Welcome to another episode of “Throwback Thursday.”
I’ll start by being completely honest with you. The past few weeks of this show haven’t been covering incredibly important throwback shows. That’s just what can happen with this series. On “Throwback Thursday,” we put the top events from a year in order and watch through them all. Not everything is equally exciting.
But this week, I come to you with an interesting card. For this week’s episode of “Throwback Thursday,” we’re watching Pride FC 21, “Demolition.” This card took place at the historic Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan on June 23rd, 2002.
Those who know this show likely know it for one reason: the back-and-forth brawl between Don Frye and Yoshihiro Takayama. It’s one of the most prolific fights from the early 2000s, and if you don’t know why you’ll find out soon when reading.
That’s the most interesting fight on this card, speaking strictly performance-wise. But besides that, there are also some neat history points to mention. In this episode, we’ll see the first big MMA appearance from two legends: Anderson Silva and Fedor Emelianenko, among many other notable names.
What I’m trying to say is there’s a lot to cover here. Into the time machine, we go. Let’s begin.
Big Things On The Horizon For Pride FC
Commentator Bas Rutten came dressed appropriately for the “Demolition” theme, wearing a constructor outfit for the intro.
Before the show started, Stephen Quadros had some big announcements. First, it was that the promotion got licensed to hold an event in Nevada, USA. They also announced that the first “Shockwave” event will happen later this year. Both of those news stories will become big points in the history of Pride FC once we come across them later.
Sapp In Seconds
Bob Sapp had an incredibly quick win to open the card. Sapp had a dominant debut at the last Pride FC show, stopping Yoshihisa Yamamoto in the third minute. This fight was even more brutal, as he beat Kiyoshi Tamura in just 11 seconds.
This finish came due to a right hook that dropped Tamura in a clinch position. The referee stopped the fight after a few more ground and pound shots.
The crowd didn’t really know how to react to this finish because of how quickly it came. Anyway, Sapp is big and scary when matched against these much smaller guys.
Sapp’s first real challenge in Pride FC will come later this year at that aforementioned “Shockwave” card.
Goodridge Is Back
In the next fight, Pride FC veteran Gary Goodridge returned against Akhmed Labazanov.
Goodridge was fighting for the first time in nearly a year. He was a regular in previous years, competing numerous times between 2000 and 2001.
Labazanov controlled a large portion of the fight by scoring takedowns and getting top position. Goodridge was seemingly getting frustrated by how Labazonov was stalling the fight out. He shouted at him while laying on his back at times.
Goodridge took this fight on scorecards due to a split decision result. The few times that he had ground and pound strikes were likely enough to get him the win. While Labazanov had a lot of top control, he rarely did anything with those positions.
Labazanov had previously fought in MMA, although he sort of entered this fight as a nobody. This was his Pride FC debut and ended up being his last pro fight.
‘The Spider’ Is Spotted
The next fight was the first mainstream MMA appearance of someone who would later become a legend. That’s right, the Anderson Silva was in the next fight. Prior to his fight on this card against Alex Stiebling, Silva was only seen on regional shows from 1998 to 2002.
Silva’s walkout saw him showcase his groovy dance moves. This actually amped up the crowd quite a bit, who eventually started clapping along to his moves.
Stiebling suffered a brutal cut early in the fight due to a head kick that Silva landed flush. Due to how bad this cut was, the fight was stopped and Silva got the win. That’s just a taste of the greatness we would see from Silva in his career.
Stiebling was actually on a strong run before this fight, earning two consecutive wins in Pride FC before this defeat.
Yvel’s Pride FC Farewell
Jeremy Horn and Gilbert Yvel were back for the next fight.
It was at this point in Yvel’s career where the broadcast started to lean more into the fact that he would be a dirty fighter at times. Yvel seemingly embraced this, walking out of the ring holding a huge yellow card after the fight. This is ironic since he abided by all the rules in this one.
Horn was able to fight to a win in this bout. His grappling and wrestling earned him the victory, taking Yvel down every round. What separated Horn’s win from, say, Labazanov’s fight earlier, was that he was much more active on the ground.
Yvel fought a clean fight and, more importantly, made this close at times by getting top control.
I was surprised when I saw this, but apparently, the Pride FC run of both fighters came to an end here. However, we’ll see both of them in the future on UFC cards. But not for a long time!
