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For inspiration: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HoHZpNX9nQc&feature=player_embedded#

-Wanderlei Silva-
"In Japan, the fans are really quiet, and the American fans are like the ones in the movie Gladiator – they’re all chanting and yelling – and it gives me the chills because I fight to have the fans make the stadium shake."

In 1997 Dream Stage Entertainment held the first Pride fighting championship. The event was held in the Tokyo dome and drew some 47,000 fans. The main attraction pitted popular Japanese wrestler Nobuhiko Takada and the Brazilian Rickson Gracie from the famed Gracie Jiu Jitsu family. During the fight Rickson Gracie took Takada down early and dominated him on the ground. At 4:47 of the first round, Rickson secured an arm-bar and ended the fight. This inaugural event set the stage for DSE to hold an almost decade long run of great fights and events under the Pride banner. This also saw the beginning rivalry between the Takada dojo and its best student Kazushi Sakuraba against the Gracie family; in particular UFC’s first hero Royce Gracie.

Pride held its first Grand Prix event in May of 2000. This open weight tournament was a gathering of the greatest mixed martial artists and fighters of the time. Kazushi Sakuraba and Royce Gracie would meet in the 2nd round. The match would be the longest fight in mma history. Six consecutive 15 minute rounds totaling 90 minutes. Royce Gracie and his corner threw in the towel in between rounds and could not continue on into the 7th round. Sakuraba was declared the winner to this seemingly never-ending clash of mma gods. Sakuraba would advance to the next round and meet Igor Vovchanchyn but was too tired with his 90 minute affair with Royce and couldn’t continue the fight. The eventual tournament winner would be UFC heavy weight stand-out Mark Coleman.

I found it rather surprising that Pride took part in fixed fights in the early years. That some of my favorite matches were already decided. I look back now on the Sakuraba Belfort fight. Did Vitor Belfort only have a two day notice to who he was fighting? If this were true, or if Belfort knew who he was fighting and had a full training camp to prepare, the out-come of the fight could have gone to Belfort and ultimately the success of Pride as a business. These shady type practices fortunately allowed PrideFC to blossom to one of the most powerful fight promotions ever. I can understand but not forgive Pride and DSE’s actions. They were trying to build a brand. Having fixed fights with their top stars not only meant winning and losing for the fighters and for the fans that loved them, but for the business itself. Pride Fighting Championships went on to hold many more super successful events in the years to come. Annual Grand Prix and Shock wave events saw the birth of the sport’s greatest and deadliest fighters.

The end drew near for Pride. As successful PrideFC was on the outside, inner turmoil brewed. On June 5, 2006 Fuji T.V. was forced to pull the plug on Pride and canceling their television contract. DSE was in breach of contract blanketed by rumors that DSE was just a front for the Japanese mob. On March 27, 2007, Zuffa acquired all assets of PrideFC from Dream stage entertainment. Dana White and the Fertitta brothers had every intention to keep Pride alive. Simultaneously co-promote UFC here in the U.S. and Pride FC over in Japan but the deal never materialized. Most if not all of Pride’s top stars went on to the UFC. We as fans are finally getting to see the dream match-ups without cross promoting from overseas. In a small way the spirit of Pride lives on. In part by its fans and large part and thanks to the UFC.
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