Celebrate PRIDE Month by honouring the worst transitions from the PRIDE ring to the UFC's Octagon
As you will no doubt hear about incessantly for the next 30 days, it's PRIDE month and that means we've got something special for you here at your favourite website.
That's right, celebrating everyone's favourite defunct fight promotion is a yearly tradition here at TheRant365.com and this time we're looking at the darker side of transitions.
Last PRIDE month we took a look at five of the best transitions in MMA history - from the PRIDE ring to the UFC's Octagon of course.
This time, we're exploring what happens when transitions don't go so well (as they most often don't), with the five worst fighter transitions from the PRIDE ring to the world famous 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 since 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 popular organization.
PRIDE was ultimately purchased by UFC parent company Zuffa back in 2007 with the intention of PRIDE continuing to run in Japan as a separate "sister" organization.
Massive crossover fights between the two promotions were planned, but the difficulties of staging events in Japan at the time forced Zuffa to abandon those plans and instead had the UFC simply absorb many of PRIDE's stars to its own roster, closing their once-rival's doors for good later in 2007.
Though a few stars opted out of joining the UFC (most famously PRIDE heavyweight champion Fedor Emilianenko), most ended up joining the premier MMA promotion's ranks and fans were finally able to see fantasy match-ups that were previously impossible to make across promotions.
While select few PRIDE legends continued their prosperity in the Octagon, others suffered steep declines or were simply unable to recapture their former glory inside the cage.
This piece examines the PRIDE alumni that experienced the least 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 FC, so it doesn't include fighters that rose to prominence in the UFC before fighting in PRIDE and returning later.
Whether their prime was past them by the time they made their way stateside, they faced stiffer competition in the eight sided cage, or they simply failed to adapt to the ever-changing game that is MMA, here are five of the most high-profile failed transitions to the Octagon by PRIDE fighters.
#5: Heath Herring (12-5 PRIDE, 2-3 UFC)
The "Texas Crazy Horse" Heath Herring was a fan favourite throughout his time in PRIDE, where he served as a staple in the heavyweight division and fought the best fighters the promotion had in their most stacked division; by the time he reached the UFC however, injuries and a declining skillset had him treading water on the way to retirement.
Herring began his career all the way back in 1997 where his background in high school wrestling helped propel him to a solid 13-5 record while competing on the regional US scene as well as in Aruba, the Netherlands, and Russia.
Heath was known for his aggressive style and his propensity for a brawl, as well as his solid submission game despite coming from a wrestling background. He signed with PRIDE and made his debut in Japan in 2000, instantly becoming popular with the promotion thanks to his brash personality and Texas-themed entrances combined with the fact he finished his first four fights all in the opening round.
A fight with rising star and UFC 12 winner Vitor Belfort, who PRIDE had poached from their rival promotion, saw Herring's winning streak snapped as the Brazilian rode out a safe decision against his much larger foe.
Herring bounced back with aplomb however and shocked many in the MMA community when he became the first man to finish Mark Kerr.
An NCAA Division I Champion wrestler, Kerr was a dominant force in the heavyweight division, earning himself the nickname of "The Smashing Machine" for his nasty ground and pound and ability to take anyone down at will. For the better part of 15-minutes Kerr took Herring down and did little to damage Herring, looking to ride out an easy decision.
Late in the second however, Herring began pumping up the crowd (and himself) as Kerr continued to hold him down, earning Kerr a yellow card from the referee for stalling (in PRIDE, yellow cards were issued for fouls or stalling, and came with a 10% fine of your purse) and the fight returned to the feet.
As Kerr looked to immediately take the fight back to the mat, Herring fired off a head kick that dropped Kerr to his knees, finishing the Smashing Machine with a series of knees to the head (all perfectly legal back in PRIDE) to score the massive comeback.
The impressive upset earned Herring a shot at the inaugural PRIDE heavyweight championship opposite Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira later in 2001.
The two engaged in a highly entertaining back-and-forth scrap that showed off both their striking and grappling skills throughout the three round affair (PRIDE's first round was ten minutes, with a second five minute round and for title fights, a third five minute round for a total of twenty minutes). Nogueira proved to be the better fighter that night as he picked up the unanimous decision, but Herring held his own and proved he belonged amongst the best in the division.
Herring worked his way back up to contendership with back-to-back wins, including a decision victory over Igor Vovchanchyn, before running into the rising Russian powerhouse that was Fedor Emilianenko.
Despite coming in as the underdog, Fedor announced his presence to the world by taking down and battering Herring with vicious ground and pound, swelling one of Heath's eyes shut and forcing a doctor's stoppage following the ten minute beatdown.
The Japanese promotion did the fallen contender no favours as they paired him up with another rising prospect in Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic. One nasty left kick to the liver later, Herring had lost back-to-back fights for the first time in his career.
Texas' Crazy Horse righted the ship with three straight victories to earn a spot in the 2004 PRIDE Heavyweight Grand Prix, where he knocked out Kazuo Takahashi before facing Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in a rematch in the quarterfinals. Nogueira would best Herring once again in another highly entertaining fight, this time winning via an anaconda choke in the second round.
Herring would fight once more in the promotion, picking up a quick knockout victory against a lesser opponent, before a contract dispute saw him ply his trade in other Japanese organizations in 2005. A knee injury saw him lose his next fight, but his subsequent outing (pun intended) would live on in MMA infamy as the "New Year's Eve Kiss".
Facing Yoshihiro Nakao at K-1's yearly Dynamite!! card which featured both MMA and kickboxing fights, Nakao kissed Herring during their intense pre-fight staredown in an attempt to get into Herring's head (or perhaps he was just prematurely celebrating pride month?). As one might expect, the Texas Crazy Horse didn't take too kindly to his advance and reciprocated with a clean right hook that knocked Nakao out cold before the fight ever took place.
Though it may have been ruled a No Contest, the fans unofficially acknowledged it as a win and Herring followed it up with a victory over Gary Goodridge to earn his call up to the UFC in 2007.
Expected to be an exciting addition to the UFC's heavyweight roster, Herring's debut didn't go as planned as he lost a forgettable decision to Jake O'Brian which he blamed on fighting injured (injuries would become a common theme during his UFC run). He bounced back with a dull decision win over The Ultimate Fighter season 2 finalist Brad Imes before running into old rival Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira for the third time.
