An accomplished college wrestler trained in the "stiff" style of Japanese pro wrestling, which had more application in fighting than its American counterpart; defeated Royler Gracie by controversial referee stoppage at Pride 8, shortly after Royce Gracie had signed to compete in the tournament.
An explosive and imposing 1992 Olympic alternate who earned two UFC tournament titles and their heavyweight championship before suffering losses to Maurice Smith, Pedro Rizzo and Pete Williams; signed with Pride in 1999.
A Division I wrestling champion out of Syracuse University who entered the Grand Prix with an 11-0 record.
Jiu-jitsu's representative for the first five UFC events; had signed a two-year non-compete clause upon leaving the promotion in 1995.
An unimposing but determined grappler with an indelible will; appeared in all of the first seven Pride events
A student of famous pro wrestler Antonio Inoki who narrowly missed a place on the Japanese Olympic team; entered the Grand Prix with four years of exposure in the New Japan Pro Wrestling circuit.
A former arm-wrestling champion who made his UFC debut with an infamous elbow-piston assault on Paul Herrera; had previously lost to tournament entrants Mark Coleman and Igor Vovchanchyn.
A former Shooto heavyweight champion who made his debut in Pride 5 in a no-strikes-allowed bout due to an injury; famously candid about his ties to Japan's organized crime families.
A kickboxer who joined Ken Shamrock's Lion's Den facility in the 1990s; made his MMA debut at UFC 4 in 1994 and went on to become a King of Pancrase, an event using open-handed strikes that originated a month before 1993's UFC 1. He lost to Akira Shoji in his Pride debut in 1999.
An American journalist who covered crime for the Yomiuri Shinbun newspaper (which boasts of more than 14 million readers daily), Adelstein is the only gaijin (foreigner) to be admitted access to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police press corps.
A talent agent who represented Ken Shamrock and helped negotiate Pride's U.S. distribution on satellite pay-per-view.
Joined the Gracie Academy in 1995 to handle business affairs.
The first in the jiu-jitsu family to migrate to the United States in the 1970s, Gracie taught students in his garage and later popularized a $100,000 winner-take-all challenge. Along with Art Davie, he formed WOW Promotions and created the UFC in 1993.
An athletic Judo-boxer hybrid, Johnston gained UFC experience before moving to New Japan Pro Wrestling.
A Midwest fighter/trainer with a 5-0 UFC record and their lightweight title at the time of the Grand Prix.
A former King of Pancrase who picked up the UFC's heavyweight title before retiring in 2000 due to injuries.
A fight promoter (Hook 'N Shoot out of Indiana) who chronicled early mixed martial arts via a series of video magazines.
A filmmaker who teamed with Jon Greenhalgh to chronicle the career of Greenhalgh's college friend Mark Kerr.
An actor, martial artist and play-by-play commentator.
A Gracie student who later opened his own school, 6 Levels, in Orlando. Currently trains Shaquille O'Neal.
A fighter/trainer who joined Pride beginning with the Grand Prix as a judge and ring official. Defeated Pat Miletich in a 1997 Extreme Fighting event.
Pride's elaborate production -- pyrotechnics, drum orchestras and the occasional magician -- helped attract nearly 50,000 people to the Tokyo Dome for the opening round, which would ostensibly allow the eight favorites (Coleman, Kerr, Gracie, Sakuraba, Vovchanchyn, Goodridge, Shoji and Fujita) to advance to the May 1 finals. (A December UFC event held in Japan later that year hosted 1,414.) The production also attracted special guests of a different sort.
Stephen Quadros, play-by-play announcer: Going to the Tokyo Dome for the first time, I was just in awe. I had never been in an arena like that, which was so spacious. It was high up, it was wide, it was like being in an underground city, like a biosphere. It's like right when you come on to a psychedelic drug, right when you peak. That's what it was like.
Michael Braverman, U.S. producer: It's impossible to tell what things cost. In Japan, this costs this, but it doesn't really cost that because I have a deal with so-and-so. Japanese business is completely byzantine. Pride spent whatever they had to spend on those shows.
