A press conference was held in Tokyo on March 24th to announce 8 of 16 participants in the April 25th PRIDE FC Total Elimination 2004 (A.K.A GP 2004 Opening Round in Japan), to be held at Saitama Super Arena. It looks like the other 8 fighters will be announced next week and PRIDE's General Director, Nobuhiko Takada, laid down a challenge for Japanese fighters.

Announced were the current Heavyweight Champion, Emelianenko Fedor, Interim Heavyweight Champion, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mirko Filipovic and winners of their survival matches, Heath Herring and Igor Vovchanchyn. Also announced were three men who would fight in PRIDE for the first time, Stefan Leko, Sylvester "The Predator" Terkay and Sentoryu, for a total of 8 fighters.

A lot of attention is being given to Leko, who will make his MMA debut. He's well known as one of the top fighters in K-1, on par with Mirko. General Director Takada said he has high expectations for Leko, "He, along with Mirko, has a very high skill level and physical ability that he can use in MMA. I think there's a big possibility for him to shine, even in MMA. It was his strong desire to fight in the Heavyweight GP that led use to our decision to put him in."

Leko also appeared confident in his abilities. "I'm very happy that I can make my debut in the Grand Prix. However, I think fighting is the same in all fields. I'm training on the ground, too. I will be in my best condition and I'm going to win."

Similarly, Sentoryu said that his training, in preparation for his debut fight, is on schedule. "I want to do my best in PRIDE as a sumo representative. There are a lot of strong fighters here but I've got PRIDE in my own sumo and I will give a good fight." Takada was also supportive of Sentoryu, pointing out his toughness, his motivation as a sumo representative and that Sentoryu has been actively training, without a break, since he retired from sumo.

From the pro-wrestling world will be Sylvester "The Predator" Terkay. Terkay won national-level titles in amateur wrestling. "He's got a lot of potential." Takada evaluated Terkay, "I think he's a fighter we can expect things from. I hope he'll really go wild in the GP."

And then there were 3. "Everyone here is strong and I think there will be a lot of great fights." Nogueira commented with confidence, "But I will be the one left standing in August. I'll be in top-shape and hope to give a great show." Fedor, with Champion confidence, showed the importance of the GP. "PRIDE is where the world's top fighters do battle. I think the GP is to decide the best of those fighters. Let's test our skills against each other." Mirko wasn't able to attend the press conference but did send the following message:

"I'm sorry that I cannot be at the press conference. This week I have business at the parliament so I must remain in Croatia and deal with issues involving this country. It's a very busy schedule but I'm training hard and will be in my best shape for the GP. You can count on a great performance on April 25 th at the Saitama Super Arena. I wish the best of luck to all of the fighters participating in this great event. I believe that it is up to us to make PRIDE the best event in the world, to raise the world's evaluation and popularity of PRIDE to the next level and show that we are proud to be a part of PRIDE."

As Takada said, "The GP will revolve around these 3 fighters." Where will they be in the lineup and who will come out the winner? Who will give them the most trouble and will there be someone who can stand up and take down the 3 strong men. These questions will be the theme for this Grand Prix.

A likely candidate to take down the 3 is Heath Herring. Herring has fought each of them and is looking for revenge, "There hasn't been much time since my last fight but I will do my best. I've lost to each of these 3 fighters but I'll fight any of them at any time in the GP. I feel really strongly this time that I do not want to lose to these 3. I think this is a good opportunity to show my strength."

"We will put together the best 16 fighters in the world, to represent a variety of martial arts." DSE President, Nobuyuki Sakakibara, explained, "There are many martial arts but we want to put on a card that will really make the fans think that PRIDE is number one."

A question on a lot of people's minds at this point is, what about the Japanese fighters? Asked which Japanese fighter they would like to face, Nogueira, Fedor and Leko responded with Hidehiko Yoshida. Fedor, Leko and Herring said they would like for Kazuyuki Fujita to fight and Nogueira said that he would like to see Kiyoshi Tamura.

According to Sakakibara, a list of 10 fighters has been created as candidates for the remaining 8 spots. However, according to Takada, "If we have Japanese fighters that raise their hands, it's not impossible for them to be among the final 8. This is a chance to gain the world, if you can make it to the top. I want to wait another week for fighters, even just 1 or 2, that will put up great fights against the top fighters in the world. I'm waiting on top fighters and top wrestlers to raise their hands." Hearing this, Sakakibara added, "Since there were 3 (Japanese fighters) in the Middleweight GP, I would like to have at least 3 this time."




PRIDE Fighting Championships : There'll be a lot of attention on a Fedor-Nogueira rematch.
Nogueira : I think everyone is looking forward to this. To be honest, I wasn't at 100% the last time and it was an unfortunate ending. This time, though, I will be able to give a great fight, physically and technically. There's a possibility of a rematch with Mirko as well so I hope everyone will look forward to that, too.
Fedor : There was an extremely tense feeling around the last fight we had. It was like moving chess pieces around. I want the next fight to be even more exciting.
PRIDE : Is there any pressure because you are the Champion?
Fedor : Of course. I feel pressure because I'm the Champion. The other 15 guys want to be the Champion, right? More than that, I feel a great responsibility as the representative of Russia .
PRIDE : Leko, what do you think of these top 3 fighters and who would you like to fight?
Leko : I respect all 3 of them but I'm here to fight. I know it will be difficult but I will give it my all and do my best. It's a different genre but I've been training for 15 years and even now am training on the ground. I'm confident.
PRIDE : Fedor, you've been away with broken bones and a change in management. What do you think about returning to PRIDE?
Fedor : What I would like to say first is that my heart has never been away from PRIDE. I'm always with PRIDE. And, as long as there are fans that want to see me fight, I will participate in PRIDE. There's no need to worry about my injuries but I will be careful.