It's rare to see a trilogy fight when one fighter has won both prior meetings, but given how exciting their prior fights were in PRIDE and it marking Nogueira's UFC debut, it was the perfect choice for a nostalgia-induced scrap for fans of the now defunct promotion.
With Nogueira the rightful favourite, the MMA world was (nearly) turned upside down when Herring dropped Nogueira badly in the first round with a head kick and followed up with a massive right hand on the ground - it seemed as though the famously durable Nogueira was well on his way to being finished for the first time in his legendary career, but then Herring backed off, not wanting to go anywhere near Nogueira's vaunted guard game and get tapped out like he had the last time the two met.
The precious seconds wasted allowed Nogueira to recover and return to his feet, where he slowly but surely fought his way back into the fight and proceeded to win the next two rounds in order to pick up a hard fought decision victory. While no one can know for sure if the ridiculously tough Nogueira would have been able to survive had Herring not backed away in the first round, it still certainly seemed like a massive missed opportunity on Herring's part.
His next performance was a particularly boring one against Cheick Kongo as the two grappled for position against the cage for 15-minutes in a tedious affair, with Herring picking up a split decision win.
Originally scheduled to face Mark Coleman, an injury instead saw him face former WWE superstar Brock Lesnar, who was just 1-1 in his MMA career and coming off a submission loss to Frank Mir.
Heath was expected to be a stiff test for the inexperienced fighter, but it was one that Lesnar passed with flying colours.
A stiff right hand landed hard in the opening seconds for Lesnar which broke Herring's orbital bone and from there it was all down hill for Herring. He was taken down and pounded on for three full rounds, and although he displayed plenty of toughness, it was certainly not a good look for the veteran.
Although he had expressed a desire to return to the cage, Herring soon retired and ended his UFC run with a dismal 2-3 record, his only memorable moments being a head kick on Nogueira that he didn't follow up on and having his face broken by Brock Lesnar.
It was far from what fans were hoping for and certainly didn't come even close to matching his run in PRIDE.
#4: Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou (2-0 PRIDE, 1-2 UFC)
If you are looking for the epitome of a hyped-up flash-in-the-pan fighter in MMA, look no further than Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou.
The native of Cameroon was brought in to serve as cannon fodder for Antonio "Lil Nog" Rogerio Nogueira at PRIDE 33, having had just three professional fights to his name, winning two of them and losing by knockout to future UFC contender Glover Teixeira in his last performance.
Fighting a legit light heavyweight contender who had wins over the likes of Dan Henderson, Alistair Overeem, and Kazushi Sakuraba and had only lost via close decisions to Vladimir Matyushenko and Mauricio Shogun Rua, Sokoudjou was understandably a massive underdog heading into his PRIDE debut against Lil Nog.
Just moments into their meeting, Nogueira charged in and blocked a head kick attempt before throwing a left straight, his signature punch - Sokoudjou ducked under the southpaw's attack only to deliver a sledgehammer left hook that put Nogueira out cold.
The 23-second knockout absolutely stunned the MMA world and is still regarded as one of the biggest upsets in the sport's history. Fans unanimously wrote off the result as a fluke, surely a product of Nogueira not taking his inexperienced opponent seriously.
Just six weeks later Sokoudjou returned at PRIDE 34, which would ultimately be the organization's last ever event. He faced another top light heavyweight contender in Ricardo Arona, who had wins over the likes of Jeremy Horn, Dan Henderson, Kazushi Sakuraba, Wanderlei Silva, and Alistair Overeem.
Once again Sokoudjou entered as an underdog and his cindarella story was expected to come crashing back down to earth, but the judo black belt managed to stuff the BJJ master's takedowns and less than two minutes into the fight landed a hellacious uppercut that put Arona down, follow-up strikes sealing the deal.
With back-to-back devastating KOs over legitimate light heavyweight contenders, Sokoudjou the "fluke" talks faded into the background and he was seen as a superstar in the making, a powerful force set to take over the light heavyweight division. Even though he was just five fights into his MMA career, Sokoudjou was hyped to high heaven by the time he made his way to the Octagon after PRIDE went under.
For his first fight under the UFC banner, Sokoudjou was once again given no favours as he was paired up with 11-0 prospect Lyoto Machida, a future UFC champion with a uniquely elusive style unlike anything seen in MMA before. This time, reality began to set in for poor Sokoudjou.
Machida dominated the fight from the outset, taking Rameau down at will with his flashy foot sweeps and pecking away at him from the outside. In the second round Machida rocked Sokoudjou with a left straight and swept him to end up on top, where he secured an arm triangle choke to put an abrupt end to "The African Assassin"'s meteoric rise.
His next fight saw a much-needed step down in competition where he picked up a win over Kazuhiro Nakamura after Nakamura suffered a leg injury in the opening round, but compared to his prior victories it was hardly impressive.
He was then paired up with another rising knockout artist in Brazilian Luiz Cane.
That fight saw Sokoudjou's hype completely fizzle out as Cane (who would later prove to be a failed prospect himself) outstruck Sokoudjou and knocked him out in the second round.
With such meager showings inside the Octagon that showed his ability simply didn't match up with the incredible upsets he had pulled off, Sokoudjou was released from the UFC and the once hyped prospect revealed his true nature: being an occasionally exciting but ultimately unremarkable journeyman.
Though he fought plenty of known names in the years since his brief PRIDE and UFC days, he retired in 2017 with a lackluster 19-18 record and never came even close to recapturing the brief burst of glory he found inside the PRIDE ring.
#3: Wanderlei Silva (22-4-1 PRIDE, 5-9 UFC)
Poor, poor Wanderlei.
At one point, Wanderlei Silva was one of the most feared men on the planet, a savage executioner in the cage with a style befitting of his nickname: the "Axe Murderer". He ruled PRIDE's middleweight (equivalent to the UFC's light heavyweight or 205 pound division) with an iron fist and titanium knees, smashing anyone that dared to oppose him.
By the end of his UFC run however, he was considered an exciting but chinny brawler with his reputation tarnished by an (avoided) drug test.
