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Pride 31: Unbreakable review
by Scott Newman (MMA)
Posted on July 25, 2009, 3:01 AM

Pride 31: Unbreakable

Saitama, Japan

-So the Openweight Grand Prix was coming up after this show, so the basic gist of this one was to give the fans a taster of what to expect, meaning we had a card filled with odd fights going across weight classes, mainly between Heavyweight and Middleweight (205lbs).

-Your hosts are Mauro Renallo and Bas Rutten. Renallo tells us some people believe MMA started with Ali vs. Inoki, then says that “modern day MMA started in the US” without mentioning the UFC. Ha. He then explains that PRIDE now wants to find out who is the best fighter, regardless of weight class. Bas reminds us that weight does matter in today’s MMA, which sort of renders the whole thing pointless really.

-Fighter intro follows and since I’ve been watching a lot of DREAM recently you realise that PRIDE’s music was so much better on this part! Really gets you going. See, I do miss PRIDE sometimes.

Roman Zentsov vs Pedro Rizzo

This was Rizzo’s big comeback to the PRIDE circuit following almost a year away after he was knocked out by Sergei Kharitonov at Critical Countdown 2005. Pre-fight package Rizzo tells us he’s been training in Holland to sharpen up his striking. Zentsov had also made an unsuccessful debut in 2005 as he was choked out by Fabricio Werdum. Guy is well put together though, got to say.

First round begins and they circle and throw out a couple of jabs. Leg kick by Rizzo but Zentsov counters with a CRUSHING LEFT HOOK that knocks the Brazilian silly! Zentsov doesn’t even need to follow up as Rizzo is stiff. Good lord.

Total highlight-reel stuff there. Zentsov just timed the shot perfectly and Rizzo’s chin is basically gone at this stage, and well, that was that. Awesome knockout to begin the night, probably one of the best in PRIDE history in fact.

Rampage Jackson vs Yoon Dong Sik

Yoon at this point was 0-3 and in any other promotion, well, any outside of Japan, he’d have been canned by this point. PRIDE however kept him on and so he ended up as the final opponent in the PRIDE ring of Rampage, as this would be Quinton’s final fight there before he moved on to the WFA and then UFC.

Opening round begins and Yoon quickly clinches, and they exchange some knees. Beautiful trip from Yoon puts Rampage on his back in half-guard. Rampage tries to get up, but Yoon lands with some big left hands and looks to mount. This allows Rampage to get to his feet though and he delivers a BIG BODYSLAM to put Yoon down. He winds up in half-guard and tries to pass, but Yoon manages to lock down on the leg. Yoon gets full guard back but takes some solid ground-and-pound shots to the body and head. Really big punches landing for Quinton in fact. Yoon tries an armbar from the bottom and it looks locked up, and Rampage tries to lift him for a slam, but Yoon grabs the leg to prevent it! Rampage is in trouble here! He goes for the slam again, but Yoon lands on his feet to avoid impact, but Rampage is free of the armbar now and he tackles the judoka back down. Yoon goes for a kimura from the bottom, but Rampage gets free of his guard to avoid, and then lands a couple of knees to the head before standing for some stomps. Yoon looks in trouble as Jackson drops back into the half-guard with some heavy punches, but the Korean survives. Quinton remains on top and continues to work from the half-guard, but the action slows up a little now. Full guard now for Yoon but he continues to take some clubbing punches from Rampage and the round finishes in the same position.

Into the 2nd and they circle around to open with Yoon landing a low kick. Good right hand from Yoon too. Yoon shoots into a clinch but they break after little happens. Nice jab from Quinton and he works inside to the clinch, looking for the takedown. Both men muscle inside the clinch for the takedown, and Yoon almost trips him down but Rampage pops up instantly. Referee breaks them for inactivity and they clinch up again from the restart, but a knee catches Quinton low and the ref gives him time. They restart and Rampage lands with some nice combinations, going to the head and body before he lands some knees. Yoon shoots but Rampage sprawls out and lands some HARD KNEES to the head, then pops up and lands some more from a clinch! Somehow Yoon survives and forces Rampage into the corner, and goes for a takedown, but Rampage shows good balance and lands on top in the guard. Few punches land for Jackson but it’s nothing too wild, and the second round ends in the same way that the first did.

