Pride Never Die: Celebrating the 25th anniversary of Pride FC with 25 of its best moments, part 1


Twenty-five years ago this week, the MMA landscape changed forever when Pride FC held its inaugural event, Pride 1 in Tokyo on Oct. 11, 1997.

Conceived originally as a promotional outlet for professional wrestler Nobuhiko Takada to fight Rickson Gracie, Pride 1 brought 47,000 fans to the Tokyo Dome and became an instant success in Japan. More events quickly followed, with Pride launching their first Grand Prix event in 2000, which was won by former UFC heavyweight champion Mark Coleman. Pride quickly established itself as the leading MMA organization in the world.

For the next six years, Pride went head to head with the UFC for MMA supremacy, with many fans favoring the Japanese promotion — and it’s easy to see why. During its run, Pride was responsible for building some of the most iconic stars in the history of MMA while also playing host to some of its most unforgettable moments. So on this, the 25th anniversary of Pride’s debut, Alexander K. Lee, Damon Martin, Jed Meshew, and Shaheen Al-Shatti remember some of their favorite moments in the history of Pride FC.

Jan. 30, 2000 – May 1, 2000: Mark Coleman wins the 2000 Openweight Grand Prix

Mark Coleman, a once-great heavyweight, left the UFC after three consecutive losses and then added another in his PRIDE debut. It seemed that Coleman was losing ground. That all changed when he entered the first ever PRIDE Openweight Grand Prix with a chance to resurrect the reputation he earned by mauling foes in the early days of the UFC. Coleman, a former Ohio State wrestler, looked like a fighter who had reborn. He reached the quarterfinals which gave him the opportunity to face three other opponents to be crowned champion.

That’s exactly what Coleman did — capped off by a dominant performance over Russian bruiser Igor Vovchanchyn, who was riding a ridiculous 37-fight win streak before he got bludgeoned with knees in the final match. Coleman won the title, but he also became “The Hammer” once more than the nail. – Martin

Jan. 30, 2000: The iconic intros of Lenne Hardt

One thing that PRIDE always did better than any other promotion was the pageantry involved with their fighter introductions. The arena was filled with booming music, huge LED screens and a laser light show. This brought the best of pro wrestling to MMA. After the fighters emerged from backstage, their names were then shouted to the heavens by Lenne Hardt — an anonymous announcer who debuted for the 2000 Openweight Grand Prix and grew to be known as “The PRIDE screaming lady” by fans around the world.

Hardt’s unbelievable ability to change her pitch, her volume, and offer a unique take on every single name she announced made her a staple of PRIDE, but more importantly she brought an element of excitement and enthusiasm to some the biggest fights ever. – Martin

May 1, 2000: Kazushi Sakuraba becomes “The Gracie Hunter” at Pride Grand Prix 2000 Finals

If anyone in the Gracie family has nightmares, it’s likely because Kazushi Sakuraba is the boogeyman haunting their dreams. A catch wrestler by trade, Sakuraba tormented Brazilian jiu-jitsu stylists but was especially good against anyone with the last name Gracie. After nearly twisting Royler Gracie’s arm, he then snatched Renzo Gracie’s arms with one of his most vile kimuras. But no fight defined his reign of terror better than Sakuraba engaging in a no time limit match against UFC icon Royce Gracie.

The epic encounter lasted for 90 grueling minutes, with Sakuraba finally coming out on top after punishing Gracie with a series of leg kicks, which forced his brother and UFC co-founder Rorion Gracie to throw in the towel. The win helped cement Sakuraba forever and always as “The Gracie Hunter.” – Martin

Aug. 28, 2002: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira pulls off comeback armbar against Bob Sapp at Pride Shockwave

The quintessential Pride circus fight. Bob Sapp may be a walking punchline now, but he was combat sports’ closest parallel to Thanos back in 2002, a gargantuan ex-NFL lineman who crossed over with the force of a thousand waves, and even twice toppled K-1 legend Ernesto Hoost later the same year. So of course Pride matched its new 329-pound toy up against “Big Nog,” the No. 1 fighter in the world at the time and its reigning heavyweight champion.

