A press conference was held on March 8th to announce the first 8 participants in this year's PRIDE GP 2005 Middleweight Grand Prix Opening Round "Total Elimination 2005" to be held on April 23rd in Osaka Dome. Present were Kazushi Sakuraba, Hidehiko Yoshida, Yuki Kondo and Kazuhiro Nakamura.
"There are 4 fighters world-class fighters here representing Japan. It's exciting," PRIDE General Director Nobuhiko Takada said about the atmosphere surrounding the upcoming GP. "I'm confident that these 16 men are going to give us the greatest fights in the world, on the greatest stage in the world, to determined the strongest middleweight in the world. All 16 are top-fighters and anyone can see that any of these matchups could be the main event. We, the promoters and the staff, are excited about putting on the greatest show." (DSE President Nobuyuki Sakakibara was overseas on business and was not present at the conference).
The first 8 of 16 members to participate in the upcoming PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix are:
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
Mauricio "Shogun" Rua
The remaining 8 are expected to include an amateur-wrestling medalist from FILA, and the winner of the "Last One Grand Prix" to be held in BUSHIDO 6 on April 3 in Yokohama Arena. The Grand Prix will be made up of 4 fighters, 1~2 of which will probably be Japanese fighters, with Makoto Takimoto's name being raised as a candidate. According to Takada, there would be 2~3 more Japanese fighters, maximum.
Of course, everyone one is interested in the first round matchmaking. Yoshida VS Silva, Sakuraba VS Kiyoshi Tamura, Nakamura VS Ryan Gracie were all future matchups that seemed to fall into place during PRIDE 29. "These matchups came naturally from the fighters so we are working on them with a positive attitude," commented Takada. "We hope to have the final 8 decided on quickly. We'll announce them before tickets go on sale on March 20th. There may be new faces among them, different from what everyone is imagining."
Regarding the reports of Tamura injuring a finger on his right hand during PRIDE 29, Takada confirmed the injury and commented, "(His participation) depends on his injury. Basically, we are proceeding in the direction of him participating. It has not been decided that he can't fight. We want him to fight. I think the time is right."
Sakuraba, the likely opponent for Tamura, was in a silly mood, as usual, "Hello, I'm Sakuraba but I came here by mistake. Please take my name off the list." Asked about his condition, Sakuraba replied, "My blood pressure is a little low." Asked if there was a Japanese fighter he would like to fight, Sakuraba said, "Yeah, that guy over there", pointing at a camera man. Even when asked directly about a fight with Tamura, Sakuraba just said that he didn't know anything about it.
Following the press conference, surrounded by the press, Sakuraba had a little more to say, "Sometimes injuries in matches happen." However, he became his old self when asked what he would do if Tamura can't participate, "I'll choose someone else that isn't sure if they can fight due to injury or not." Sakuraba still wasn't giving up any secrets, though, "I've got a new training regimen. It's aroma therapy."
Yoshida wasn't when he commented about being challenged by Silva to fight in the first round. "When Silva called me out, the fight wasn't confirmed there and then. Director Takada, who was announcing beside me, told me to "stand up." I didn't know what I should do then. I'll have to think about fighting just because I was challenged."
"Everyone is strong so anyone will be fine, but I'd rather not fight another Japanese," Yoshida continued. "I broke my foot at the end of the year and it has finally healed. I've also got to lose weight so I'm going to pick up the pace."
Kondo, on the other hand, showed more excitement and confidence. "I think it's an honor for me to be able to fight in the Grand Prix with the top fighters in the world. I will do my best to win. I'm concentrating on the Grand Prix even more than usual. I'm excited and it really great condition. Everyone is excited. I want to fight everyone, regardless of whether they are Japanese or foreign."
Asked by reporters after the press conference about whom he would like to fight, Kondo replied, "After seeing their last fights, Vovchanchyn and Shogun. I'd also like to get revenge on Silva and Henderson." Asked about Japanese fighters, he said, "Sakuraba, of course. I'd definitely like to fight Yoshida or Nakamura but Sakuraba is synonymous with PRIDE. This Grand Prix is a huge event and Sakuraba has an incredible record. I would definitely like to go at it with that kind of person."
Kondo also showed his generous side. He said that he would make a donation to his home area in Japan, which was devastated by earthquakes in December of 2004, if he wins the Grand Prix.
Nakamura was also confident about his chances in the Grand Prix. "I'm a new guy here and I know it's rude to say this in front of these experienced fighters but, I'm going to win!" He also said that he would leave for Narita International Airport at 6:15pm, immediately after the press conference, to train in Brazil. "I'm progressing well. I'm going by myself to Brazil today so I hope that will help me build more courage," Nakamura continued. "The Grand Prix 2 years ago has become a big thing for PRIDE so I am very excited." Asked about which Japanese fighter he would like to fight, he came a quick glance to Yoshida sitting next to him and laughed, "Umm, I can't say."
Nakamura didn't stop there. When the announcer asked "who would like to fight Silva in the first round," Nakamura was the only one to raise his hand. Looking closer, however, it was Yoshida that was pushing Nakamura's hand up. Nakamura laughed and said, "he forced me to do it", but his expression said otherwise.
The bar has been raised for this Grand Prix and the top-class quality of the fighters makes it clear that even more can be expected out of this Grand Prix than the one 2 years ago.