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Pride: Final Conflict Absolute review
by Scott Newman (MMA)
Posted on June 25, 2009, 3:14 PM

Pride: Final Conflict Absolute

Saitama, Japan

-Street Fighter ish cartoon and a rundown of the Openweight GP so far begins the show.

-Your hosts are Mauro Renallo and Frank Trigg.

-Into the arena for the parade of fighters. Mauro mentions Cyborg Santos got married in August. How weird to think that his wife’s now more famous in MMA than he is? Nothing else to note really apart from the fact that it’s Cro Cop’s birthday (!) and Sergei Kharitonov’s t-shirt with his face in a Che Guevara-style is dope.

Cyborg Santos vs Yosuke Nishijima

No idea why Pride continued to book ex-boxer Nishijima at this point as he’d already lost two fights on the bounce and had looked clueless in them. Cyborg had lost his Pride debut to Kazuhiro Nakamura but the easy money here was on the Brazilian submitting Nishijima.

First round gets underway with a brief exchange, and then Cyborg takes over, nailing Nishijima with knee strikes and a flurry of punches as the boxer covers up. Nishijima looks in trouble right away as Cyborg lands knees to the head from the plum clinch, and then takes him down to side mount. Mount from Cyborg and he lands some short punches, mainly smothering Nishijima. Eventually Cyborg postures up and begins to land some big shots while holding the boxer around the throat Wanderlei style. Nishijima rolls and gives his back, and Cyborg effortlessly locks the rear naked choke in and ends up choking Nishijima unconscious as the boxer refuses to tap.

Totally one-sided squash. Cyborg isn’t exactly Marcelo Garcia on the ground but then anyone with a half-decent takedown and some BJJ training probably could’ve tapped Nishijima. Worse for the boxer he was horribly outgunned standing too. No idea how good of a boxer he was, but for the boxing fans who point to Mercer-Sylvia as an example of boxing > MMA, well, just show them a tape of this dude’s MMA career, heh.

Absolute Grand Prix – Semi-Finals: Mirko Cro Cop vs Wanderlei Silva

First semi-final was a rematch of a 2002 fight under special rules that saw the two fight to a draw, and surprisingly enough the pre-fight video package shows that it’s quite the grudge match, as these two do NOT like each other. Incredibly Silva came in HEAVIER than Mirko for this one at around 225lbs, jacked out of his mind, but despite this I was picking Cro Cop to pick the wilder Wanderlei apart with his precision striking. Awesome staredown as Silva looks AMPED while Mirko is cold as ice.

Bell sounds and Silva comes out swinging right away, but Cro Cop goes into counter-mode and lands a stiff one-two. Hard body kick lands for Mirko and he follows up with a nice counter left. Silva swings wildly again but Mirko lands two or three counters and now Wanderlei shoots. Cro Cop stuffs it and gets on top, opening up with punches and hammer fists into Wandy’s guard. Wanderlei manoeuvres for an armbar, but Mirko pulls right out and stands, taking an upkick as he does so. Silva comes forward, but walks into a HUGE STRAIGHT LEFT that drops him down! Mirko pounces and pounds away inside the guard, looking for the finish, and we can see now that Silva’s right eye is swelling up bad. Mirko continues to land hammer fists from the top, and then the ref ends up calling time as Wandy’s eye is practically swollen shut ala his first fight with Dan Henderson back in 2000. Doctors check the eye over and you could make a case for stopping the fight I think, but they decide to let it go. Silva’s also sporting a bloody nose. They finally restart in Silva’s guard, and he wildly strikes from the bottom, getting desperate, but Mirko stays low in the guard and lands some more hard shots. Action slows down a little as they pepper each other in the guard, and the ref ends up bringing them back to standing and issues Silva a yellow card. Silva comes forward swinging again, but Cro Cop dodges his strikes and lands a body kick. Five minutes gone and Silva is just swinging haymakers now, but Cro Cop continues to dodge the onslaught and land the cleaner counters. Body kick lands again for Mirko as Silva circles out, and from there Cro Cop follows with the LEFT HIGH KICK OF DOOM and KILLS WANDERLEI DEAD!~!

Good lord. Trigg’s commentary is HILARIOUS here too, just yelling “OH NO! OH NO!” wildly. Kick didn’t look like it landed as cleanly as the ones he landed on Vovchanchyn or Aleksander Emelianenko, but the shin made contact with the top of Wanderlei’s head and was enough to knock him practically into next week. Basically a flawless victory for Cro Cop as he dismantled Silva, avoiding all of the Middleweight champ’s wild haymakers and picking him apart with straight punches, before ending his night with one of the most brutal KOs in MMA history. Awesome stuff.

