Friday, 14 September 2007

Pride Heavyweight Grand Prix 2004 - DVD Review

In 2004, the Pride Fighting Championship organisation brought together some of the world’s top heavyweight fighters a single elimination tournament. Over three shows spanning some five months they fought to see who was the best, and these shows now make up a six DVD set, the Pride Heavyweight Grand Prix 2004, which is now available from FightDVD.

We begin with Total Elimination. After an introduction from our announcers Mauro Ranallo and Bas Rutten we then move on to the start of the show, as the fighters are paraded before the jam packed Saitama Super Arena, before we move on to the first fight of the evening, as America’s Heath Herring takes on Japan’s Yoshiki Takahashi. Herring, apparently the underdog here, knocks Takahashi out as both men are grappling on the mat, even though it looked as if Takahashi would get the win early on with some good wrestling. Takahashi looked an absolute mess as he came to.

The second bout saw Brazil’s Murilo Ninja take on Russia’s Sergey Kharitonov. A toe-to-toe bout here with Ninja, who had moved up from the middleweight division to compete in this tournament, bloodying Kharitonov’s nose early on, before the big Russian took his man out with some big blows, including a right hook, to get the knockout win in the first round.

Then it’s the turn of former WWF star Giant Silva as he takes on former sumo star Sentoryu, making his MMA debut here. Showing far more ability than he did in his professional wrestling career, Silva got the win after Sentoryu tapped as Silva applied the key lock, although Sentoryu did cause something of an upset by taking the big man off his feet.

We then get in-ring appearances from Yuki Kondo and Wanderlai Silva, as they hype their upcoming bout, each speaking to the crowd and each other in their native tongue.

Then it’s back to the tournament as a guy I’ve seen a great deal of in K-1, Holland’s Semmy Schilt, goes against America’s Gan McGee. Although he spent a great deal of time on the mat trying to defend himself, Schilt emerged victorious as he synched in the armbar, although apart from this, he was far less impressive than in his K-1 outings.

German kick boxer Stefan Leko makes his Pride debut against Japan’s judo Olympic silver medallist Naoya Ogawa next. A quick fight in which Ogawa simply outclassed Leko in under two minutes, choking the German out and scoring a highly impressive win.

We then see Kazushi Sakuraba in the ring, as he tells the crowd that although he doesn’t think he can fight for much longer, he will be competing at Pride’s next big event.

Another fighter I’ve been impressed with in the past, Croatian sensation Mirko Cro Cop, takes on America’s Kevin Randleman next. Cro Cop was far from impressive here in another quick bout, as Randleman muscled him down to the mat, before delivering the knockout blow and getting the upset win.

Then, K-1 star Mark Hunt makes his way to the ring, announcing his intention to fight in Pride.

Back to tournament action, as Brazil’s Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira takes on Japan’s Hirotaka Yokoi. The first bout of the show to make it well past the five minute mark, the first round looked pretty even, until Nogueira applied a choke in the first two minutes of the second to get the submission victory.

Main event time next as Russian Fedor Emelianenko battles America’s Mark Coleman. A quick but impressive show from both men here, with Fedor, the Pride heavyweight champion, applying the armbar to Coleman, the 2000 Grand Prix winner, for the tap out victory.

We then move on to the second show of the collection, Critical Countdown. We again begin with an introduction from Mauro and Bas as they take us through the upcoming show, including the second round of the Grand Prix tournament. We then go to the show’s opening ceremony as the fighters are introduced to the packed Saitama Super Arena, before me move on to our first bout.

We begin with the returning Kazushi Sakuraba as he goes up against Brazil’s Nino Schembri. A great opening bout, which goes the three round distance, saw Sakuraba gain the win with a unanimous points decision. Schembri’s face looked an absolute mess after the beating he took.

The second fight sees middleweight action as America’s Quinton Jackson take on Brazil’s Ricardo Arona in a number one contender’s match, with tons of grappling action here, and for a few seconds it looked as if Arona had knocked Jackson out with a kick, but later, as the Brazilian tried for a triangle choke, Jackson took him out with a power bomb to knock him out and to earn a shot at middleweight champion Wanderlai Silva.

