Celebrate PRIDE Month by honouring the best transitions from the PRIDE ring to the UFC's Octagon
As readers may know, TheRant365.com is a paragon of woke virtue signaling, so we couldn't let the glory of PRIDE Month pass us by without honouring the incredibly important celebration.
And so, in today's article we celebrate the brave stars of PRIDE FC by taking a look at five of the most successful transitions - not between genders of course, but from PRIDE's pristine white boxing ring to the UFC's legendary Octagon.
PRIDE FC, if you don't know, was a beloved mixed martial arts organization that thrilled fight fans with tons of exciting fights and "interesting" match-ups from its inception in Japan back in 1997. Dozens of MMA legends and stars would be born in their trademark white boxing ring and their rivalry with the UFC propelled both brands to greatness - unfortunately, their executives' ties to the Yakuza were exposed in a bombshell report in 2006 that ended their lucrative TV deal in Japan and all but killed the organization.
PRIDE was purchased by UFC parent company Zuffa back in 2007 with the intention of PRIDE continuing to run in Japan as a separate organization with massive crossover fights between the two promotions, but the difficulties of staging events in Japan at the time thanks to the Yakuza forced Zuffa to abandon those plans and instead had the UFC simply absorb many of PRIDE's stars to its own roster and close their once-rival's doors for good.
Though a few stars opted out of heading stateside (most famously PRIDE heavyweight champion Fedor Emilianenko), most ended up joining the UFC's ranks and fans were finally able to see fantasy match-ups that were previously impossible to make across promotions.
While some PRIDE legends suffered steep declines in the UFC, a handful of alumni continued forging their legacies and some unheralded talent went on to become legends in their own right.
This piece examines the PRIDE alumni that experienced the most success in their move to the UFC. Note that in order for the fighters to be included, they must have made a name for themselves primarily fighting in PRIDE, so it doesn't include fighters that rose to prominence in the UFC before fighting in PRIDE and returning later.
So without further ado, let's celebrate (the end of) PRIDE Month!
#5: Shogun Rua (12-1 PRIDE, 11-10-1 UFC)
If you just take a look at the numbers, one would think Mauricio Shogun Rua's transition from his PRIDE glory days to the UFC was a rough one considering he won 12 of 13 outings in the former and just 11 of 22 in the latter, but considering he managed to capture the UFC light heavyweight title and continued taking part in epic wars until well past his prime in the UFC, overall Shogun's transition was a success even if that success came in relatively short spurts.
Shogun began his PRIDE career in 2003 after putting together a 4-1 record in smaller shows, with all of his wins coming via knockout and his lone loss coming against the vastly more experienced Renato "Babalu" Sobral. Rua rifled off four first round KOs and made a name for himself as a superb Muay Thai striker with freakish power and nasty kicks (particularly soccer kicks and stomps to grounded opponents, which were perfectly legal in PRIDE), earning a berth in PRIDE's 2005 Middleweight (the equivalent of light heavyweight in the UFC) Grand Prix.
It was there that Shogun announced his legitimacy as one of the top 205-pounders in MMA. In the opening round of the tournament, Rua demolished Quinton Rampage Jackson; in the quarter-finals he scored a victory over "Lil Nog" Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in an epic back and forth war that is widely regarded as one of the greatest fights in PRIDE history.
In the one-night finale of the tournament, Shogun knocked out both Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona to become the PRIDE 2005 Middleweight Grand Prix Champion.
Although not the official king of PRIDE's middleweight division, many considered Shogun the uncrowned champion given he had won the tournament and demolished Ricardo Arona, who had defeated PRIDE's proper champion Wanderlei Silva in the semi-finals of the Grand Prix. Normally, this would have set up a massive showdown between Shogun and Silva for the title, but given the two were close teammates at Chute Boxe at the time, a dream showdown between the two would never come to fruition.
As a result, Shogun ventured up to heavyweight for a fight with UFC legend Mark Coleman, but the fight ended in a freak injury as Rua's arm broke while he was trying to post on it during a Coleman takedown (it also ended up causing a fight between the fighter's camps as Coleman had continued hitting Shogun after the injury, not noticing the break). That would be the only loss of Shogun's PRIDE career, as he picked up four more wins in the organization, including a submission over Kevin Randleman and knockouts of Cyrille Diabate and Alistair Overeem for the second time.
In 2007, Shogun signed with the UFC following the collapse of PRIDE and made his highly anticipated debut in the Octagon that fall against The Ultimate Fighter winner Forrest Griffin.
Forrest was a fan favourite in his own right given his gritty fighting style and time on the inaugural season of the hit show, but he was still seen as an easy match-up for the mighty Rua, particularly given that Griffin was just one fight removed from a brutal knockout loss at the hands of the unheralded Keith Jardine. Unfortunately for PRIDE fans, Shogun was coming off of double knee surgery (which would need to be repeated following the fight and kept him out of the cage for the entirety of 2008) and the 28 year old simply did not look his normal self.
Though he was winning the bout early, Shogun gassed out quickly and found himself submitted in the third round in a stunning upset that derailed his highly anticipated title shot.
In 2009, Shogun returned and went to war in a rematch with Mark Coleman, avenging his loss from three years ago with a third round knockout to secure his first victory inside the Octagon. He followed it up with a beautiful knockout over former UFC champ Chuck Liddell to secure his shot at the new light heavyweight champion, Lyoto Machida.
The "Dragon" was undefeated and sported a karate-infused counter-striking style unlike anything the sport had ever seen before, but Shogun came in to UFC 104 in perhaps the best form of his entire career. Rua managed to not only outstrike the elusive champion over the course of five rounds, but punished him throughout by utilizing his elite kickboxing skills, peppering Machida's legs with nasty low kicks as he retreated and scoring with his hands in abnormally controlled blitzes from a fighter known to be a hyper-aggressive brawler.
