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Dream Matches – Pride vs. UFC

The top two shoot promotions in the world are in two very different environments in 2002. Pride perhaps hit its peak with the Sakuraba-Silva rematch, but Saku lost and they are a company without a hero. UFC is struggling since their most hyped event of the Zuffa era was a huge flop. Both companies are hopefully going to do what they can to restore or establish a certain amount of popularity. People often talk about the "what if" matches when you have two companies at the top of their games. While this may be a huge hypothetical card here, I think we can all agree it would be interesting to see any one of these inter-promotional fights. I also tried my best not to use people who are currently out with injuries.

1. Alex Steibling vs. Murillo Bustamante* (Middleweight) - Though the card would probably have a less substantial opener, I thought you've got to perpetuate the Steibling versus Brazil story. After wins over Allan Goes and Wallid Ismail in the last two Prides, Steibling is proving to be an interesting character with solid strikes and a respectable mat game. His youth and style would clash nicely with BJJ veteran and UFC Middleweight champion, Murillo Bustamante. For Steibing it would be a huge climb in stature to beat Bustamante who is significantly higher ranked in their weight class. For Bustamante it would not only be revenge for Brazilian Top Team, Goes' association, but for all the Brazilians who have fallen to this kid. This would be a very good fight in my opinion. In addition to the storyline, Steibling matches up better with Bustamante, who lost to Chuck Liddell last year. Steibling has better cardio and would be willing and able to do stand up or matwork. This would go the distance in my view and would probably be a close one to call.

2. Dan Henderson* vs. Chuck Liddell (Light Heavyweight) – Another fight that on paper looks to be very even and important. A few interesting parallels here with both men having one sport of choose, but being naturally good at the other; both have competed in the other company and got big wins; both have been pushed out of the title situation despite their winning ways. Henderson is an excellent wrestler, whose innate boxing skill has made him a great MMA fighter, while Liddell was a very good kickboxer with a solid wrestling background. Henderson though is far more proven as he beat Allan Goes and Carlos Newton the same night that Liddell was working a dark match. The win would undoubtedly propel either man into the unquestionable #1 contenders seat for either company's title. I'd suspect Henderson's conditioning would be superior to Liddell's (remember the Bustamante fight?) and that'd make up the difference. Liddell may very well be able to go the distance, but I suppose he'd be holding on towards the end.

3. Carlos Newton vs. Hayato Sakurai* (Welterweight) - Now it is probably unfair to say Sakurai is a UFC fighter, when he's 0-1 in the company and who knows if he'll ever return. The fact is he has been Shooto's biggest and most entertaining fighter in the past few years and he may become a fixture in the big two of MMA in the near future. Sakurai is without a doubt a great fighter, probably the most well rounded in his weight class, but the fact is there is a better striker (Anderson Silva) and a better wrestler (Matt Hughes), whom have handed him his only losses. The only thing left for debate is there a better submission fighter? Those who would say, "yes" would probably be arguing for Carlos Newton. We all know of the Jiu-Jitsu artist's skill on the mat, how he hung with Sakuraba many Prides ago and how he was the first guy to make Jose "Pele" Landi tap and so on. In addition to being great fighters, these two are entertainers and would perhaps steal the show. Spin wheel kicks versus Dragonball poses…how can you lose? The stand up would probably not be much of factor, if Newton didn't want to he wouldn't and Sakurai isn't afraid of fighting on the mat. Both are masters of the armbar, but I'd suspect both are good enough defensively that it would be damn near impossible to get one on. I imagine the stand up would be the difference maker, Sakurai would be more dangerous and if he got his licks in that'd probably be enough for the judges.

4. Mark Coleman* vs. Kevin Randleman - A highly unlikely battle of teacher versus student. Both are former UFC heavyweight champions and have really dropped off in people's minds in 2001. Coleman was very successful, though somewhat protected in Pride, where he reenergized his career after leaving the UFC after three big losses (Maurice Smith, Pete Williams, Pedro Rizzo) in succession. After his departure in `99, Coleman's protégé Kevin Randleman avenged all three of those losses making himself the Heavyweight champion in the process. Before 2000 was out though, Randy Couture returned and Randleman's luck failed like Mark Coleman's before him. Both men are trying to rebuild their respective careers and to see them do so at the expense of the other would be interesting, though I must reiterate – highly unlikely. Seeing these two masters of the "ground and pound" would be quite interesting. Coleman has a weight and experience advantage, while Randleman has an age and raw athletic ability advantage. We've seen how an under-trained Mark Coleman fairs and we've seen the glass jaw of Kevin Randleman, this one would undeniably an epic battle if both men were able to be at their best. I think Coleman's size and savvy would be the key here and would give him the nod.

