On May 5th, 2006, fight fans fastened their seatbelts and prepared themselves for what was expected to be a wild ride, The Pride Open Weight Grand Prix.
16 fighters entered the event knowing that only one man would walk about being crowned the 2006 Final Conflict Absolute champion. After two rounds and over five months, fans were left with 4 of the world’s best fighters who would face off to see who would be named the Pride Absolute champion.
The night started with Mirko Cro Cop, Wanderlei Silva, Josh Barnett and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
The very tough Croatian striker Mirko Cro Cop’s semi-final opponent was Wanderlei Silva who is currently the Pride middleweight champion. Both fighters had previously expressed their hate for one another in pre-fight interviews and they were both very excited to get it on for a second time. Back in April of 02, Silva and Cro Cop faced off in the ring at Pride 20: Armed and Ready. Due to special rules enforced in the bout it was called a draw as the fight went the distance.
Their match was the first of the semi-finals to judge who’d be fighting for the belt. Cro Cop showed total dominance from the moment the belt rang to start the fight until the ref pushed him away because his opponent lay motionless on the canvas after eating a vicious left high kick.
Early in the fight Silva tried to mount some offense by charging in on Cro Cop and swinging wildly but that eventually hurt him. Cro Cop showed great composure as he picked his shots and landed them hard. Silva tasted the power in Cro Cop’s left leg numerous times while trying to charge in. After taking a kick he decided to try his luck on the ground but after failed takedown found Silva on the bottom with the big Croatian on top raining down bombs.
Cro Cop worked some very brutal ground and pound which consisted mainly of hammerfists and punches. After taking plenty of punishment Silva attempted to roll for an armbar but he failed. The ref then stepped in between them and took Silva to his corner as his left eye had almost swollen shut.
After about five minutes (felt like hours) Silva and the refs decided he was able to continue fighting. The ref restarted the fighters on the ground. Silva attempted to work some strikes from the bottom but they were ineffective so the ref stood the fighters up.
Silva quickly started to pursue Cro Cop throwing wild shots from all angles. Cro Cop did a nice job avoiding anything big and then he sized Silva up and landed a hard body kick. Silva tried charging in again but he ended up eating that same body kick. A little later Cro Cop sized Silva up and fired off his lightning quick left leg which caught the top of Silva’s head and sent him to the canvas.
Mirko Cro Cop quickly left the ring and headed for the back room while his opponent lay motionless on the canvas in a bloody heap.
Cro Cop’s opponent in the finals was decided in what ended up being a two round war. Both Barnett and Nogueira did enough to earn the win but in the end Josh Barnett was warranted the split decision victory.
In a fight that could have gone either way fans saw two fighters who both left it all in the ring. Barnett was able to score a knockdown on Nogueira at one point. Both guys also showcased their grappling skills as both Nogueira and Barnett had one another in trouble at various times in the fight.
In the end the judges felt that “The Babyface Assassin” did enough to warrant himself the decision and a third shot at his rival Mirko Cro Cop.
Next on the agenda were the finals which would slate former Pancrase and UFC champion Josh Barnett vs. Mirko Cro Cop.
The fight played out perfectly for Cro Cop and at times it looked a lot like his earlier fight against Wanderlei Silva.
Cro Cop was able to stuff most of Barnett’s takedowns and work his powerful strikes which had plenty of effect.
Barnett who entered the ring with lots of visible damage to his face was looking for one thing only and that was the clinch in the takedown. Cro Cop showed how good his takedown defence was by stuffing numerous takedowns and working his kicks and punches.
Early in the fight Barnett was able to open up a cut over the left eye of Cro Cop which forced the referee to call a halt to the bout to have it checked but they quickly restarted the action.
Late in the fight Cro Cop worked a hard three shot combo which ended with a liver shot that sent Barnett to the canvas. Cro Cop saw that his opponent was in trouble so he quickly pounced and started working some vicious ground and pound. Barnett’s face had eventually taken enough and he decided to tap out.
For the first time all evening we saw some emotion from Mirko Cro Cop as he made his way to his corner where he eventually collapsed as he was comforted by his teammates. For the first time in his fighting career Cro Cop had finally won a title.
It was nice to see the emotion coming from Cro Cop as the Pride president wrapped the huge Pride Absolute belt around his waist.
Next up on the slate for Mr. Cro Cop is a rematch with Fedor.