What ensued was one of the most chaotic brawls of the era, a David vs. Goliath showdown that cemented itself as an all-timer well before Nogueira gutted out his hellacious armbar victory at the 19-minute mark. – Al-Shatti

Oct. 5, 2003: Mirko Cro Cop head kicks professional wrestler Dos Caras Jr. at Pride Bushido 1

Mirkocro Crop has conquered many legendary names during his Pride career. Future “Alberto Del Rio”, a.k.a. “Alberto El Patron” wasn’t one of them. Alberto, then Dos Caras Jr. (the son of Mexican luchador Dos Caras), wanted to increase his combat sport portfolio and bring his famed name and legit amateur wrestling experience into MMA. Before he was called to the main stage, he won a few matches in Japan’s Deep. He then faced Cro Crop, a heavyweight champion.

Spoiler – Dos Caras Jr. was kicked in the head.

Caras entered the ring in a traditional luchador masque. He looked lost but it is difficult to see any situation where he could have had a chance against Crocod’s kicking machine. It’s a sight that’s hard to imagine in modern promotions, with a mask-wearing fighter in the corner looking defeated by a Cro Cop head kick. We’re all poorer for this. – Lee

Nov. 9, 2003: Quinton “Rampage” Jackson finishes Chuck Liddell at Pride Final Conflict 2003

You can thank Quinton Jackson to Dana White for her unwavering opposition to cross promotion. Chuck Liddell had yet to reach the level of stardom that awaited him when he eventually became UFC light heavyweight champion, but he was already one of the promotion’s most popular fighters and White was confident that “The Ice Man” could show out when he entered him into the 2003 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix.

The first matchup went great for Liddell as he made short work of Alistair Overeem. He met his arch-nemesis, “Rampage” in round two of the tournament. Jackson had Liddell outgunned from the beginning, consistently beating him to the punch in the standup before taking an exhausted Liddell down in Round 2 and pummeling him with methodical ground-and-pound until Liddell’s corner threw in the towel. It was a rough look for Liddell, White, and the UFC, and is one of the main reasons why White has maintained an iron grip on his roster ever since. – Lee

Feb. 1, 2004: Mirko Cro Cop and Bas Rutten prank Mauro Ranallo backstage

One of the voices of Pride, Ranallo did a backstage interview with Cro Cop in advance of his fight with Ron Waterman at Pride 27: Inferno, and Cro Cop, at the behest of Rutten, decided to have a little fun with him. During the interview, Cro Cop “took offense” to Ranallo’s commentary during his fight with Nogueira (Ranallo didn’t commentate that fight), leaving Ranallo visibly shaken by the whole thing until Mirko and Bas reveal it was all a gag. Watching it now, you can still feel Ranallo’s discomfort at thinking he’d somehow made an enemy of one of the most dangerous men alive. – Meshew

June 20, 2004: Quinton Jackson KOs Ricardo Arona with “Aronabomb” slam at Pride Critical Countdown 2004

The night that forever immortalized Rampage Jackson as the king of slams. Ricardo Arona was unbeaten in Pride when he and Jackson met in 2005, a beast on the jiu-jitsu mats who already counted wins over American standouts Dan Henderson, Guy Mezger, and Jeremy Horn on his resume. Even though he had an advantage by causing Jackson pain with a series of punches and upkicks starting from the bottom, Arona made a big mistake with his triangle choke attempt.

In one fluid motion, Jackson hoisted the Brazilian aloft into the heavens then smashed him straight down to Hell, knocking Arona out instantly and cementing his place on highlight reels until the end of time for the most infamous slam knockout in the sport’s history. – Al-Shatti

Dec. 31, 2004: Mark Hunt delivers the ‘Atomic Butt Drop’ to Wanderlei Silva at Pride Shockwave 2004

Shockwave, indeed. Mark Hunt, who was making his third appearance at the Japanese promotion, was immediately thrown into the flames against Wanderlei Silva. Hunt was no slouch, with a K-1 Grand Prix win to his name, but there was little reason to believe he’d be the man to halt Silva’s undefeated streak that was approaching the five-year mark. Surprisingly Hunt was able to do that with a split call. But what will be remembered the most is Hunt’s, uh… inventive guard pass.

