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Pride: Critical Countdown Absolute review
by Scott Newman (MMA)
Posted on June 23, 2009, 4:01 PM

Pride: Critical Countdown Absolute

Saitama, Japan

-Street Fighter style cartoon gets us started again. I swear to God, at one point in this thing you catch a dude with a swastika tattooed on his arm fighting a gorilla. Were they on drugs when they made this?

-Your hosts are Mauro Renallo and Frank Trigg. They explain that Wanderlei Silva is replacing Fedor Emelianenko in the tournament and then run down the line-up, pretty stacked tourney to be fair!

-Fighter parade follows and hilariously Mauro tells us Fujita actually went on some Japanese science show and they discovered that his skull was thicker than your average human being. Well, you don’t say. And apparently Yoshida has his hair cut short to make his head a smaller target for Cro Cop’s left kick. Ah, Japan.

Pawel Nastula vs Edson Draggo

Nogueira student Draggo was coming in with a lot of hype behind him, as he was 9-0 at this point with his last eight fights being won by strikes, including a five-second knockout of one of the UK’s top heavyweights in Tengiz Tedoradze. Nastula meanwhile, despite losing his first two Pride bouts, had shown some potential in those losses and hey, they were against top guys in Nogueira and Aleksander Emelianenko. So overall then, a decent HW clash to open the card. Draggo is jacked as hell, one of the most intimidating guys I’ve ever seen in MMA I’d say.

We’re underway and Nastula avoids Draggo’s swings and gets to the clinch. He muscles for a takedown but Draggo blocks it, breaks with knees and lands a heavy right hand. Nastula clinches again but botches a takedown and ends up pulling guard. He only gets half-guard though, but still manages to lock up a reverse armbar! Draggo looks in trouble but manages to pull free and stand. Draggo pushes forward with a right hand, and then stuffs a takedown and ends up on top in half-guard again. This time Nastula hits a sweep and looks to get Draggo down, and this time it works, and he takes full mount. Short punches land for Nastula as Draggo tries to hold on, and then the Pole manages to really posture up to land some heavy blows. Draggo looks in trouble now, taking some serious abuse, and he rolls and gives his back. Draggo takes some more punches and ends up mounted again, before the ref calls time to check a cut over the Brazilian’s right eye. They restart in the mount position and an explosion of power allows Draggo to roll Nastula over into guard and open up with hammer fists! He’s flailing more than landing cleanly though as Nastula does a good job of defending. He lands some hammer fists but gets a little too wild and leaves his arm open, and Nastula gets an armbar from the bottom and rolls into it for the tapout. Beautiful stuff.

Good opening fight and Nastula looked excellent in putting away the hot prospect. I always thought Nastula had a ton of potential and I wonder what he could’ve achieved had he entered MMA earlier in his life (he was late 30’s when he started) and had been matched a bit more favourably to begin his career.

Yoshihiro Nakao vs Eun Soo Lee

And we go from that to pretty much a joke fight, as unknown Korean Lee was faced with Japan’s Nakao, a man known more for the hilarious incident involving Heath Herring than anything he’d done in the MMA ring. See, Nakao was due to fight Herring on K1’s NYE show to end 2005, but during the staredown he kissed Heath on the lips. Like a homosexual, apparently. Herring subsequently snapped and KOd him before the fight had even begun, causing a no-contest, but also raising Nakao’s profile somehow (only in Japan, folks, only in Japan) to the point where Pride signed him and billed him as ‘KISS’. Really.

Staredown is absolutely hilarious as an official holds Nakao back slightly in case, I guess, he tries to kiss the poor Korean. Jesus. They start the first round and Nakao comes out looking for a takedown right away, shooting on a single leg, but Lee manages to defend for a while until Nakao elevates him and slams him down. Lee gets a loose guard and Nakao pins him down, landing some hammer fists with Lee’s head stuck between the ropes. Ref decides to reset them in the center of the ring and Nakao does a good job of hopping over the guard into side mount. Lee gets half-guard, but Nakao moves him into the corner of the ring, which is a tactic I never understood. Some good punches land from the top for KISS but the ref stops them and moves them out of the corner. Lee shifts his hips and regains full guard, but Nakao continues to land punches from the top, marking the Korean’s face up. Lee goes for an armbar but Nakao hammer fists him and slips free, and then lands some heavy knees to the face with Lee in a kneeling position. Lee manages to escape to his feet and Nakao ducks for the takedown, and Lee’s nose is pouring with blood now. Nakao gets the takedown to side control, but Lee manoeuvres back to guard and takes a couple more punches. Ref calls time and gives Lee the yellow card, and then they call the doctors in to check his nose. Doesn’t look too bad to me, but his left eye is practically swollen shut, didn’t spot that before, and the doctors wave off the fight.