Third and final round, and Rampage throws out some jabs before stuffing a takedown attempt into the clinch. Ref breaks them up and they continue to circle and Quinton blocks a takedown and tags him with a pair of uppercuts. They clinch up and Quinton works him over in the clinch with knees and punches, but Yoon drops for a double leg and gets him down, instantly into full mount! Crowd explode as Yoon tries to punch from the mount, but Jackson holds on from the bottom, but looks stuck a little as he’s in the corner of the ring. Ref moves them back to the center and Yoon continues to try to punch, but eventually Rampage uses sheer strength to roll him over into the Korean’s guard. Quinton works from inside the guard again as he did earlier, pretty conservative stuff for Rampage’s standards, and with seconds to go Yoon tries an armbar. Quinton avoids it and moves to side mount, where he lands with some knees to the head. Yoon scrambles to half-guard though and the fight ends there.

Judges all go for Jackson, unsurprisingly, but that was a bit of an underwhelming showing for him. Granted Yoon had improved a lot (and he went on to win his first MMA fight in his next match) but the Rampage of 2003-4 probably would’ve put him away in the first round. I mean, Rampage did have a ton of bright spots in the fight, but they were fleeting and for the most part it was a slow performance for his usual high standards. Bit of a flat one for Quinton to finish his PRIDE days with to be fair, although it wasn’t outright horrible and he at least won the fight.

Fabricio Werdum vs Jon Olav Einemo

Einemo, the Norwegian debutant out of Joachim Hansen’s camp, was coming in with a pretty solid reputation as not only was he unbeaten at 5-0, but he’d also had some success in the Abu Dhabi tournaments and was widely recognized as one of the best heavyweight grapplers in the world. He hadn’t fought for almost three years at this stage, however, which was the one downside really. Well, that and he was facing Werdum, a guy who had been steadily improving since his PRIDE debut in basically all areas, and was looking to put himself into the title picture in 2006.

We get underway and Werdum throws a combo before looking for the takedown. Einemo stuffs it and they end up clinched, muscling for position with Werdum eventually reversing a takedown attempt and putting Einemo on his back in half-guard. Werdum stands over him and kicks the legs, looking for a way to pass the guard, but the ref brings Einemo up. They exchange leg kicks and Werdum lands with some punching combos too before Einemo closes him down and they clinch. Werdum breaks and they press forward tentatively before the Brazilian lands flush with a right hand. Rather than follow up though he goes to his back in guard, looks like he slipped or something to me. Werdum looks like he’s setting up for an armbar, but Einemo easily avoids it. They come back to their feet and now Einemo wades into a clinch with a right hand, but Werdum answers with some dirty boxing and then grabs the plum clinch to deliver some knees, bloodying Einemo’s nose. Einemo tries a takedown but the ref calls time to check the nose. The doctors clean him up and they restart, and Einemo swings a right into the clinch again and then gets a takedown to guard. Werdum kicks him away though and they exchange into a clinch. Ref breaks them very quickly and has the doctors check Einemo’s nose again. They restart and Werdum tags him with a combo before looking for a takedown, but he winds up on the bottom in side mount before quickly scrambling to guard. Einemo lands with some short punches in the guard as Werdum stays active, looking for the rubber guard. Ref comes in to clean off Einemo’s face AGAIN and then they restart in the guard. They come back to their feet with about a minute remaining, and Einemo swings into the clinch and then slams Werdum down to side mount. Couple of knees from the bottom land for Werdum and the round finishes there.

Round Two and Werdum rushes him with punches right away, landing uppercuts from close range. Einemo seems okay though and they back up before Werdum tags him again as he gets close. Einemo clinches but the ref breaks them up, and Werdum once again rushes him with punches. Clinch from Einemo and Werdum tries a bodylock takedown, but Einemo shifts his weight and lands on top in Werdum’s guard. Little happens and the ref calls the stand-up, with Einemo getting the yellow card. They exchange strikes again and Werdum is showing a lot of aggression even if he’s not especially damaging Einemo with these shots. Single leg attempt from Einemo and he gets Werdum down in the guard, and little happens again until Einemo stands to avoid an armbar. They exchange punches on the feet again and Werdum ends the round with a takedown.

Into the 3rd and Einemo lands a nice low kick early. Werdum comes forward looking to strike again, and lands some punches, but Einemo manages to clinch. They break off and Werdum is really bloodying him up with punches now, landing pretty much at will although he’s leaving his chin wide open. Einemo looks for the takedown, but Werdum stuffs it into a clinch and the ref calls the clean break. Einemo comes forward with a good low kick, but clinches again before Werdum breaks and nails him with a good one-two. Einemo comes into another clinch, but eats a big knee and a left hand. Into the clinch again but the ref breaks them once more. They trade some punches and again Werdum gets the better of it. Final minute and Einemo gets to the clinch and manages a takedown, but he can’t do anything with it and the fight comes to an end.