After five hard fought rounds, while the fight was close and competitive, virtually everyone had scored the bout in favour of the challenger; all three official judges however scored the fight for Machida. An immediate rematch was demanded and in 2010, Rua emphatically corrected the history books by knocking Lyoto out cold in the very first round to officially become the undisputed UFC light heavyweight champion.
Unfortunately, he would blow out his knee once again in the process, delaying his first title defense until 2011 - after initially being slated to return against Rashad Evans, Shogun instead faced rising prospect Jon Jones, who stepped in as an injury replacement. Rua was dominated from the outset, picked apart at range on the feet and taken down at will and smashed on the ground by the much larger challenger en route to a lopsided third round TKO loss.
After his fall from the summit, Shogun's UFC career became a mix of exciting scraps, vicious knockout wins, and brutal losses.
He avenged his first Octagon defeat against Forrest Griffin with a quick first round knockout, then proceeded to take part in one of the greatest fights in MMA history against fellow PRIDE legend Dan Henderson. The two brutally beat on each other for 25-minutes at UFC 139 in what would be regarded as the greatest fight in the sport's history for several years; ultimately, Henderson was awarded the victory on the scorecards, though many argued the fight should have been scored a draw.
Rua bounced back with a knockout over Brandon Vera, but lost his next outing in a decision to rising prospect Alexander Gustafsson and then shockingly was submitted via a guillotine choke to the typically-middleweight Chael Sonnen in 2014. The rather uninspiring performances, combined with his laundry list of injuries, had many fans calling for his retirement and it was clear he was past his physical prime.
Rua fought off those retirement talks by knocking James Te Huna into another dimension with a left hook, then dominated Dan Henderson in the early goings of a rematch from their historic first clash. His return to glory was short lived however, as a sneaky right hand shattered Rua's nose in the third round and completed the duology in Henderson's favour.
A subsequent 34-second knockout loss to Ovince St. Preux once again had fans begging for Shogun to retire, but the old dog refused to stay down and managed to gut out three wins in a row, including a Fight of the Night performance against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in another rematch between PRIDE legends. Though he was managing to use his veteran savvy and skills to pick up wins, he looked like a shadow of his former self and despite barely being in his mid-30's, looked positively ancient moving around in the cage.
He managed to go 2-2-1 in his next five outings, scoring victories over Tyson Pedro and Nogueira for the third time in another close war (which served as Nogueira's retirement fight and should have served as Rua's as well), but was brutally knocked out by Anthony Smith and most recently, was dominated and tapped to strikes against Paul Craig.
Though, like most fighters, Shogun's fighting career has come to a sad end (at least, hopefully it's done - he hasn't officially retired), he did manage to make it to the top of both PRIDE and the UFC during his career and delighted MMA fans everywhere with his fighting style and tendency to get into historic brawls.
The fact that he was able to secure UFC gold by solving one of the greatest stylistic riddles of his era and that he participated in so many epic wars even long past his best-by date is more than enough to call his transition from the PRIDE ring to the UFC's Octagon a success.
#4: Alistair Overeem (7-7 PRIDE, 12-8 UFC)
Unlike most of the other PRIDE alumni that made their way to the UFC, Alistair Overeem instead fought in other promotions after the collapse of the Japanese organization before eventually making his way to the famed Octagon.
He is also one of just two fighters (the other taking the top spot on this list) that actually had a better winning percentage in the UFC than in PRIDE, despite the fact that he competed at the highest level well into his late thirties in the Octagon.
Overeem had already put together a 10-3 record by the time he first entered the PRIDE ring in 2002, borrowing that incredible work rate from his background in kickboxing. The tall, lanky Dutchman made a name for himself with his nasty knees and well-rounded skills, with a solid submission game (particularly his guillotine) and affinity for ground and pound joining his slick kickboxing and clinchwork.
The "Demolition Man" continued to fight in other organizations alongside his bouts in PRIDE, where his prospect status eventually gave way to the notion that he was essentially a highly-skilled journeyman - though he was able to score wins over the likes of Vitor Belfort, Igor Vovchanchyn, and Sergei Kharitonov, he regularly stumbled against elite competition with losses to Chuck Liddell, Antonio Rogerio "Lil Nog" Nogueira (twice), Shogun Rua (twice), Fabricio Werdum, and Ricardo Arona.
After the collapse of PRIDE, Overeem made his previous forays up at heavyweight a permanent move and packed muscle on to his frame - the move wasn't immediately successful as he went 1-1 in his first two fights post-PRIDE at heavyweight (including a knockout loss to Sergei Kharitonov, who he previously defeated), but in his trip stateside to Strikeforce late in 2007 he began his ascent up the heavyweight ladder.
The new and improved "Ubereem" was an absolute monster, going unbeaten in his next eleven outings with victories over the likes of Paul Buentello, Mark Hunt, Brett Rogers, Todd Duffee, and Fabricio Werdum, the last fighter being the only man to not be finished by the "Reem". During his heavyweight killing spree, Alistair also returned regularly to the kickboxing ring, where in 2008 he scored a shocking upset knockout over kickboxing legend Badr Hari.
In the 2009 K-1 World Grand Prix tournament, Overeem lamped Ewerton Teixeira and beat kickboxing legend Peter Aerts but was defeated by Hari in a rematch; in the 2010 tournament, Ubereem defeated kickboxing legends Tyrone Spong, Gokhan Saki, and Peter Aerts all in one night to win the coveted K-1 World Grand Prix title.
Being the most decorated kickboxer in MMA and having already held the Strikeforce and DREAM heavyweight titles, Overeem turned his sights to the UFC and finally signed to the promotion in 2011, facing former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar in his highly anticipated debut.
Overeem absolutely destroyed Lesnar in half a round, easily smashing Lesnar with vicious body kicks and his trademark knees to secure a title shot opposite Junior Dos Santos. Unfortunately, that mega fight didn't come to fruition as Overeem tested positive for elevated testosterone levels and saw himself suspended and out of his shot at UFC gold.