We then move on to tournament action as Sergey Kharitonov takes on Semmy Schilt. The Russian clearly dominated Schilt here, getting the Dutchman down on the mat and turning his face into a bloody mess, leaving the referee with no choice but to stop the bout.

More tournament action next, as Giant Silva takes on Naoya Ogawa. A quick fight here, with Ogawa taking the big man down early, and earning the knockout victory when the submission attempts failed.

Stepping away from the tournament, as Hidehiko Yoshida takes on K-1 star Mark Hunt. Although the former kick boxer put in a good showing early on, Yoshida came back well and managed to apply the armbar for the submission victory.

Back to the tournament, as Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira goes up against Heath Herring. With some good grappling from the interim champ in the first round, Nogueira ended it quickly with a choke just thirty seconds into the second round. A great bout here.

We then move on to the main event, and the final match in the second round of the tournament, with Fedor Emelianenko against Kevin Randleman, who many thought would pull out of the fight following the death of his father just two weeks before the show. Randleman showed some great grappling power early on, but Fedor was able to wrestle his way out of the situation with an armbar and the submission victory.

We then move on to the last part of the trilogy, The Final Conflict. After the obligatory introductions, we take a look back at what previously happened in the tournament, before we get a rundown on the other fights on the card, followed by the opening ceremony and the parade of fighters.

The first fight sees Japan’s Kazuhiro Nakamura up against Brazil’s Murilo Bustamante. The announcers predicted that this would be a great technical bout, and it was, with Nakamura gaining the unanimous points victory after three rounds of hard fought action.

The first semi-final of the heavyweight tournament follows, with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira taking on Sergey Kharitonov. Fought only over two rounds because of the tournament’s format, it was difficult to separate the two at times, but the judges managed to do it, awarding the fight to Nogueira after fifteen minutes of action.

The second semi-final follows straight afterwards, with Naoya Ogawa against heavyweight champ Fedor Emelianenko. Not even a partisan crowd could help Ogawa as Fedor launched an all-out attack form the opening bell, soon synching in an armbar for the submission victory. Great fast paced stuff here.

A battle of the Americans next, as the impressive Kevin Randleman takes on Ron Waterman. Waterman seemed so stall early on, trying to counter Randleman’s wrestling skills, but eventually Waterman was able to fight back by applying the key lock for the submission win.

Mirko Cro Cop returns to action next, against another Emelianenko, the champ’s younger brother, Alexandre. The Croatian returned to form here, taking out the Russian with a high left kick to get the knockout win with a very impressive outing here.

We then move on to the middleweight division as Wanderlai Silva takes on Yuko Kondo. A stand-up slugfest here, with Silva knocking Kondo off his feet before stomping on him as the referee stopped the bout.

Then it’s on to the main event, as sixteen fighters get down to two as Fedor Emelianenko and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira fight it out in the tournament final. An accidental clash of heads sees a deep cut open up above Fedor’s right eye, and as various Pride officials talk for what seems like an eternity, it’s eventually decided to rule the bout a no contest, a shame here, as this had the makings of a tremendous bout. A sad way to see a great tournament end.

If almost nine hours of fight action isn’t enough for you, there’s almost four hours of extras on the various discs, including fighter bios, uncut interviews, pre-game shows from the three pay-per-views, and tons of other stuff for you to enjoy.

In conclusion - almost fourteen hours later (and no, I didn’t watch all of this in one sitting), the Pride Heavyweight Grand Prix 2004 impressed the hell out of me, from the fighters themselves, to the special effects and production values, right down to the announcers. I must also give a special mention to colour announcer Bas Rutten here. I really didn’t think much of his efforts in the previous Pride shows I’d seen, but this was a whole lot better from him. Rutten did a great job in the interviews and calling the action, and I can see why Pride were grateful to keep a hold of him last year when it looked like he was going to leave the company.

I’m fast becoming a big Pride fan, and I’m really looking forward to seeing more action in the future.

With thanks to Gary Graham over at www.wrestle-zone.co.uk for supplying copies of these DVDs. For more information on Pride, visit their official website at www.pridefc.com. To order this or any other Pride DVDs, visit www.fightdvd.co.uk.