At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Knockdown News briefly looked at retro events to fill the gap in the 2020 fight schedule. While that series was stopped for a while, we secretly really wanted to bring it back. And with the new year just kicking off, we thought it was the perfect time to do just that!
So Throwback Thursday is back on the weekly schedule. We begin in 2002, where Pride FC and UFC were the two major promotions in the world. WEC was starting up, and we’ll see them gain more prominence in the coming years.
Our binging begins with Pride FC’s “Bad Blood” event, which took place at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan on February 24th, 2002.
The big fight on the card was a matchup between Don Frye and Ken Shamrock. They fit the “Bad Blood” theme, as they seemingly hate each other. The broadcast showed a squabble that they had at a press conference leading up to the fight. Shamrock really disliked Frye, claiming his trash talk crossed a line. That fight headlined what was an eight-bout card in total. Let’s press play.
A Showcase To Kick Things Off
The card kicked off with a fight between Tom Eriksson and Tim Catalfo. Really, this was just a showcase bout for Eriksson.
Eriksson was on somewhat of a roll heading into the fight, having won two of his previous three bouts in Pride FC. His loss came against Heath Herring, who was certainly one of the better heavyweights at the time.
Eriksson had a pretty straightforward win over Catalfo. He scored a takedown early on, violently slamming Catalfo to the ground. After taking his back, Eriksson tried for numerous chokes, going for a neck crank before submitting him with a rear naked choke. This was sort of the expected result considering we didn’t even get to know Eriksson’s opponent until we saw him in the ring.
This ended up being Catalfo’s last major appearance in MMA. Fight databases like Sherdog reflect that he picked up a win one year later on the regional scene, although he never fought again after that. He retired (presumably, I mean he’s 63 now) with a record of four wins and two losses.
Stieling And Ismail Face Off
The next fight saw Alex Stiebling and Wallid Ismail return to action. Being the more charismatic person on the mic, Ismail seemed like the more attention-grabbing fighter heading into this bout. However, it was Stiebling that pulled off the win.
The first round was a sleepy one that saw Ismail spend most of the time in full mount. Stiebling gave the fight some life before the round concluded, taking the back of Ismail just before the bell went.
The other two rounds were close grappling exchanges. Stiebling seemingly had the better work on the ground, getting controlling positions or staying active with strikes at least.
Stiebling walked away with a decision win after the close fight.
We’ll see Stiebling in Pride FC again. A few years later we’ll also see him in WEC. On the other hand, this fight concluded Ismail’s run in Pride FC. He competed two more times that year, including a fight on an Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye card, but after that, he stopped fighting. He is now an MMA manager.
The Tough Matsui Loses Again
Rodrigo Gracie showcased his grappling skills in the next fight, defeating the ever-so-tough Daijiro Matsui.
Matsui has a negative pro record but has gone deep into most of his fights. On previous cards, he went the distance with killers like Wanderlei Silva and Vitor Belfort – but lost to both.
This fight started very slow. The commentary started to argue that the fight wasn’t “creative” after numerous minutes of lay-and-pray grappling. The commentators were eventually relieved when the fight was stood up in the second round. Both fighters were given a yellow card due to stalling.
Gracie attempted a guillotine choke on Matsui while a takedown was scored. He kept a hold of this submission for roughly a minute, eventually seemingly putting him to sleep.
Gracie got a finish in his Pride FC debut. We’ll see him again.
Back In Pride, Newton Wows The Crowd
Carlos Newton continues to be one of the more interesting fighters of the early 2000s. Not only do his results differ, flipping between wins and losses, but he keeps competing in both UFC and Pride FC, nearly alternating.
He picked up a big win in this fight, bouncing back from his title fight loss that he took to Matt Hughes late in 2001.
Newton defeated Jose Landi-Jons, who was billed simply as Pele. Newton overcame adversity for the win, getting stunned by strikes twice before securing an armbar for the win in the first round.
Newton showed off his Japanese skills after the fight, delivering an entire post-fight speech. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand during this segment, as they were laughing at everything he said.
Pele’s previous fight, his Pride FC debut, was a sleepy loss to Daijiro Matsui. He won’t return to the promotion.
