MMA fans around the world often ask, what were the best Pride Fights of all-time? The mixed martial arts promotion that was Pride Fighting Championships ran from 1997 until it’s untimely demise in 2007. And with that promoted some of the greatest MMA fights we ever had the pleasure of witnessing.
With decades worth of viewing and writing about the sport of mixed martial arts. I wanted to give what in my honest opinion I believe are the best 10 best Pride fights of all time! It’s a really tough choice and I have mulled over my decisions. So here are my ten best pride fights.
Pride Fighting championships
With a grand total of 68 events, Pride became known amongst MMA fans around the world as equal to or even greater than that of the longer established Ultimate Fighting Championships! With its own set of unique rules along with its different round time limits. It’s grandiose professional wrestling influenced fighters entrances. Pride very much set itself apart from its American counterpart the UFC.
With a longer 10 minute first round, followed by a further two five minute rounds. The fact that the fights took place in the more traditional boxing ring. And the fact that the fights were scored in their entirety rather than on a round by round basis. With its sweet cocktail of ultra-violence and super aggressive, steroid fuelled participants. Pride became a huge MMA fan favourite around the globe.
So join me as we take a walk down a blood, sweat and tears drenched memory lane. Where dreams were made and epic battles played out in real-time. Where Pride fighters became icons and living legends known the world over for their toughness and Samurai spirit. And none more so than in Japan itself where names like Fedor Emelianenko, Mark Kerr, Mark Coleman, Quinton Rampage Jackson, Wanderlei Silva, Mirko Filipovic, Dan Henderson Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and many more were idolised by their Japanese fanbase.
It’s a period of ten years that will forever be immortalised in the thoughts and minds of those who watched on in awe and sometimes horror. All these fights are available to watch on ufc fight pass … as well as other sources if you care to dig deeper. And a shout out to Tapology for the fighter stats!
10: Dan Henderson vs Wanderlei Silva II – February 2007
|Dan Henderson||Fighter||Wanderlei Silva|
|21-5-0||Record at Time of Fight||31-6-1|
|200.0 lbs (90.7 kgs)||Weight||205.0 lbs (93.0 kgs)|
|36 years, 6 months||Age||30 years, 7 months|
|6’1″ (186cm)||Height||5’11” (181cm)|
These two had already met at Pride FC 12, where Wanderlei Silva had scored a decision victory over Dan Henderson. At that time Silva had been the more experienced of the two fighters. But now facing off for a second time some seven years later, Dan Hendo Henderson had added the Pride welterweight title and was now looking to snatch the Pride middleweight belt from Silva
In a fight which started as promised, both men came out swinging for the fences. While Hendo did manage to stun Silva, it was Wanderlei who finished the round strongly staggering Henderson before the final bell.
For much of the second round, Henderson maintained top position in Silva’s guard, consistently landing hammer fists and shoulder butts. Leaving the champion Silva looking somewhat frustrated and bewildered.
But it would be the third round which will be forever remembered for its devastating finish. As Silva looked to regain some momentum, landing leg kicks and some solids punches. It was Dan Henderson who caught Silva with a thumping right hand, which left him badly stunned.
Hendo promptly charged in connecting with a thunderous left hand sending Wanderlei to the canvas. Following up with a sledgehammer right hand on the downed, no former champion. In one of the defining fights of both fighters careers.
9: Mauricio Shogun Rua vs Quinton Rampage Jackson – Pride Total Elimination April 2005
|Maurício Rua||Fighter||Quinton Jackson|
|8-1-0||Record at Time of Fight||22-5-0|
|205.0 lbs (93.0 kgs)||Weight||205.0 lbs (93.0 kgs)|
|23 years, 4 months, 1 day||Age||26 years, 10 months, 3 days|
|6’1″ (185cm)||Height||6’1″ (186cm)|
Quinton Rampage Jackson was a Pride Fighting veteran when he entered the bout against relative newcomer Mauricio Shogun Rua. Rua was a fast-rising star who has won all of his four fights in Pride by knockout. But Rampage seemed unphased and ready to defeat the new kid on the block.
But in an explosive opening round, it was Shogun Rua who looked the more comfortable fighter. Landing a series of strikes, including a switch kick out of nothing. Shogun looked like the more dynamic and aggressive of the two.
Bearing in mind that Rampage had lost in both his fights to another Chute Boxe Muay Thai style fighter in Wanderlei Silva. Again we saw the clinch game causing problems, as Jackson did not seem to have an answer to Shogun’s knees.
