Friday, Oct. 20, 2006 | 8:01 a.m.
Pride Fighting Championships mixed martial arts card featuring 2004 Grand Prix champion Fedor Emelianenko vs. former Olympic wrestler Mark Coleman in the main event
6 p.m. Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center
$50 to $700, pridefc.com or (866) 873-4448
Don't call it "ultimate fighting." It's "mixed martial arts." A recent Forbes magazine article quoted one insider as saying the Ultimate Fighting Championship has become the "Kleenex" of mixed martial arts, a brand so successful it has become shorthand for the actual product. Certainly that's true in Las Vegas, the UFC's home base. Pride, a competing organization founded in 1997 and based in Tokyo, has chosen the Thomas & Mack Center for its first appearance in the United States.
For Ed Fishman, the president of Pride USA, Saturday's fight card is the culmination of three years of working to bring a Pride event to the United States. Fishman knew he wanted to put on a show here after attending his first Pride card three years ago in Tokyo, as a guest of a Chinese politician. "And it had to be Las Vegas. There was nowhere else," Fishman said. "We are the entertainment capital of the world, and Pride gives you the best mix of production values, entertainment and fighting. It was a natural fit."
Saturday's heavyweight headliner pits Emelianenko, a Russian sambo /judo specialist, against Mark Coleman, a 1992 U.S. Olympian and former national wrestling champion at Ohio State. Another heavyweight, former pro boxing novelty act Eric "Butterbean" Esch, faces kickboxing star "Super Samoan" Mark Hunt. In other featured bouts, former UFC champion Josh Barnett meets Polish judo expert Pawel Nastula; and Vitor Belfort puts his Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills to the test against former Olympic wrestler Dan Henderson. Barnett took a shot at his former organization when asked this week if he'd ever challenge a UFC champ. "You're bringing me down a level, man," he said. "Sometimes I forget there is a heavyweight division in the UFC."
Big fan base
Pride, which like other mixed martial arts competitions allows various forms of combat fighting (kickboxing, wrestling, judo, jiu-jitsu, etc.) inside the ropes, commands a loyal following in Japan. A Pride card in 2002 drew a record 91,107 fans to Tokyo National Stadium. The circuit's fights have been available in North America on pay-per-view since 2000. Saturday night's show at the Thomas & Mack - which promises to feature Pride's signature "awe-inspiring special effects and pyrotechnics" as a prelude to the action in the ring - is expected to draw about 10,000. (About 5,000 seats have been taken out of circulation to make way for the show's elaborate stage set.)
What, him worry?
Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White downplayed the competition's attempt to make inroads in his back yard. "I'm going to go and watch it," White said. "I'm not going to counter it. There're shows popping up all over the place, and the more shows there are out there, the more opportunity younger guys get to fight. We can't have everybody, even though I want them all. There's going to be other promotions, and it's good for the sport. It's good for me."