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.
Filling its promise as a loss-leader, the Pride Grand Prix elevated Dream Stage's presence as a sports entertainment destination. Fighters began getting commercial endorsements and subsequent events were finding new sources of income. Pride 12 sold $140,000 worth of event programs alone. In December 2000, Pride also began a "Pre-Pride" reality show on television that scouted amateur fighters five years before Spike's "Ultimate Fighter" was realized. UFC middleweight Yushin Okami was a graduate of the show.
Sakuraba: Right after the fight I went to be medically examined. Then the doctor said, "You were hit too much in the head, so please refrain from alcohol today." The only thing I was allowed to do was go home and sleep. So I went home with my family and did that. But when I was trying to sleep, I had Vovchanchyn's entrance song stuck in my head and tossed and turned.
Coleman: It's a non-stop eating session. You do a lot of eating after a fight. There were probably a few beers consumed. I don't think I slept for
two or three days. You don't need to.
Shoji: I felt like I trained harder than anyone -- and then I lost. But then Mark Coleman won. I grabbed his tail. I came close to the strongest fighter in the world at that time, and there's satisfaction in that. It still motivates me.
Hyams: There was that moment where Coleman came into the locker room before his final fight. He came in there and they [Coleman and Kerr] have a few words. Kerr says something about Fujita not going to the next round. Coleman nodded and Kerr said, "It's yours to win." That was a very cathartic moment for both of them. I think they realized these two guys who were friends and were forced into a situation where their friendship was being put to the test in a way that most of our friendships aren't really tested, and somehow were able to come out of it with the friendship intact.
Sakuraba: After the Royce fight, interest in me shot way up. Not just reports in magazines, but offers to appear on TV shows and in TV commercials. [Sakuraba appeared in a commercial for Tokuhon V Dash, a painkiller.]
Coleman: I did a couple of commercials over in Japan. I took a lot of s--- about the Dole banana commercial. Did I know what I was going to do when I got there? No. Hell no. I knew it was some kind of Dole banana commercial and that was it. But it was a blast doing it and my mom and dad got a first-class trip to Japan out of the deal.
Quadros: At the time, if people recall, [Tokyo-based kickboxing promotion] K-1 was the biggest martial art fight promotion in the world. It was bigger than the UFC and bigger than Pride. Pride was second, but the Grand Prix was the beginning of coming up and facing off with K-1.
Adelstein: They weren't under organized crime control in 2000, but they knew who they were dealing with and were very careful to pay tribute to the right people. You make any compromises, you give them an inch and they'll take a mile. As soon as it becomes apparent you can make money, then they won't go away.
While Sakuraba and Fujita had elevated themselves in losses, Gracie's mystique as the invincible pioneer of modern, no-holds-barred fighting had finally come to an end.
Burke: The bottom line is, a million people have careers due to the Gracie family. That's just a fact. The people who gave him s--- and talked s---, family or non-family, they're doing what they're doing becauseSherdog
Rorion created an event and Royce walked through the doors and proved [the effectiveness of] jiu-jitsu and opened people's eyes. Freestyle wrestling didn't have Kimura locks and rear-naked chokes. No matter how you slice it, everyone has to learn what the Gracies do.
Rand: Sakuraba came into our locker room after the fight to shake Royce's hand. I went up to him and I said, "Why did you disrespect Royce in the ring?" His manager got really pissed off at me. I said, "Watch the fight. You were disrespecting him the whole time." He came in with that goofy-a-- mask, he played to the audience a couple times to make the audience laugh. I thought that was disrespectful.
Burke: It was disheartening. Everyone looked to [Royce] as this invincible fighter. It was sad. He was in a medical boot and Royce was always such a positive, upbeat guy. People were bummed out. But once he was cleared, he was on the mat training. He didn't skip a beat. He said, "Hey, I lost." He never made an excuse.
Quadros: Royce and I were on the same flight
back to Los Angeles. When Royce arrived, because of the swelling he'd experience when you go up 30,000 feet, they had a wheelchair there for him to cart him through luggage and things. He wasn't walking.
Rorion Gracie: After Sakuraba's fight, the [Pride organizers] came back. Sometimes they talk with me for a half-hour or hour and go back to Japan the next day. They talked about a rematch with Sakuraba. They offered me a certain amount of money that I didn't think was appropriate. The argument was, "Listen, Royce lost to Sakuraba. So now his value is less." To think that because Royce lost to Sakuraba has jeopardized or weakened the Gracie image doesn't sit.
Rand: Did [Gracie's loss] have some impact on the business? I would say moderate. Not big. Jiu-jitsu is either a casual sport or a lifestyle. For most of our students, it was a lifestyle. Did our business get hurt a little? Yeah. But our core business remained intact.
Coleman: These guys offered the same amount of money I made before the Grand Prix. They might've come up a little bit, but I just wasn't going to do it. When you win the Grand Prix and get the same offer, it didn't make any sense to me at all. I wasn't being
greedy. I'll get used, but I ain't getting used that bad.
Hyams: We adapted the documentary into a screenplay for a producer and they ended up going off and deciding to do it as a Van Damme thing. That ended up falling apart but now they actually want to try and go down the road with it again with me as the director. It would not be done as a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie.
Coleman: Me and Kerr actually got paid by the producers of the movie. They rewrote it. It was all set to go and start filming. When they wrote the script, they made me the main character. That was going to be neat. I saw the script. Jean-Claude Van Damme was going to play me. I wasn't all that thrilled about that, but oh well.
Kerr: John didn't let me see one ounce of footage until it was totally done. I remember sitting in the Dolby sound studios in California. We had a whole theater to ourselves and watched the movie. They said, "What do you think?" I said, "I gotta get back with you on this." It was my whole life laid open for everyone
to see. I didn't know how I'd be perceived. But it is what it is and it's nothing I'm ashamed of.
Hyams: The UFC did not want us to release the documentary. It's rare for an athlete to discuss substance issues. It was very courageous on his part.
Coleman: I started doing appearances at smaller shows and would take the belt with me. People got a kick out of it. It's got some fake rubies in there, this and that. A couple kids would maybe drop it a little bit. The belt came back all scratched up one time and one of the rubies was chipped. When I went back to Japan for a show, the Japanese looked at it and they freaked out. They wondered what the hell happened, what I did to it. To me, it was only a couple of little scratches. "What do you mean? It's fine. It's my belt, anyway!" They asked me if they could keep it and refurbish it. I didn't get it back for two or three years.
Kerr: I was burned out. The only way to get money was to start challenging the better fighters, and I just wasn't willing to do the training necessary. I didn't feel like I had the ability to focus. If you get hit, you want to hit somebody back. If you don't have that, you should do something else. And that's the point I got
to. I didn't feel like fighting back.
Sakuraba: In the morning I saw a news article where Vovchanchyn said, "Sakuraba is light so it was a matter of course that I would win." This really p---ed me off. I was punched, disallowed from drinking beer, wrestled with a theme song all night... I said to myself, "S---! I want to choke him out!"
Coleman: I still owe Pat [Miletich]. I'm definitely going to get that taken care of one of these days. At the time, there weren't many trainers getting paid. I don't owe nobody s---, except for maybe him. Someday I'll write him a check and he won't be expecting it and it'll be a good day.
Special thanks to Katie Kitamura, Gino Mongelli, and Nakabayashi Yosuke for foreign-language assistance. Sakuraba's quotes courtesy Boku and Kaette Kita Boku (Toho Publishing). For comments, email the author at email@example.com.