And it was in a strikingly similar fashion that he would once again lose. As Rua landed a series of knees to the head and body, breaking one of Rampage’s ribs and forcing him to fight defensively. But it wasn’t to be enough as Mauricio once again knocked Rampage down. Finishing the already injured fighter with some soccer kicks to the head.
8: Don Frye vs. Yoshihiro Takayama – June 2002
|Don Frye||Fighter||Yoshihiro Takayama|
|14-1-0||Record at Time of Fight||0-2-0|
|36 years, 7 months||Age||35 years, 9 months, 4 days|
|6’1″ (186cm)||Height||6’5″ (196cm)|
Don Frye vs. Yoshihiro Takayama would never be anywhere in the list of top 10 displays of technical brilliance inside the ropes. But boy was this fight one hell of a barnburner! Whether fitting or not, Don Frye was often referred to by many of his peers as the toughest man in MMA. Not known for being particularly talented in any specific disciplines. What Frye was known for was being part of absolute wars!
And in Takayama, Frye found a willing partner to join him in his brutal dance inside the Pride FC ring. As from the first bell both men charged at one another and after a flurry of punches quickly clenched each other by the back of their heads, letting loose with an assault of punches to the face.
The crowd were on their feet and screaming in unbridled excitement and disbelief as the onslaught of pure grit from both fighters electrified the watching crowd.
In round two it was Don Frye who capitalised on his experience and superior grappling to mount and punch Takayama in relative oblivion. Not the most graceful of fights you will see, but in terms of pure heart and toughness, it’s without a doubt top drawer.
7: Minotauro Nogueira vs Bob Sapp – Pride Shockwave – August 2002
|Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira||Fighter||Bob Sapp|
|16-1-1||Record at Time of Fight||2-0-0|
|26 years, 2 months, 5 days||Age||29 years, 11 months, 6 days|
|6’3″ (191cm)||Height||6’5″ (196cm)|
You may not find many placing Minotauro Nogueira vs Bob Sapp at Pride Shockwave in their top 10. But for me, this was one of the greatest performances of Nogueira’s career. The Bob Sapp we know today is not the same Bob Sapp of 2002, being somewhat of an enigma who was getting better each and every fight. At the time Sapp weighed in the region of 350 lbs of pure muscle, over 100 lbs more than Nogueira.
At just 2 – 0 entering the fight, the former NFL player turned mixed martial artist may not have had the experience. But what he did have was a massive weight advantage, improving technique and brutal strength. And in Minotauro, he found an opponent who was willing to match that with pure heart and elite level grappling.
Exploding out of the blocks Sapp started the fight by gaining a north-south top position on top of Nogueira. And in an almost unhuman show of strength, picked up Nogueira slamming him headfirst into the floor. Trying the same move a second time, Nogueira was able to hold on a stop any further damage.
Bob Sapp was able to use his sheer size and strength to neutralise much of Nogueira’s superior skillset. And while there were some exchanges on the feet, most led to takedown attempts which Sapp stuffed, ending up on top and again raining blows on Nogueira. And this was the story for much of the fight as The Beast relentlessly pounded Minotauro.
But what was Sapp’s obvious advantage going into the fight, soon began to turn to a disadvantage. As the 350 lb man began to gas out during the gruelling almost 15-minute match. And as this happened, Nogueira began to turn the tables, gaining more and more confidence as Sapp now seemed to be withering.
Then almost at the end of the second round, Nogueira seized his opportunity and managed to armbar Sapp. It was one of the greatest displays of pure heart as an absolutely exhausted Minotauro collapsed on his teammates, truly one of the toughest men to ever compete in MMA.
6: Nick Diaz vs. Takanori Gomi – February 2007
|Nick Diaz||Fighter||Takanori Gomi|
|14-6-0||Record at Time of Fight||27-3-0|
|161.0 lbs (73.0 kgs)||Weight||161.0 lbs (73.0 kgs)|
|23 years, 6 months, 1 day||Age||28 years, 5 months, 2 days|
|6’0″ (183cm)||Height||5’8″ (173cm)|
He may have only fought in Pride one time but when Nick Diaz took on Takanori Gomi at Pride 33. Gomi was one of the poster boys for Japanese MMA. With homegrown champions thin on the ground, Takanori along with a select few others carried the weight of the Japanese nation on his shoulders.
