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Pride: Total Elimination Absolute review
by Scott Newman (MMA)
Posted on June 22, 2009, 3:58 PM

Pride: Total Elimination Absolute

Osaka, Japan

-When the idea of an Openweight Grand Prix in 2006 in Pride was first leaked out online, like most hardcore fans, I was horrified. After all, hadn’t Openweight tournaments died out in like, the late 90’s? Not only that, but some of the rumoured fights (Takanori Gomi vs. Wanderlei Silva, for example) sounded very worrying indeed. This was undoubtedly the sort of thing that gave MMA a bad name. Thankfully however, when it came down to it, the ‘Openweight GP’ ended up as nothing more than a regular Heavyweight tournament with the odd rogue participant. Of the fourteen fighters in the first round (a bye was given to Heavyweight champ Fedor Emelianenko) just four of them hadn’t spent the majority of their career at HW, and Alistair Overeem and Hidehiko Yoshida were more than capable physically of moving to the upper weight class, leaving freakshow artist Ikuhisa Minowa and hapless boxer Yosuke Nishijima the only problematic entrants. So, while tournaments were, in my opinion, played out at this stage, I felt the MMA world had dodged a bullet in general with this one.

-Odd cartoon plays before the show begins, almost a Street Fighter II esque thing.

-Your hosts are Mauro Renallo and Frank Trigg. Mauro puts the idea of the Openweight GP over as being about heart as opposed to size. They explain that Fedor’s been given a bye into the Quarter-Finals, and then mention the possibility of him facing his brother Aleksander if he gets by Josh Barnett.

-Fighter introduction follows and this is a big, big show judging by the crowd reactions.

Alternate Bout: Roman Zentsov vs Gilbert Yvel

This was the Alternate Bout for the GP, which is a little confusing given that none of the fighters were going to fight twice in a night anyway, and the next round of the tournament was months away. Still, I guess they couldn’t guarantee that a winner wasn’t going to be seriously injured. Zentsov had earned his spot by KOing Pedro Rizzo in a bit of a shocker at Pride 31, while Yvel was again plucked from obscurity and thrown back into Pride action. Seriously, why Pride continued to bother with Gilbert after the whole referee KOing incident I do not know.

We begin and Yvel comes out flurrying, but Zentsov does a good job of weathering the storm and gets an arm drag takedown to side mount. He looks to be working for a keylock, then switches to mount, but Yvel blocks the hold. Zentsov attempts to transition for an armbar, but in the process he slips and Yvel escapes into his half-guard. Reversal from Zentsov gains him top position in the guard again, where he lands some hammer fists, one of which earns him a warning from the ref as it was a little too close to being an elbow. Again he looks for a keylock, but Yvel quickly escapes it. Yvel tries to switch for a kneebar, but this allows Zentsov to pass the guard into side control. He goes for the keylock again and then mounts, but Yvel slips out the back door and stands. Big knee by Yvel, but as he looks to follow up Zentsov CRACKS him with a left hand and puts him down face-first, out cold!

Hot ending to what was a pretty dull fight. Zentsov literally clocked him from nowhere, beautiful shot for the knockout.

Absolute Grand Prix – First Round: Fabricio Werdum vs Alistair Overeem

This was one of the more intriguing bouts on the card, as Werdum was generally viewed as a top-ten heavyweight at this point, with his only loss to note coming at the hands of Sergei Kharitonov, while Overeem, after suffering a couple of setbacks at 205lbs, had seemingly taken to the move to heavyweight like a duck to water, TKOing the afore-mentioned Kharitonov in a major upset at Pride 31. After seeing that fight, I was picking Overeem to go over Werdum here and establish himself as a major force at the heavier weight. Overeem just looks like a larger version of his 205lbs self here, rather than the jacked-up monster he is today.