"Wandy" as his fans affectionately call him, began his career as an exciting striker in his native Brazil, going 5-1 with every fight ending in a finish. When the UFC made their first trip to Brazil in 1998, they called upon Silva to take on their rising star Vitor Belfort. It took "The Phenom" just 44 seconds to finish Silva with what would become his trademark blitz, turning Vitor into the biggest star for the promotion at the time and leaving Silva to return home in shame.
Wanderlei righted the ship with back-to-back victories in Brazil before returning to the UFC at UFC 20, showing off his vicious muay thai and finishing the overmatched Tony Petarra quickly in his first fight stateside. Silva wouldn't stay with the UFC for long however, instead heading to Japan to fight in what would become his stomping grounds (quite literally): PRIDE.
Wanderlei saw the scorecards for the first time in his career, earning back-to-back decision wins in his first two outings for PRIDE before scoring his first submission win at the turn of the millenium.
His six-fight winning streak saw him return to the UFC to fight Tito Ortiz for the light heavyweight title at UFC 25 in Japan, where the reigning champion was able to utilize his wrestling to defeat the surging Brazilian, albeit not without some difficulty.
That loss would be the last time Silva would taste defeat for years as the Axe Murderer began his bloody ascent toward the top of the 205-pound division.
Wanderlei signed an exclusive deal with PRIDE following a quick 39-second KO win in Brazil, returning to the promotion at PRIDE 10 to massacre UFC 13 tournament winner Guy Mezger.
He moved up to heavyweight for a one-off fight against striker Gilbert Yvel - ironically, the fight was declared a No Contest after an inadvertent groin strike from Silva left Yvel unable to continue (Yvel was a notoriously dirty fighter made famous for eye gouging, illegal strikes, and even knocking a referee out).
He returned to his proper weight class to best undefeated 9-0 UFC 17 tournament winner and RINGS tournament champion Dan Henderson in a hard fought decision before facing Japanese superstar Kazushi Sakuraba.
Sakuraba was at the height of his powers, riding a three fight winning streak and becoming known as "The Gracie Hunter" after defeating four members of the sport's first family: Royler, Royce, Renzo (whose arm he snapped with a kimura), and Ryan.
The highly anticipated showdown started off fast and furious as Wanderlei charged forward, getting clipped and forced to a knee as he left himself open. It didn't take long for Silva to recover and begin to maul Sakuraba in the clinch however, absolutely battering PRIDE's superstar en route to a 98-second TKO that turned Wanderlei into a household name in Japan.
He kept himself busy with a 30-second KO over a 1-1 fighter while Sakuraba defeated Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, leading to a massive rematch for the inaugural PRIDE middlewight (205 pounds) championship.
Silva would once again dominate the Gracie Hunter, showing off his superior striking and brutal clinch work before Sakuraba was forced to withdraw after the opening round due to a broken clavicle.
From there Wanderlei would continue to demolish everyone PRIDE threw in front of him, defending his crown twice and taking part in two non-title bouts, winning all four by knockout. He also moved up to take on heavyweight Mirko Cro Cop in a special rules bout, besting the great kickboxer in a thrilling scrap (although the bout was not officially scored due to the special rules it was fought under, and due to there not being a KO it was therefore declared a draw).
Wanderlei then entered the 2003 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix, where PRIDE decided it was a good idea to match him up with Kazushi Sakuraba once more.
As if two beatings weren't enough, Sakuraba was brutally knocked out in the first round of their trilogy bout after the champion countered a low kick from Sakuraba.
Heading into PRIDE Final Conflict 2003, the entire MMA world was buzzing about a superfight between Wanderlei Silva and the UFC's Chuck Liddell.
UFC President Dana White had brought his top contender to Japan in a bid to take on PRIDE champion Wanderlei Silva, but instead of granting this wish, PRIDE instead gave Liddell a spot in the 2003 Grand Prix on the opposite side of the bracket as Silva, setting up a massive showdown in the finale.
Liddell made it past Alistair Overeem in the quarter finals, but Quinton "Rampage" Jackson completely spoiled the party when he upset Liddell in the semis, finishing Liddell off with grounded knees to earn himself the crack at Wanderlei.
In his own semi-final, Silva would partake in an absolute slugfest with Hidehiko Yoshida, taking home a hard fought decision in 2003's Fight of the Year. Later that same night, Wanderlei completely demolished Rampage Jackson with his brutal knees and kicks, stopping him in the first round to add the 2003 Grand Prix Championship to his trophy case and solidify his claim as the scariest 205-pound fighter on the planet.
Two easy non-title bouts saw The Axe Murderer carve through Ikuhisa Minowa and Yuki Kondo in quick succession before he defended his title in a rematch with Rampage Jackson following Rampage's unbelievable slam KO over Ricardo Arona.
The two engaged in a war of words before the bitter rivals squared off for the second time at PRIDE 28 - unfortunately for Rampage, he was simply no match for Wanderlei at the height of his powers.
Though this time he made it into the second round, Rampage was brutalized once more by Silva's signature knees, eventually getting knocked dead right through the ropes in one of PRIDE's most famous knockouts that showcased just how brutal the champion could be.
Having wiped the floor with his own division, Silva opted to move back up in weight to face Mark Hunt in a fun striking match-up which saw Hunt take home a close split decision victory, marking Wanderlei's first loss in nearly five years following an 18-fight unbeaten streak.
He would go back down to enter the 2005 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix, defeating Hidehiko Yoshida by decision in a close rematch of their prior tournament encounter before finishing Kazuhiro Nakamura in his next outing.
In the semi-finals, Wanderlei was upset and outgrappled by Ricardo Arona, losing a decision to the contender (although because it was a tournament bout, his title wasn't on the line). After Arona was stopped by Wanderlei's teammate Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in the finals, Wanderlei would rematch Arona for the middleweight title at PRIDE Shockwave 2005 as Rua and Silva opted not to fight each other.
That night would live on in infamy not for what happened in the ring, but instead for an insane altercation behind the scenes that would be the subject of comment-section debates for years.
Career journeyman Charles Bennett, a lightweight who won on the prelims that night, got into a scuffle with Wanderlei Silva's teammate Christiano Marcello backstage in the locker rooms, with Marcello choking Bennett to sleep in order to subdue him.