It was a fight that did not disappoint as both fighters came out guns blazing. With some frenetic action, the fight moved fluidly between the ground and stand up. Then at 2.53 of round one Gomi landed a right hand that sent Diaz to the canvas. Quickly following up the pair grappled, before quickly returning to their feet.
Then in what has since become a signature of a Nick Diaz fight. Nick began to land punches in bunches, stunning what now looked like an almost uninterested or exhausted Takanori Gomi. Outside of some flailing shots that did land, Takanori seemed to have gassed out? And as the round ended a jubilant, yet badly cut Nick Diaz raised his hands in the air to the screams of the US crowd in attendance.
Starting where they had left off round 2, saw Diaz advance and outbox Gomi, who still looked exhausted. But it was Gomi who once again managed to badly cut Diaz on his cheek, almost stopping the fight. The back and forth war came to a quick ending as Gomi landed a takedown but ended up being submitted by an unbelievable gogoplata by Nick Diaz.
5: Mauricio Rua vs Antonio Rogerio Nogueira – Critical Countdown – June 2005
|Mauricio Rua||Fighter||Antonio Rogerio Nogueira|
|9-1-0||Record at Time of Fight||11-1-0|
|205.0 lbs (93.0 kgs)||Weight||205.0 lbs (93.0 kgs)|
|23 years, 7 months, 1 day||Age||29 years, 3 days|
|6’1″ (185cm)||Height||6’2″ (188cm)|
With both fighters entering the fight unbeaten in Pride Fighting Championships. Mauricio Rua vs Antonio Rogerio Nogueira was billed as striker vs ground specialist, but it played out quite differently. Nogueira along with his brother had been working diligently on his boxing. And as round one began to unfold, you could see right away that he was more than ready for Shogun and some.
With some beautiful and wild exchanges, Nogueira dropped Shogun with a beautiful punch much to some peoples surprise. While Shogun did manage to recuperate and regain his senses. Round one became littered with several notable takedowns, but most of which were by Shogun Rua and not the ground specialist Nogueira.
So almost in a 180-degree turn of events, Nogueira appeared to be winning on the feet, while Shogun was busier on the ground. In a back and forth battle of wills, Shogun looked tired before round 1 had even finished. And when round 2 began, the fight picked up where it had left off with Nogueira again landing some of the cleaner punches.
Mauricio shone in terms of his trademark diving punches and acrobatic stomps. But as ever a tough as hell Nogueira took everything Shogun had to give. Going into the third round it was too close to call. An absolute back and forth war where both fighters had their moments. But when the final bell rang, it would be Mauricio Shogun Rua who would get the W in a spectacular Chute Box vs Brazilian Top Team fight.
4: Kaquzi Sakuraba vs. Royce Gracie – Pride Grand Prix 2000 Finals – May 2000
|Kazushi Sakuraba||Fighter||Royce Gracie|
|8-0-1||Record at Time of Fight||12-0-1|
|30 years, 9 months, 3 days||Age||33 years, 4 months, 5 days|
|5’11” (180cm)||Height||6’0″ (183cm)|
No top ten would be complete without the all-time Pride FC classic matchup between Kaquzi Sakuraba and Royce Gracie. The longest fight in Pride Fighting history with no time limit, something the Gracie camp had requested. Royce entered the fight in a full BJJ Gi, while Sakuraba wore his now traditional professional wrestler shorts.
In a gruelling fight that saw numerous submission attempts from both fighters, with Sakuraba having what looked like a kneebar sunk in as the bell rang. The Japanese fighter systematically and emphatically stopped each and every one of Gracie’s attacks, frustrating and exhausting almost all possible avenues.
At times, Gracie was made to look a little bit silly by Sakuraba, who used his Gi against him, putting Royce in some rather unflattering positions. But it was Sakuraba’s kicks and superior hands that would eventually force team Gracie to thrown in the towel after 90 minutes of fighting. A historical fight by all accounts and one that would forever connect these two fighters to one another.
3: Wanderlei Silva vs Quinton Jackson 2 – October 2004
|Wanderlei Silva||Fighter||Quinton Jackson|
|26-3-1||Record at Time of Fight||21-4-0|
|28 years, 3 months||Age||26 years, 4 months, 4 days|
|5’11” (181cm)||Height||6’1″ (186cm)|
One of the burning rivalries in MMA history was that of Wanderlei Silva vs Quinton Jackson. The pair first faced off at Pride Final Conflict 2003. Where following a series of unanswered knees and punches, the favourite and reigning champion Silva stopped Jackson at 6.38 of round one.
