Twenty-five years ago this week, the MMA landscape changed forever when Pride FC held its inaugural event, Pride 1 in Tokyo on Oct. 11, 1997.
Conceived originally as a promotional outlet for professional wrestler Nobuhiko Takada to fight Rickson Gracie, Pride 1 brought 47,000 fans to the Tokyo Dome and became an instant success in Japan. More events quickly followed, with Pride launching their first Grand Prix event in 2000, which was won by former UFC heavyweight champion Mark Coleman. In no time, Pride established itself as one of the premier MMA organizations in the world.
For the next six years, Pride went head to head with the UFC for MMA supremacy, with many fans favoring the Japanese promotion — and it’s easy to see why. During its run, Pride was responsible for building some of the most iconic stars in the history of MMA while also playing host to some of its most unforgettable moments. So on this, the 25th anniversary of Pride’s debut, Alexander K. Lee, Damon Martin, Jed Meshew, and Shaheen Al-Shatti remember some of their favorite moments in the history of Pride FC.
Jan. 30, 2000 - May 1, 2000: Mark Coleman wins the 2000 Openweight Grand Prix
When Mark Coleman left the UFC following three straight losses then added a fourth in his PRIDE debut, it appeared the once great heavyweight was perhaps losing a step. That all changed when he entered the first ever PRIDE Openweight Grand Prix with a chance to resurrect the reputation he earned by mauling foes in the early days of the UFC. A former Ohio State wrestling standout, Coleman looked like a fighter reborn, especially when he reached the quarterfinals, which set the stage for a one-night tournament where he would have to go through three opponents in order to become champion.
That’s exactly what Coleman did — capped off by a dominant performance over Ukrainian bruiser Igor Vovchanchyn, who was riding a ridiculous 37-fight win streak before he got bludgeoned with knees in the final match. Coleman was crowned champion, but more importantly he was finally “The Hammer” again instead of the nail. - Martin
Jan. 30, 2000: The iconic intros of Lenne Hardt
One thing that PRIDE always did better than any other promotion was the pageantry involved with their fighter introductions. Athletes were given grand entrances with thumping music that echoed throughout the arena, massive LED screens, and a laser light show that took the best parts of professional wrestling and brought them to MMA. After the fighters emerged from backstage, their names were then shouted to the heavens by Lenne Hardt — an anonymous announcer who debuted for the 2000 Openweight Grand Prix and grew to be known as “The PRIDE screaming lady” by fans around the world.
Hardt’s unbelievable ability to change her pitch, her volume, and offer a unique take on every single name she announced made her a staple of PRIDE, but more importantly she brought an element of excitement and enthusiasm to some the biggest fights ever. - Martin
May 1, 2000: Kazushi Sakuraba becomes “The Gracie Hunter” at Pride Grand Prix 2000 Finals
If anyone in the Gracie family has nightmares, it’s likely because Kazushi Sakuraba is the boogeyman haunting their dreams. A catch wrestler by trade, Sakuraba tormented Brazilian jiu-jitsu stylists but was especially good against anyone with the last name Gracie. He nearly twisted Royler Gracie’s arm off his body with one of the nastiest kimuras in history then somehow topped himself by snapping Renzo Gracie’s arm with the same exact maneuver. But no fight defined his reign of terror better than Sakuraba engaging in a no time limit match against UFC icon Royce Gracie.
The epic encounter lasted for 90 grueling minutes, with Sakuraba finally coming out on top after punishing Gracie with a series of leg kicks, which forced his brother and UFC co-founder Rorion Gracie to throw in the towel. The win helped cement Sakuraba forever and always as “The Gracie Hunter.” - Martin
The quintessential Pride circus fight. Bob Sapp may be a walking punchline now, but he was combat sports’ closest parallel to Thanos back in 2002, a gargantuan ex-NFL lineman who crossed over with the force of a thousand waves, and even twice toppled K-1 legend Ernesto Hoost later the same year. So of course Pride matched its new 329-pound toy up against “Big Nog,” the No. 1 fighter in the world at the time and its reigning heavyweight champion.
