MAR 1- This was the first event of this year and we were unsure about what kind of start we would get off to and how the fans would evaluate it. Additionally, the Grand Prix series will start again and the number of events in the number series is decreasing. Amid that, this event was between the New Year's Eve event and the Grand Prix, so we felt some anxiety going into this event.
Each fight had its own theme and there were feelings and drama in each of them. Overall, I think the event was a condensed version of the charm of martial arts, PRIDE and PRIDE's view of the world. People say that an event is defined by its main event, and today's bout between Nishijima and Hunt was the best. It was a battle worthy of closing out an event and I want to express my respect for both fighters. In my mind, I think Nishijima, whose unbreakable spirit I admired, and Hunt, who could have won in other ways but chose to respect Nishijima's wishes and slug it out, were the MVPs. Before the fight, Nishijima was the underdog and I never thought that he would take it that far. I got the impression that he is a man that has walked away from his previous life to find true strength in PRIDE. A man that's on the edge and feels that it's all over if he starts backing up. If martial arts require heart, skill and body, I think Nishijima's heart is of Grand Prix Champion class. He has a big heart and I wouldn't mind if he's in the Grand Prix. He has enough skill to stand up in a striking war with a 40kg heavier Hunt. He still has a lot to learn but personally, I would like to recommend him for the Grand Prix. Nishijima really made me want to see him fight again as soon as possible. If he's in good health, I hope to have him fight in May.
Pride Fighting Championships: How did Nishijima look after the fight?
Sakakibara: There was talk that the referee or the doctor might stop it after the 2nd round. Nishijima felt strongly that he wanted to continue until the end and they allowed him to continue. I think some people will feel that the fight was stopped late but with all the twists-and-turns today, we wanted to allow him to fight until the end, as he wished, and watching from ringside, I personally felt that the feeling in the arena was that Nishijima might be able to turn it around. I haven't spoken to him after the fight but the people close to him have said that he battled through the 1st round and that was the first time for him to fight for 10 minutes straight. They also said that he was able to fight with a Grand Prix-class fighter and he learned a lot, grew a lot and experienced many things for the first time in this fight. He doesn't have any serious injuries so after having him go through comprehensive medical checks today, I would like him to fight in May if he is prepared.
Sakakibara: It's complicated. We continually offered Tamura a fight with Sakuraba but he always refused. We felt that a match with Sakuraba on New Year's Eve would have been amazing and the fans would have understood their appeal. He didn't accept that and so he fought Nogueira in February. Tamura wrote a book called "Choosing Aloofness" and I guess I'll have to read that to learn about him. (laughing) I think Tamura wanted to show everyone something by fighting in this fight but whatever it is, it's still a mystery.
Sakakibara: I don't think anyone wants to see a rematch. He may feel strongly about that personally but we can't put that card together. The fans don't want the Tamura we saw today to fight Nogueira and we're not going to be a part of it. If he wants to fight Nogueira, he should fight in the Welterweight Grand Prix that we might hold this year. If he wins that, and creates a winning record, then he can ask us.
Pride: What did you think about the two upset matches?
Sakakibara: There's Alistair. There's Coleman who won by old-man power. Then there's Fedor and Mirko, and Yoshida from the Japanese side. And Kosaka was sincerely motivated today. I want make their desires come true but in that sense, it's difficult to narrow it down to just 16 fighters. I definitely want to give Kosaka a ticket to the GP. Of course, I will listen to what the fans say but I believe that he was able to communicate his feelings to the fans, particularly considering that his retirement was on the line. I believe that the fans watching on television also understood this and, as Yoshida explained on the Japanese broadcast, today was the day scheduled for delivery of Kosaka's first baby. He accepted the fight offer on the day he received it and you could feel his emotion as he put what's left of his martial arts career on the line in this match. He didn't focus on the takedown. He kept it standing and finished the match with a single punch. I believe the match was decided by the intensity of his feelings. I want to give him an opportunity to provide a good example for the younger fighters.
Pride: Will there be anyone in the Open Weight Grand Prix from the Light and Welterweight Divisions?
Sakakibara: I'd like to have Gomi and Dan Henderson. Minowa has never really cared about weight classes and I could go on naming fighters all night. Actually, the there will be many fighters from the Middle and Heavyweight Divisions and if there are requests from the Light and Welterweight Divisions, I'd like to help them out. I don't think Quinton wants to be in the Open Weight class. Everyone has their own particular beliefs though, and some fighters are frightened by the words "Open Weight." I want to respect those beliefs and listen to the fans when deciding the 16 fighters.
Pride: Silva came into the ring during the Shogun/Coleman fight and there was some scuffling. Will there be any penalty for Silva?
Sakakibara: In terms of timing, we had actually just spoken very strictly about this kind of behavior in the rule meeting. No one except the corner man has any rights regarding the fight, even if it's a teammate that is fighting. Silva is the Champion and running right into the ring cannot be dismissed. I will give him a stern warning. I understand how he felt but we cannot simply forgive this. After everyone calms down, we will talk in depth with both Coleman's side and Chute Boxe's side and make sure this kind of thing never happens again.