He returned to the cage in 2013 and looked notably deflated compared to his "Ubereem" form, but was still handily winning against the seemingly overmatched Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva. And then disaster struck - early in the third round, Bigfoot caught Overeem and unloaded a barrage of punches that left Alistair out on his feet and scored him not only an incredible comeback, but one of the most vicious knockouts you can imagine.
Writing off the loss to Silva as a fluke, Overeem returned to action later that year against Travis Browne and was absolutely destroying "Happa" early thanks to his brutal knees, but somehow Browne managed to survive the early barrage and mounted a comeback of his own, scoring a devastating front kick KO late in the first round.
With two back-to-back brutal KO losses, many were ready to rule out post-drug test failure Overeem off as a legitimate contender, but he bounced back with a workmanlike decision win over Frank Mir in his next outing to keep his place on the UFC roster. Shockingly, his next fight against Ben Rothwell again saw Overeem look good early, only to be caught and knocked out in just over two minutes. With three losses in his last four bouts, it appeared Overeem's transition to the UFC was an absolute failure.
But then Alistair recalibrated. Sporting a new, more patient and mobile style that had fans dubbing this new and improved version "Econoreem", the Dutch giant got back to his winning ways with a knockout over Stefan Struve then proceeded to batter the famously durable Roy Nelson for a full 15-minutes. Fans then finally got to see Overeem face off with Junior Dos Santos, who no longer held the belt but was on a comeback tour of his own.
Econoreem showed in that fight that despite his adapted style, he still packed plenty of heat as a beautiful shifting left hook sent Dos Santos to the canvas for good in the second round. He followed it up with a brilliant finish started by a front kick over Andrei Arlovski that earned him a shot at the UFC heavyweight title in 2016 opposite Stipe Miocic.
At UFC 203 Overeem frustrated the newly crowned champion by employing a strategy that would have made the "Old Mongoose" Archie Moore proud - rather than engage with Miocic, Overeem got on his bike and avoided exchanges at all costs, even at times quite literally running from the champion, infuriating Stipe in front of his home crowd. Having sufficiently pissed off Miocic after a few minutes of such tactics, Overeem planted his feet and met Stipe as he stepped in, and Stipe, completely unprepared for anything to be thrown back at him, walked himself right onto a straight left hand that put him on his ass.
With his dreams of holding the UFC title firmly within his grasp, Alistair made a rookie mistake that would surely haunt him for the rest of his days; rather than continuing to pound away at the stunned champion to secure a likely TKO victory, Overeem snatched Stipe's neck as Miocic looked to get up and jumped on his classic guillotine choke. Unfortunately for the Reem, this gave Miocic the opportunity not only to survive, but to wind up on top and escape from what looked to be a deadly situation.
With Stipe slipping out of the choke and returning to his feet, Overeem looked to employ the same strategy that had garnered him success moments prior, but this time the champion was having none of it. Opting to take the slowing Overeem down after he had expended so much energy on the failed guillotine, Stipe rained down hellacious ground and pound and knocked Overeem out at the end of the very first round.
Having missed his golden opportunity and finding himself knocked out once again, many figured it was Overeem's last shot at glory, but the Reem was not yet ready to call it a day. He bounced back by viciously faceplanting the iron-jawed Mark Hunt with one of his signature knees, then defeated Fabricio Werdum for the second time in a close decision to earn a number one contendership bout against rising knockout artist Francis Ngannou.
Unfortunately for Overeem, Ngannou's ridiculous power and eye for counters saw him score one of the most brutal knockouts in UFC history on the aging legend. Alistair followed it up by getting repeatedly taken down and eventually knocked out by a brutal barrage of elbows courtesy of Curtis Blaydes in 2018, once again having his time near the top of the division written off by the MMA community.
Having been knocked out in all six of his losses in the UFC, and having 13 KO/TKO losses in his MMA career already (plus another three in kickboxing), fans were loudly calling for Overeem to hang up the gloves once and for all - but once again, Overeem persisted and reinvented himself all over again.
Switching to a grappling-heavy style to utilize a highly overlooked aspect of his skillset, Alistair returned to the win column with a first round TKO over undefeated Russian prospect Sergei Pavlovich, then followed it up by kneeing fellow veteran Aleksei Oleinik to death and somehow entered the title picture once again. Facing off against another fighter with a kickboxing background that also boasted an undefeated MMA record, Overeem appeared well on his way to once again finding himself on the precipice of a title shot.
Having dominated Jairzinho Rozenstruik on the ground for much of the fight, Overeem was moments away from winning a five-round decision only for a last second hail mary from Rozenstruik to find Overeem's chin. The Reem went down against the cage and suffered an extremely gruesome split lip from the vicious right hand, but was awake and cognizant when he hit the floor and Rozenstruik walked off prematurely right before the bell rang. Despite having seemingly survived to see the final bell thanks to Rozenstruik's poor judgement, the referee controversially waved the fight off with four seconds remaining, awarding Rozenstruik the TKO victory.
Rather than dwelling on the dissappointing result, Overeem got right back to work and finished both Walt Harris and Augusto Sakai, but in his last outing he was picked apart by the rangy Alexander Volkov and was TKO'd in the second round of a rather sad performance that highlighted the age of the now 41-year-old fighter. With it being the last fight on his contract, the UFC surprisingly opted not to re-sign Overeem and he's since announced a return to kickboxing.
Though his time with the UFC was certainly a tumultuous one, Overeem's ability to reinvent himself and pick himself up no matter how badly he was beaten showed a kind of resilience and fortitude that his chin simply couldn't hope to match.
He may have failed to capture a coveted UFC belt during his career, but he competed at the highest level in the division for a decade and scored some incredible wins during that time, and regardless of whether he won or lost, fans always knew that when Overeem stepped foot in the Octagon, they were going to see violence.
#3: Fabricio Werdum (4-2 PRIDE, 12-6 UFC)
Like Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum wasn't necessarily a "star" from his days in PRIDE - though he was more successful with the promotion than Overeem (he also held a submission win over Alistair in one of the Reem's first forays up in weight) and was seen as a possible heavyweight contender, he was more viewed as a specialist given his extremely impressive Brazilian jiu-jitsu background and submission prowess.