They begin and Werdum comes charging out with a jumping kick! Didn’t expect that at all. They circle and Werdum throws some more wild kicks, as Overeem presses forward. They clinch up and muscle for position, but Overeem breaks off. Left hook misses for Overeem but he lands a knee to the body. Overeem continues to stalk forward, landing a jab into the clinch where they exchange knees to the body. Big takedown by Overeem puts Werdum on his back in guard. Overeem decides to stand quickly but Werdum comes forward swinging, and Alistair clinches and knees the body again. They separate and then Overeem closes the distance and lands a couple more knees. Werdum looks for a takedown but Overeem reverses it and trips the Brazilian down to guard again. Overeem stands over him and tries for a jumping stomp, but Werdum gets his legs up to block it and then stands. They clinch again and then break, and Overeem slips to his back on a high kick. He gets up right away though and Overeem closes the distance with another knee. Takedown again from Overeem into Werdum’s guard. He decides to stand up again though and the ref brings Werdum up to join him. Werdum tries to land some knees from the plum clinch, but Alistair breaks quickly. Overeem continues to push the action and lands the knee to the body again. Werdum tries to throw a knee but Overeem takes him down off it to guard, and this time Werdum tries to control the Dutchman from his back a little more. They stand again and Overeem lands an overhand right into the clinch, and this time Werdum really works for the takedown. Overeem forces him down onto his back again though, outmuscling the Brazilian, and this time he passes the guard before standing again. Werdum tries to get to his feet, but Overeem lands a left that knocks him back down on the bell. Wasn’t really a knockdown, more that Werdum was off balance. Good round for Overeem though.

Round Two begins and Overeem pushes forward, looking to clinch, but this time Werdum actually catches him with a decent combo. Overeem gets a bodylock but this time Werdum trips him down, only for Alistair to reverse back to his feet and land a heavy knee! Werdum answers with a combo and forces Overeem backwards, before they clinch up. Ref breaks them up and they trade punches into the clinch and muscle for the takedown, with Werdum getting it first, but Alistair reverses and Werdum ends up grabbing a front facelock. Overeem stands, but Werdum tackles him through the ropes and the ref steps in to reset them. Nice takedown from Overeem off the restart as Werdum gets full guard, but from his back Werdum secures a kimura! Overeem looks in trouble right away and Werdum really cranks up on it, and Overeem taps out there!

Didn’t expect that as a finish – a kimura from the bottom is really rare, but I guess Werdum is one of the best grapplers in the division so perhaps it’s not that surprising. Overeem was doing very well until he got caught in the submission, and this was an impressive win for Werdum in the end.

Absolute Grand Prix – First Round: Mark Hunt vs Tsuyoshi Kosaka

Bit of a random fight here, with Hunt coming off a win on NYE over Mirko Cro Cop and another win over boxer Nishijima on the last Pride show. Kosaka had beaten Mario Sperry at the same show, but this was rumoured to be his final fight in MMA competition should he lose, which naturally, he was expected to do so.

First round begins and they clinch early before Hunt trips the leg and puts TK in half-guard. Surprising he’d want to go to the ground early on. Hunt largely smothers Kosaka and then stands, and the Japanese fighter comes forward swinging for the fences. They clinch again and Hunt forces him into the corner, before breaking off where Kosaka opens up with a wild flurry, ending with a kick to the groin. Ref stops it to let Hunt recover, and they restart and exchange wildly, and Hunt decks him with a right hand! TK tries to pop up and get a takedown, but Hunt stuffs it and ends up on top in side mount. Awesome reversal from TK allows him to take the back, and the crowd go wild as he looks for the choke, but he can’t quite get his second hook in and Hunt manages to avoid it. Hunt gets on all fours and now TK gets both hooks in and peppers him with punches, then switches to a weak body triangle with his feet crossed rather than hooking the knee with his leg. Looks like his legs aren’t long enough to secure the proper lock. TK ends up switching to go for an inverted triangle/kimura combo, but Hunt uses sheer strength to pull free and ends up in TK’s guard before standing.

They exchange jabs now, with TK landing some flush as Hunt drops his hands, but they have little to no effect. TK clinches for a moment, but Hunt breaks and lands a one-two, bloodying Kosaka’s nose. BIG COMBO from TK appears to have Hunt rocked, and he covers up but recovers quickly. TK is actually outstriking Hunt here! BIG LEFT HOOK lands for Hunt in an exchange, but TK tells him to bring it on as they continue to exchange. This fight rules! Both men look tired now, swinging for the fences, and Hunt avoids a takedown and forces Kosaka back to his feet. Both men land punches flush, but naturally it’s TK who looks staggered, but right away he fires back with a big knee! It has no effect though and Hunt lands another combo, stunning Kosaka badly. Hunt ragdolls him to the canvas and lands some punches, but he looks exhausted and can’t seem to put TK away. Kosaka works back to his feet and now he takes over, flurrying on Hunt who covers up along the ropes! Exchange continues and these guys are showing tremendous heart. One minute to go and Hunt lands a RIDICULOUS left hook that wobbles Kosaka, but somehow he’s still standing and fires right back before clinching for a moment! Hunt breaks with another monstrous left and now Kosaka drops to the ground and takes some heavy shots. It looks like he might be done, but the bell sounds to end the round! WOW.

