By Zack Arnold/ Fight Opinion
With Forrest Griffin’s unanimous decision win over Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at UFC 86 for the Light Heavyweight title, the final chapters on the UFC/PRIDE in-ring feud are being written.
And history is not being very kind to the PRIDE brand, either.
Sure, maybe five people on an internet message board may still care about the PRIDE brand, but for historical purposes we should focus on what has become the systematic destruction of not just PRIDE’s brand but the company’s credibility and history, too.
Go back five years and think about the landscape of the business. PRIDE was on top of the mountain, running the Tokyo Dome with Quinton Jackson beating Chuck Liddell. PRIDE had all of the major Middleweight stars including Dan Henderson and Wanderlei Silva. UFC was slowly but surely building up their divisions, but it was not until the death of PRIDE that we saw UFC take over the history of the MMA business — and re-write it in the process, as well.
After the death of PRIDE, there were lots of allegations to sift through regarding charges of ties to organized crime, illegal drug usage by fighters, and possible worked fights. Rampage Jackson then signed with UFC and he wasn’t even the top fighter in PRIDE’s Middleweight division. However, on paper he looked to be extremely marketable and charismatic. He may not have been on the same level as Wanderlei Silva, but he was certainly a fighter who made his bones in the PRIDE ring. After he took care of Marvin Eastman, Jackson ended up taking care of UFC poster Chuck Liddell and suddenly Jackson was looked upon as a UFC champion. He was no longer simply a PRIDE fighter.
However, Jackson was the most high-profile PRIDE transfer to hit UFC and not lose… until UFC 86, when Forrest Griffin gave him all that he could handle. Griffin, the champion from the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, has now found himself in a very unique position in MMA history. UFC President Dana White likes to talk about how Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar in the TUF 1 finals is one of the most important matches in MMA history. It may be hyperbole but a lot of people believe it and when you are re-writing the history book, that’s all that matters.
Griffin is an icon and one of, if not, the major face(s) of UFC to mainstream MMA fans and his ascendancy in the world of MMA coincides with UFC’s growing dominance. He’s not Hulk Hogan, but he’s certainly a superstar and a very marketable personality.
Forrest Griffin has also found himself in the unique position of being a PRIDE-slayer.
Always the professional underdog, Griffin was set to face Mauricio Shogun (PRIDE’s #2 top Middleweight behind Dan Henderson and/or Wanderlei Silva) in Anaheim, CA. in 2007. Shockingly, Griffin took the fight right to Shogun and submitted him. For hardcore PRIDE fans, this was an emotionally jarring win for Griffin. UFC officials were thrilled that a PRIDE icon had been slayed.
But who knew that Griffin would slay one more PRIDE icon, someone of substantial name value thanks to UFC’s marketing?
Griffin’s impressive showing against Jackson at UFC 86 leaves only Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira as the lone PRIDE fighter in UFC who has not lost in the Octagon. Nogueira is set to make his reality TV debut as a coach on next season’s Ultimate Fighter show in order to try to heat-up a match against Frank Mir. Let’s just say that the world has not been set on fire by Nogueira’s reign in UFC as opposed to some of his epic battles in the PRIDE ring.
Even with UFC’s Heavyweight division as bad as it is, there will come a day when Nogueira loses in the Octagon. When that day happens, it will be the end of the UFC-PRIDE in-ring feud. UFC will have completely written in the history books and nobody will shrug their shoulders, either.
What’s that? Fedor? Did we forget about him?
Paraphasing the infamous words of former Boston Celtics coach Rick Pitino, “Fedor Emelianenko isn’t walking through that door. Josh Barnett isn’t walking through that door.”
Fedor and Barnett will have to settle for being a part of UFC’s out-of-the-ring feud with a PRIDE-style Affliction card on July 19th.