Still relatively new to MMA, Werdum debuted in PRIDE in 2005 after putting together a 4-0-1 record in smaller shows that included a victory over future UFC contender Gabriel Gonzaga. He went 4-2 with the promotion, with his most notable win coming via a kimura over Alistair Overeem and his losses coming in the form of close decision losses to Sergei Kharitonov and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
He fought in a smaller show against fellow PRIDE vet Aleksander Emilianenko (Fedor's less successful brother) for an easy submission win before making his way to the UFC early in 2007, where he suffered a decision loss to former UFC champion Andrei Arlovski. Werdum turned things around inside the Octagon and showed off his improved striking by knocking out Gabriel Gonzaga for the second time, and knocking out a young Brandon Vera.
His next opponent however was a debuting Junior Dos Santos, a heavy handed boxer that would soon run through the UFC's heavyweight ranks and capture the heavyweight crown. In a stunning upset, Dos Santos took less than 90 seconds to hand Werdum the first stoppage loss of his career courtesy of an absolutely vicious uppercut.
After going just 2-2 in his first four outings with the promotion and being knocked out by (at the time) an unknown up-and-comer, it seemed as though Werdum's time in the UFC was largely a bust. With his contract expiring, the UFC opted not to re-sign the Brazilian and instead he made his way to Strikeforce where he picked up wins over Mike Kyle and Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva before finding himself taking on Fedor Emilianenko, the former PRIDE heavyweight king who hadn't lost a fight in a decade (and that single loss was a controversial cut stoppage) and was widely regarded as the greatest heavyweight the sport had ever seen.
A massive underdog, Werdum shocked the world after easily getting knocked down by the first shot Fedor landed, using it as an opportunity to invite Fedor into his deadly guard. Emilianenko obliged and followed the Brazilian to the mat, only to find himself stuck in a triangle choke and forced to tap out just over one minute into the very first round. Werdum's stock shot through the roof with the monumental upset and he became the first man to "properly" defeat the heavyweight legend, earning a berth into Strikeforce's Heavyweight Grand Prix in 2011.
Werdum lost in a lackluster decision to Alistair Overeem, but with the UFC's purchase of Strikeforce in 2011, Werdum made the most of it by heading over for a second stint inside the world famous Octagon.
This trip to the cage started off much better for Werdum as he rattled off four straight dominant victories, including an armbar over fellow BJJ and MMA legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira to avenge his loss to "Minotauro" back in PRIDE. The streak and his improved all-round game earned him a title shot against Cain Velasquez as well as a coaching gig against the champion in the first ever The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America series.
Unfortunately, Velasquez was forced to withdraw with an injury just weeks before their scheduled title fight, forcing the UFC to introduce an interim heavyweight title to the mix which Werdum faced late replacement and fellow PRIDE vet Mark Hunt for - Hunt dropped Werdum early and looked well on his way to victory, but in the second round "Vai Cavalo" turned the tides with an absolutely massive flying knee that earned him the TKO win and the interim heavyweight title.
His next fight finally saw him square off with the champion Cain Velasquez in Mexico City, and Velasquez came out firing on all cylinders early.
Though he picked up the first round with his heavier shots and activity, it was already clear he was having massive problems with Werdum stylistically - known for his relentless wrestling and clinch work, Velasquez avoided Werdum's vaunted ground game at all costs and instead tried to impose his will in the clinch, but instead found himself on the receiving end of some nasty knees and elbows from his taller opponent; at range, while he had a power advantage, his wild swings and wanton aggression did little other than to sap his gas tank while Fabricio pecked away at him with straight, efficient shots.
The second round saw Werdum take over with his much more fluid striking and versatility as Cain's incredible gas tank depleted and he began taking more and more damage; by the middle of the third round, Velasquez was bloodied, battered and exhausted, and after getting rocked by a combination, he desperately dove on a takedown and found himself trapped in a guillotine he couldn't get out of.
It was a brilliant performance and with victories over both Fedor and Cain, many began questioning whether it was actually Werdum who deserved to be called the greatest heavyweight of all time.
Those talks fizzled however as his title reign proved extremely short - in his very first defense, the measured and efficient Werdum that captured the belt gave way to a wild and reckless fighter that simply chased Stipe Miocic around the cage and found himself facedown on the canvas in the opening round.
Werdum's time in the UFC following the loss of his title was, like much of his career, mixed. He bounced back with a dominant performance against Travis Browne before losing a controversial decision in a trilogy match with Alistair Overeem that many scored in his favour - after a quick submission over a late replacement in Walt Harris, Werdum was once again nearing the title picture after he picked up a decision win over Marcin Tybura, but his next outing saw him looking rather lethargic and out of shape. He was knocked out in the fourth round against Alexander Volkov which seemed to mark the end of his run at the top of the division.
Before his next outing however, Werdum tested positive for a steroid and was suspended for two years (he subsequently had it reduced to 10 months for his "significant cooperation", though it still ended up being over two years between fights for him). He came back in 2020 in a surprisingly fun fight with fellow grappling ace Aleksei Oleinik - though he started out looking quite rough, Werdum battled back late but ended up losing a close majority decision.
He fought out the last bout on his contract against Alexander Gustafsson, who was making his debut up at heavyweight (and subsequently retired), winning via first round armbar.
Though the final few years of his UFC run left a lot to be desired, Werdum nevertheless managed to capture the heavyweight championship by defeating one of the greatest heavyweights in the sport's history and put together an impressive run overall, making him one of the most successful PRIDE alumni in the sport.
#2: Rampage Jackson (12-5 PRIDE, 8-5 UFC)
Quinton "Rampage" Jackson may never have captured gold during his time overseas in PRIDE, but his highly entertaining fighting style and hilarious sense of humour made him a bonafide superstar amongst MMA fans in Japan and around the world.