Heath Bounces Back
Heath Herring and Igor Vovchanchyn – two of the bigger names in the promotion at this time – fought next. The commentary billed it as a fight that could headline a show in other circumstances.
The matchup had a back-and-forth opening round that saw the fighters jockey for control on the ground. Herring took over in the later rounds, notching control time and damage on the ground.
Herring walked away with the win, putting him back into the win column after losing recently to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
Nogueira Submits Inoue In The First
A fight between Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Enson Inoue was next on the broadcast, although fight databases imply it happened later in the card as a co-main event.
Nonetheless, this fight continued a dominant run for Nogueira in Pride FC. He moved his promotional winning streak to four consecutive with this fight. In just a year before, he beat Heath Herring, Mark Coleman and Gary Goodridge.
Inoue would get threatened by submission attempts by Nogueira, escape those positions then land ground and pound. But with each attempt, it only felt like a matter of time until one would catch him for real and end the fight. This eventually happened when Nogueira put Inoue in a triangle choke that put him to sleep.
Inoue looked in really bad shape after the finish. The choke seemingly put Inoue out long before the referee stopped the fight, and he was out for a longer time than usual after it was let go of.
While Inoue became somewhat of a Pride FC regular in previous years, this would end up being his last appearance for the promotion. We’ll see the run of Nogueira continue later this year.
Silva Folds Tamura, Continues Dominance
The dangerous Wanderlei Silva returned in the second-last fight of this tape, fighting Kiyoshi Tamura.
This was Tamura’s Pride FC debut, but he was certainly no newcomer. He had previously fought in RINGS Japan over 40 times in the past five years.
Silva had certainly gained a reputation by now. While he had lost in two UFC appearances previously, Silva was still this undefeated enigma in Pride FC. He entered the new year after earning four stoppage wins in 2001.
This fight was for Silva’s championship, which he earned with a win over Kazushi Sakuraba last year.
Silva spent most of the first round bloodying Tamura with punches from full guard. In a bit of a surprising moment, Tamura was actually able to stun Silva with a punch halfway through the opening round. This was a flash of brilliance in what was otherwise a pummeling.
After a slow-paced start, Silva was able to put away Tamura with a strong right cross in the second round.
Another brutal win for Silva here. Not much to write home about, honestly.
‘Bad Blood,’ But Close Decision
So here we are, time for the final fight. Ken Shamrock and Don Frye go at it.
Shamrock had fought in Pride FC twice before, although he was absent from their 2001 schedule. He was apparently set to face Igor Vovchanchyn that year, although that fight never happened.
Frye was quite successful up to this point, only showing one blemish on his pro record.
Frye got some huge cheers from the crowd before the fight. Shamrock actually received some boos.
As mentioned at the top of the article, the “Bad Blood” title of this event was practically based around this fight. Now did the fight play out with the heat and ferocity of the trash talk? At times, sure. But it wouldn’t be fair to say that was how the entire fight was.
A large portion of the first round was in a clinch position. Frye was way more active here, consistently landing punches to the body of Shamrock. The crowd chanted every time he connected – that is until they eventually lost interest in doing so. While exciting at times, there were a lot of slow points in this bout.
The fight hit the ground late in the opening frame, where Shamrock tried for a heel hook. Frye was certainly in danger as Shamrock went to work, but he endured this position until the clock eventually expired.
The second round was mostly in a clinch position, which undoubtedly favorited Frye.
Frye took control of the final round quickly, dropping Shamrock with a combination of punches. Frye took a position on the ground – which might not have been wise due to the submission attempts from Shamrock earlier. Frye got tied up again with leg submissions, but like last time he survived until the bell went.
Frye walked away with a close split decision win. Because of Shamrock’s work on the ground, I actually found this hard to score by the end.
After the fight, Frye gave Shamrock credit for putting up a big fight, and he also apologized for his trash talk. “Bad Blood” be damned, they also hugged after the bell! Frye’s a winner – but most importantly so is love! I kid, I kid.
While this fight was slow at times, these guys certainly took everything out of each other by the end. How can you not respect someone at least *a little* when they take that much out of you?
Frye’s most legendary fight – a battle against Yoshihiro Takayama – had yet to come in his career. But soon we’ll see that in our binge, as it came just two events later on the Pride FC schedule.
NEXT WEEK: UFC 36: Worlds Collide