Dream Stage Entertainment held its pre-fight press conference for PRIDE.34 "KAMIKAZE" today, announcing two final changes to the card. DSE and PRIDE President Nobuyuki Sakakibara and PRIDE Executive Director Nobuhiko Takada also spoke about the changes involving PRIDE and new owner Lorenzo Fertitta, which they expect to usher in the dawning of a new era of matches, based on the theme of PRIDE vs. UFC matches.
Much to many fans' dismay, it was announced that former PRIDE Middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva has had to withdraw from fighting on the event, due to being unable to produce sufficient medical documentation for the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Silva was placed on a 45-day medical suspension following his KO loss to Dan Henderson at PRIDE.33 "THE SECOND COMING" in Las Vegas. The NSAC was willing to lift Silva's suspension early to accommodate his plans to fight at PRIDE.34, contingent on proof of an authorized doctor's examination and approval of Silva's neurological status. Silva will now be free to fight as of April 11, just three days after PRIDE.34.
Sakakibara said of the issue: "realizing the importance of taking fighters' safety into consideration and complying with medical suspensions, even if outside of Nevada, Mr. Silva will not compete at tomorrow's event. Mr. Silva never gave up, and tried to prepare and get cleared to fight, but we have a responsibility to Mr. Silva's health and safety, so he has the opportunity in the future to enjoy the same success as he's had up to this point."
But while one familiar PRIDE face bows, another one steps in, as PRIDE veteran fighter Akira Shoji agreed to be a last-minute replacement for Bazagit "Volk" Atajev, who was forced to withdraw from his scheduled fight with Gilbert "The Hurricane" Yvel due to illness. Shoji, who fought to a draw against Renzo Gracie back at PRIDE.1, was one of several Japanese fighters who dedicated their match to Sakakibara:
"I was given this opportunity on short notice, but in fact I had made the request to be on tomorrow's show awhile back. This is also my tenth year with PRIDE; I stood in the ring at PRIDE.1, so it is very important to me that I participate in tomorrow's event."
For many fighters, this is a bittersweet chapter in PRIDE's history, as PRIDE.34 represents a mixture of the old guard and the new blood standing alongside each other on the eve of new ownership. Several Japanese fighters were self-admittedly emotional, lauding Sakakibara's efforts and contributions over the past ten years.
Takada commented, "we often talk about the fighters and the fans as the heroes of MMA, but I want to propose that tomorrow, we will have one more hero - Mr. Nobuyuki Sakakibara, who has made undeniable contributions to the industry of MMA. So tomorrow, let's keep this in mind."
The order of announced matches looks as such:
Yoshihiro "KISS" Nakao (Japan) vs. Edson Drago (Brazil)
Zuluzinho (Brazil) vs. Eric "Butterbean" Esch (USA)
Makoto Takimoto (Japan) vs. Zelg "Benkei" Galesic (Croatia)
Gilbert "The Hurricane" Yvel (Holland) vs. Akira Shoji (Japan)
James Thompson (Great Britain) vs. Don "The Predator" Frye (USA)
Shinya Aoki (Japan) vs. Brian Lo-A-Njoe (Holland)
Ricardo Arona (Brazil) vs. Sokoudjou the African Assassin (Cameroon)
Kazuyuki "Iron Head" Fujita (Japan) vs. Jeff "The Snowman" Monson (USA)
With the final match of the night currently scheduled to be Jeff "The Snowman" Monson vs. Kazuyuki "Iron Head" Fujita, PRIDE.34 is positioned to usher in a new era of "PRIDE vs. UFC" battles. Fujita was quoted as saying "This is the last ride for some of us. I'm very emotional now. We will enter the new era. I'm honored to be chosen to start war with the UFC."
With eight announced matches for PRIDE.34, Sakakibara also stated that he was still working on one to two more "surprise" fights, in appreciation for the ten years of support and dedication PRIDE fans have shown.
"Since this is my last event with the company, I'd like to leave you with something that will stay with you for years to come, so look for a big surprise or two tomorrow."
PRIDE.34: "KAMIKAZE" will be held on April 8, at the Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo. For the first time ever, a Japanese-based PRIDE show will be broadcast live via PPV on DirecTV, DISH Network, and inDEMAND providers. For all other countries, check your local cable / PPV providers for schedule times.