5. Heath Herring* vs. Pedro Rizzo (Heavyweight) - Again more parallels here. Two of the top heavyweights, who were given a golden opportunity to win the title (twice in Rizzo's case), but lost and not without a little controversy. Both were decisions and very close to call, but these two just didn't have the cards in their favor. They'll get their chances again though and maybe luck will be on their side. Another interesting comparison is how both are strikers, who can grapple. Herring definitely has the edge there with a sound background in wrestling, which he used as a foundation for Muay Thai. Rizzo is all about Muay Thai Kickboxing, which he's been involved with since he was a teen, but you know as a Marco Ruas disciple he isn't limited to striking, it is just his preference. I imagine Herring would try to ground and pound Rizzo, who could undoubtedly take it, but ref stoppage is always a question. Rizzo's lack of confidence could really kill him here, since Herring is willing to take those gambles that Rizzo does not and often wins with them. I imagine Herring would get a decision win similar to his fight with Vovchanchyn, but I think Rizzo would do some vicious leg kicks before going down.

6. Vanderlei Silva* vs. Vitor Belfort (Light Heavyweight) - Many remember the punching barrage that caused a questionably fast stoppage when these two met in the Octogon in `98. Years later, Belfort is a politician and hardly the "Phenom" anymore. Mean while, Silva has turned into one of the most formidable fighters in his weight class. This would be a huge rematch for those who've known about those routes, but to just UFC fans it looks like a punching machine, who is looking to take out Tito Ortiz and a guy Tito muscled around and beat. To just Pride fans, this is the battle of the guy who twice beat Saku (no else can even say they've done it once) and a boring Jiu-Jitsu fighter who lost to Saku. Either way these guys would likely be judged by their dealings with one guy in either company. The fact is Belfort hasn't shown he's the guy who overwhelmed Tank Abbott in years, while Silva has turned into a wrecking machine for Pride. Though these two have been involved with the company, Belfort is a slick businessman and hasn't been back since early last summer, just as Silva was being pushed into a top spot. Silva's strategy would be simple, don't go down…punch, kick, knee and maybe throw an illegal headbutt (or not), while Belfort would have to neutralize that and make the fight and ground battle. Belfort has the know-how on the mat and he even faired well against the bigger Heath Herring, but Silva would be less willing to go down and only the strongest and/or most skilled wrestler can get him there. I think Silva could do a nice bit of damage along the way and Belfort could not finish it on the ground, though he could probably take it the distance. I'd suspect it'd be Vanderlei's standup damage versus Vitor's matwork and I'd gamble on the former.

7. Antonio Noguiera* vs. Josh Barnett (Heavyweight) – I'd predict this to mirror the excellent Noguiera-Herring fight in many ways. Barnett is similar to Herring in a few ways: he loves to stand and exchange strikes and he will always take things to the mat eventually. Unlike Herring though, Barnett is not going to try to chop away at Noguiera with leg kicks, he is going to throw leather, which "Minotauro" has no problem doing. Barnett is also a much better finisher than Herring because he is better with ground and pound in addition to being a top-notch submission fighter. Herring did a lot of scrambling to escape Noguiera's hooks and succeeded, but lost the fight because Pride doesn't give points for escapes. I imagine the fight would open with some light boxing before Noguiera scored a takedown and tried to get a quick finish. Barnett would be able to defend soundly and maybe get in some attempts of his own. I don't see this one ending in 2 or 3 rounds. I would go with Noguiera though because I think Barnett would make the mistake of over exerting himself with the brawling and sprawling. While he'd keep the fight standing and be able to do some cosmetic damage to Noguiera, Barnett wouldn't be able to score a KO and eventually be grounded and mounted. Ultimately, I think Barnett's defense of Noguiera's submissions would be the biggest judge. He would stay active and look good if he was putting up a fight. I think the Pride champion would take it eventually, by decision on a good day for Barnett by submission (and not a triangle either) in the fourth or fifth round.

7. Don Frye vs. Randy Couture* (Heavyweight) - If any match-up here is a "legends match" it is this one. An interesting battle between two former amateur wrestlers with boxing skill, Couture the superior wrestler and Frye a former pro boxer. These guys square up well size-wise and are close in age as well. The difference is the cross-training. Though Frye was one of the UFC's most versatile fighters in the mid-90s, Couture took things to another level, while Frye was doing pro-wrestling. "The Natural" was able to stay on top due to a solid wrestling foundation matched with some of the best conditioning around and, of course, a lot of heart. While Frye is no slouch in any of those areas, Couture would probably have him out-classed. Frye has only met one wrestler around Couture's level and that was his first loss. If that debuting Mark Coleman could beat Frye how couldn't a world-class veteran like Randy Couture? I'd predict referee stoppage do to ground and pounding, though I imagine Frye would not be an easy win by any stretch.

So who wins the war? My predictions say Pride 5-3, but I'm sure one of the Pride jobboys would lose to some King of the Cage fighter (don't they always?).

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