Can’t believe this has even gone to the second round. Kosaka has the heart of a lion. They come out exchanging jabs again and Hunt looks a little fresher now, moving around better and throwing some kicks. Hunt snaps his head back with a stiff jab but Kosaka backs up and continues to throw down. Ref steps in and calls time to clean up Kosaka’s nose, which is horrendously bloody at this point. Doctor lets it go and Hunt throws a high kick, but TK blocks it and gets a single leg to side mount! Hunt reverses to his feet right away though, and they circle off with Hunt sprawling to avoid some takedown attempts. TK’s looking very tired now. Hunt’s jab lands a few more times and a big leg kick buckles Kosaka before he shoots again. Hunt avoids and continues to pepper him with strikes, and a big right high kick lands as Kosaka continues to bull forward. Right hook lands for Hunt but Kosaka is still standing. One minute to go and Kosaka comes wildly forward again, but this time Hunt NAILS him with a right hand that drops him to his knees, and he looks out of it enough for the ref to step in.

Awesome fight; sure, it was a sloppy brawl and both men gassed, but they showed absolutely tremendous heart and no fear whatsoever, just throwing down from practically start to finish. Kosaka knew Hunt had an iron chin and he probably wouldn’t KO him, and yet he came out swinging anyway and went out swinging. The guy is just an animal. As for Hunt, as usual his chin came up trumps as he took some ridiculous combos in the first round before stopping things in the second. Unbelievable brawl.

Absolute Grand Prix – First Round: Josh Barnett vs Aleksander Emelianenko

Hardcore fans had Barnett as their dark horse to win the whole tournament, and were salivating over this fight, as not only would it be Josh’s first fight against a ranked opponent after a disappointing comeback fight with Mirko Cro Cop, but if he were to win it could also set up a showdown with Aleksander’s brother Fedor at a future Pride show. A lot of folks were picking Aleks to go over Barnett here, but I felt that Fedor’s brother had become slightly overrated at this stage and was firmly behind the former UFC champ.

Bell sounds to get us underway and they circle with Aleks avoiding an early takedown attempt. Aleks has a really weird stance here, his left hand by his waist and his right cocked like Dan Henderson does. Good right from Barnett into a clinch, but Aleks works him over with some knees from the plum. They exchange punches inside and then break off. Ref calls time as it looks like Josh got poked in the eye, but he’s okay and they restart. Nice, quick combo from Aleks lands into a brief clinch, but they break right away. More punches are exchanged and Aleks is really outlanding Barnett in these exchanges. Another combo from Aleks lands into the clinch, but Barnett breaks with a one-two to the body. Uppercut lands for Aleks but Barnett clinches, only for them to break off again. Good right from Barnett coming forward. Big combo lands for the Russian and Barnett clinches again briefly. Exchange continues and still seems to be in Aleksander’s favour as he lands the more telling blows. Barnett has a very good chin actually. Barnett gets a bodylock but can’t get Aleks down, and they break off again. Big combo lands for Aleks as Barnett grabs the plum clinch and manages to land a hard knee before they break. Barnett keeps coming forward here, but he’s taking quality punches from Aleks every time he does. Big right hand lands for Emelianenko and how Barnett hasn’t been badly rocked yet I don’t know. He’s pretty marked up though, bleeding from the nose and mouth. Barnett keeps swinging, but he’s not landing much at all. Aleks’s stance is so relaxed, too, and he’s really hanging his hands now. Knee lands for Barnett but Aleks backs out to avoid any more shots. Bell sounds with Barnett trying to close the distance for a clinch. Round was pretty much all Aleksander and Barnett looks like he needs to take this down ASAP.

2nd round begins and Barnett opens with a right hook. They exchange some jabs and Barnett lands a lunging left to the body and follows with a leg kick. Bodylock from Barnett and he lands some knees to the thighs and finally manages to drag him down into side control. Barnett steps right over and looks to trap the arm, then goes to the knees to the face. Keylock attempt from Barnett is unsuccessful, with Aleks popping his arm free, but Barnett goes back to the hold and this time it appears to injure Aleks’s shoulder, as the Russian quickly submits with a tapout!