A large and powerful light heavyweight (called middleweight in PRIDE) with massive power, a strong wrestling base, and a penchant for picking up and slamming his opponents, Jackson's time in PRIDE got off to a very rocky start when he joined the promotion in 2001. His debut saw him tapped out by Japanese superstar Kazushi Sakuraba in the opening round; a quick KO earned him his first victory in the PRIDE ring, but he was disqualified in just 14 seconds in his third bout for brutally kneeing Daijiro Matsui in the groin.
In 2002 however Rampage turned things around and came into his own, winning his next four bouts in Japan (along with a victory in King of the Cage stateside) via form of knockout, including a vicious slam KO over Masaaki Satake and a mauling of former UFC champion Kevin Randleman.
The winning streak earned him a place in the PRIDE 2003 Middleweight Grand Prix, where he picked up a close decision win over another former UFC champ in Murilo Bustamante before being matched up against rising UFC star Chuck Liddell.
Though he had suffered a shocking loss to Randy Couture in his first light heavyweight title bid in the Octagon, UFC president Dana White was still extremely confident that Liddell could beat virtually anyone in the world, including PRIDE's champion Wanderlei Silva. As such, White attempted to set up a crossover "superfight" between the two - but rather than agreeing to the fight outright, PRIDE granted Liddell a spot in the Grand Prix on the opposite side of the bracket to Silva, setting the stage for a massive finale to end the tournament.
Of course, PRIDE stacked the odds in Silva's favour by giving him a much easier bracket to compete in (Wanderlei defeated Kazushi Sakuraba, who he had already finished twice before, and the very inexperienced 3-0 Hidehiko Yoshida to get to the finals). After an impressive knockout over Alistair Overeem, Liddell found himself across from the surging Rampage Jackson; though Liddell was the heavy favourite, Rampage dominated Liddell from the beginning and mauled the UFC contender and future champion en route to a second round corner stoppage.
In the finale of the Grand Prix, Rampage's, well, rampage through the division was finally put to an end as PRIDE's champion Wanderlei Silva, at the height of his powers, skewered Quinton with a relentless barrage of knees in the clinch until eventually the referee was forced to step in and save Rampage from his own toughness.
Jackson bounced back just a month later with a dominant win over Ikuhisa Minowa before being paired up with the 8-1 prospect Ricardo Arona, a 3-time ADCC World Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gold medalist who already held wins in MMA over the likes of Jeremy Horn, Guy Mezger, Dan Henderson, and Murilo "Ninja" Rua with his lone loss coming to heavyweight champion Fedor Emilianenko.
The entertaining scrap would end in one of the greatest and most famous knockouts in combat sports history as poor Arona looked to trap Rampage in a triangle choke. Never one to miss an opportunity to slam his opponent, Jackson lifted Arona high into the air before power bombing him into the floorboards and knocking him out cold. The unbelievably brutal slam was later called the "biggest impact in sporting history" by a group of scientists studying impacts in contact sports, though that claim is virtually impossible to prove - nonetheless, it is certainly one of the most insane and brutal knockouts you will ever see.
The stunning finish earned Jackson a second crack at PRIDE champion Wanderlei Silva, and though Rampage fared better early on, Silva simply seemed to have his number in those days. After hurting Rampage with a punch in the second round, Wanderlei once again landed a series of vicious knees to Jackson's skull, this time knocking him out cold and through the ropes in brutal fashion.
Quinton rebounded with a close decision win over Murilo "Ninja" Rua and entered into the 2005 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix, but met Ninja's brother, surging prospect Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, and was knocked out in the opening round of the tournament at the hands (and legs) of the eventual tournament winner.
Rampage had clearly established that he was one of the best 205-pound fighters on the planet, but with lopsided losses to Wanderlei Silva (twice) and now Shogun Rua, it appeared as though he would never quite break out of contendership and join the ranks of world champions.
Rampage picked up two more wins over lesser competition in PRIDE before he, like several other notable PRIDE alumni, left the struggling organization in 2006, shortly before the buyout and subsequent closure of the company in 2007. Rather than making his way to the UFC however, Jackson made his way to the WFA, a fledgling promotion that had three prior events (the latest being in 2002) but was throwing around significant sums of money to return to the fold.
There, Rampage defeated former Olympic silver medalist wrestler Matt Lindland by decision in what would be the WFA's final event, as that promotion's assets (specifically, the brand name and their fighter contracts), like PRIDE's soon after, were purchased by UFC parent company Zuffa.
As a result, Rampage made his way to the world famous Octagon early in 2007, where he met Marvin Eastman in a rematch of their prior bout way back in 2000 in a regional promotion, King of the Cage. Eastman had handed Jackson the first loss of his pro career, but Rampage had the last laugh as he knocked Eastman out in the second round of his UFC debut.
With champion Chuck Liddell having already beaten the other top contenders and his last loss coming at the hands of Jackson, a rematch between the two for Chuck's UFC light heavyweight title was inevitable and took place at UFC 71. Liddell was at the height of his powers and was the favourite heading into his fifth straight title defense, but this time it was finally Rampage's time to break through at the highest level.
Early in the opening round, Rampage beautifully answered a body shot by Liddell with a savage right hook that felled the champion; several follow-up shots later, Liddell was out cold less than two minutes into their rematch and Rampage Jackson was the UFC light heavyweight champion of the world.
His first defense came against fellow PRIDE legend Dan Henderson in a unification bout of sorts, with Dan Henderson being the last PRIDE middleweight (light heavyweight in the UFC) champion before the promotion was absorbed by the UFC. Rampage earned a clear decision victory to solidify his reign as champion before headlining The Ultimate Fighter's seventh season opposite original TUF winner, Forrest Griffin, who had made himself into the top contender thanks to a shocking upset win over Shogun Rua.
Following the show, the two coaches squared off and it appeared as though Rampage was well on his way to a dominant title defense; he dropped Griffin in the first round with a massive uppercut and nearly finished the challenger, but the iron-willed Griffin managed to survive and began clawing his way back from the jaws of defeat. From there, Rampage looked to land a single killing blow as Griffin chopped away at the champion with low kicks in a close stand-up battle; after five rounds, Griffin was awarded the upset victory in a close decision.