After Bennett woke up however, he struck Wanderlei with an elbow and knocked him unconscious mere minutes before his scheduled rematch with Arona.
Silva and his team denied this version of events for years while Bennett swore it was the truth (and to be fair, "Krazyhorse" Bennett wasn't exactly known for being sane), but ultimately Wanderlei would later admit he was in fact knocked out by Bennett that night.
Despite the insane circumstances and having been slept just minutes beforehand, Wanderlei made the walk that night and proceeded to defeat Arona in a close split decision to retain his title.
Wanderlei would then return to the heavyweight division after an injury forced champion Fedor Emilianenko out of the 2006 PRIDE Heavyweight Grand Prix - Silva replaced him in the tournament, taking Fedor's bye into the quarter-finals where he would smash Kazuyuki Fujita late in the first round of a wild scrap.
Unfortunately that would be the last win Silva experienced in the pristine PRIDE ring.
In the semi-finals he met Mirko Cro Cop in a rematch of their earlier special rules bout - this time, Cro Cop picked Silva apart on the feet before knocking him dead with his patented high kick.
Following the devastating loss, Wanderlei returned at PRIDE 33 in another rematch to defend his title, this time opposite PRIDE welterweight (185 pounds in PRIDE) champion Dan Henderson. The two put on a highly entertaining back-and-forth battle, but in the third round, a left hook caught Wanderlei and put him out clean, Hendo's flying forearm smashing into his lifeless face for good measure.
After the collapse of PRIDE, Wanderlei would sign with the UFC, but given his back-to-back losses via vicious knockout, many believed the 32-year-old was already past his prime.
Similarly, former UFC champion Chuck Liddell was being written off in his own career, after having been knocked out by Rampage Jackson to lose his light heavyweight strap and then proceeding to lose a close decision to the unheralded Keith Jardine.
Although the two fighters may no longer have been in their prime, the MMA world was still delighted to finally get the superfight they had been waiting for for years - Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva.
Wanderlei returned to the world famous Octagon at UFC 79 and despite all the naysayers, the two aging legends put on a war for the ages. After seemingly wobbling Silva with a punch early in the first, Liddell was lured into a slugfest against the hardened brawler and the two never looked back, beating the holy hell out of each other for fifteen action-packed minutes.
At the end of the battle Liddell was awarded the victory in the Fight of the Year, but fans of both fighters left delighted to see the two legends return to form and to have the highly anticipated match up live up to all the hype and then some.
Though Liddell's career would take a nosedive following their bout, many fans believed Wanderlei was truly back to form after he scored a vicious 36-second knockout over Keith Jardine.
The win saw Silva matched up with Quinton Jackson for a third time. Although rare to see a trilogy when one fighter has won both prior bouts, the bad blood between them was more than enough to prompt the UFC to make the fight, and with Rampage having just lost his UFC title against Forrest Griffin, it made sense for both men - Rampage had a chance to redeem his brutal losses to Silva, while Silva could earn a title shot by defeating the former champion.
While the Axe Murderer may have had Rampage's number back in the PRIDE days, Jackson had apparently changed his digits after leaving Japan.
Midway through the opening round, Rampage defended a Silva flurry with a high guard, only to return fire with a brilliant left hook that sent Wanderlei to the shadow realm. The bad blood boiled over as Jackson landed several more shots on Silva's corpse, seeking to pay Silva back in full for the beatings he took back in PRIDE.
The devastating loss had fans once again writing off the legend, but he opted to begin a descent to the middleweight (185 pounds) division to revitalize his career. Instead of jumping right down to the new weight class, Silva met Rich Franklin (himself a middleweight who had also fought up at light heavy) in a catchweight of 195 pounds.
The two delivered an exciting scrap and Franklin surprised many by not only trading with the Axe Murderer on the feet, but even getting the better of many exchanges, his superior accuracy and heavy southpaw kicks earning him the close decision victory at UFC 99.
Faced with back-to-back losses for the second time in his career, Silva successfully made the drop down to middleweight to take on Michael Bisping at UFC 110.
Silva looked reinvigorated as he showed off his full range of skills and even dropped "The Count" at one point (note how Silva smartly stopped himself from kneeing Bisping on the ground, which would have been legal back in PRIDE but would have earned himself a DQ or No Contest at best in the UFC) en route to an impressive decision victory.
His resurgence at middleweight would be set back in disappointing fashion however as Chris Leben took just 27 seconds to knock the legend out face-first at UFC 132, once again reminding fans that the brawler's chin simply wasn't what it used to be.
Ignoring a doctor's stoppage due to a cut, Silva had been stopped just one time in the first 38 fights of his career, his lone knockout loss coming at the blazing fast hands of Vitor Belfort back in 1998.
Since receiving a brutal head kick from Mirko Cro Cop in 2006 however, Silva had been viciously knocked out cold three additional times in his last seven outings and had just two wins to show for his troubles.
The writing may have been on the wall, but the Axe Murderer wasn't quite done yet.
Silva returned against Cung Le at UFC 139 and delivered an epic Fight of the Night against the former Strikeforce star, proving doubters wrong once again and showing he still had something to offer the fight game. The two strikers traded bombs with Cung Le dropping Silva via a beautiful spinning back fist; this time however, Wandy survived and battled back, dropping Le with a barrage of his own to turn the tides.
Silva would once again prove he still had a lot of excitement to deliver for the fans by taking on Rich Franklin in a rematch, this time at a catchweight of 190 pounds. The two would once again earn Fight of the Night honours for their back and forth battle (over 25-minutes rather than 15 this time), with Silva even badly dropping "Ace" in the second.
Franklin would once again take home a close decision victory, but Silva had now established himself as an aging yet still very exciting fighter that was still able to put on a show for the fans.
This was hammered home in his last UFC fight against Brian Stann as Silva got to return to his old home for the UFC's trip to Saitama, Japan.
Though fans believed that the questionable chin of Silva would require him to be smarter in his approach against a powerful puncher like Stann, Silva opted instead to fully embrace the brawl and go to war from the outset.
As a result the two sluggers traded bombs in a frenzied and chaotic affair that saw both men rocked and dropped multiple times over the course of nearly two rounds, some truly ridiculous exchanges bringing the normally quiet Japanese crowd to a roar. That night, the Axe Murderer was truly back in all his glory and he caught Stann with a vicious right hand late in the second, knocking him out cold with follow-up shots to seal the deal.