Absolute Grand Prix – Semi-Finals: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs Josh Barnett

This, the other semi, was the fight I was anticipating the most on the whole card as Barnett had finally gotten his act together and taken out two top ten opponents in a row in Aleksander Emelianenko and Mark Hunt, looking particularly fantastic in the Hunt win. Nogueira had been, well, Nogueira, looking largely unstoppable against anyone not named Fedor Emelianenko. Close fight to call but I was picking Nogueira by decision mainly based on what I saw as his superior cardio. Pre-fight interview sees Barnett claim Nogueira “walks around like his shit doesn’t stink”, which is in my view completely wrong. I guess he was just trying to talk some trash to build the fight maybe, but to take that route with a guy who always comes off as humble as Nog does was pretty retarded.

First round begins with them exchanging strikes, and Nogueira looks to have the better hands, clipping Barnett early with a right. Exchange continues in and out of a couple of brief clinches, with both men landing shots, and then they clinch again and muscle for position. They break off, and the striking exchange continues with Nogueira peppering the body with a flurry. Barnett comes back with a stiff left jab and then they clinch up again. Big knee breaks for Barnett and he follows with a left hook that PUTS NOG DOWN! Josh pounces and goes into the half-guard, but right away Nogueira gets a butterfly hook back in and then goes to full butterfly guard. Nog tries to control Barnett, but Josh stands and drops a punch to pass the guard. Nogueira quickly gets a butterfly guard back and lands an upkick as Barnett stands over him. Barnett drops back into the half-guard and looks for a pass, but Nogueira reverses from the bottom and uses an ankle pick to come back up to his feet. Nogueira looks for the takedown, and manages to trip Barnett down to his back where he instantly passes from half-guard to side mount. Nog softens him up with some short punches and knees to the body, and then goes for mount, but Barnett manages to get half-guard. Few good punches land for Nog from the half-guard, but Barnett sweeps and gets to his feet, where he tries a standing guillotine. Nogueira manages to force his way free but takes a knee on the way out of the clinch. They exchange punches again and Nog once again gets the better of it. Single leg attempt from Nogueira allows him to slip behind and work a bodylock to the ground, but as they hit the mat Barnett goes for a leglock! He attempts an Achilles lock, but Nogueira works and slips free, then tackles Barnett onto his back and gets side mount. This fight is awesome. Mount from Nogueira and he slugs away with punches, with Barnett defending as there’s just a minute to go! Nog looks for the armbar, and we get an AMAZING spot where they’re fighting over the armbar, Barnett clasping his hands together to survive, and somehow as Nogueira rolls onto his back, Barnett manages to get his arm free! Crowd go apeshit as Barnett drops hammerfists down onto the Brazilian to end the round. WOW.

Second and final round then, as this is a two-round fight due to it being a semi-final. Wild swing by Barnett to begin but Nogueira ducks and goes for a single leg. Barnett defends it well, sprawling out into a front facelock, and Nogueira pulls guard instead, working the butterfly hooks in again. Barnett stands to attempt a pass, but Nogueira instantly grabs an ankle pick and gets Barnett on his back off that. Closed guard by Barnett as Nogueira throws some punches from the top. Barnett goes for a sweep, but Nogueira uses the attempt against Josh and slips his legs free, taking full mount. Barnett manages to muscle out though, rolling Nogueira over into his guard. These guys are just awesome. Nogueira works closed guard now before Barnett stands and drops a heavy left hand into the guard. Beautiful arm drag sweep by Nog allows him to reverse though, and he takes an over/under and looks to take Barnett’s back! Barnett escapes though and ends up standing over Nogueira, before stepping over into half-guard. Barnett goes for a kimura and then transitions into a kneebar, but Nogueira crosses his legs to block. Barnett elbows at the leg though and then switches position and EXTENDS THE LEG! Barnett wrenches at the hold and you can actually see Nogueira SCREAMING IN PAIN, but the bell sounds before Josh can force the tapout! Unbelievable finish.

We’re going to the judges and I honestly have no clue how I’d score it, especially with Pride’s rules of scoring across the whole fight. A draw maybe? Ha. Neither guy deserves to lose. First judge has it for Nogueira. Second judge has it for Barnett. Third judge has it for....Barnett! No complaints from me, although if Nogueira had taken it I wouldn’t have complained about that either.