Nakao looked surprisingly decent there, showing some good takedowns and ground-and-pound, but you have to question the opposition as Lee did zilch from his back outside of the one armbar attempt. Thankfully the fight didn’t suck quite as bad as I was expecting.

Vitor Belfort vs Kazuo Takahashi

Not sure how Belfort ended up against this guy here, as he’d lost a disappointing decision to Alistair Overeem in the main event of the second Strike Force show less than a month before it. Takahashi’s previous Pride fights had seen him brutally KOd twice though, so if you were smart, you were expecting the ‘Return of the Old Vitor!~!’ here. More on that in a second.

Round One begins and they circle off momentarily before Vitor blocks a takedown attempt and cold-cocks Takahashi in a trade-off, knocking him dead with a short left hook. Awesome hand speed there from Belfort.

Announcers immediately talk about this being the return of the Old Vitor, but it’s my opinion now that there is no Old Vitor and New Vitor, it’s more a case of, like any top-level fighter, Vitor looks unbelievable against low-level opposition and finds it harder when he’s faced with a fellow elite-level fighter. Sure, he might KO some elite guys fast too (see the Lindland fight) but in general if you fight tomato cans you’re bound to look better than you do against top fighters. Here Belfort was faced with a total jobber, and sure enough he destroyed him in quick highlight-reel fashion. Nothing more to say really.

Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs Alistair Overeem

Man, let’s be fair – Overeem was fighting way too often at this point. In fact this was his FIFTH fight in 2006 alone, and as I mentioned earlier, was less than a month removed from his fight with Belfort. Although he’d looked much better at heavyweight in the early part of the year he was dropping back to 205lbs here, facing Lil’ Nog in a rematch from a 2005 fight that saw the Brazilian earn a decision. Overeem’s neck is taped up wildly here and Trigg explains the tape helps the muscles somehow as he must be injured.

They begin and Overeem begins by throwing some kicks out that Lil’ Nog blocks. Overhand right misses for the Dutchman as he continues to play the role of aggressor. Overeem continues to throw out strikes, and then clinches with some knees to the midsection. Nogueira decides to drop to full guard, and takes some short punches as he works to control Overeem. Alistair stands out of the guard and calls Nogueira up, and again Lil’ Nog blocks the head kick. Overeem continues to keep Nog at a distance with his kicks, doing a good job, although he hasn’t hurt the Brazilian yet. More kicks by Overeem and he lands two vicious ones to the right leg that buckle Nogueira and have him limping. Couple more leg kicks land and Nog’s leg is badly marked up now, as he tries to answer by throwing some combos. Knee inside and a left-right combo appear to hurt Nogueira but he manages to clinch and trips Overeem down to half-guard. Overeem goes for a kimura from the bottom but Nogueira escapes and Alistair gets a butterfly guard in. Lil’ Nog peppers him with punches from the top, landing some decent ones as Overeem tries to use the legs to push him off. Overeem does a good job of stopping Nog from passing the guard, but the Brazilian tries the other way and moves into half-guard. He works momentarily into side mount, but again Overeem does a good job of regaining guard and then lands a couple of good upkicks as Nogueira stands over him. Big upkick snaps Nogueira’s head back but he seems okay and gets back into the half-guard, where the round ends.

Second round and we begin, and Overeem again begins to work the low kicks. Nogueira gets a bit busier with his counterpunches this time though, landing a couple of combos as Overeem comes in. They clinch and Overeem looks to deliver some knees, but Lil’ Nog breaks off. Good jab from the Brazilian lands flush. Good low kick and massive left hook land for Overeem but Nogueira’s chin is amazing and he recovers quickly. Left hook and low kick combo land again. Combo from Overeem and he follows with a knee, really lighting Nogueira up on his feet here. No sooner have I said that than a huge one-two from Nogueira staggers Overeem, and he follows up with a combo as Overeem covers up! Doesn’t look like he’s done, but his corner throw in the towel and the ref stops it in favour of Nogueira.

No idea what the crack was there, I mean yeah, Overeem was badly hurt and may well have been stopped, but at that point he was all over Lil’ Nog with his striking and was more than holding his own on the ground, so why not let him have a chance to recover? I guess if his corner knew he was hurt coming in though (the neck ish) they may have done the right thing. Still, really disappointing result for the Demolition Man as this was a fight he was clearly winning and looked excellent in. Very good fight, too, just as their first one was.