Unfortunately things went sideways after that incredible showing for Wanderlei.
Silva would be picked as a coach against Chael Sonnen for The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 3, whom he had previously had a war of words with given Sonnen's remarks about his country and fellow Brazilian fighters.
That tension boiled over during the taping of the show, with Silva confronting Sonnen and the two engaging in an extracuricular fight which saw the wrestler ground Silva in mere moments. Wanderlei reportedly injured his hand during the scuffle, forcing their fight to be postponed, only for it to be called off entirely when Silva became the first fighter in UFC history to simply refuse to take a drug test.
Silva would later claim his refusal was due to the fact he had been given an illegal substance by a doctor to help heal his hand injury, but his refusal to submit a sample was treated extremely harshly by the Nevada commission when they issued him a lifetime ban from the sport.
Ironically, Sonnen would test positive himself in the lead-up to his proposed fight with Vitor Belfort, who was replacing Silva in their match-up - despite popping for a litany of drugs including HGH and EPO (and having previously being suspended for exogenous testosterone), Sonnen was only given a two year suspension.
While fans weren't exactly surprised to see Wanderlei involved in a drug testing fiasco given his physique and his tenure in PRIDE (many fighters have stated the promotion actively encouraged fighters to take steroids and the organization specifically promised in their contracts they wouldn't perform any drug tests), his handling of the situation was certainly a bad look and ended his UFC run on a sour note after he had really seemed to turn things around.
Although his lifetime ban from the sport would ultimately be overturned by a judge three years later, by then following a public spat with the UFC over the drug testing situation Silva was released from his contract and would end his UFC career with a dismal record of 5-9.
Wanderlei would get to fight Sonnen in 2017 over in Bellator, though the fight wasn't exactly exciting as Sonnen took Silva down at will and took home an extremely dull decision victory. Silva fought one more time in 2018 at the age of 42 against Rampage for the fourth time; though he did fight technically and did well early, the second round saw him hurt and later finished by a right hand as the two rivals ended their feud tied with two victories apiece.
Silva's UFC run certainly never reached anywhere near the highs he had seen in the PRIDE ring and saw him take a lot of damage over the course of his last UFC stint, both in the cage and to his reputation.
He did however still show many glimpses of his former self and put on plenty of exciting and fun performances to balance out those brutal losses - in his proper 9-fight UFC run, Silva earned 5 Fight of the Night bonuses, 2 Knockout of the Night bonuses, and he took part in 2007's Fight of the Year opposite Chuck Liddell, so he certainly did put on a show for the fans even if he wasn't the dominant force he once was.
#2: Takanori Gomi (13-1 PRIDE, 4-9 UFC)
Japan's Takanori Gomi was on top of the world back in the PRIDE days.
By the time "The Fireball Kid" made his debut in PRIDE, he was already a seasoned vet with a 14-2 record that had captured the Shooto lightweight championship and had gone undefeated in his first fourteen outings. He had lost his Shooto title in a razor-thin majority decision to Joachim Hansen, before facing BJ Penn in Hawaii at Rumble on the Rock, where Penn defeated Gomi via rear-naked choke to solidify his claim as the best lightweight in the world at the time.
Although he entered PRIDE off of back-to-back losses, they were to the elite of the elite and Gomi was already regarded as one of the top lightweights on the planet.
Beginning his way back to a title, Gomi entered the PRIDE ranks at PRIDE Bushido 2 with a dominant first round TKO; it was his second outing however that turned him into a star in his native country.
Taking on the undefeated 6-0 Ralph Gracie, a member of the legendary Gracie family, Gomi absolutely demolished his overmatched victim, perfectly timing a knee as Gracie shot for a takedown in the opening seconds of the fight. Gomi continued to knee his fallen foe (remember, knees/kicks to a grounded opponent were perfectly legal in PRIDE) until the ref pulled him off just six seconds into the fight, which is officially in the record books as the fastest KO in PRIDE's history.
His run earned him a spot in the 2005 PRIDE Lightweight Grand Prix where he continued demolishing his competition, submitting Tatsuya Kawajiri, taking home a decision over Luiz Azeredo in a rematch, and knocking out Hayato Sakurai in the finals.
Gomi's 10-fight winning streak came to a surprising end at the hands of Marcus Aurelio however, as the heavy underdog scored a first round arm triangle submission in a non-title bout at PRIDE Bushido 10.
Though his title wasn't on the line (PRIDE often had their champions fight in non-title bouts to keep busy), the loss was a massive shock to Gomi and PRIDE fans everywhere, one that Gomi vowed to learn from as he stated he didn't take his opponent seriously. Bouncing back with a dominant win over 12-1 David Baron, Gomi fought Marcus Aurelio in a rematch and this time the PRIDE lightweight strap was on the line.
Gomi avenged his defeat albeit in a less entertaining fashion as the two competed in an overly cautious title affair, with Gomi outright refusing to follow Aurelio to the canvas even as the Brazilian taunted the champion to try and get him to the mat after failed takedown attempts.
The Fireball Kid returned to his destructive ways with an absolute mauling of Mitsuhira Ishida in a non-title bout before heading stateside for PRIDE's second US outing at PRIDE 33. There he faced Nick Diaz and the two delivered a battle for the ages in another non-title affair.
Gomi battered the Stockton native throughout the early stages of the first round, scoring big punches and even sitting the iron-chinned Diaz down. The incredibly durable Diaz survived the opening onslaught and began pouring on his own offense as Gomi visibly slowed down however, turning the tide in the latter half of the opening 10-minute round.
Early in the second, a tired Gomi took Diaz down only to end up in his exceptional guard, where Diaz locked up an extremely rare gogoplata that forced Gomi to tap out.
The impressive win would later controversially be declared a "No Contest" by the Nevada State Athletic Commission as Diaz tested positive for marijuana; with PRIDE folding shortly after, it would serve as Gomi's last fight in the promotion, ending his tenure with a 13-1 record with 1 No Contest.
Unlike some of PRIDE's other stars, Gomi didn't immediately sign with the UFC however - instead, he opted to stay in Japan to fight in smaller promotions like Sengoku and Shooto with mixed results.