What ensued was one of the most chaotic brawls of the era, a David vs. Goliath showdown that cemented itself as an all-timer well before Nogueira gutted out his hellacious armbar victory at the 19-minute mark. - Al-Shatti
Oct. 5, 2003: Mirko Cro Cop head kicks professional wrestler Dos Caras Jr. at Pride Bushido 1
Mirko Cro Crop conquered a number of legendary names in his Pride career. The future “Alberto Del Rio” a.k.a. “Alberto El Patron” wasn’t one of them. Then known as Dos Caras Jr., the son of famed Mexican luchador Dos Caras, Alberto sought to expand his combat sports portfolio by bringing his famous name and legitimate amateur wrestling background into the world of MMA. He picked up a few wins in Japan’s Deep promotion before getting the call to the biggest stage — and it came against a world-class heavyweight named Cro Crop.
Spoiler: Dos Caras Jr. got his head kicked in.
Entering the ring wearing a traditional luchador mask, Caras already looked a little lost, but it’s difficult to imagine any scenario where he would have stood a chance against the Croatian kicking machine. The sight of a masked fighter slumped in the corner after getting clipped by a Cro Cop head kick is one that you’re unlikely to see in any modern promotion, and we’re all the poorer for it. - Lee
Nov. 9, 2003: Quinton “Rampage” Jackson finishes Chuck Liddell at Pride Final Conflict 2003
You can blame Quinton Jackson for Dana White’s unwavering stance against cross promotion. Chuck Liddell had yet to reach the level of stardom that awaited him when he eventually became UFC light heavyweight champion, but he was already one of the promotion’s most popular fighters and White was confident that “The Ice Man” could show out when he entered him into the 2003 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix.
The first matchup went great for Liddell as he made short work of Alistair Overeem. However, in the second round of the tournament, he met “Rampage,” the man who would become his nemesis. Jackson had Liddell outgunned from the beginning, consistently beating him to the punch in the standup before taking an exhausted Liddell down in Round 2 and pummeling him with methodical ground-and-pound until Liddell’s corner threw in the towel. It was a rough look for Liddell, White, and the UFC, and is one of the main reasons why White has maintained an iron grip on his roster ever since. - Lee
Feb. 1, 2004: Mirko Cro Cop and Bas Rutten prank Mauro Ranallo backstage
One of the voices of Pride, Ranallo did a backstage interview with Cro Cop in advance of his fight with Ron Waterman at Pride 27: Inferno, and Cro Cop, at the behest of Rutten, decided to have a little fun with him. During the interview, Cro Cop “took offense” to Ranallo’s commentary during his fight with Nogueira (Ranallo didn’t commentate that fight), leaving Ranallo visibly shaken by the whole thing until Mirko and Bas reveal it was all a gag. Watching it now, you can still feel Ranallo’s discomfort at thinking he’d somehow made an enemy of one of the most dangerous men alive. - Meshew
June 20, 2004: Quinton Jackson KOs Ricardo Arona with “Aronabomb” slam at Pride Critical Countdown 2004
The night that forever immortalized Rampage Jackson as the king of slams. Ricardo Arona was unbeaten in Pride when he and Jackson met in 2005, a beast on the jiu-jitsu mats who already counted wins over American standouts Dan Henderson, Guy Mezger, and Jeremy Horn on his résumé. He even scored an early advantage when he hurt Jackson with a flurry of upkicks and punches from bottom position, but Arona’s big mistake came with the triangle choke attempt that followed.
In one fluid motion, Jackson hoisted the Brazilian aloft into the heavens then smashed him straight down to Hell, knocking Arona out instantly and cementing his place on highlight reels until the end of time for the most infamous slam knockout in the sport’s history. - Al-Shatti
Dec. 31, 2004: Mark Hunt delivers the ‘Atomic Butt Drop’ to Wanderlei Silva at Pride Shockwave 2004
Shockwave, indeed. In his third appearance for the Japanese promotion, Mark Hunt was thrown straight into the fire against Wanderlei Silva, a Pride demigod. Hunt was no slouch, with a K-1 Grand Prix win to his name, but there was little reason to believe he’d be the man to halt Silva’s undefeated streak that was approaching the five-year mark. Shockingly, Hunt did just that via a split call, but what’s remembered most from the contest is his, uh, inventive guard pass.
