September 10th, 2006
Mirko Crocop won the Pride openweight Grand Prix, beating Josh Barnett in the final at the Saitama Super Arena tonight. The Croatian celebrated his 32nd birthday in style by stopping both his opponents.

Crocop faced reigning middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva in the first semi final. The Brazilian had replaced the injured Fedor Emelianenko in the tournament.

The two had fought to a draw at Pride 20 four years ago. This time there was no doubt as to who the winner was, with Crocop knocking Silva out with one of his trademark head kicks 5:22 into the opening round.

By contrast Barnett had got through his semi final in slightly less emphatic fashion. After fighting Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira for the full 15 minutes he was awarded a split decision win.

Significant blow

Crocop landed the first significant blow of the fight, a full blooded body kick. But when the southpaw tried to land the strike a second time Barnett was ready and caught the leg.

He couldn’t get the fight to the ground but they traded blows from close range with the Croatian throwing punches and the American using his knees. But striking is not Barnett’s specialty and the former Pancrase openweight champion was thrown to the floor.

Crocop found himself in an opponent’s guard for the second time tonight. It is a position from which the birthday boy is devastating but the action was interrupted due to a cut above his right eye.

After lengthy treatment the fight was restarted with Crocop in top position. But Barnett was able to tie up the Croatian’s arms, stall the action and eventually use his legs to push the smaller man away.

Barnett was still on his back but the referee decided it was time for the fight to recommence from a standing position. The American landed a couple of kicks to the legs and body but walked straight into a straight left from Crocop.

Briefly staggered

Barnett was briefly staggered but quickly recovered his composure as the two fighters clinched up. It was a position that clearly suited the Croatian who was able step back slightly and land some precision punches to the body and head from close quarters.

The American dropped to the ground, with the body shots having done the damage. Sensing the finish was in sight Crocop attacked relentlessly with hammer fists from side control but Barnett recovered and established guard.

Barnett was able to slow the onslaught from Crocop but could not stall him completely. Some hard punches were getting through and a left hand to the eye caused Barnett to shout out in pain before tapping.

The finish came at the 5:32 mark. Having challenged unsuccessfully for the Pride heavyweight title on two occasions Crocop finally became a champion for the first time in his MMA career.

Speaking after the fight the Croatian said,

“This is the happiest day in my life. It’s my 32nd birthday and I want to thank all my fans in the arena and all around the world for the support the gave me me during my career. I love you.”

With the two wins Crocop improves to 21-4-2 and has surely secured a rematch with injured heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko. Barnett drops to 22-4 after losing to the Croatian for the third time.

Pride: ‘Final Conflict Absolute’, Tokyo, September 10th, 2006
Mirko Crocop def. Josh Barnett by Submission (Punches) 5:32 of Round 1 (Openweight Grand Prix Final)
Josh Barnett def. Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira by Decision (Split) at 5:00 of Round 2 (Openweight Grand Prix Semi Final)
Mirko Crocop def. Wanderlei Silva by KO (Head Kick) at 5:26 of Round 1 (Openweight Grand Prix Semi Final)
Ricardo Arona def. Alistair Overeem by Submission (Punches) at 4:28 of Round 1
Maurício Rua def. Cyrille Diabate by TKO (Stomps) at 5:29 of Round 1
Kazuhiro Nakamura def. Yoshihiro Nakao by Decision (Unanimous) at 5:00 of Round 3
Ricardo Morais def. Tae Hyun Lee by TKO (Corner Stoppage) at 8:08 of Round 1
Aleksander Emelianenko def. Sergei Kharitonov by TKO (Punches) at 6:45 of Round 1
Evangelista Santos def. Yosuke Nishijima by Submission (Rear-Naked Choke) at 3:24 of Round 1

This is part of our retrospective series looking at some classic shows and fights. For more information click here.