In 2008 Gomi picked up two wins in Sengoku before losing a close decision to the relatively unknown 12-6 Sergey Golyaev; he followed it up with a quick submission loss to Satoru Kitaoka which saw many fans believe Gomi had already passed his prime despite only just hitting 30 years of age.
The Fireball Kid turned things around with two victories on the Japanese circuit before he finally signed with the UFC in 2010, taking on top lightweight and former title challenger Kenny Florian in a #1 contender bout in his UFC debut.
Unfortunately for Gomi, his transition to the Octagon didn't start off as many had hoped.
Florian lit up the former PRIDE champ with jabs and body shots from the outside, making the former PRIDE champion look slow in the process. After two lopsided rounds, the two hit the mat and "Kenflo" cut through Gomi's ground game like a hot knife through butter, submitting Gomi midway through the third round with a rear naked choke.
His next matchup saw Gomi take on Tyson Griffin who, similarly to Florian, was a heavy favourite against the seemingly declining Fireball Kid. Griffin had established himself as a legitimate contender with a penchant for delivering entertaining scraps - he came into the fight having lost a controversial split decision to Evan Dunham, and had previously only lost in extremely close decisions to former champ Sean Sherk and future champ Frankie Edgar.
To everyone's surprise, the surefire "Fight of the Night" candidate ended in just 64 seconds as Gomi landed a massive right hook. The shot turned Griffin's chin as he threw a naked leg kick and sent the contender face-first into the canvas - just like that, the Fireball Kid was back.
At least, that's what fans of Gomi from the PRIDE days were shouting. That comeback proved to be short lived.
Clay Guida put an end to Takanori's revival, dominating Gomi on the ground before submitting him in the second with a guillotine.
In a dose of nostalgic matchmaking, Gomi took on Nick Diaz's younger brother Nate that had fans reminiscing about Gomi's war with the elder Diaz back at PRIDE 33. Unfortunately, Gomi's war with Nate was one-sided and saw the aging legend dropped and battered on the feet before ultimately succumbing to an armbar late in the opening round.
Though Gomi's time amongst the elite of the division was clearly over, he did show that The Fireball Kid still had something left in the tank over his next few performances.
Returning to his home at UFC 144 for the UFC's first trip to Japan since 2000, Gomi looked re-invigorated as he dominated Eiji Mitsuoka in a much-needed step down in competition. He followed it up with a close split decision victory in a Fight of the Night performance over Mac Danzig for the UFC's first trip to Macau, before losing in another close decision to Diego Sanchez back home in the UFC's return to Saitama in 2013.
Gomi would pick up another Fight of the Night in his decision victory over Isaac Vallie-Flagg, and although he wasn't the Fireball Kid of old, he had turned things around after a rocky start with his new promotion, putting on entertaining fights and showing he could still put on a show so long as he wasn't matched up with the elite lightweights.
And then Gomi's turn at being a mid-card gatekeeper came to a quick and sad end.
Myles Jury, a middling prospect, took Gomi out in just 92 seconds, marking the first knockout loss in Gomi's lengthy career.
Then came a bout with Joe Lauzon - that lasted 157 seconds as Lauzon pounded away for a TKO on the canvas.
Jim Miller was the next to dominate Gomi a year later at the historic UFC 200, taking 138 seconds to finish him via strikes.
After never being finished by strikes in 45 MMA bouts, Gomi had lost three straight by TKO and the writing was on the wall.
Facing a fourth straight loss, Gomi was handed a softer opponent in Jon Tuck - it took Tuck just 72 seconds to submit Gomi in Singapore.
Three straight losses was more than enough to earn a pink slip for most fighters in the UFC, four was certainly pushing it, especially when all four came early in the first round - but when you have a bankable name and are a star in Asia when the UFC is expanding into Asian markets, you get a lot more leeway.
And so Gomi took one more loss to end his UFC tenure, this time losing in 90 seconds to Dong Hyun Ma in his native Japan.
The quick dispatching marked his fifth straight stoppage loss and ended his UFC run at just 4-9, with all but one of his losses coming via form of finish.
Despite the brutal losing streak he persisted outside of the UFC, losing a sixth straight bout via first round stoppage (this time being submitted in 156 seconds) before knocking out similarly floundering former UFC fighter Melvin Guillard in RIZIN and finally calling it quits in 2018.
He may have had a few moments that had fans recalling the Fireball Kid of old, but unfortunately Gomi never came close to recapturing his glory days in the UFC's Octagon and goes down in history as one of the worst transitions from the PRIDE ring.
#1: Mirko Cro Cop (18-4-2 PRIDE, 5-6 UFC)
Right leg hospital. Left leg cemetery.
If those words don't bring you fond memories of countless victims being decapitated by a certain cop from Croatia, then you can't call yourself a proper MMA fan.
Back in the early and mid-2000's, Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic was the most feared striker in the sport of MMA. A highly successful kickboxer since '97, Cro Cop had bested the likes of Jerome Le Banner, Musashi, and Peter Aerts in the kickboxing ring with his brutal kicking game and crisp boxing.
As a southpaw Mirko paired a powerful left straight with his absolutely deadly rear high kick to great effect, while his lead leg was known for landing crushing leg and body kicks - hence the now legendary quote mentioned above.
In 2001 Filipovic began to dabble in MMA while continuing to fight in K-1, earning a few quick KOs in smaller shows and competing in two mixed-rules bouts in PRIDE; these bouts had modified MMA rules to limit grappling with shorter rounds and had no official winner should the bout not result in a finish.
Both of the mixed-rules bouts were declared draws, with the second coming against PRIDE middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva in a heated back-and-forth scrap (though Silva would have inarguably won the bout should it have been scored).
From there Cro Cop entered the MMA fold in earnest and competed in proper MMA matches without special rules and began to tear through PRIDE's heavyweight division. A doctor stoppage over the outsized grappler Kazushi Sakuraba preceeded knockouts over legitimate heavyweight contenders in Heath Herring and Igor Vovchanchyn, while over in kickboxing he was dominating the likes of Mark Hunt and Remy Bonjasky.