“The Super Samoan” has never been known for his elaborate ground game, so when it came time to advance position on a downed Silva, Hunt decided to just throw caution (and his entire ass) into the wind with a maneuver that would forever be immortalized as the “Atomic Butt Drop.” If there was ever a technique that summed up the unfettered inventiveness of Pride, this is the one. - Lee
If you’ve been an MMA for longer than a year or two, you’ve undoubtedly seen the highlight of Ryo Chonan’s flying scissor heel hook on Anderson Silva, because it’s one of the coolest submissions in MMA history, and it happened to someone who went on to become one of the greatest fighters of all-time. But what people don’t remember about this fight is how competitive it was before the submission.
Silva put his grappling to good use in the first round, and even landed a suplex in the second (a suplex!), while Chonan gave as good as he got on the feet and also had success from top position on the mat. In fact, shortly before the end, the commentary team was talking about how Chonan was likely ahead on the scorecards, only for those to be rendered unnecessary by one of the most iconic submissions in the history of the sport. - Meshew
June 26, 2005: Kazuhiro Nakamura’s wardrobe malfunction at Pride Critical Countdown 2005
While a lot of this list is going to remember the epic highs of Pride, the other part of what made it such an enjoyable promotion to watch was the obvious absurdity of much of it. Case in point, at Pride Critical Countdown 2005, Kazuhiro Nakamura chose to don a gi for his fight with Wanderlei Silva.
It was a bad decision.
Halfway through the opening frame, Nakamura’s gi became more of a hindrance than a help. Finally tired of dealing with it, Nakamura decided to get rid of it, leading to the most predictable of all outcomes — Nakamura stops fighting to take off his gi and Wanderlei does not stop fighting, resulting in a ridiculous and amusing beatdown for the ages. - Meshew
Dec. 31, 2005: Charles Bennett KOs Wanderlei Silva backstage at Pride Shockwave 2005
In 2005, Wanderlei Silva was at the peak of his MMA powers. Yes, he’d recently lost to Ricardo Arona, but Silva was still one of the top 205-pounders in the world, and one of the most intimidating men in the sport. Bennett, in contrast, was a journeyman featherweight; only, no one told that to “Krazy Horse.” Behind the scenes at Pride Shockwave 2005, Bennett got into an altercation with the Chute Box team, getting put to sleep with a triangle choke from Cristiano Marcello (which there is video of).
However, after Bennett wakes up and gets to his feet, Silva starts pushing him out of the area, at which point Bennett drops Silva with an elbow. The incident was the talk of the forums for years, with Silva finally confirming it in his book and subsequent interviews.
And the fact that Wanderlei somehow still went out and fought Arona that night — and won — makes the whole thing all the more impressive. - Meshew
Was Nick Diaz actually stoned out of his gourd when he toppled the best lightweight Pride had to offer? It’s one of those mysteries from MMA lore we’ll never truly understand, though his enormous THC levels from the bout’s post-fight drug screenings certainly tell some sort of tale. (“I was there at this fight and believe that you were intoxicated and … that it made you numb to the pain,” a doctor for the Nevada commission comically proclaimed at Diaz’s sentencing hearing.)
Either way, Diaz’s 2007 magnum opus was a thing of beauty, a lesson in Stockton cardio, and a work of art for anyone with even a passing interest in high-level jiu-jitsu. I mean, it’s a freakin’ gogoplata, people — how many of those do you ever see?! - Al-Shatti
Part two of our 25-moment celebration of Pride FC comes out on Monday, Oct. 10.
Which from the first half of our list is your most memorable Pride FC moment?
This poll is closed
Coleman wins the 2000 Openweight Grand Prix
The iconic intros of Lenne Hardt
Sakuraba becomes "The Gracie Hunter"
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Bob Sapp
Mirko Cro Cop vs. Dos Caras Jr.
Rampage Jackson vs. Chuck Liddell
Mirko Cro Cop and Bas Rutten prank Mauro Ranallo
Rampage Jackson’s "Aronabomb" slam
Mark Hunt delivers the "Atomic Butt Drop" to Wanderlei Silva
Ryo Chonan heel hooks Anderson Silva
Kazuhiro Nakamura’s wardrobe malfunction
Charles Bennett KOs Wanderlei Silva backstage
Nick Diaz vs. Takanori Gomi