Following the setback, Rampage appeared to suffer somewhat of a mental breakdown, culminating in a bizarre hit and run incident where the former champion hit another car in his suped up pickup truck and was driving erratically away from police, apparently fueled by nothing but energy drinks over the course of the previous day.
Jackson quickly got his head back on straight when he was presented with an opportunity for revenge against his old rival Wanderlei Silva. Despite losing both of their prior encounters in brutal fashion, Rampage was confident that his improved boxing would carry him to victory over his adversary.
It took Rampage just over three minutes to prove that confidence correct as he shelled up during a Silva barrage, only to counter with a vicious left hook that sent Wanderlei to the shadow realm. The bad blood spilled over into several unnecessary punches on an unconscious Silva even after the referee tried pushing Rampage away, but no one could tell Jackson they weren't super necessary.
A subsequent victory over Keith Jardine earned Rampage a shot at the current champion Rashad Evans, quickly turning the fight into a grudge match as the two's trash talk grew heated. Unfortunately, an injury forced Quinton out of the bout and instead Lyoto Machida usurped the throne. Instead of keeping Jackson's shot at the title, the UFC preserved the Rampage-Evans feud by booking the two as coaches for The Ultimate Fighter's tenth season, which also featured backyard fighter and YouTube sensation Kimbo Slice.
The season of the show was a massive ratings success thanks to the coaches' war of words and Kimbo's inclusion in the tournament, but before the highly anticipated coaches' showdown came to fruition, Rampage came into a contract dispute with the UFC and instead opted to star in The A-Team movie remake, pushing back his date with Rashad Evans.
In 2010 the two finally squared off inside the Octagon in what was ultimately a major disappointment - though it began quickly as Rashad cracked Rampage with a right hand right out of the gate, the rest of the fight was largely an uneventful wrestling match as Rashad grinded out a decision victory (though Rampage managed to rock Rashad in the dying moments of the fight).
Rampage bounced back with an extremely close decision win over fellow unseated champion Lyoto Machida at UFC 123, then dominated late replacement Matt Hammill to earn another crack at UFC gold. Unfortunately, the plodding slugger was no match for the long and lanky Jon Jones, who kept Rampage at bay with oblique and leg kicks at range and later submitted Rampage in the fourth round.
The loss would trigger a seeming decline in the popular knockout artist - he missed weight by five pounds in his next outing and dropped a wrestling-heavy decision to Ryan Bader, then lost against Glover Teixeira in a similarly disappointing loss.
Rampage left the UFC following the loss to Teixeira and revitalized his career in Bellator, where he picked up three straight victories to win the Bellator Season 10 Light Heavyweight Tournament, which included a win over former Strikeforce and RIZIN champion Muhammad "King Mo" Lawal.
Jackson's UFC career wasn't quite yet done however - citing a failure to produce a pay-per-view event that was a part of his Bellator contract, Rampage stated that Bellator breached their contract and he signed a new UFC deal as a result. After court battles nearly halted the proceedings, Rampage returned to the Octagon one last time against Fabio Maldanaldo in 2015, where he dominated the tough Brazilian en route to a decision victory.
It would be his final UFC fight however, as Bellator and Rampage settled out of court and Jackson returned to competition in Bellator. Unfortunately, his remaining fights in the promotion would grow increasingly embarassing as Jackson's motivation and physique was clearly declining (most notably in his last fight in 2019, where a highly overweight "Ham-page" was knocked out by fellow PRIDE legend and very past-prime himself Fedor Emilianenko.
Though his UFC career didn't exactly end on a series of high notes, there's no denying that he was one of the biggest draws of his era and went from an entertaining also-ran in PRIDE to a world champion in the UFC. If that isn't what you'd call a successful transition, I'd like to see what is.
#1: Anderson Silva (3-2 PRIDE, 17-7 UFC)
There are successful transitions, and then there is Anderson Silva's transformation from an exciting striker to one of the most dominant champions the sport has ever seen.
"The Spider" began his career fighting in small promotions in Brazil at welterweight, making a name for himself as a tall and lanky kickboxer from the famed Chute Boxe Academy. Like most Chute Boxe fighters, Silva employed the "sprawl and brawl" style of MMA, pairing an aggressive Muay Thai attack on the feet with an aversion to grappling via a wrestling sprawl; though his skinny physique didn't lend itself well to the sprawl, he made up for it by being a high level Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner under the tutelage of Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira.
He captured the Shooto 168-pound title in 2001 with a victory over Hayato "Mach" Sakurai in just his eighth pro fight, soon adding a quick TKO victory over Roan Carneiro before signing with PRIDE in 2002.
Making his debut in the trademark white ring at PRIDE 21, Silva immediately became a fan favourite thanks to his epic walkout, as a dressed up Anderson came out dancing to Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" then proceeded to beat the tar out of his overmatched opponent Alex Stiebling. After a decision victory to round out the year, Silva really put his name on the map by knocking out former UFC welterweight champion Carlos Newton with a beautiful flying knee, improving his record to 11-1.
His next outing however halted his nine fight winning streak as he was submitted by Daiju Takase in an upset, prompting a move up to middleweight (185 pounds). He competed in multiple different organizations over the next year, picking up three wins including victories over Jeremy Horn and "Lightning" Lee Murray, the latter of which earned him the Cage Rage middleweight title in 2004.
He returned for one more fight in PRIDE later that year, facing heavy underdog Ryo Chonan, who shockingly submitted Silva with a flying scissor heel hook in the third round (though many have since claimed that the bout was one of PRIDE's infamously rigged fights given that Silva tapped before the heel hook was even fully applied, and PRIDE was known to have staged several fights in the organization).
Ending his time in the Japanese promotion with a 3-2 record, his run in PRIDE may not have been long or particularly successful, but it did make his name known to hardcore MMA fans and showcased his penchant for exciting fights and brilliant striking technique. Silva didn't move on to the UFC quite yet though - instead, he returned to Cage Rage to defend his middleweight title, which he did twice by knockout, including a brutal finish over Jorge Rivera.