Barnett got lit up badly in the first round here but as soon as the fight got to the mat Aleksander was toast. Really good win for Barnett despite taking a beating in the opening ten minutes, as I guess Aleksander’s ground game wasn’t up to the standards of his boxing. Post-fight Barnett cuts an awesome promo and tells Fedor that he’s a dead man!

Absolute Grand Prix – First Round: Kazuyuki Fujita vs James Thompson

Stand-up brawl pretty much guaranteed here, with British brawler Thompson against the iron-headed Fujita. Thompson had actually gained a ton of popularity in Japan at this point in his career, now known as the ‘Mega-Punk’, he’d become famous for his “gong and dash” style and had snacked on a diet of tomato cans throughout 2005. Fujita meanwhile was making his return to Pride following a period of exile in K1, and this was his first fight in Pride since his infamous war with Fedor Emelianenko, which saw him come closer than anyone else to stopping the Russian. Thompson is sporting a red Mohawk here, playing up to his new nickname.

Round One begins and surprisingly Thompson doesn’t charge at Fujita, instead telling him to bring it on. Thompson avoids an early takedown attempt as they circle around, and my jaw is almost on the floor at the fact that he looks tentative. Fujita shoots again but Thompson blocks and counters with a knee, and they clinch up and muscle for position. Couple of knees to the midsection land for the Brit before they break off, and Thompson stuffs another takedown. Thompson opens up with a flurry as they separate, and then they clinch back up and exchange shots inside. Wild trade of haymakers follows and both men land shots, before clinching up to exchange uppercuts. They break off and Thompson lands a couple of leg kicks with Fujita cornered, and then they exchange some more punches. Thompson is fighting a much smarter fight than he usually does and it’s working well for him so far. They clinch again and Thompson lands a couple of solid knees to the body, and then lands a really brutal one that Fujita just eats up. Another big knee lands as they continue to trade strikes, and how these knees haven’t put Fujita down I don’t know. Exchange continues from close range as they’re just slugging at one another now, and the Brit is landing the better shots. Single leg attempt from Fujita looks deep, but Thompson reverses and takes Fujita down into half-guard! Fujita works to full guard as Thompson doesn’t do much from the top, trying to land some clubbing punches but Fujita blocks most of them. Thompson decides to stand and they trade off, and now Fujita takes over with a one-two and a series of short uppercuts! This has become a major brawl now and Fujita is landing the bigger shots, knocking Thompson’s head all over the place, and finally Fujita NAILS HIM WITH A RIGHT HOOK and collapses the Brit!

Started off slowly but the last minute or so was a brawl to rival Hunt-Kosaka even. Thompson looked better than I can recall ever seeing him, fighting a much smarter fight, and the knees he hit Fujita with would’ve finished a lot of guys, but Fujita has a chin of iron and a heart to match and just fought back, and once Thompson got drawn into an all-out trade he didn’t have the chin to match up to the Japanese fighter. Not the best fight but the ending was Frye-Takayama-esque.

Absolute Grand Prix – First Round: Mirko Cro Cop vs Ikuhisa Minowa

Despite Cro Cop coming off a very lacklustre showing on NYE against Mark Hunt, this was still a horrible, horrible mismatch on paper. I mean, Minowa weighs 185lbs at the most and Cro Cop isn’t exactly known for his mercy when it comes to fighting lesser opponents. I don’t even like Minowa and I was just hoping the guy wouldn’t get too badly hurt.

Size difference, as was expected, is just ludicrous. Minowa seems to try to mean-mug him pre-fight but what’s the point, it’d be like me trying to mean-mug Brock Lesnar or something – it’s just not going to threaten him at all. They begin and Minowa dances around the outside before the first punches Mirko land knock him off balance. He shoots for a takedown but Cro Cop stuffs it and ends up in Minowa’s half-guard. Crowd chant loudly for Minowa as Mirko stands. Minowa desperately tries to close the distance and then tries a silly front-flip kick that misses. Left hand lands for Mirko and they clinch, and from there Cro Cop drops him with a left uppercut and a punch to the body, then pounds him out on the ground.

