August 28th, 2005
The best heavyweights on the planet finally faced off at Pride: ‘Final Conflict’ 2005 tonight. The match in Osaka between champion Fedor Emelianenko and challenger Mirko Crocop took nearly two years to make and it did not disappoint.
Crocop first announced he would be fighting Fedor after scoring his first straight win for the promotion at Pride Bushido 1 in October, 2003. However a contractual dispute between the Russian and the promotion put the eagerly anticipated matchup on the backburner for the next two years.
While Fedor kept winning Crocop had a couple of hiccups, getting submitted by Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira in an interim heavyweight title match and then getting stopped by Kevin Randleman in the opening round of the Pride heavyweight Grand Prix.
But the Croatian is now back to his best and has won seven straight fights to finally secure a title shot. Fedor was making the first defence of the title he won by beating Nogueira at Pride: ‘Shockwave’ 2004.
Fedor started on the front foot with the Russian trying to force Crocop to counterstrike. The Croatian southpaw soon found a home for his straight left with the champion looking to land looping hooks to the body and head.
Initially Fedor’s strategy seemed the most effective as he backed Crocop up and scored with some hard punches. The challenger was unperturbed and continually landed his straight left with laser like accuracy.
Around midway through the round Crocop landed three left hands in quick succession and went in for the kill. Fedor countered with a huge right hand which didn’t connect but caused the Croatian to stumble as he ducked out of the way.
Crocop attacked with his trademark left high kick but lost his footing and found himself on his back with Fedor raining down ground and pound. The Russian was in a dominant position but blood was pouring from his nose and the fight was paused.
The left hands from Crocop had made their mark but the fight was restarted with Fedor in guard. The Russian was relentless but his opponent was able to defend intelligently and the action was paused for a second time due to the blood.
A scramble ensured with Fedor throwing punches from top position and Crocop trying to counter with up-kicks and hammer like punches from underneath. The challenger couldn’t improve his position but was able to stall the action very effectively.
The bell sounded to end the round with Fedor in dominant position but looking the worse for wear with multiple cuts and contusions on his face. There was no visible damage to Crocop but he looked exhausted with the effort of having to defend from bottom position for so long possibly having taken a toll.
At the start of the second stanza Fedor landed punches and kicks to Crocop who countered with a solid left kick to the liver. The Russian was the fresher of the two fighters and moved forwards relentlessly.
Crocop landed the occasional straight left but was getting continuously outworked and was taken down with a trip from the clinch. The Russian remained in top position until the bell to leave himself in a commanding position heading into the final round.
The Croatian had five minutes in which to turn the fight around but Fedor continued to come forwards and pressurize him. This time the champion needed less than a minute to put the challenger on his back.
They remained there until midway through the round when the referee stood the two fighters up and issued Crocop a yellow card. Seconds later the 31 year old was on his back again with time rapidly running out.
The referee stood the fighters up again with a minute remaining and issued Crocop a second yellow card. It was do or die for the Croatian but he was visibly exhausted and Fedor landed a final takedown to see out the round.
War of attrition
It was a 20 minute war of attrition and Crocop clearly got the better of the early exchanges. But he faded from the fight and landed little of note in the last two rounds so it was no surprise hear that Fedor was declared the winner by way of unanimous decision.
Fedor improves to 23-1-0-1 and can probably consider himself the best pound for pound fighter on the planet. Crocop drops to 16-3-2 after suffering the third loss of his Pride career.
Best of the rest
The event at the Saitama Super Arena also featured the finals of the middleweight (205lbs) Grand Prix. Mauricio Rua and Ricardo Arona faced off in an all Brazilian final.
Earlier in the night Shogun had stopped Alistair Overeem in his semi final. Meanwhile Arona had scored a decision win over reigning middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva.
The action lasted less than three minutes. Rua (11-1) knocking out Arona (11-3) with stomps and hammer punches to win the 2005 middleweight Grand Prix.
This is part of our retrospective series looking at some classic shows and fights.