He ventured back down to welterweight to compete in Rumble on the Rock's 8-man welterweight tournament in Hawaii, where he faced future UFC staple Yushin Okami in the opening round. Silva scored a brutal upkick knockout midway through the first round, which was unfortunately illegal and earned him a disqualification loss (Silva later stated he had been told kicks on the ground were allowed in the promotion).
That "loss" would be the last time Silva would taste defeat for over seven years.
Anderson returned to Cage Rage to defend his title for a third time, this time against Tony Fryklund, where he scored a downright insane reverse elbow knockout just two minutes into the fight. The UFC came calling and in June of 2006 they paired him up with fan favourite and The Ultimate Fighter standout Chris "The Crippler" Leben, who himself was riding a five fight winning streak in the UFC.
With many UFC fans expecting Leben to earn a title shot himself, they were soon shocked to see Silva absolutely decimate the Crippler in just 49 seconds, tearing him apart with unbelievably accurate combinations, a nasty head kick, and vicious ground and pound, all topped off by a brutal knee that left Leben facedown on the canvas. He managed to knock down the famously iron-jawed Leben three times in the span of about twenty seconds, announcing his arrival to the world famous Octagon like no one ever had before.
The stunning performance earned him a crack at dominant middleweight champion Rich "Ace" Franklin later that year. If the Leben victory wasn't vicious enough, Silva managed to top that brutality in his bid to earn UFC gold, savagely skewering Franklin with crushing knees to the body and head while the champion was hopelessly trapped in Silva's plum clinch.
In what was to be his first title defense, his challenger Travis Lutter, who had secured his title shot by winning the fourth season of The Ultimate Fighter which granted UFC vets a chance at redemption and a title shot at the end of the season, missed weight by two pounds and thus turned Silva's first defense into a non-title bout - nowadays, it would still count as a title fight for the fighter who made weight, with their opponent simply ineligible to win the title and thus leaving the title vacant should they win the fight.
Lutter, a former Olympic silver medalist in wrestling, was able to take down and control Silva in the opening frame, but in the second, Silva showed off his Nogueira BJJ black belt by trapping the grappling ace in a triangle choke, raining down savage elbows to Lutter's trapped head to force a painful submission.
He made his first official title defense by picking apart top contender Nate "The Great" Marquardt and hitting a beautiful switch before finishing him with pinpoint accurate ground and pound, becoming the first man to finish the extremely experienced Marquardt via strikes.
Former champion Rich Franklin earned a shot at redemption against Silva at UFC 77, and while he did manage to make it to the second round, he fared no better in his second crack at "The Spider". Silva merely gave Franklin a sense of deja vu as he picked the former champion apart at range and punished him in the clinch, finishing him once again with vicious knees early in the second round.
Having cleaned out the rest of the contenders at the top, Silva faced fellow PRIDE alumni Dan Henderson in his next defense in what was billed as an unofficial unification bout given that Henderson was PRIDE's last champion at 185 pounds. Though he had been competing at light heavyweight more recently, Henderson dropped back down in his second such unification bout, given that he had held both the PRIDE welterweight and middleweight titles before the organization was absorbed (equivalent to the UFC's middleweight and light heavyweight titles).
Although Henderson was coming off a close decision loss to Rampage Jackson at light heavyweight, considering his history of success against larger fighters many were picking Hendo to unseat the dominant Brazilian champion and the betting odds were close to even as a result. Henderson started off competitively thanks to his Olympic wrestling background and iron jaw which kept him upright, but by the second round Silva had begun to dominate the PRIDE double champ.
A knee and follow-up punches rocked and dropped Henderson before the Spider wrapped him up and tapped him out courtesy of a rear naked choke late in the second round, leaving the world no doubt as to who the best 185er on the planet was.
A few months later, the UFC scrambled to put together a short notice card to compete with the upstart Affliction promotion which was airing their first ever pay-per-view event. Rather than defend his title on the thrown-together event however, Silva opted to venture up to light heavyweight for the first time in the card's headline bout on Spike TV, facing off against heavy hitting knockout artist James Irvin.
Though he was expected to have an advantage in speed and technical ability, no one expected Silva to make a move up in weight look so ridiculously easy, but that's exactly what Silva did. After a brief feeling-out process, Anderson caught the first kick Irvin threw and countered with a vicious right hand straight down the pipe, knocking Irvin to the canvas. Several unnecessary follow-up shots put Irvin out cold before the referee finally stepped in just 61 seconds into the fight.
The stellar performance had many fans clamouring for Silva to challenge for the light heavyweight title, but the Spider returned to his home at middleweight to scrap with the extremely durable Canadian Patrick Cote. Surprisingly, though Cote was getting readily outstruck, his granite chin allowed him to survive and even land some shots of his own against the dominant champion, but in the third round Cote's knee gave way and a torn ACL forced an injury TKO, a disappointing ending to what was an entertaining fight while it lasted.
Silva's next fight however, was much less entertaining.
Facing off against Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist Thales Leites, Silva was a massive favourite and showed he was clearly the vastly superior striker from the moment the fight started. Instead of finishing off his overmatched competition however, he decided to frustratingly play with his food, largely just dancing around and landing some leg kicks while easily shucking off Leites' attempts to bring the fight to the ground.
The fight devolved into an endless cycle of Leites failing to get close to Silva, flopping to his back and butt-scooting toward Silva in an attempt to entice the champion into grappling with him, then being forced by the referee to get up and continue getting leg kicked and taunted by the champion.
The incredibly boring 25-minute affair drew the ire of the fans and UFC president Dana White, but it didn't take long for Silva to get back in their good graces. Venturing up to light heavyweight once again, Silva squared off with former UFC champion Forrest Griffin at UFC 101.