Judges all have it scored for Werdum, unanimous decision. Wasn’t the most exciting fight ever as despite being two top-level grapplers they stayed on their feet for the most part which appeared to be to Werdum’s advantage – although his striking wasn’t really smooth or anything he was getting in proper range and landing cleaner punches than the Norwegian, which ended up winning him the fight. And although it wasn’t a FOTYC or anything I’d rather see genuinely skilled guys like this than Zuluzinho or something, that’s for sure.

Tsuyoshi Kosaka vs Mario Sperry

Whoa, real battle of legends here as both of these guys have been around FOREVER. Surprising that their paths had never crossed before really. This was Kosaka’s first fight back in PRIDE after the hellacious beating he took at the hands of Fedor in early 2005, while Sperry hadn’t been in there since an early 2005 win over Hirotaka Yokoi. Sperry, for a man pushing 40, is in unbelievable shape, too.

We begin and they trade some punches early, quickly breaking a clinch. Sperry is looking to deliver some knees, and then he catches Kosaka with an overhand right as TK throws a leg kick. Kosaka is stunned and backs up, and Sperry comes in with wild punches as TK tries to fire back. These guys are SWINGING FOR THE FENCES. Takedown from Kosaka into Sperry’s butterfly guard, but the Japanese fighter brings it back to the feet. They go right back into another WILD TRADE and both men get tagged, but this time Kosaka lands with a right hand that crumples Mario, and TK follows with some strikes on the ground to finish things.

Well, I did not expect that at all from these two – I was expecting a drawn-out, technical battle! Instead they just came out and brawled and it was really exciting for the time it lasted. Pretty wild stuff. This would, in fact, be TK’s final win in MMA as he hasn’t fought since a subsequent loss to Mark Hunt.

Alistair Overeem vs Sergei Kharitonov

This on paper was supposed to be an ‘Openweight’ bout, although Overeem, having fought most of his career at 205lbs, bulked up to about 220lbs for this fight. Kharitonov was on a major roll at this stage though, winning all but one of his fourteen career fights, and he was widely expected to dispatch of Overeem here and then make a run for the title later in the year. Overeem is pretty big here, but he’s practically lean compared to how he looks these days!

First round gets started and they throw out some feeler strikes before Alistair gets a nice takedown to side mount. He lands a knee to the head and then elbows at the body, and it looks like he’s got Sergei controlled nicely. More elbows to the body and some short hammer fists to the face land for Alistair. Nice knee to the head too. Overeem begins to really work with the knees to the face, bloodying up Kharitonov’s nose. His rib cage is horribly marked up from the elbows, too. Overeem is absolutely owning Sergei. Mount from Alistair and he suddenly flurries with punches, before Sergei gives his back and slips out the back door. Overeem instantly gets on him and grabs him by the head, turning him onto his back in side mount again, and from there he begins to BRUTALIZE Sergei with the knees to the face! Kharitonov’s face is a mess now and Alistair continues the punishment, just SMASHING Kharitonov with knee after knee until the ref steps in!

Wow, that was an absolute squash. Never expected it in a million years to be fair as Kharitonov had never been dominated like that, even in his loss to Nogueira. Overeem looked fantastic in his first step up to Heavyweight, blowing a top-five ranked fighter out of the water, and it just showed how dangerous a man he can be. Kharitonov in fact hasn’t ever looked the same since. Unbelievable stuff.

Josh Barnett vs Kazuhiro Nakamura

Ah, now this one’s more your classic Openweight, as Barnett outweighs Nakamura by a good 40lbs, if not more. Huge size difference and basically the gist of things is that Nakamura’s in trouble. On paper literally there didn’t seem to be any way that he could win. In fact pre-fight, as they’d trained together before, Nakamura apparently admitted he’d been owned by Barnett in practice and was terrified of fighting him for real.