Jake Adelstein, Tokyo vice journalist: Whenever they had a Pride event, they had special seats marked off for the Yakuza, Japan's organized crime.Susumu Nagao
They knew they were coming, and they made sure that the competing groups all had separate seats. They wouldn't make the mistake of putting them in the same area.
Enson Inoue: A lot of times, after a fight, fighters would go to shake hands with a Yakuza guy. He was always there. I don't think the fighters knew who he was. He was one of the Yakuza backers of Pride. So they'd all go and bow down to him. I never got a chance to ask, "Do you guys know who that is?"
Adelstein: They [Yakuza members] loved to hang out with fighters. They love tough guys. Just like in the boxing industry. There's a celebrity status to being seen with a fighter. You want to show you're tough and hang out with tough guys. They're totally fascinated with fighters and their life.
As the favorites advanced, it looked as though Pride would see their preferred field materialize. Sakuraba's opponent, the Ken Shamrock-trained Guy Mezger, had other plans.
Guy Mezger: I was actually recovering from a kidney problem. They said they wanted me to fight Sakuraba on two weeks' notice. They offered me six figures. They were notorious for
doing stuff like that. I go, "All right, we'll take the fight if it's just one 15-minute round." It was part of the contract. But I knew some kind of bulls--- was going to be pulled.
Kazushi Sakuraba: When asked who I want to fight, I usually don't have an answer. But if asked who I don't want to fight, I could answer easily: Mezger. His fighting style is so boring.
Mezger: I'm sure he didn't like Wanderlei Silva's fighting style, either.
Sakuraba: The promoters told me to arrive at 2, but my fight wasn't until 5, so I decided it would be fine if I arrived around 3. But I left my house late and because of traffic ended up arriving at the arena at 4:30. Just as I was intensifying my running and thinking about taking a rest, the staff came and told me, "Please go to the entrance gate and stand by."
Mezger: For some reason, I had a tremendous amount of energy for that 15 minutes, but I started to kind of wilt near the end. Then they called it a draw and I'm like, "What?"
Quadros: They still had that 10kg handicapping [mentality]. Let's say a fighter was 10 kilos or more lighter than another fighter. He already had a point in the round, so you basically had to beat him more than someone your own size.
Mezger: That's what they said. That's how they justified it. The problem is, there wasn't a 10 kilo weight difference. I was 199 pounds. I got the flu
from Ken's kids in training. I took four bags of fluids with me because I was so sick and dehydrated.
Sakuraba: I wanted to go another round, thinking it would be possible to salvage the match, but when it was decided to extend the fight, Ken Shamrock was making scary faces.
Mezger: Everyone blames Ken for being unprofessional. Really, Ken was protecting his fighter. We had an agreement.
Quadros: Ken Shamrock is in the broadcast booth -- we're sitting there and they say, "Draw, one more round." Ken flips out and stands up and starts screaming at the judges, slams his headset.
Sakuraba: Later I heard that Mezger's contract was only for a one-round fight. I thought, "Ah, then it couldn't be helped." But Shamrock didn't have to get so angry like that. Seeing Mezger getting scolded by him, I felt sorry for [Mezger].
Matt Hume, Fight Judge: We knew nothing about that. I don't doubt Ken had an agreement with them. What he claimed he was told was that it would be one round
and then a decision would be made and that there would be no overtime. The officials knew nothing about a side agreement like that.
Hyams: I think that any advantage they could use, they would use. The best way I can illustrate that is, as a film crew we'd have to sit and have negotiations with these guys. Any time we'd have negotiations with them, they would always do all of their business through an interpreter. Now, a lot of these guys could speak perfect English. That was the key to me that they could use that barrier to their advantage.