Kazuhiro Nakamura vs Cyborg Santos

Cyborg was a guy that I was surprised it took this long to end up in Pride, as he’s nearly always exciting, looks like a psychotic killer, and isn’t actually that great, so he’s the perfect foil for the Japanese fighters. This was his debut, and sure enough they put him up against a solid mid-level Japanese fighter in Nakamura, who was looking to bounce back from a needless loss to Josh Barnett earlier in the year.

First round begins and Nakamura ducks under a wild right and goes for a single leg. Cyborg tries to defend but Nakamura gets him down in the guard. He immediately works to pass and then gets the Hughes crucifix, landing some good punches to the head of the Brazilian. Cyborg regains half-guard, but Nakamura still manages to pin the arm to land punches. Nakamura continues to attempt to pass the guard, and finally works into what is basically side control, where he lands a knee to the head. More punches land for Nakamura as he pins the arm again, and then he secures a keylock on the far arm with the near arm trapped between his legs. Cyborg’s arm gets bent at a DISGUSTING angle but he refuses to tap, until finally Nakamura bends it a bit further and forces the submission.

Nakamura pretty much clowned Cyborg there, avoiding anything standing and putting Cyborg on his back where he was most vulnerable. Probably the best I can ever recall Nakamura looking in fact. Keylock submission looked horrifically painful.

Absolute Grand Prix – Quarter-Finals: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs Fabricio Werdum

This was, on paper, an interesting fight for the Grand Prix, with both Brazilians being almost mirror-images of one another. Werdum’s BJJ credentials actually outmatch Nog’s, but sometimes in MMA that sort of thing goes out the window when you add in strikes, and on the feet I was giving the advantage in both power – and chin, of course – to the former Pride champion. Funny moment in the ring introductions, as Mauro uses ‘Go Horse’ as Werdum’s nickname rather than the Portuguese ‘Vai Cavalo’. Sure they mean the same thing, but you tell me, which sounds cooler?

Round 1 begins and they exchange some punches before an awkward looking left hand from Nogueira knocks Werdum down. Nog goes in for the kill but Werdum rolls to guard, and kicks him away. They stand back up and Werdum is already sporting a bloody nose. Into the clinch and Werdum lands a couple of knees before Nogueira breaks off. Good combo from Werdum but it doesn’t stun Nog. They go back to exchanging punches, mainly jabs, and it’s pretty clear that Nogueira is the more seasoned striker as he’s landing more clean punches than Werdum. Nogueira continues to play the aggressor, peppering Werdum with combos, but Werdum comes back with a knee and a one-two and this causes Nog to shoot in and take him down, passing guard momentarily but Werdum regains it quickly. Nogueira lands some hammer fists from the top as Werdum does a good job of wrist control to avoid any major shots. Nog decides to stand and the ref brings Werdum up to join him, and we’re back to the punching exchange which is again seemingly to Nogueira’s advantage. BIG RIGHT HAND knocks Werdum down again, but Nogueira refuses to go into his guard and the ref stands Werdum back up. Exchange continues with Nog getting the better of it, but his aggression levels aren’t enough to really finish him off or anything. Werdum ends up trying to pull guard but Nog is having none of that and waves him back up. Big right hand stuns Werdum again and it looks like the ropes kept him standing there. Nogueira continues to work him over, landing to the body now too, but Werdum hangs tough and keeps throwing back before the round ends.

Second round and Werdum begins by circling around and pumping out his jab, landing well a few times. Nog tags him with a combo though and Werdum ends up shooting for a takedown, but Nogueira defends and they scramble as they hit the ground, with Nog swiftly working back to his feet. Nogueira gets back into stalking mode and again Werdum shoots on a single leg, but Nogueira blocks with a guillotine and transitions on top in Werdum’s guard. Nogueira slips into half-guard but Werdum right away gets a butterfly hook back and then closes the guard. Werdum works wrist control again and then Nog ends up standing. Ref calls Werdum to his feet and then they call time out to check a cut over the left eye of Nogueira. They restart and exchange punches again, and this time Werdum takes a couple of hard left hooks. Werdum manages to get a takedown, and then avoids an upkick and goes down into the half-guard. Nog works for a sweep and gets it in picture-perfect fashion, but the bell sounds as he gets on top.