It was perhaps the most ridiculous display of superiority ever seen inside the Octagon. The slower Griffin's punches were easily avoided by Silva who, with his hands by his waist, showed off his incredible head movement by appearing as if he were Neo in the matrix. He easily avoided Griffin's rushes and landed at will, knocking Griffin down twice before knocking him down a third and final time with a jab while he was moving backward.
Unfortunately, after an injury to original opponent Vitor Belfort, Silva once again found himself in the cage with an overmatched Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist at UFC 112 in Demian Maia. Once again, Silva opted to taunt and play games with his hopelessly outgunned opponent, much to the chagrin of the UFC and its fans - particularly given it was the headlining act for the UFC's first event in Abu Dhabi.
Though Silva's antics made for plenty of funny GIFs and some truly comedic moments such as his attempt to hide behind referee Dan Mirgliotta, it was hardly the kind of performance fans paid to see or were expecting to see again from Silva. It took a true heel in the game to turn Silva back into a hero in the eyes of the fans - and that heel was one Chael P. Sonnen.
Every hero needs a villain to take themselves to the next level, and up until dominant wrestler Chael Sonnen came along, no one had shown they were capable of a real rivalry with Silva inside the cage. But Silva always did have one weakness - his wrestling. And what did Sonnen's entire game consist of? Nothing but pure wrestling offense and ground and pound.
After months of trash talking and personal attacks on the dominant champion, Sonnen got his chance to put his money where his mouth was at UFC 117. And boy, did he ever.
Right from the start Sonnen came at Silva like no one had before, constantly pressuring the Spider and cracking him with a surprising left straight within the first minute. Not known for his striking whatsoever, Sonnen's hands looked shockingly crisp on that night and combined with the threat of takedowns, Silva appeared overwhelmed as Sonnen mixed in heavy punches with his elite wrestling. Once he got Silva on the mat, which he did consistently, he pounded away at the champion relentlessly for what seemed like ages.
The MMA world was watching in disbelief as Sonnen dominated Silva round after round, banking an incredible lead as the Spider appeared completely outgunned by the brash American. Heading into the fifth round, Silva needed a knockout, but instead it was he who was dropped as he was caught off balance following a sloppy jab and he once again found himself underneath his challenger. Battered and bruised, Silva continued to eat punches from the top and the end of his dominant reign drew closer with every second that passed by.
Somehow, with mere minutes left in the fight, Silva calmly began controlling Sonnen's wrists. Then he threw up his legs in a triangle and cinched up the choke, pulling down on Sonnen's head to cut off the blood supply to Chael's brain. Sonnen tried to fight off the choke and fell backward, but then Silva cranked on his arm to add an armbar into the mix. Sonnen was forced to tap and just like that, the battered champion was able to pull victory from the jaws of defeat.
Silva would later reveal an injured rib contributed to his under-performance, but the astounding comeback victory was made even more incredible in retrospect when Sonnen failed his post-fight drug test for exceptionally high testosterone levels.
With his greatest challenger benched, Anderson turned his attention to Vitor Belfort, who was originally supposed to face Silva at UFC 112 before an injury forced Belfort out and Maia stepped in. The highly anticipated striker versus striker match-up was expected to be an all out war on the feet as Belfort had long been one of the premier knockout artists in the sport since his debut in 1997, and though he went through many ups and downs over the years, his move to middleweight had reinvigorated his career and propelled him back to the top.
Rather than a back and forth war on the feet however, the two Brazilian finishers went through a long feeling-out process in the early going as neither man wanted to be the first to make a mistake. Midway through the opening stanza, Belfort threw a few straight shots that Silva managed to avoid, then scored a rare takedown and threw an hellacious right hook that somehow Silva dodged off of his back before the champion quickly returned to his feet.
Over three minutes into the fight neither man had managed to land anything significant - and then it happened.
Silva effortlessly avoided another blitz by Belfort, then as Belfort settled into his stance, the Spider unleashed the front kick heard around the world.
Vitor crumpled to the canvas and the fight was entirely over - the follow up punches that put Belfort on ice were entirely academic as the challenger's wherewithal was gone as soon as the kick landed.
Just like that, fans were reminded of the sublime finishing abilities the Spider possessed and of his tendency to make truly elite fighters look completely out of their depth.
Silva then turned his attention to a rematch - but not with one Chael Sonnen, who was just returning off of a PED suspension and had to earn his way back to the title, but to Yushin Okami, who was 6-1 in his last seven with his lone defeat being a decision loss to the aforementioned Sonnen, and who was the last man to defeat Silva (albeit via disqualification).
Silva erased all doubt (as if there was any) of who the superior fighter was as he handily outclassed Okami, effortlessly avoiding Okami's strikes and takedown attempts and landing at will.
A glancing head kick stunned Okami late in the first round - early in the second, Silva dodged Okami's jabs before landing one of his own that dropped the tough Japanese contender, then let him up to his feet to continue his striking clinic. Later in the round, Silva tired of playing with his food and easily finished Okami with strikes to defend his title for the ninth time.
In 2012, the long-awaited rematch with Chael Sonnen finally went down at UFC 148. The massive showdown once again drew a huge audience as Sonnen verbally assaulted the champion, his incredible success in the first fight lending credibility to his claims of greatness.
As the fight began, it seemed like deja vu all over again as Sonnen got Silva down early (although Silva did stuff multiple takedowns before Sonnen secured it this time) and was able to keep him there. This time however, the champion locked down Sonnen's relentless offense and managed to limit his effectiveness - though Sonnen was still able to land plenty of annoying shots on the mat, very little of significance got through and Silva was unphased heading back to his corner after dropping another round to his rival.
In the second, the Spider came out to play.
Silva began to toy with Chael, dodging Sonnen's shots at will and stuffing his takedown attempts at every turn. Gone was the panic that had set in with Sonnen's pressure in the first fight - this time it was Sonnen's turn to panic. And panic he did.
Now getting hit and being completely unable to land anything of significance on a man he had handily beat up for the better part of six rounds, Sonnen tried desperately to land something that would earn Silva's respect. His attempt at a spinning back fist however, neither landed nor got him any respect.