As is no secret, Pride Fighting Championship is making its way to the United States and has been holding fan events all week in southern California to raise awareness of its debut United States event in Las Vegas on October 21st. Despite rumors of involvement in the Japanese mafia, there was a full house in attendance tonight at the Fox Sports Grill in Irvine tonight. Any such allegations were the furthest thing on the minds of the standing room only crowd.
Josh Barnett, Fedor Emelianenko
, Mark Coleman, Phil Baroni, Vitor Belfort, and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua were present to get to know American fans who've mostly seen them fighting from Japan to date. Jabs at Pride's greatest North American competitor, the UFC, began early. The announcer asked the fighters to give their thoughts on why fighting in Pride beats fighting in UFC, and Vitor Belfort talked about how the level of competition is higher in Pride, and Phil Baroni wasted no time in exposing his "colorful" personality by telling the crowd he's happy to fight in the USA again because he is "sick of sushi and chicks with no asses". Direct shots were taken at the UFC when it was revealed that a match between Pride champion Fedor Emelianenko and UFC champ Tim Sylvia
was offered to the UFC, and Sylvia reportedly turned the fight down.
Vitor Belfort, coming off a rough 2-4 streak in his last six fights, tossed religious pamphlets into the crowd. Here's an excerpt: IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO ENLIST YOURSELF IN THE ARMY OF GOD AND BE PART OF AN ARMY THAT HAS NEVER LOST A BATTLE (AND THAT NEVER WILL LOSE ONE) PRAY THE SAME PRAYER THAT I PRAYED. MAY JESUS BLESS YOU AND ALL YOUR FAMILY, A HUGE EMBRACE FROM YOUR BROTHER IN CHRIST,
Mike Tyson was even present, and wearing a Vitor Belfort shirt. Tyson was given the microphone, which is always a recipe for hijinks, and he told some largely unintelligible story about an episode when he was in Brazil and "a sexual deviant". Tyson's presence seemed to be to help fuel publicity, and no mention of him competing was made.
Offstage, further fueling the Pride vs. UFC fire, was the rumored appearance of Renato "Babalu" Sobral at the event tonight, only to be expelled by Pride officials from the upstairs lounge where the fighters waited for the show to begin. "Babalu" is reported to have left the venue entirely upon being told he was not welcome.
On the matchmaking front, the following fights were announced:
Mark Coleman vs. Fedor Emelianenko - when asked if it will be a title fight, the Pride official said "I don't know"
Kevin Randleman vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua
The always verbal Mark Coleman proclaimed to the crowd that, "I am fighting for my family, for myself, and for my country", in describing his attitude towards his upcoming confrontation with the Russian Emelianenko, which drew cheap and easy crowd reaction and chants of "USA! USA!". On more than one occasion he referred to Emelianenko as the toughest guy in the sport, but said, "I will figure out a way to beat him".