We begin and Nakamura clinches up, but Barnett quickly breaks. They exchange some punches and Barnett blocks a high kick. Into the clinch again, but they break quickly. Back to the clinch and they muscle for position, but Nakamura backs up. They exchange punches and then Nakamura gets hurt by some knees to the body and drops for a takedown. Barnett sprawls out and gets top position with Nakamura turtled up, and then takes side mount. Knee on belly for Barnett and it looks like he’s setting up a topside triangle. He then goes into a toehold attempt, and it looks locked in, but Nakamura refuses to tap and somehow holds on, and they end up coming to their feet in a clinch. Amazing escape from Nakamura. Barnett muscles him into the corner of the ring but they break off and then trade punches back to the clinch. Trip takedown from Nakamura and he gets side mount on Barnett! Barnett manages to roll and takes a weak soccer kick before popping up and getting a single leg to half-guard. He looks to be setting up for a front choke, but Nakamura avoids. Josh looks for a kimura now, but again Nakamura manages to slip free! Barnett continues to control him and lands punches, and then takes mount with Nakamura giving his back right away. Nakamura is in trouble, and Barnett locks up the rear naked choke for the tapout.

Nakamura put up a decent fight but he was always overmatched and Barnett put in a workmanlike performance to put him away. Some excellent escapes from Nakamura, but it was only a matter of time before he got caught really. Nothing to see here although this was the beginning of Barnett’s return to true form after a couple of shitty years for him.

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs Kiyoshi Tamura

This was a late addition to the card, and was actually a rematch of a 2000 fight in RINGS between the two that saw Nogueira win via armbar. Nothing different was expected to happen here, to be frank. I was surprised to see Tamura return to PRIDE if I’m honest as he’d once again avoided a match with Sakuraba on the last NYE show.

Round One begins and Tamura comes out swinging, but Nogueira ducks under and gets an easy single leg and takes his back instantly. He gets one hook in and looks for the second one, as Tamura wriggles. Both hooks in now and Tamura is in big trouble. Tamura works to defend the rear naked choke but Nog has the body triangle locked in now. Tamura looks to turn into him, but Nogueira locks up his arm and moves for the armbar, securing it and extending it for the tapout.

Quick and easy win for Nogueira, totally one-sided fight. As a longtime fan of Minotauro though it was nice to see him pick up an easy win like this as the majority of his fights turn into brutal wars! Tamura was totally overmatched but you’ve got to admire Nogueira’s ground skill.

Mauricio Shogun Rua vs Mark Coleman

For US fans this was the main event, Coleman’s return to PRIDE following a layoff of a year, to take on the seemingly unstoppable Middleweight Grand Prix champion in Shogun. The word was that Coleman was very fired up for this fight, and strangely enough he ended up coming in lighter than Shogun, who attempted to bulk himself up to Heavyweight but really ended up putting on largely useless mass instead of lean muscle.

We get underway and Shogun misses a right high kick. Coleman closes the distance and muscles him to the ground, and right away Shogun rolls into guard and looks for a triangle choke. Coleman slams his way out and then Shogun rolls for a kneebar, pulling Coleman down, but the former UFC champion manages to turn out. He gets an ankle pick and takes Shogun down...but as Shogun hits the ground his elbow dislocates and the ref comes in to stop things, and suddenly Coleman LOSES THE PLOT and keeps coming after the Brazilian, throwing the ref off to the side! We’ve got UTTER CHAOS now as Murilo Ninja comes into the ring to confront Coleman, and a HUGE FRACAS erupts with Wanderlei Silva coming in and Phil Baroni taking him down! BEST EVAH!~!

Post-fight sees a pumped-up Coleman celebrating by flexing like Batista while Baroni copies him, absolutely crazy stuff. Total freak accident to end the fight (despite Coleman claiming it wasn’t a fluke) but the insane brawl at the end made this one of the most memorable bouts in PRIDE history. Mauro’s immediately talking about a rematch but we wouldn’t see that until three years later in the UFC.

-We go backstage where Coleman is still angry as hell, yelling at Rampage Jackson that he “needed some help out there, there was about twenty of them!” He then claims Ninja and Wanderlei both sucker-punched him, “cheap motherfuckers”, and then he explains how Baroni took Silva down and then he “stood on his fucking head, he couldn’t get up”. One of the most hilarious segments in MMA history, period. Coleman is totally batshit insane.

Mark Hunt vs Yosuke Nishijima

This was former boxing champion Nishijima’s MMA debut, and he was given both the best and worst opponent stylistically. Best because hey, at least Hunt wasn’t going to just take him down and tap him out, but worst because how the hell do you strike with Mark Hunt when you’re not going to knock him out? Add in the ridiculous size difference – Nishijima is like 211lbs to Hunt’s near-300lbs, and this was a spectacle fight at best.