He also took part in a few "freakshow" fights that were a staple of fighting in Japan. In kickboxing, Mirko crumpled 330-pound pro wrestler Bob Sapp with a vicious left hand that broke Sapp's orbital bone, which would serve as Mirko's last kickboxing fight for nearly a decade as he transitioned fully to MMA; he also took part in what can only be described as an execution when he took on pro wrestler Alberto Del Rio.
Though an accomplished amateur wrestler, Del Rio was just 3-2 in MMA against lowly competition in a smaller Japanese promotion when PRIDE thought it would be a good idea to feed him to the 6-0-2 Cro Cop who had just demolished legitimate heavyweight contenders - to make things even more of a spectacle, Del Rio donned a lucha libre mask during the fight. Alberto survived forty-six seconds before inevitably eating a patented Cro Cop head kick.
After nearly getting a man killed, PRIDE decided it was time for Cro Cop to fight real competition again and put him in against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, also known as "Big Nog", in an interim title fight as the champion Fedor Emilianenko was in a contractual dispute with the company.
Cro Cop gave the Brazilian everything he could handle throughout the ten minute first round, dropping the iron-chinned Nogueira with his patented head kick and dominating the fight on the feet. Somehow, the legendary durability of Nogueira allowed him to survive and the BJJ specialist turned the tide in the second round, taking Mirko down and submitting him with an armbar to mark Cro Cop's first MMA loss.
Filipovic returned to action just a few months later and smashed two opponents in the span of two weeks, felling legitimate opponent Ron Waterman before destroying an overmatched 14-15 fighter at PRIDE Bushido 2 to keep himself busy.
His resume earned him a berth in the 2004 PRIDE Heavyweight World Grand Prix, where he drew former UFC heavyweight champion Kevin Randleman.
A superb athlete and fantastic wrestler, Randleman had fallen on tough times at middleweight (PRIDE's version of light heavyweight) after having been knocked out by Rampage Jackson and then falling victim to a Kazushi Sakuraba armbar. Returning to heavyweight to compete in the tournament, virtually no one gave Randleman a shot at beating Cro Cop.
Fortunately for Randleman, fights aren't won or lost based on public opinion.
As Mirko looked to throw a kick at his seemingly overmatched (on the feet) opponent, the MMA world watched in shock as a left hook from hell sent the Croation to the canvas. Mirko did his best to hold on to Randleman for dear life, but a flurry of left hands from inside Cro Cop's guard put him out cold and the late Randleman had secured himself one of the biggest upsets in MMA history.
It took just one month for Mirko to return to the ring and get back in the win column, after which he regained his momentum with seven straight victories (six via finish), which included knockouts of Alexander Emilianenko, Josh Barnett, and Mark Coleman as well as a guillotine submission over Randleman to avenge his shocking upset loss.
Mirko's killing spree earned him a crack at PRIDE's heavyweight champion Fedor Emilianenko in 2005 and the two men put on a battle for the ages that many regard as the best fight in PRIDE's illustrious history.
Cro Cop started off his long anticipated title shot strong, breaking Fedor's nose with a pair of straights and battering the champion's ribcage with body kicks, but as the fight progressed Fedor began to take the kickboxer down and sap his energy thanks to his relentless pressure.
In the later stages of the fight, Fedor took over and even began to best Mirko on the feet, leading Fedor to defend his crown with a decision victory in what Sports Illustrated later called the Fight of the Decade.
Cro Cop set out to earn a rematch with a decisive victory over Josh Barnett before dropping a split decision to Mark Hunt, whom he had previously bested in the kickboxing ring. Cro Cop wouldn't be deterred however, and entered the 2006 PRIDE Openweight Grand Prix with a vengeance, destroying Ikuhisa Minowa and Hidehiko Yoshida in the tournament's opening rounds.
This led to PRIDE: Conflict Absolute, where Mirko Cro Cop would defeat two legends in one night to win the PRIDE Openweight Grand Prix and post what many consider the finest performances of his career.
The first legend to fall was Wanderlei Silva, who had previously fought Mirko in a mixed-rules bout that didn't feature scoring (though fans unanimously consider Wanderlei as the "winner" of that bout) back in 2002. Four years later, Wanderlei was no match for the Croation sensation, the PRIDE middleweight champion getting picked apart on the feet before being levelled by Mirko's patented high kick midway through the opening round.
In the finale, he once again bested Josh Barnett, this time demolishing the accomplished grappler and forcing him to submit to punches late in the opening round. The brilliant performance capped off a remarkable tournament run and with the Grand Prix belt around his waist, a showdown with heavyweight champ Fedor Emilianenko (who had to withdraw from the tournament due to injury) seemed inevitable.
Unfortunately, PRIDE opted to pit Fedor against Mark Hunt (who had been eliminated in the tournament quarter-finals by Josh Barnett) and soon after the UFC signed Mirko to their stable, a rematch of Fedor and Cro Cop's legendary 2005 meeting never coming to fruition.
Rather than giving Cro Cop an immediate title shot which most MMA fans thought he deserved, the UFC sought to build up his profile inside the UFC first and handed him a softball (Cro Cop was a -1200 favourite) in 6-0 Eddie Sanchez for his Octagon debut, with Mirko finishing his overmatched prey in the first round.
Next, he was placed in a "title eliminator" bout opposite the 7-1 Gabriel Gonzaga, a powerful BJJ artist with a devastating top game that was riding a 5-fight winning streak with all seven of his wins ending via stoppage. Though Gonzaga was seen as a formidable opponent that could cause problems if he was able to take Mirko down, the Croatian was essentially the uncrowned king and thus a massive favourite heading into UFC 70.
What happened next was one of the most shocking and ironic upsets in MMA history.
The opening round began with Cro Cop taking a measured approach, easily avoiding Gonzaga's attempts at closing the distance in flurries and largely playing defense as he looked for an opening. When Mirko looked to land one of his nasty body kicks however, Gonzaga charged in and took the PRIDE star down.
Once in Cro Cop's guard, Gonzaga began to reign down a series of punches and elbows that Mirko later said caused him to "see triple". Cro Cop would survive the ground assault however, tying Gonzaga up enough to cause the referee to stand the two men up at the very end of the first round.
After returning to their feet with just seconds remaining in the round, Gonzaga would turn the MMA world upside down by decapitating the legendary high kicker with his own technique.