It was a fight that no doubt left a sour taste in the mouth of Rampage Jackson until Pride 28 High Octane, when he finally got his opportunity to settle the score. Silva had been on a tear winning the Pride middleweight title and going undefeated over 4 years in Pride for 13 straight fights.
The first round was a blazing back and forth battle that saw both fighters landing. Something that Rampage found hard to deal with in their first fight was Silva’s Muay Thai clinch. And now in their second, seemed to find himself in the exact same predicament.
Going into round two Rampage looked to capitalise on his takedown and ground and pound with which he had some success in round 1. But it was Silva’s clinch game that would yet again be the deciding factor. After landing a crushing right hand, Wanderlei followed up with his signature Muay Thai knees. Ending the fight and the night for Jackson who he left unconscious and bloodied on the ropes.
2: Fedor Emelianenko vs Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira 1 – Pride 25 – 2003
|Fedor Emelianenko||Fighter||Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira|
|12-1-0||Record at Time of Fight||19-1-1|
|26 years, 5 months, 2 days||Age||26 years, 9 months|
|6’0″ (183cm)||Height||6’3″ (191cm)|
When Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Fedor Emelianenko met at Pride 25, Nogueira was the reigning Pride FC heavyweight champion. But Emelianenko was already been touted as one to watch out for and no doubt Nogueira was well aware as the two squared off.
In a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu vs Sambo match for the ages, both fighters exchanged leather with bad intentions. But Fedor was able to neutralise Nogueira’s ground game, escaping several kimura attempts.
It was Fedor’s aggression and shuddering shoulder punches that would take their toll on Nogueira. Who for the most part spent much of the fight on his back defending against Emelianenko’s vicious ground punches.
If it were anyone else they would have crumbled under the relentless onslaught by The Last Emperor, who continued to pummel the champion throughout their fight.
When the final bell rang there could be no disputing the victor. The passing of the torch as Minotauro Nogueira the man many thought who was unbeatable. Loses his Pride heavyweight crown to Fedor Emelianenko, a title the Russian experiment would never lose.
1: Fedor Emelianenko vs Mirko Filipovic – Final Conflict – August 2005
|Fedor Emelianenko||Fighter||Mirko Filipovic|
|22-1-0||Record at Time of Fight||16-2-2|
|28 years, 11 months||Age||30 years, 11 months, 4 days|
|233.0 lbs (105.7 kgs)||Weight||225.0 lbs (102.1 kgs)|
Now I choose Fedor Emelianenko vs Mirko Filipovic at Pride Final Conflict 2005 as my top fight. Firstly because with so many epic battles, a fight with Fedor had to be in first place. His fight with Nogueira was on an epic level, but his fight against Mirko Cro Cop was a true test of the pound for pound championship.
In a standup war that saw the two go toe to toe. From the bell, it looked like the hands of Fedor, with Cro Cop looking to set up his left high kick combined with some straight left punches. With much of the fight seeing Emelianenko stalking Cro Cop around the ring.
The fighting consisted of explosive exchanges on the feet combined with a sprinkling of groundwork and some signature ground and pound from Fedor. And while Mirko did have his moments, at one point staggering Fedor backwards. Like a matador and a bull, it was Fedor who dictated where the fight went.
And when the final bell came, Filipovic could be seen visibly wincing as his body tried to deal with the severe trauma it had just endured. One of Fedor’s toughest tests, but a fight where he shone. Outstriking the elite striker and cementing his position as the pound for pound greatest fighter on the planet.
With so many amazing Pride FC fights over its ten-year history, there are scores of other fights which could have easily made a top 10. Come back another time and I may have changed my mind, adding some more of the best Pride fights. But until that happens here are some honourable mentions from the best Pride MMA events in history:
- Fedor Emelianenko vs. Kevin Randleman – Pride Critical Countdown – June 2004
- Mauricio Shogun Rua vs Alistair Overeem – Pride FC – Final Conflict 2005
- Antonio Minotauro Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Mirko Filipović – Pride FC – Final Conflict 2003
- Mirko Cro Cop vs Igor Vovchanchyn – Pride FC – Total Elimination 2003
- Chuck Liddell vs Alistair Overeem – Pride Total Elimination 2003
- Kevin Randleman vs Mirko Filipovic I – Pride Total Elimination 2004
- Quinton Jackson vs. Ricardo Arona – Pride Critical Countdown 2004
Pride Never Die …
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