulls half-guard, where Nogueira works from the top, landing some punches before passing to side mount. He controls the judoka, before getting a front facelock, where he lands some knees to the head. Nastula breaks off, but takes a right hand as he gets to his feet, and that stuns him, putting him on wobbly legs. He looks REALLY tired at this point too. Nastula manages to get a takedown to guard, but he stands up and eats an upkick, before Nogueira gets a sweep over to top position. He lands some good punches, before passing into side mount with little difficulty. Some knees land from there, before Pawel turtles up as Nog looks for the mount. Finally he gets full mount, and a series of punches cause the ref to step in and call the TKO.

Well, Nastula certainly didn’t let himself down there – he was holding his own with Nogueira in the grappling exchanges for the first half of the round, but then just seemed to get very tired and once Nogueira clocked him with a good shot, it was all downhill for him. Still, an encouraging debut and if he were a little younger (Nastula is 37) I’d consider predicting a good future for him. Good win for Nogueira though albeit a bit of a dull fight for his standards.

Middleweight Grand Prix: Quarter-Finals: Ricardo Arona vs Kazushi Sakuraba

I don’t think anyone thought Sakuraba had a hope in hell going into this one – not only was Arona the best grappler left in the tournament, but he was also one of the most physically imposing fighters, and that makes for a bad match for Sakuraba. Still, I guess it was a better option than another Sakuraba-Silva match, which had been the rumor before the real matches were announced.

Round 1 begins, and it’s a tentative beginning, as neither guy looks like making the first move. Finally Sakuraba presses forward with a combination, but takes a knee for his troubles, and then Arona stuffs a takedown attempt and lands a couple of knees to the head. Back up, and Sakuraba lands a body kick, but Arona grabs him in a waistlock and pulls him down to the mat. They come back up quickly though, and press forward, with Arona missing a high kick and ending up on his back in guard. Sakuraba tries a couple of his leaping stomps, but Arona kicks them away, and gets back to his feet. They exchange some kicks, before Arona comes forward with a HARD KNEE to the midsection and some good punches that stun Sakuraba.

Saku comes back with some punches, so Arona lifts him up and slams him down, grabbing a waistlock as they hit the mat. Sakuraba comes back up, but Arona puts him back down with some punches. He tries to follow with a soccer kick, but Sakuraba deftly avoids and causes Arona to end up on his back. Arona gets right back up though, and just shoves Sakuraba right down before grabbing a front facelock. The Brazilian starts to really take over, landing a long series of BRUTAL knees to the head of Sakuraba, and for a moment it looks like Saku is in deep trouble, but somehow he slips out and gets a single leg takedown! Arona looks for a kimura from the guard, but Sakuraba counters with an armbar attempt ala Hughes/St-Pierre 1. Arona slips out though, and stands, and then the ref calls time to check Sakuraba over, as he’s bleeding badly from the left ear. They restart though, and Arona avoids a takedown and shoves Sakuraba into the corner to end the round.

Between rounds Saku isn’t looking good at all, with swelling on both eyes as well as the gash on the ear.

They exchange kicks to begin the second round, and Arona lands a high kick into the clinch. They break off quickly, and Sakuraba shoots, but Arona counters with two nasty soccer kicks, putting Sakuraba on his back. Sakuraba looks bloodied from the kicks now, and Arona begins to rub and pull at the cuts. Boy, I like Arona a lot but that’s a bad tactic. The ref calls time for the doctor to check Sakuraba, and his eye’s BADLY swollen at this point. They decide to let it go though, restarting in Sakuraba’s half-guard. Arona works him over with some short strikes, and Saku tries a reversal, but ends up caught in the front facelock again, and from there Arona goes to town with some VICIOUS KNEES, further deforming poor Sakuraba’s face. Arona stands and lands a kick, before pulling him back down, this time into a seated position in the facelock. Saku looks unable to do a thing now, as Arona stands and LASHES OUT WITH VICIOUS SOCCER KICKS, before continuing to hold the front facelock as the round ends.