Third and final round now and this is likely going the distance. Touch of gloves gets them underway and Nog throws a few left hooks out into the clinch. Ref breaks them up and Werdum shoots on a single leg, but Nogueira defends and appears to be looking for a sweep on the way down, but they end up standing anyway. Foot sweep from Werdum puts Nog on his back in the guard and then he stands over the former champ and tries to step into mount, but Nogueira slips free and stands again. Another takedown from Werdum follows as Nog comes forward, but Nogueira tries to lock up a guillotine choke from the half-guard. Werdum works to pop his head free and keeps the top position, but as Werdum looks to improve his position Nogueira hits another sweep and ends up in Werdum’s guard. Nog stands again with about a minute to go, and Werdum manages to take him down to half-guard again, and he tries a side choke out before taking the back off a failed sweep attempt. Werdum tries the rear naked choke, but Nogueira sneaks out of the back door and takes top position before Werdum gets to his feet and tackles Nog down on the bell.

Judges score it unanimously for Nogueira, and really it wasn’t all that close in the end although Werdum put up a very good fight. Wasn’t the most exciting fight, particularly when compared to vintage Nogueira stuff, but the sheer level of technique on display meant it was definitely watchable. The main difference was in the stand-up as while Werdum was willing to throw down, he looked a little stiff on his feet and got the worst of nearly all the exchanges, with the two knockdowns in the first round especially standing out. On the ground Nogueira did tremendously well with a guy who was top-level in Abu Dhabi, being able to sweep him on multiple occasions. How Vinny Magalhaes could say Nog’s BJJ wasn’t that great is beyond me! Solid fight but nowhere near a classic or anything.

Absolute Grand Prix – Quarter-Finals: Wanderlei Silva vs Kazuyuki Fujita

Alright, so originally this would’ve been Fedor entering into the GP with his bye and taking on Fujita, but due to contract issues/various injuries, the Russian didn’t end up fighting until New Year’s Eve, and so Pride pulled out the next best thing (sort of) in Middleweight Champion Wanderlei Silva, absolutely jacked to the gills and fighting at heavyweight for the first time. Seeing Wandy here looking like this is just insane, especially considering he’s now dropping to 185lbs in the UFC! Mad staredown between the two as Fujita shows no fear whatsoever, and the question around this one was how Wanderlei could actually hurt the iron-headed one.

Bell sounds and Wanderlei actually looks calm as Fujita stalks forward. Head kick misses for Wanderlei and Fujita comes charging forward, but goes down off something and now Silva chases him and wails away with uppercuts before going for a soccer kick as Fujita is on his knees! Fujita looks in trouble but he drives forward for a single leg, and despite Silva’s best efforts Fujita manages to get him down! Fujita winds up in side mount but Wanderlei spins to guard and goes for a triangle, and then an armbar, as Fujita stands to try to power out. Unbelievable stuff. Fujita finally manages to force his way free and ends up in Silva’s guard, where he works from the top with punches to the head and body. Silva doesn’t really look damaged but he’s being controlled from the top and doesn’t seem like he can get out from underneath. Ref stands them with five minutes remaining and shows both men the yellow card. They restart and circle around, and it’s like we’re literally waiting for an explosion to happen. Fujita swings a wild punch but Silva counters and knocks him back with a right hand. Fujita keeps coming forward and even misses a spinning backfist as Silva peppers him with leg kicks. Three minutes to go and Silva wades in and they trade wild hooks before backing up a little. They continue to exchange leg kicks and then with about a minute to go a big left-right combo staggers Fujita. Silva follows with a HUGE LEFT-RIGHT THAT DECKS FUJITA and follows up with wild hammer fists! Crowd EXPLODE as Silva stands and lashes out with soccer kicks as Fujita desperately goes for an ankle pick. Somehow Fujita gets up, and they trade wildly but Silva is just KILLING HIM with punches and down he goes again! Soccer kicks and punches to the head follow and Fujita is DONE, the ref’s seen enough and stops it there. Holy SHIT.

Ignoring the slight lull in the middle of the fight that was awesome stuff. The six-month break Wanderlei had clearly did him some good as after a largely flat 2005 this was vintage Axe Murderer, as he came in with some ferocious strikes and ended up just brutalizing Fujita after putting him down for the first time I can remember in ages, probably since Ken Shamrock did it in like 2000. Ending was incredibly brutal, going to show again that when he gets a man hurt, there are few guys in MMA who can finish like Wanderlei Silva. Fujita is tough but who the hell could survive an onslaught like that?

Absolute Grand Prix – Quarter-Finals: Josh Barnett vs Mark Hunt

This was another intriguing bout, as Hunt, despite his clear deficiencies on the ground, was on a serious roll with five wins on the bounce, including ones over Cro Cop and Silva. Barnett hadn’t looked great in his first round fight with Aleksander Emelianenko, taking a bit of a beating standing before subbing him with a keylock in the second round, but despite this I was still taking the Babyfaced Assassin to catch Hunt with something on the ground and get him out of there. Pre-fight Barnett outright calls Hunt limited, but gives him his due for being incredibly tough.