First round begins and Hunt lands a low kick. Hunt closes the distance and lands a knee that knocks Nishijima off balance, but the boxer dodges some shots and tries to bob and weave. Takedown from Hunt (!) into side mount. He controls Nishijima and then steps to full mount, where he postures up to deliver some punches. Nishijima somehow manages to roll and escapes out the back door, and then they come to their feet and Hunt begins to tag him with strikes, landing a left hook and a big knee. Nishijima comes back with a few jabs and a looping left hook, but Hunt answers with a pair of knees. They continue to exchange with Nishijima going to the body, but then Hunt whacks him with a right hand and another big knee. They continue to exchange until Hunt nails him with a knee that drops him to all fours. Nishijima grabs a leg but Hunt gets on top and pounds away, before standing over the boxer. Ref brings him up to his feet and Nishijima lands some jabs, but he can’t seem to hurt Hunt and it’s the opposite when Hunt lands, rocking Nishijima badly with a combo. Flying kick misses for Hunt but he drops Nishijima with a left and gets on top in side mount. Some short punches land for Hunt from the position, but really it looks like Nishijima’s in more danger when they’re standing, as he easily avoids Hunt’s keylock and kimura attempts. Hunt continues to control him and then stands and tries a DOUBLE KNEE DROP, but the boxer moves out of the way at the last second! They’re back on their feet now exchanging punches, and it’s more of the same as both men land but only Nishijima is looking to be hurt. With seconds to go though Hunt is looking gassed, and Nishijima begins to land more punches! Pretty crazy first round.

Into the 2nd and Hunt opens with some low kicks, as Nishijima looks to move around and attack the body. Nishijima actually begins to land the better punches, using his speed to avoid Hunt’s, but his face is pretty bloody at this stage. Hunt is beginning to look tired now though and Nishijima continues to land punches as he sticks and moves. Hunt closes him down though and lands a low kick, then opens up with some punches that drop the boxer again. Soccer kick on the way down has him hurt, and he grips onto Hunt’s legs to try to avoid any knees. Hunt ends up in a knee-on-belly position but they’re trapped in the corner and the ref restarts them standing. Both men are landing flush now but both are still standing, although I have no idea how Nishijima is managing it. Some huge shots land for Hunt and the boxer is horribly wobbled, but he stays standing and fires right back! Hunt is EXHAUSTED now too, basically just leaning on Nishijima and eating clean punches. With seconds to go Nishijima goes down again, but he’s up quickly and the round ends there. This is turning into one hell of a brawl. Between rounds the doctors are surrounding Nishijima’s corner, he’s obviously hurt pretty badly.

We’re going into the final round and Hunt looks fresher, closing the distance quickly and landing combos. Nishijima tries to answer back but he looks tired now too. Suddenly a BIG RIGHT HAND lands for Hunt and knocks Nishijima down again, and this time the ref steps in and calls it. Surprising that he’d stop it so fast but I guess they were worried about Nishijima after the second round anyway.

Well, that was an unbelievably exciting fight, a brawl from start to finish, but having said that, it wasn’t an impressive performance form Hunt at all as it took him three rounds to put away a guy much smaller than himself making his MMA debut. I mean, really, Hunt had mount and side mount on him a few times and he should’ve been able to tap him out there. Outside of that, Nishijima showed a ton of heart and definitely made it a fight, but he was always outgunned by the larger, iron-jawed Hunt and it was always only a matter of time before he went down. Odd main event but you can’t say it wasn’t entertaining.

-And the credits roll after that.

Final Thoughts....

PRIDE 31 is a bit of an odd show overall. I mean, you’d have thought the Openweight idea would lead to a lot of squash matches, but outside of Barnett-Nakamura and Nogueira-Tamura, that wasn’t really the case. Hunt-Nishijima turned into a crazy war and was very entertaining, Overeem-Kharitonov was a squash in the opposite way to how many fans had envisioned, and Shogun-Coleman ended on a freak injury before it could get going. There’s no classic fights here and Einemo-Werdum and Rampage-Yoon were slow-ish, but a bunch of highlight reel finishes (Sperry-Kosaka, Rizzo-Zentsov, Overeem-Kharitonov) and the war in the main event make it a watchable show. Plus, everyone’s got to see the insanity that is Coleman-Shogun at least once in their lifetime. Thumbs leaning up for this one.

Best Fight: Hunt-Nishijima
Worst Fight: Werdum-Einemo

Overall Rating: ***1/4

Coming Soon....

UFC: 94-100, Fight Nights 17-18, and TUF VIII Finale.
DREAM: 5-10.
King of the Cage: Various shows

Until next time,

Scott Newman:

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