That was an insanely close fight to call, but it was equally as awesome as it was close. Both men fought to the best of their ability, came close to submissions – Nogueira with the armbar, Barnett with the kneebar – and landed some great shots standing too. Barnett’s conditioning impressed me as for a heavyweight fight the pace was very high, and yet he didn’t gas out at all. Nogueira came off on the wrong end of the decision, but didn’t really lose anything from it as how can you call either guy a loser in a fight like that? This was simply one of the best heavyweight fights I’ve ever seen in MMA, and for my money it’s easily the best non-Bushido fight from Pride in 2006, a total Fight of the Year Contender. Amazing stuff.

Absolute Grand Prix – Alternate Bout: Aleksander Emelianenko vs Sergei Kharitonov

Interesting Alternate bout with two top ten or thereabouts fighters squaring off (although what happened to Roman Zentsov as alternate after he beat Gilbert Yvel at Total Elimination?). Aleksander had looked great standing against Josh Barnett but his ground game had shown large holes, while Kharitonov hadn’t seen action since a stunning loss to Alistair Overeem that saw him injure his shoulder before taking a hellacious beating on the ground. I was taking Kharitonov based on his slightly crisper stand-up, although he hadn’t truly looked good since mid-2005 if I’m honest.

We begin and Sergei lands a low kick and a short left hook as Aleks tries to close the distance, getting to a clinch and then breaking it with a knee. Hard one-two from Aleks stuns Kharitonov and he drops for a single leg and ends up in the clinch. They break off quickly and Aleks almost gets a throw, but Sergei blocks it. Stiff jab lands for Aleks. They exchange some punches and Emelianenko’s jab is looking good here. They clinch again and Aleks grabs a front headlock and lands a knee, before they break and exchange flurries for a moment. Ref calls time to check Aleks’s mouthpiece and upon the restart he eats a stiff jab. BIG right hand cracks Emelianenko badly and he drops face-first, and Sergei quickly pounces and takes full mount! Aleks ties him up from the bottom and seems to have recovered, as Kharitonov’s done nothing to really capitalize on the knockdown. Good job done by Emelianenko to buck Sergei off, and Kharitonov ends up standing over him in his guard now. Sergei drops some nice punches down onto Aleks, but things slow down and the ref brings them up. Yellow card for both fighters but I didn’t think that was warranted as the fight wasn’t *that* slow. They restart and continue to exchange jabs and punches, with Kharitonov mixing it up with leg kicks too, as the cameras pick up a brutal welt on the inside of Aleks’s left leg. Leg kick into a hard left hook almost turns Aleks around. Sergei continues to play the role of aggressor, pushing forward as the striking exchange continues. Suddenly a BRUTAL RIGHT CROSS lands for Aleks, snapping Sergei’s head back, and inexplicably Kharitonov tells him to do it again. Aleks obliges and this time Kharitonov gets rocked badly and drops to the ground, and Aleks begins to wail away on him with punches, Sergei trapped in the turtle position. Kharitonov looks in trouble and then Emelianenko switches to heavy knee strikes to the head, and the ref stops it there.

Finish was absolutely brutal. I have no clue what Sergei was doing in telling Aleks to bring it on after taking that punch, but I guess his mind was gone after being nailed with it. This was basically the last time we would see Kharitonov in good shape as he’s gone spiralling downhill since. Really excellent fight, and the striking exchanges were really crisp, yet intense as hell.

Mauricio Shogun vs Cyrille Diabate

Shogun had dislocated his elbow in the now-infamous fight with Mark Coleman earlier in the year, and this was his comeback to Pride, facing off with French kickboxer Diabate who’s known more today as Team Quest South’s Muay Thai coach. In terms of his fighting style, think of a poor man’s Anderson Silva. In the pre-fight package Diabate basically admits he’s outgunned by Shogun in all areas, but he’s smarter and that’s how he’ll win. Surprising to see anyone admit something like that. Hilariously the ring announcer doesn’t even announce Diabate by name, just introducing him as “THE SNAAAAAKE!”