Sakuraba’s face is a MESS as they work on him between rounds, and finally someone decides to show some mercy and stops things there. Both of his eyes are practically swollen shut now, giving him almost an alien look, and they actually cover his head up with a towel before removing him from ringside.

Started off as a watchable fight, but that soon degenerated into an absolutely criminal beatdown that just shouldn’t have been allowed to go as long as it did. Arona came across as a really merciless fighter, just using his superior physical strength to dominate the positioning, and the mess he made of Sakuraba’s face is a testament to the damage he was able to do with those positions. Didn’t like the rubbing of the cuts at all, but regardless, there’s no way Sakuraba was winning that fight. Horrifying beating that should’ve been stopped much earlier, and honestly I fear for Sakuraba’s life in some of these matches now.

Middleweight Grand Prix: Quarter-Finals: Wanderlei Silva vs Kazuhiro Nakamura

Another Silva vs. Japanese match, then, but at least this was a fresh one as Nakamura had not yet had the pleasure of fighting the Axe Murderer. Pre-fight interviews are brilliant here; Silva promises a knockout while Nakamura simply tells him to “shut the fuck up!”. Nakamura is wearing a short-sleeved gi top for this fight, but no gi pants, no idea why he’d want to do that. He looks really calm though, while Silva looks his usual psychotic self.

We begin, and Nakamura swings for the fences early as they exchange, catching Silva off guard with a couple of winging punches. He lands a jumping knee into the clinch, but Silva lands some knees of his own to the gut, then tries to pull him down, but Nakamura comes right back up and breaks off. Silva lands a good right hand, and then begins to catch Nakamura with some nice counterpunches as Nakamura swings. Big left hand puts Nakamura down as he charges forward for a clinch, but he manages to get full guard, and then Silva misses a stomp, allowing Nakamura to grab the leg, but the ropes prevent a kneebar attempt. Nakamura ends up in Silva’s half-guard, but Silva works to his feet quickly, and they exchange some punches standing again. Nakamura then decides to take off his gi top, but as he gets distracted tossing it out of the ring, Silva WADES FORWARD with punches, dropping him with a left hook! Nakamura looks in trouble as Silva pounds away, before standing for a stomp attempt. Nakamura tries the takedown, but Silva ends up on top in full mount, and from there he pounds away for the stoppage.

Pretty fun fight actually – Nakamura was doing well and was definitely holding his own until he made the mistake of trying to remove the gi top, and from there it was downhill fast for him. No idea why he decided to try to get rid of it – or hell, why he wore it in the first place – but it definitely cost him. Still, can’t fault Silva for capitalizing and this was a far better showing for Wanderlei than his tentative, slow performance in the first round of the GP.

-Post-fight Silva is joined by Shogun, and then by Overeem (sporting a garish snakeskin t-shirt) and finally Arona, as the Final Four pose in the ring.

Final Thoughts....

After the disappointment that was Total Elimination, this show is definitely a breath of fresh air, as everything outside of the terrible Tamura fight is better than practically the whole card on the previous show. Obviously the big selling point for this one is the classic Shogun-Nogueira fight, but there’s much more too, with some highlight reel finishes for Kharitonov and Cro Cop, a fun main event, and unless you’re really squeamish, a shocking dismantling in the form of Arona-Sakuraba. Critical Countdown 2004 was arguably the best show that Pride put on that year, and this one continues the trend, as it’s definitely one of the better shows of 2005. Highly recommended.

Coming Soon....

Pride: Final Conflict 2005, and 30.
UFC: Ultimate Japan, Ultimate Brazil, 68, 69, 70, 71 and 72.
WEC: 10 and 11.
WFA: 1, 2 and 3.
Strike Force: Shamrock vs. Gracie.
Rumble On The Rock 7.
Gladiator Challenge: Summer Slam.
King of the Cage: 23, 29, 30, 32, 33, 36, 42, 48, 52, and 58.
Best of Shooto 2003 vols. 1 & 2.

Until next time,

Scott Newman:
NewmanMMA@gmail.com





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