A press conference was held at Dream Stage Entertainment's Tokyo office on April 7th to announce PRIDE BUSHIDO 11 and the PRIDE Welterweight Grand Prix 2006 Opening Round, both of which will be held at Saitama Super Arena on June 4th.

The opening of a Welterweight Grand Prix, the jewel of PRIDE BUSHIDO, in 2006 has been confirmed. The 2006 Welterweight division is expected to be even more exciting than last year's. The division is led by Grand Prix Champion Dan Henderson, Grand Prix runner-up Murilo Bustamante, the Japanese-killer Phil Baroni and Paulo Filho, who has dropped down a weight class and posses overwhelming strength. Along with an improved class of fighter, this year's tournament will consist of 16 fighters, twice the number of the previous year's. "No one is going to have an easy road to the Final Round," Dream Stage Entertainment CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara said. "This will be a tournament of evenly matched fights. The participants will be varied and some fighters are already preparing for the tournament, including some new faces. This will be a tournament to decide the best fighter in the world, and it will be packed with fighters recognized throughout the world."



The first Japanese fighters to be confirmed for this brutal tournament are Akihiro Gono, Makoto Takimoto and Ryo Chonan. Takimoto will fight under the 83kg limit for the first time in this tournament. He explained his reasons for fighting in the Grand Prix, "I always competed without regard to weight until now. However, I received this chance right when I was thinking about where I should set my sights next and so I decided to enter the Grand Prix." Takimoto continued, "No matter who I have to fight, none of the other fighters are weaker than me."

"I failed horribly in last year's Grand Prix," Chonan commented. "Despite that, I received another offer to be in the Grand Prix. Although I still have some things I need to work on, there are still people have hopes for me like this, so I want to respond to their hopes and beat everyone." Chonan also talked about his trip to train with Dan Henderson for intensive training in the US after losing in the Grand Prix last year, "Henderson and I beat each other much harder than what you've seen in matches. We traded punches. I took punches from Henderson and I gave them right back." Asked about a possible match-up with Dan Henderson in the Grand Prix, Chonan responded, "I'm aiming for the top. If Dan Henderson is the top, then that's where I will aim." Chonan continued, "After watching the last BUSHIDO, I think that I'd like to fight Paulo Filho. I don't know if we will meet up in the Opening Round or not but I would like to fight him eventually."

Akihiro Gono had big words at the conference, taking shots at his compatriots, "This tournament will clearly be more difficult than last year's. Last year, there were a lot of Japanese fighters and I couldn't say proudly that it was really a tournament to decide the best in the world. I don't think there will be so many Japanese fighters this year and I think it's an honor that I am able to compete. I was in the best-4 in last year's tournament which means that I can compete this year, so I don't want to hear any Japanese fighters asking why I'm the one that gets to fight." Sakakibara followed this, talking about the Japanese participants, "I don't know how many there will be but we are considering several more, in addition to these three." PRIDE Press Relations Director Shigeru Saeki added, "There won't be anyone that Gono would be surprised at! There will be another two or three. Four at the max." Gono then said, "All of the opponents will be tough but I would like to fight Takimoto in the Opening Round. If Kazuo (Misaki) competes, I will probably be in a different block, so I would like to fight Kazuo in the Final Round. In the Opening Round though, I want to fight Takimoto." Asked about why he would ask for Takimoto with Takimoto sitting right beside him, Gono replied, "Ask me after the conference."

As all three fighters said, this will definitely be a difficult tournament and the odds of a Japanese fighter winning the Championship title are slim. "The level of Japanese fighters is rising and they've improved enough, including their techniques, that they are competitive throughout the world. I hope that a Japanese fighter will somehow be able to become Champion," Sakakibara said of his hopes for this Grand Prix. Saeki also added his hopes that a Japanese fighter might conquer the world, "All of the attention was on the Lightweight Division last year and some (Japanese) fighters had disappointing experiences in the last tournament. Any fighter you talk to will strongly tell you that they want to win the Championship. I think (a Japanese fighter) might just be able to do it this year."
"It's been less than a week since the fight and I want to give Gomi some time before we talk to him about fighting again, including revenge against Aurelio," Sakakibara said about Takanori Gomi's first loss in PRIDE at the last BUSHIDO event. "If he's motivated and wants to fight in June, I will consider it but right now I would like to give him time before we discuss it."