On Saturday – 20 June – it will be 16 years to the day since Pride Fighting Championships held its historic Pride FC: Critical Countdown 2004 event in their Saitama Super Arena home in Saitama, Japan.
The event is widely thought to be among the most iconic the Japanese promotion ever produced on during its 10 years of operation.
Its fight card featured contests such as Antonio Rodrigo “Big Nog” Nogueira vs. Heath Herring, Hidehiko Yoshida vs. Mark Hunt, Sergei Kharitonov vs. Semmy Schilt and Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Antonio Schembri.
What’s more impressive is that two particular fights from Pride FC: Critical Countdown 2004, which haven’t yet been mentioned, provided historic MMA moments which long live in the memories of those who watched the sport at the time and those who started following later on.
Headlining the event, Pride FC heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko took on the late, great Kevin Randleman.
Like with Nogueira – Herring, Kharitonov – Schilt and another fight pitting Naoya Ogawa against Paulo Cesar “Giant” Silva, the contest between Emelianenko and Randleman was in the quarter finals of Pride’s 2004 Heavyweight Grand Prix.
Their fight only lasted 93 seconds, but the chaos that was encapsulated in such a short time frame defined the sport of mixed martial arts.
Roughly 15 seconds into their 10-minute opening round, Randleman looked to close the distance to secure a takedown by throwing a punch and wrapping his arms around the Russian for a double-leg at his frenetic pace.
The American got the takedown he was after, but soon Emelianenko did well to scramble out of his compromising half guard position. However, as he got back to his feet, “The Last Emperor” found himself in an even dire situation as Randleman stuck to him like glue and grabbed him by his waist.
What followed is one of the most iconic scenes from combat sports history.
Randleman – the heavy underdog – took Emelianenko airborne with a devastating suplex, dumping him on his head as they both crashed to the ground.
Somehow, Emelianenko survived. Only to find Randleman kneeing him in the head from north-south position.
The Russian regained his bearings and managed to reverse position to clobber Randleman from side control.
Emelianenko then seized on Randleman’s loose left arm to secure a kimura submission, forcing his foe to quickly tap.
It’s one of the most remarkable – and quick – come-from-behind victories you’ll ever see in combat sports.
After progressing in the tournament, Emelinanko went onto submit Ogawa in the Grand Prix semifinals at Pride FC: Final Conflict 2004. The same night, he took on Nogueira in the final, only for the fight to be called a No Contest due to an accidental headbutt.
Emelinanko and Nogeuira had their Grand Prix rematch – their third fight against one another – at Pride FC’s New Year’s Eve show, Shockwave 2004. The Russian came out tops, winning a unanimous decision.
The other unforgettable fight from Pride FC: Critical Countdown 2004 was between Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu ace Ricardo Arona – a bout which was only second on the night’s billing.
Given his martial arts background, Arona did well to hold his own on the feet. However, he understandably looked to take the contest to the floor when the opportunity arose.
Whether he was looking for a conventional takedown or pulling guard, Arona was more than happy to take things down to the mat even if he was on bottom.
Rampage would land some good ground and pound when the openings were there, but Arona was more than a nuisance off his back, throwing – and landing – upkicks, attempting sweeps and submissions.
Deep into the opening round, Arona looked to have finally got his man.
As his legs trapped Rampage’s head and arm, the Brazilian was about to synch up a triangle choke.
In response, Memphis native Jackson use his brute strength to lift Arona up in the air to smash him down in a violent powerbomb, knocking him out in an instant.
The follow-up punches weren’t necessary after earning this spectacular slam KO – one which is, understandably, a fixture in any MMA highlight reel or knockout compilation video.
Other historic MMA moments (15-21 June)
18 June, 2016 – UFC Fight Night: MacDonald vs. Thompson
Four years ago to the day, Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson confirmed his claim as a top UFC welterweight contender after dominating former title challenger Rory MacDonald over five rounds to win a comprehensive unanimous decision.
The win set Wonderboy up for his own title shot(s) at Tyron Woodley at UFC 205 months later. After that fight ended in a draw, he rematched Woodley four months later at UFC 209, dropping a closely-contested majority decision.
20 June, 2015 – UFC Fight Night: Jędrzejczyk vs. Penne
Joanna Jędrzejczyk made her first successful UFC strawweight title defence against Jessica Penne on this night.
Penne provided little resistance to Jędrzejczyk as “Joanna Champion” had her way with the American on the feet, landing punches, kicks and knees at will.
The tough Penne lasted two full rounds before succumbing to strikes at 4:22 of the third round in Berlin, Germany.
Poland’s Jędrzejczyk had smashed her way through Carla Esparza just three months earlier to get her hands on UFC gold.
19 June, 2015 – Bellator 138: Unfinished Business
Just a day before Jędrzejczyk’s first UFC title defence, Bellator put on a fight card which garnered plenty of attention.
In the main event, Kimbo Slice took on Ken Shamrock in a bout which pitted a legendary street fighter and pop culture hero against an MMA great, both in their later years.
Slice defeated Shamrock by KO (punches) at 2:22 of the first round.
In the co-main event, Patricio “Pitbull” Freire successfully defended his Bellator featherweight championship against Daniel Weichel, scoring a knockout win.
18 June, 2011 – Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum
There’s something about mid-June and heavyweight tournaments.
The two remaining quarter-finals of Strikeforce’s Grand Prix took place this day, seeing Alistair Overeem take on Fabrico Werdum and Josh Barnett facing Brett Rogers.
Overeem and Barnett were the victors in their fights, winning by unanimous decision and submission (arm-triangle choke) respectively.
Further down the card, Daniel Cormier made only his eighth appearance in an MMA fight, taking on veteran grappler Jeff Monson in a Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix reserve bout.
Cormier was the victor and went on to win the tournament outright after replacing Overeem in the Grand Prix bracket.
Despite being undersized and inexperienced, “DC” defeated Antonio “Big Foot” Silva and Josh Barnett to win the Grand Prix.
19 June, 2004 – UFC 48: Payback
It turns out that Ken Shamrock has fought on 19 June twice. While he wasn’t successful against Kimbo Slice in 2015, he was 11 years earlier.
Shamrock took on rival Kimo Leopoldo at UFC 48 and ended things inside 90 seconds by knocking him out with a devastating knee to the face and some follow-up punches.
It wasn’t the first time they’d fought before. Knees were the theme in February 1996 at UFC 8, when Shamrock submitted Leopoldo with a kneebar.