First round begins and the Snake looks to have a huge reach advantage. Shogun comes out swinging, but takes an early jumping knee and a right hand from Diabate. Shogun responds by tackling him to the ground in guard. Beautiful jumping guard pass from Shogun puts him into side control. Shogun drops some knees to the body and I’m cracking up now as even Mauro isn’t calling Diabate by name. He is literally just THE SNAKE. Scramble by the Snake and he escapes to his feet, landing a knee, but Shogun goes for a double leg and gets him down again. Shogun works into half-guard and looks to pass that, working into side mount again. It looks like he’s setting up for an arm triangle choke, but Snake manages to pop free. Shogun tries to control him and keep him down, but Snake does a good job of escaping to his feet again, and then takes a knee as he slithers backwards. Sorry, even I’m getting into it now. Jumping kick misses for the Snake but he lands a knee pretty flush as Shogun comes forward. Spinning backfist misses and now Shogun lands a right into the clinch and gets the takedown to half-guard again. Couple of elbows land to the body for Shogun before Snake tries to scramble to his feet. Shogun keeps him down and gets in side control, and then takes full mount. Punches land for Shogun and then he stands and hurts the Snake with a soccer kick as the Frenchman is on all fours. Stomp to the head follows and now the Snake looks in trouble. BRUTAL SOCCER KICK lands for the Brazilian and then he follows with one more vicious stomp for the stoppage.

The Snake acquitted himself pretty well here, showing some good stand-up and a decent defensive bottom game, but once he got caught with the soccer kick it was all downhill and Shogun went back to his murderous 2005 form and committed his usual GBH-style finish. Fun little fight with a nasty, nasty ending.

Ricardo Arona vs Alistair Overeem

Yep, you read that right. This was Overeem’s SIXTH fight of 2006, only a couple of months removed from an odd loss to Rogerio Nogueira that saw him light up the Brazilian standing before getting stunned with a punch, upon which his corner threw in the towel. Arona meanwhile hadn’t fought since the disappointing loss to Wanderlei Silva at Shockwave 2005 and history has told us that when Arona gets beaten like that he normally comes back in vicious mode (see him kill the poor Russian after his loss to Rampage), so I was picking him to beat the burned-out Demolition Man. Pre-fight Overeem freely calls Arona a boring fighter, and Arona trashes Overeem for his shoddy cardio, ha!

We get underway and Overeem presses forward, but takes a pair of chopping leg kicks. Overeem continues to push forward and lands a pair of knees to the midsection and a left-right combo that stuns the Brazilian. Arona clinches but Overeem breaks off quickly and continues to stalk him. Arona hits him with another good leg kick though, and this time Alistair’s right leg buckles and he falls to the ground. Arona quickly follows him down into the guard, and he works to pass, getting free into side mount. Good knee from the side from Arona as Overeem looks surprisingly lost from his back; he’s normally not too bad from the position. Overeem rolls and gives his back, and Arona takes an over/under and tries to get his hooks in. Overeem blocks initially as Arona lands some punches and hammer fists to the side of the head, and then he slaps the hooks in and transitions to a body triangle. Arona begins to land punches from behind, dropping some good strikes, and Overeem ends up tapping out.

Bit of a weird tapout as Overeem is a tough guy and Arona’s punches didn’t seem to do that much damage, but it later transpired that the leg kick did some damage to the nerves in Alistair’s leg and caused him to lose the feeling in it, which meant he just couldn’t defend properly and felt it was better to get out of the fight before he got hurt any worse. Fair enough I guess, but a disappointing showing for the Demolition Man. On the flip side, Arona looked tremendous in this fight, coming out aggressively to put Overeem away.

Absolute Grand Prix - Finals: Mirko Cro Cop vs Josh Barnett

Well, I’d expected a rematch of Cro Cop-Nogueira as the finals but who could complain about Cro Cop-Barnett instead? Weird to think that this was the third time in as many years that these two had fought each other in September/October time. The first fight had ended with Barnett’s freak shoulder injury while the second had seen Mirko take a decision in a fight that both men looked burned out in. This time, with both men having fought tough fights earlier in the night, the advantage seemed to be with Cro Cop, as his fight with Wanderlei had been shorter than Barnett’s war with Nogueira and he didn’t look as banged up. Still, as we’d seen with the 2003 Middleweight GP finals (Wanderlei vs. Rampage) sometimes the shorter fight is the harder hitting one, so Barnett was not to be counted out. Winner is of course crowned the 2006 Pride Absolute Champion.

Before the fight we get the national anthems of Croatia and the USA, which has to be a good thing for Barnett as after the war with Nogueira every single second counts towards him recovering a bit of his gas tank. Weird moment during the staredown as Barnett appears to tell Mirko he’s got something in his eye and Cro Cop thanks him for it. Wouldn’t have gotten that had Wanderlei made it through damnit!