Just like the kick Cro Cop made famous (albeit from his right leg given he's orthodox), Gonzaga threw up his rear leg with no wind up or misdirection, and an instant later his massive shin was clanging off the side of Mirko's head. The most feared striker in the sport was flatlined in the biggest upset the sport had seen to date, his leg grotesquely contorted underneath him as his body collapsed to the canvas, his signature move being used against him to unbelievable effect.
Cro Cop set out on the road to redemption at UFC 75 when he faced French kickboxer Cheick Kongo, but unfortunately for Cro Cop, Kongo didn't look to kickbox and instead scraped by the Croation largely through the use of the clinch (along with three blatant groin strikes which Kongo never was penalized for) that earned him a decision victory.
With two straight defeats in rather lackluster performances, the UFC parted ways with the PRIDE great and it appeared Cro Cop's UFC days were a complete bust.
Cro Cop always found a way to bounce back however, and this time it was no different.
Returning to Japan, Cro Cop won two bouts against lesser competition like Hong Man Choi, sandwiching a quick and ugly No Contest in which Alistair Overeem's legendary knee collided with his groin.
It was enough to earn a call back up to the UFC, where he made quick work of Mostapha Al-Turk before being paired up with a surging young Brazilian by the name of Junior Dos Santos. While Mirko valiantly did his best to survive the brutal boxing of the future champ, midway through the third round an injury to his eye prompted him to submit following a beating from the heavy handed phenom.
After facing another setback in his UFC career, Cro Cop once again turned things around with an absolute mauling of Anthony Perosh, eventually finishing the tough Aussie due to a doctor stoppage in the second after opening Perosh up with a series of elbows on the ground.
Then came a standup war with fellow kickboxer Pat Barry.
Barry's heavy hands made an impact early as the less-accomplished striker dropped the veteran not once, but twice with his powerful right hand.
Despite getting badly hurt early, Cro Cop settled in and the two engaged in an exciting back and forth display of their techniques, with Cro Cop even managing to connect with an extremely rare axe kick.
In the third however, it became the Cro Cop show, rocking Barry with a barrage of strikes before knocking him down and eventually securing a rear-naked choke, just the second submission victory of his lengthy career.
The thrilling performance earned Cro Cop a main event slot against former heavyweight champion Frank Mir at UFC 119. And that's when disaster struck.
The two fought with extreme caution, neither man seemingly willing to fully engage the other, with Cro Cop fearful of Mir's ground game and Mir fearful of getting his head kicked into the cheap seats. Fourteen minutes of boredom ensued, with the fans booing the two legends' for their glorified sparring match.
With just a minute to go in the third and final round (main events in the UFC were still just three rounders back then), Mirko began pressing forward, looking to land a heavy left hand when the two engaged in a clinch. Unfortunately, he never saw Mir's right knee as it came right up the middle and sent the aging kickboxer crashing to the canvas, out cold.
Although Mir was undoubtedly pleased with the win, for fans, it was just adding insult to injury - not only did they watch an extremely boring fourteen minutes of a main event, but then they had to see a legend get viciously KOd without having gotten anything positive to show for it.
He didn't fare any better in his next outing either.
Taking on rising prospect Brendan Schaub, the two heavyweights put on a rather lackluster 13+ minutes of action (though it wasn't as bad as Mirko's fight against Mir), only for Cro Cop to once again get caught late in the third round, this time an overhand right putting the legend down as he attempted a leg kick.
With his back against the wall after suffering back-to-back knockout losses, Cro Cop took on Roy Nelson in a loser-leaves-town fight at UFC 137, with Nelson coming off of back-to-back losses of his own.
This time, Mirko looked better as he landed nasty shots on his less-mobile opponent, even hurting Nelson in the second with a vicious barrage after getting cracked by a right hand himself. His attempt to finish the insanely durable Nelson however left the aging great tired, and early in the third round Nelson dropped Mirko to the canvas and finished him via TKO.
Three straight losses sent the Croation out of the UFC once more, his record with the promotion standing at a dismal 4-6 with all but one of his losses coming via knockout.
Mirko was a legend that refused to die however, and he once again came back with a vengeance, splitting his time between MMA and returning to his roots in kickboxing. He went 3-1 in MMA overseas, but more impressively, he earned a berth into the 2013 K-1 World Grand Prix kickboxing tournament, where he would defeat three opponents in one night to capture the tournament title at 37 years of age after having been written off by virtually everyone following his knockout losses during his UFC stint.
His success would once again earn him a spot in the UFC early in 2015, this time pairing up with Gabriel Gonzaga in a rematch of their shocking first encounter some eight years prior.
Mirko would score his long awaited revenge, surprisingly taking the BJJ artist down and mauling him on the ground with elbows, eventually finishing him in the third round with a barrage of strikes to avenge the most brutal defeat of his UFC career.
Unfortunately, that would be the last fans would see of Cro Cop inside the Octagon - while recovering from a shoulder injury, his doctor prescribed him a shot that included HGH (Mirko declared the drug when asked on a questionaire - as they never found HGH in his system, he'd have never been caught if he simply didn't tell them), prompting a two year suspension from competition in North America.
Rather than serving out his suspension, Cro Cop retired and requested his release from the UFC, which was granted - he would return to MMA less than a year later, competing in Japan for RIZIN, where he went 6-0 and won their 2016 Open Weight Grand Prix. He then fought a lone bout with Bellator, where he avenged his UFC loss to Roy Nelson via decision.
His late career resurgence would end unexpectedly as he suffered a stroke shortly after the Nelson fight and combined with neck issues that doctors stated could leave him paralyzed if he continued to fight, he retired for good in 2019.
Despite his setbacks in the UFC, Cro Cop would be one of the few legends to leave on a high note (in competition at least), having won his last ten fights and being highly successful in every promotion he fought for - save of course for the UFC.
His excellence outside of the Octagon leave Mirko as one of the best heavyweights in the sport's history and one of the most feared strikers MMA has ever seen - inside the UFC's world famous cage however, Cro Cop was simply not the same.
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (17-3 PRIDE, 5-6 UFC, interim UFC heavyweight champion)
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (8-2 PRIDE, 6-7 UFC)