First round begins and Barnett throws a big right hand and then wastes no time in closing the distance into the clinch. Hunt muscles him into the corner and they break off. Quick takedown from Barnett puts Hunt on his back in guard, and he stands to pass the legs into side mount. Hunt looks lost already as Barnett looks to isolate the far arm, and as Hunt tries to squirm free the Babyfaced Assassin steps over the head and moments later secures a kimura for the tapout.

Well, that went down faster than I thought, but then Barnett fought a much smarter fight here than he did against Aleksander, not bothering to test the waters standing with Hunt and taking him to the ground right away where the New Zealander was clearly outgunned. Big win for Barnett in probably much easier fashion than he was expecting.

Post-fight Barnett speaks a bit of Japanese and then tells the fans he’s happy his brain didn’t get spilled on the mat, then tells the rest of the line-up that he hopes they heal up well, because he’s going to open up every stitch, go for every injury, because that belt is his. Total pro-wrestling stuff – Barnett is a hell of a promo.

Absolute Grand Prix – Quarter-Finals: Mirko Cro Cop vs Hidehiko Yoshida

I guess you had to see this one coming – after all, these were the two biggest stars remaining in the tournament to the Japanese fans. Basically a striker vs. grappler match then, although how Yoshida was going to get the larger, more powerful Mirko to the ground was the big question. Naturally most fans were taking Cro Cop via strikes. Size difference, surprisingly enough, is barely noticeable.

Bell sounds and Yoshida stays on the outside, circling around to begin. Overhand right misses for Yoshida as Mirko throws out some jabs. Hard leg kick lands from Cro Cop. Good single leg attempt from Yoshida, but Mirko stuffs it and they end up clinched, where Yoshida tries to tie him up for a takedown. Ref calls for action as they stalemate in the corner, and Yoshida almost gets a head and arm throw but somehow Mirko muscles him off. Serious strength from Cro Cop to block that as Yoshida is a judo legend. Leg kick from Cro Cop lands again as his face looks badly marked up on the right cheek, perhaps the glove damaged him in the throw attempt as Yoshida hasn’t really landed anything of note. Left high kick of DOOM almost lands but Yoshida just dodges it. Yoshida comes forward windmilling but Mirko just pushes him away. Couple of left hands and leg kicks land for Cro Cop now as he manages to avoid a double leg attempt. Odd high kick attempt from Yoshida misses by a mile and he ends up on his back in guard, surprising in a way that Mirko would even bother engaging him down there. Couple of left hands land for Cro Cop from the top as Yoshida tries to tie him up. Sure enough Mirko decides to stand, calling Yoshida up, and the judoka is swinging for the fences now. Good leg kick lands for Mirko, and he follows with another that outright spins Yoshida around. Another one lands and now Yoshida’s limping and using the ropes to help him stand. Uh oh. Head kick misses but Mirko goes back to the leg kick and nearly knocks Yoshida down. Couple of uppercuts land now, dropping Yoshida to the mat. Cro Cop calls him back up, but he takes forever to get to his feet, hurt badly now. Yoshida swings for him, but another leg kick buckles him and puts him down again, and this time he can’t get up and the ref waves it off.

Post-fight we get an absolutely amazing scene as Cro Cop himself helps Yoshida to his feet and along with Kazuhiro Nakamura, helps him out of the ring. Tremendous sportsmanship.

Yoshida once again showed his incredible toughness and heart, as he stood with Mirko for the majority of the fight without fear, and actually played the aggressor for the most part, but he couldn’t get Mirko down and was badly outgunned standing, and eventually the leg kicks paid off to brutal effect, just crippling the Olympic gold medallist. Big win for Cro Cop but to be fair it was to be expected. And that leaves us with a final four of Mirko, Barnett, Nogueira and Wanderlei, which is one hell of a line-up!

-Highlight reel ends the show there. No final four posing in the ring? Boo!

Final Thoughts....

Like Total Elimination Absolute, Critical Countdown Absolute is a solid if unspectacular show. Again, none of the fights are outright bad, although Nakao-Lee wasn’t great, and despite Werdum-Nogueira being excellent from a technical standpoint and Fujita-Wanderlei being a hell of a brawl in the end, neither are true classics or anything. Lil’ Nog-Overeem was really good albeit with an anticlimactic ending, and while Mirko-Yoshida and Hunt-Barnett were close to squashes, I enjoyed Nastula-Draggo and Vitor busting out a quick KO is always fun. So like Total Elimination, it’s worth a look but it’s not a truly great show.

Best Fight: Silva-Fujita
Worst Fight: Nakao-Lee

Overall Rating: ***1/4

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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