We get underway and Barnett looks like the aggressor, coming forward, but Mirko lands the first telling blow, a nasty body kick. Clinch from Barnett and he bulls him into the ropes, but Cro Cop breaks off. Couple of low kicks land for Barnett and then he shoots in on a single leg off a kick attempt, but Mirko defends well and breaks off a clinch, then lands a series of HARD left uppercuts! Barnett looks hurt, but then fires back with a pair of knees, and as he tries a third one he falls to his back. Cro Cop goes down into Josh’s guard but the ref calls time to check a cut over Cro Cop’s right eye. The doctor lets it go on and they restart in the guard of Barnett. Action slows down a lot as Barnett does an excellent job of controlling Cro Cop from his back, looking to set up for a possible triangle. Mirko avoids the triangle and decides to stand up, and the ref calls Barnett to join him. Body kick lands for Mirko and he avoids a high kick from Barnett. Straight left from Cro Cop stuns Barnett and the Croatian follows with some left uppercuts again, Barnett covering up. Kick to the body lands again and then a left stuns Barnett but he recovers instantly and clinches. Knee to break from Mirko but he takes a good leg kick from Josh. Barnett closes the distance and looks for the takedown, grabbing a clinch, but Cro Cop blocks and opens up with a series of brutal left uppercuts that drop the Babyfaced Assassin to the mat! Cro Cop goes wild following up with hammer fists and punches as Barnett rolls from his back to the turtle position, then back onto his back. Barnett manages to get guard, but continues to take punishment and his face is a mess now. It looks like Barnett’s somehow managed to recover, controlling Mirko with the guard, but with about two and a half minutes remaining Mirko breaks free of the guard and lands what looks like an errant thumb to the eye, following with a left hand and Barnett taps out there! Mirko Cro Cop is the 2006 Absolute Champion, finally winning a title in Pride after coming just short on so many other occasions.

First off then, the finish was admittedly anticlimactic, as it definitely looked like Barnett got poked in the eye to lead to the tapout, but to be fair he was taking a beating at that point anyway and I doubt he would’ve won if I’m honest. Fight itself, while not a technical classic like Nogueira-Barnett, was still a lot of fun and despite both men fighting tough matches earlier in the night, they still came out and threw down big time, not showing any adverse effects in terms of the pace of the fight.

Post-fight Mirko gets mad emotional as they strap the GP Title belt on him, and who wouldn’t, winning a huge tournament like this on your birthday of all days? Sure, cynics could point to the fact that of all the semi-finalists, Cro Cop had by far the easiest route to the finals (technically he didn’t even fight a true heavyweight until Barnett in the final round) but he still had to win his fights and on this night, I don’t think anyone was stopping him from winning that championship. And this would turn out to be the zenith of Mirko’s career, as he went on to jump ship to the UFC where he crashed and burned, and hasn’t really recovered.

-Trigg conducts a bit of a dull backstage interview with Cro Cop, surprisingly enough, nothing to note to be honest as Mirko barely comes off as happy even. Next Trigg talks to Barnett who thinks he definitely deserved the win over Nogueira, but couldn’t get out of first gear against Cro Cop and then confirms the accidental eye poke as the thing that caused the tapout. Again a dull interview – why not just end the show with Mirko’s celebration?

-Highlight reel finishes it properly with Mirko getting the belt.

Final Thoughts....

Overall I think Final Conflict Absolute is up there with the very best shows Pride ever produced, stuff like Critical Countdown 2004, Pride 25 and of course the daddy of them all, Final Conflict 2003. This show actually came close to matching those, with a bonafide classic in Nogueira-Barnett to go along with a bunch of uber-exciting fights with sick finishes like Cro Cop-Silva, Shogun-Snake and Aleksander-Kharitonov. Main event finished somewhat anticlimactically and there are a couple of squashes on the card, but really they’re minor faults and overall this is a fantastic show. High recommendation, especially if you’re a big Cro Cop fan, as I doubt his career will ever surpass this show as his crowning achievement.

Best Fight: Nogueira-Barnett
Worst Fight: Cyborg-Nishijima

Overall Rating: ****1/2

Coming Soon....

UFC: 94-99, Fight Nights 17-18, and TUF VIII Finale.
Pride: Shockwave 2006, 31.
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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