Quick and pointless squash; Fedor was given a bye into the Quarters and you may as well have given Mirko one too for all the energy he expended here. Thankfully Minowa doesn’t look too badly hurt post-fight – this could’ve gone a lot worse for him.

Absolute Grand Prix – First Round: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs Zuluzinho

This fight was just as one-sided on paper as the previous one, although with Zuluzinho being the poster-boy for morbid obesity the danger wasn’t quite there as it was for Minowa. Still, a fat dude against the second-best heavyweight fighter in the world? No contest. I was just wondering if Zulu could last longer against Nog than he did against Fedor! Pre-fight the fat guy complains about the “rumours” he’s been reading with people making fun of his weight. Well, lose some weight then dude. About say, 150lbs would do.

First round begins and Zulu throws some crude punches before Nogueira ducks for a takedown. He winds up on his back, but quickly slides out to the side and works arm control on the big guy before twisting over and putting Zulu on his back in guard. Instant guard pass puts Nogueira into side mount and he lands some short punches. Few elbows and knees land to the body as Nogueira easily controls him, as Mauro tells us Zulu’s record of 37-0 pre-Pride can’t be confirmed. Nogueira steps over to full mount and lands some punches, then goes for an armbar and locks it up for the tapout.

Well, Nogueira-Sapp this was not. Almost as pointless as Cro Cop’s fight with Minowa in fact, as Nogueira took even less damage than Mirko did (read, absolutely none) and just tooled Zulu on the ground. Not as brutal as the beating Zulu took from Fedor but this was an equally one-sided win. It was nice, I guess, to see Nog come out of a fight totally unscathed though!

Absolute Grand Prix – First Round: Hidehiko Yoshida vs Yosuke Nishijima

Classic Japanese main event, with judo legend Yoshida taking on former boxing champion Nishijima. On paper it seemed one-sided as Yoshida was likely to submit the boxer quickly, but with Yoshida’s penchant for wild trading Nishijima certainly had a puncher’s chance. Yoshida is back in his gi for this fight after forsaking it for his win over Ogawa.

We’re underway and they press before Yoshida misses a head kick. Couple of low kicks land for the judoka as Nishijima pumps out some jabs, and then Yoshida closes the distance and drags him down to half-guard. Trigg right away says Nishijima is done, and sure enough Yoshida easily mounts him. Small punches to the head land for Yoshida and as Nishijima turns into him, Yoshida locks up a triangle from the bottom and chokes him out cold.

Third squash in a row and arguably the most predictable, as Nishijima seemed about as clueless on the ground as you would expect a boxer to be, and he got taken there quickly and put away by Yoshida in easy fashion. Still, I’d rather see a skilled guy like Yoshida in the tournament representing Japan than a hack like Ogawa, that’s for sure! And so Yoshida advances into the Quarters.

-Yoshida is joined in the ring by the rest of the Quarter-Finalists – including Fedor Emelianenko – and with Nogueira, Cro Cop, Barnett, Werdum, Hunt and Fujita in there that’s a hell of a line-up in the end, especially considering how horrible the GP could’ve been! Better than the Quarter-Finalists from the 2004 Heavyweight GP in fact.

-Show ends with a highlight reel.

Final Thoughts....

Sure, the idea of an Openweight GP might’ve sucked on paper, but Total Elimination Absolute is a surprisingly good show. None of the fights are bad and despite the presence of three utterly pointless squash matches (the last three on the card) you’ve also got two crazy, entertaining brawls in Hunt-Kosaka and Fujita-Thompson, as well as two very good elite-level heavyweight fights in Werdum-Overeem and Barnett-Aleksander. No classic fights puts the show way behind the likes of Final Conflict 2003, Critical Countdown 2004, and Body Blow in the overall Pride pantheon, but it’s definitely worth a look.

Best Fight: Hunt-Kosaka
Worst Fight: Cro Cop-Minowa

Overall Rating: ***3/4

Coming Soon....

UFC: 94-99, Fight Nights 17-18, and TUF VIII Finale.
Pride: Shockwave 2006, 31, and the Openweight Grand Prix.
WEC: 38-41.
Elite XC: Uprising, Renegade, Street Certified and Unfinished Business.
K1 Hero’s: Final Battle 2007
King of the Cage: 23, 29, 30, 32, 33, 36, 42, 48, 52, and 58.

Until next time,

Scott Newman:

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