There was a time just over a decade ago when the UFC wasn’t the most prominent fight organization in the world. Over in Japan, a promotion called PRIDE Fighting Championships employed most of the top athletes in the sport while putting on shows that verged on spectacle with all the glitz and glamour that went into the production.
All the bright lights and pageantry were for show, but in the end it was the fights and the fighters who made PRIDE the top fight league in the world.
As years went by, however, the UFC’s foothold got bigger and bigger and eventually they absorbed PRIDE and most of the fighters who competed there. Now seven years later, the UFC regularly makes stops in Japan, but it doesn’t stop fighters from reminiscing about the days of PRIDE.
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Sam Sicilia had his first pro fight the same year that PRIDE was bought out by the UFC. When the promotion was at its apex, Sicilia was a high school student just watching MMA because he loved fighting. So when he got the call from the UFC offering him a fight in Japan, he jumped at the opportunity to compete in the same building where Fedor Emelianenko made his home and Wanderlei Silva ruled with an iron fist.
I’d like to fight inside PRIDE rules to be honest with you. A lot of times I have that ground and pound where I’m totally not just stuck on them. I’d let them float underneath and whip in and you’ve got head stomps. If you stop a shot, it means a lot more for a guy that shoots
— Sam Sicilia
"I was pretty pumped because that’s where all the PRIDE fights were. That’s pretty rad for me to go out there and see that," Sicilia told FOX Sports. "I liked watching Fedor in his day and all that. I grew up on it. I loved it when they walked out and there was always that PRIDE feeling. They had the blue gloves with the pink tape, it was awesome."
Sicilia’s fondness for PRIDE goes beyond just his love of the sport as a fan. He also really liked the rules that PRIDE enforced for the fighters competing in the promotion.
While many were the same as what’s used in the UFC today, there were several difference as well. Most notably, fighters could kick to the head of an opponent on the ground. They could stomp an opponent’s head while on the ground. Fighters could knee to the head of an opponent while they were on the ground. In addition, there was a 10-minute first round instead of the five minutes currently used by all other athletic commissions around the world.
Just hearing things like soccer kicks to the head or stomping an opponent might sound ultra brutal and there were certainly fights that ended with those moves that could potentially make you cringe, but Sicilia believes it was a more pure form of fighting.
He loved the variety of ways a PRIDE fight would evolve because of the different weapons used in the ring and Sicilia would welcome those rules to return one day.
"I’d like to fight inside PRIDE rules to be honest with you," Sicilia said.
"A lot of times I have that ground and pound where I’m totally not just stuck on them. I’d let them float underneath and whip in and you’ve got head stomps. If you stop a shot, it means a lot more for a guy that shoots. Even the 10 minute first rounds. A lot more chance somebody will break and you can put them away. You’d see a lot more guys go for it because they don’t want to be in there and just go for a finish."
Sicilia believes the way the rules are set up now it does prohibit some moves that could help push the pace of a fight. For instance, if a wrestler shoots in on the legs and his or her opponent stuffs the move, with PRIDE rules they could then fire back with knees or kicks to further counteract the takedown.
Some PRIDE fighters were almost technicians with the way they could end a fight with kicks or stomps. Wanderlei Silva used those moves routinely in PRIDE, as did his teammate — former UFC light heavyweight champion Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua.
"It takes away some tools. Remember how good ‘Shogun’ (Rua) was at head stomping people?" Sicilia said. "Like he would jump in — he was a freak and he would always find a way to land. He’d land on it every time.
"That’s what I was watching when I was a kid. I was like ‘I want to do that!"
Sadly, Sicilia will probably never get a chance to compete under those rules. While some promotions overseas still a similar guidebook to PRIDE, Sicilia is a UFC fighter through and through.
He’ll just keep the PRIDE Fighting spirit alive with his own crazy performances. He’ll even use those fights as inspiration before he steps into the cage on Saturday in Japan.
"I get why people say that," Sicilia said when being compared to a PRIDE fighter. "I watch PRIDE and the old Vale Tudo fights before I go out for my fights. It’s pretty awesome."