Oyama Stuns Many
A big upset came in the next fight, as Shungo Oyama scored a unanimous decision win over Renzo Gracie.
Oyama’s portfolio heading into this fight was bad. He had three fights, with one of them being a 30-second loss to Wanderlei Silva.
I had trouble scoring this fight, mostly because Oyama had a rough first round that saw a penalty get placed on him.
Quite frankly, Oyama had a lackluster first round. He was inactive on the ground, so much so that he was given a yellow card. However, he stepped things up later. In the second round, he kept the fight on the feet and was much more active with strikes.
Gracie seemingly got mad during the second round, spitting at Oyama at one point. Is that a foul? Who knows.
The fight hit the ground again in the third round, where Oyama took ground control again. They went the distance and Oyama emerged victoriously.
We’ll see both of these guys again.
A Forgettable Double Debut
Another Gracie family member made his debut in the next fight. Daniel Gracie was the newest face to touch down in the Pride FC ring, meeting fellow MMA newcomer Takashi Sugiura.
Sugiura was coming from a pro wrestling background. In fact, at 51 years old he’s still a wrestler.
Sugiura shocked some in the opening round, knocking down Gracie with a left cross. His success just about stopped there. Gracie succeeded later in the fight on the feet and on the ground. The decision went to Gracie in a split fashion later.
I’m keeping my block on this fight short since it really deflated the crowd. The viewers were sitting on their hands through and through. I don’t know what the popularity of Sugiura was like back then, but it seemed to me that people didn’t care for this fight.
We’ll see both fighters again, but only briefly. Both of their MMA careers were quite short-lived.
The Birth of An ‘Emperor’
As mentioned before, another big debut was on this card. Earlier in the evening, we saw Silva debut. And while he is certainly one of the biggest names in the history of MMA as a whole, the next debut was someone whose career certainly revolved around Pride FC much more heavily.
I’m talking about Fedor Emelianenko. Nowadays he is recognized as one of, if not the greatest fighter who never stepped in the UFC cage. But just here, he was a fresh face to most viewers.
Emelianenko was coming from RINGS Japan, where he had put together a strong record. He was matched against Semmy Schilt, who entered on a three-fight winning streak and of course, kept a height advantage.
Emelianenko’s win here wasn’t as spectacular as many of his wins much later as a fighter. For most of the 20-minute fight, Emelianenko pounded out Silva with strikes from full guard or full mount.
Like the fight before it, this matchup didn’t get much of a reaction from the crowd. They’ll get something to cheer about in just moments.
Frye And Takayama Make History
One of the most iconic moments in Pride FC, the fight between Don Frye and Yoshihiro Takayama, was next. Frye was first matched with Mark Coleman for this bout, but Takayama stepped in after Coleman suffered a neck injury in training.
There are so many things about this fight that are memorable. Let’s go down them all.
First, it’s the size difference here. Takayama is huge! And he makes Frye, an also big guy, look small. Then, there’s the face-off. Do these guys break eye contact for 30-or-so seconds? Did they even hear the referee talking to them? I don’t think so.
The bell rings and they go right into a clinch as if that was the formal way to start every fight. You know what came next. Wailing punches from that position came from both sides. Things slowed after maybe 30 seconds as they went into a corner of the ring, but before then it was madness.
They eventually erupted into another trade of punches. At this point, the damage was showing on Takayama much more than Frye. Actually, it’s hardly showing on Frye.
The fight was paused briefly so the damage to Takayama’s face could be assessed. The fighters had a burst of energy after the break, going into another quick brawl.
The fight eventually hit the ground, where Frye took full mount. The brutal shots from that position put an end to the fight eventually.
What makes Takayama so interesting in a sense is how short his MMA run was. This was his second-last appearance, with his final bout coming later this year. He wrapped up his career with no wins and four losses. As you might have expected, he was a pro wrestler and went back to that.
As you might have guessed, we haven’t seen the end of Frye yet. However, this fight marked the end of an era for him. After a strong four-fight run from 2001 to 2002, the wins won’t come easy anymore. Actually, for a while, they won’t come at all. Throughout the next few years, we’ll see Frye struggle to get wins against some of the higher-up names in Pride FC.
But we won’t do that this week. For now, we’re back out of the time machine and into the present again.
NEXT WEEK: UFC 38: Brawl at the Hall