“The Super Samoan” has never been known for his elaborate ground game, so when it came time to advance position on a downed Silva, Hunt decided to just throw caution (and his entire ass) into the wind with a maneuver that would forever be immortalized as the “Atomic Butt Drop.” If there was ever a technique that summed up the unfettered inventiveness of Pride, this is the one. – Lee

Dec. 31, 2004: Ryo Chonan heel hooks Anderson Silva at Pride Shockwave 2004

If you’ve been an MMA for longer than a year or two, you’ve undoubtedly seen the highlight of Ryo Chonan’s flying scissor heel hook on Anderson Silva, because it’s one of the coolest submissions in MMA history, and it happened to someone who went on to become one of the greatest fighters of all-time. What people forget about the fight before it happened is its competitive nature.

Silva put his grappling to good use in the first round, and even landed a suplex in the second (a suplex! ), while Chonan gave as good as he got on the feet and also had success from top position on the mat. In fact, shortly before the end, the commentary team was talking about how Chonan was likely ahead on the scorecards, only for those to be rendered unnecessary by one of the most iconic submissions in the history of the sport. – Meshew

June 26, 2005: Kazuhiro Nakamura‘s wardrobe malfunction at Pride Critical Countdown 2005

While many of these people will remember the incredible highs of Pride, there was another part that made this promotion so enjoyable to see: the absurdity of so much of it. Case in point, at Pride Critical Countdown 2005, Kazuhiro Nakamura chose to don a gi for his fight with Wanderlei Silva.

It was a poor decision.

Halfway through the opening frame, Nakamura’s gi became more of a hindrance than a help. Nakamura finally gave up on trying to deal with the problem. Halfway through the opening frame, Nakamura realized that his gi was becoming more of a hindrance than a help. Wanderlei continues fighting and Nakamura gives up fighting. The result is a hilarious and funny fight for all ages. – Meshew

Dec. 31, 2005: Charles Bennett KOs Wanderlei Silva backstage at Pride Shockwave 2005

In 2005, Wanderlei Silva was at the peak of his MMA powers. Yes, he’d recently lost to Ricardo Arona, but Silva was still one of the top 205-pounders in the world, and one of the most intimidating men in the sport. Bennett, in contrast, was a journeyman featherweight; only, no one told that to “Krazy Horse.” Behind the scenes at Pride Shockwave 2005, Bennett got into an altercation with the Chute Box team, getting put to sleep with a triangle choke from Cristiano Marcello (which there is video of).

However, after Bennett wakes up and gets to his feet, Silva starts pushing him out of the area, at which point Bennett drops Silva with an elbow. The incident was the talk of the forums for years, with Silva finally confirming it in his book and subsequent interviews.

And the fact that Wanderlei still went and fought Arona the night before makes it all that more remarkable. – Meshew

Feb. 24, 2007: Nick Diaz submits Takanori Gomi with a gogoplata at Pride 33 (later overturned to No Contest)

Was Nick Diaz really drunk when he overtook the most respected lightweight Pride fighter? This is one of those mysteries in MMA lore that we will never fully understand. However, his massive THC levels post-fight drug screenings definitely tell a story. (“I was there at this fight and believe that you were intoxicated and … that it made you numb to the pain,” a doctor for the Nevada commission comically proclaimed at Diaz’s sentencing hearing. )

Either way, Diaz’s 2007 magnum opus was a thing of beauty, a lesson in Stockton cardio, and a work of art for anyone with even a passing interest in high-level jiu-jitsu. It’s an amazing gogoplata! – Al-Shatti

Part two of our 25-moment celebration of Pride FC comes out on Monday, Oct. 10.