Braverman: Kenny [Shamrock] went out of his mind. Kenny went crazy. He stormed into their [Pride administration's] office. I was going, "This can't be good." He was furious. Have you ever seen Kenny mad? It was one of the most terrifying things I've ever seen. He could eat your head if he felt like it. Kenny foaming at the mouth is enough to scare the s--- out of anybody.
Mezger: They came straight to us. They did the whole dog and pony show. They had all the
low-level management guys standing in a row with their heads bowed. They're being yelled at by their guy. They're apologizing and bowing to us for the misunderstanding. They do what Japan always does: They throw money at it.
Braverman: We had a big meeting. We were able to get some concessions out of them, money and guarantees of future fights. They wanted to make it right. One thing I said in the meeting was, "Do you want me to call Kenny back in here and see what he says?" "No, no, no, no!"
Mezger: What we found out later on was that the lower-level Pride guys made this deal, put the contract together with the stipulation, but did not notify -- well, I don't know if they did or not, but that's what the Japanese said -- they did not know that they made that agreement. You never know in Japan. They make the little guys fall on the swords.
Adelstein: This is a classic Japanese strategy of dealing with foreigners when anything goes wrong. "Oh, you don't understand." It's a classic Yakuza technique as well. You blame everything on miscommunication. It wasn't miscommunication.
They probably just didn't anticipate things would go this way, and then they needed to get out of it.
Mezger: Royce's father came up to me after my fight and said, "You got screwed. You won that fight." Here's Helio Gracie walking up to me and telling me I got ripped off.
Adelstein: In cases where there's a Japanese player involved, the confusion is to the advantage of a Japanese person. It's in the best interests of the promoters of these fights. When Japanese people get defeated by a foreigner, the sport's newspapers don't give it as much coverage as when a Japanese person wins. I'm not saying the Japanese are racist. They just identify with other Japanese people.
One celebrity they had trouble identifying with that night was Takada, who was booked against Gracie. For virtually the entire fight, Takada stayed nestled inside Gracie's guard, clinging to his Gi and throwing only one single strike in 15 minutes.
Rand: They picked Takada. I would never have picked him. He came out of their equivalent of the WWE. I didn't like that association with Royce. I didn't want Royce to fight somebody who did that fake pro wrestling stuff. And the guy laid down, man. He laid down.
Rutten: It was the most bizarre thing ever. I had no clue what was going on. Takada is a pro wrestler. He wasn't a fighter. He didn't know how to fight. He went to the Beverly Hills Jiu-Jitsu Club to train for the first fight with Rickson, and white belts were tapping [him out].
Quadros: Kimbo Slice is not known as the greatest or even a top-10 fighter, but the thing is, he will draw fans. So these companies have to think in terms of, "We have to sell tickets, so we're going to put in a Kimbo Slice." Takada was a similar situation.
Royce Gracie: Was I disappointed? No. Good for me that he didn't put up a fight. Maybe he realized he didn't know what to do with me.
Rand: I didn't ask them what happened. I went up to them and said, "Listen, that fight was fixed. That is not ethical. I'm pissed off and the family is pissed off."
They were giving me the no, no, no, and I'm like, "Bulls---." If you've got a brain, you can see that. I was furious, man. Of course they denied it.
Royce Gracie: Sam doesn't know s--- about fighting. This is a guy who never fought before. He's not really a manager. He just managed the Gracie Academy. His opinion is worthless to me. To say Takada threw the fight -- did Ken Shamrock throw the fight in the first UFC because I choked him in less than a minute?
Mezger: Takada's Takada. I know they wanted him to fight Ken when Ken was in the WWE, but they basically wanted him to work a match. Royce is not the least bit scared of that man. I think Takada for the most part was thinking, "How can I get out of this fight without pissing off a guy who can break both of my legs?"
Rand: I was so pissed off about it I canceled all
of Royce's press interviews the next day. I was furious. I thought that just reflected horribly on us. I was a complete (expletive) with the promoters about it afterwards.
Inoue: The Japanese are pretty loyal to their own kind, you know? For them to start booing Takada, you really, really gotta disappoint people.Susumu Nagao