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The Top 10 PRIDE fights of 2006

Top 10 lists are tough, primarily because it's all about opinion. Still, with the fall of PRIDE (as we know it, anyway) it seems appropriate to run a list of the best fights the organization put up in its final full year without the Fertittas. With that said, here were the three factors? in order of importance? used to determine this 'best of 2006' list.

1. Fight drama and/ or excitement? Obviously, the best fights are the ones that go back and forth; the kind that seem as if either fighter could win. That said, there are times when one fighter exhibits such prowess that it makes for great entertainment value by itself.

2. The setting? The bigger the stage, the better. Thus, Grand Prix and championship bouts were given more credence than lower echelon stuff. Further, known fighters got a leg up as well.

3. Shock value? A huge upset means something in terms of making this list. So does a sudden turn of events.

So, without further ado, let's get to it.

10. Kazuo Misaki vs. Dan Henderson

Event: PRIDE Bushido 12 on 8/26/06

Result: Misaki wins via unanimous decision

The skinny: Henderson had just won a pretty close unanimous decision over Misaki almost five months earlier. Most believed that Henderson would show that the close match was a fluke in the first round of the Grand Prix Welterweight Tournament.

Not so.

It was Misaki that proved their first match was no fluke at all, proving to be the better striker on the August night in question. Though this one shouldn't have been too much of a surprise, it still was. That and the stage got this fight on the list.

9. Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic vs. Josh Barnett


Event: PRIDE Final Conflict Absolute on 9/10/06

Result: Cro Cop wins via submission (strikes) at 5:32 of round one

The skinny: Not a great back and forth fight as Barnett never really seemed to have a chance. But, this was a very exciting bout as Cro Cop took the fight to the former UFC champion in a big way.

Of course, the fact that Barnett had just gone through a test of wills with Nogueira only an hour or two earlier may have had something to do with his less than standard performance.

But the reality is that on that September day, Mirko Cro Cop Filipovic was running on all cylinders. He dominated Barnett on his feet with laser fast straight punches and then followed him to the canvas where he continued his striking onslaught, forcing Barnett to tap due to injury.

And with Cro Cop's victory, we may have seen the last open weight tournament in MMA history (not happening on American soil, for sure). Thus, it had to make this list.

8. Joachim Hansen vs. Luiz Azeredo


Event: PRIDE Bushido 10 on 4/2/06

Result: Hansen wins via KO at 7:09 of round one

The skinny: This was a good fight for awhile. In fact, Azeredo was winning. But then Hansen did to Azeredo what he had done to Imaniri and Uno earlier in his career.

He connected with a knee. And suddenly? the keyword is suddenly? they needed the smelling salts.

7. Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic vs. Wanderlei Silva


Event: PRIDE Final Conflict Absolute on 9/10/06

Result: Cro Cop wins via KO at 5:26 of round one

The skinny: A great fight in terms of back and forth action? Not really. But here's the thing. A lot of people still seemed to believe that Silva could stand there with Cro Cop like he did way back in the beginning of Filipovic's MMA career. Further, Cro Cop had become more famous for upsetting losses? Fedor, Kevin Randleman, Nogueira? than great victories. Thus, many wondered what he'd make of the open weight tournament.

What the naysayers got was one of the more dominant performances of the Croatian's career. In the end, a patented head kick floored Silva for good. This was as sudden and spectacular an ending as they come.

6. Marcus Aurelio vs. Takanori Gomi


Event: PRIDE Bushido 10 on 4/2/06

Result: Aurelio wins via arm triangle choke at 4:34 of round one

The skinny: Was this a great fight? Not really. But here's what it was.

Possibly the most shocking upset of 2006.

This fight wasn't even for Gomi's lightweight belt, primarily because no one believed that Aurelio was the real deal. But the American Top Team fighter seemed to prove what some had believed coming in: Gomi was no match for an elite Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter on the ground.

Shock value alone gets this one a spot on the list.

5. Fedor Emelianenko vs. Mark Hunt


Event: PRIDE Shockwave 2006 on 12/31/06

Result: Fedor wins by Kimura at 8:16 of round one

The skinny: Every now and then one catches you off guard. This is what makes MMA great. After Hunt's performance against Josh Barnett? where he was literally submitted within 2:02 of the first round? people were down on the Samoan's ground skills.

Then Fedor took him down. He transitioned to an armbar. He had it sunk in. And everybody watching probably considered the fight already over.

But somehow, Hunt escaped. Then he established side control on Fedor? that's right, Mark Hunt took side control on Fedor.

Best part is that a few moments later, while on their feet, Hunt reversed a takedown attempt by the PRIDE champion, gained side control again, and nearly sunk in an Americana before mounting Emelianenko.

Who would have ever thought?

But in the end, Fedor got Hunt with his own Kimura and took home victory. Still, this one looked gray for awhile.

4. Hector Lombard vs. Akihiro Gono


Event: Bushido 11 on 6/4/06

Result: Gono wins a unanimous decision

The skinny: Coming into this fight, Cuban judo fighter Hector Lombard had never lost. In fact, the last four fights he'd competed in had ended via first round stoppage. In other words, Lombard liked to start fast.

And boy did he ever against Gono.

Lombard literally pounded on Gono, taking him down and beating him to a pulp. But here's the thing about Gono; he's a survivor.

And he did somehow miraculously survive the Cuban fighter's onslaught. Unfortunately for Lombard, he let everything hang out in those opening minutes. Thus, Gono schooled him for the rest of the match to take home a decision.

An interesting change of events in one and a heckuva fight, even if it wasn't for huge stakes.

3. Mark Hunt vs. Yosuke Nishijima


Event: PRIDE 31: Dreamers on 2/26/06

Result: Hunt wins via KO at 1:18 of round three

The skinny: This was former Japanese boxing champion Yosuke Nishijima's MMA debut. Boy did the PRIDE brass give it to this guy, pairing him with a former K-1 elite fighter that outweighed him by 80 pounds.

Or did they?

In the end, fans got to watch a stand up battle where both combatants showed an amazing amount of heart. Nishijima was pounded by power shots for a good portion of the fight. That said, throughout the fight? especially in round two? he showed the world just how good a boxer can be on their feet (winning the round). But in the end, a powerful right from Hunt finally put Nishijima down.

This was the kind of bout that fight fans love.

2. Gilbert Melendez vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri


Event: PRIDE: Shockwave 2006 on 12/31/06

Result: Melendez wins via unanimous decision

The skinny: This was a stand up war! First, Kawajiri floored Melendez early in the first round; then Melendez came back and did the same to Kawajiri later in the round. In sum, it was a fight where both contestants threw punch after punch with bad intentions, neither willing to give an inch. In fact, it was amazing that no one got knocked out.

In the end, Melendez got the decision. That said, this one could've went either way.

For the play by play, check out the Shockwave 2006 review.

1. Josh Barnett vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira


Event: PRIDE: Final Conflict Absolute on 9/10/06

Result: A split decision victory for Barnett

The skinny: This one could be considered one of the best ground fights of all time. Basically, spectators got a lesson in what it means to be a ground fighter as catch wrestler (Barnett) took on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu master (Nogueira). There were certainly some decent exchanges on the feet. However, this battle will forever be known for its trading submission attempts and ground positions (both fighters turned one another over on numerous occasions).

At the final bell, Barnett had Nogueira in a knee bar. Would he have escaped? It looked pretty solid; that said, this is Nogueira we're talking about. Regardless, that knee bar is probably what gave Barnett the victory.