SILVA REPLACES FEDOR EMELIANENKO IN OWGP
05/19/2006

A press conference was held on May 18th at the Dream Stage Entertainment office in Tokyo where CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara made an announcement concerning the PRIDE Open Weight Grand Prix 2006 2nd Round, to be held on July 1st at Saitama Super Arena.

Even the toughest fighter in the world couldn't beat his own injury. Fedor Emelianenko missed the Opening Round of the Open Weight Grand Prix due to his injured right hand but was to be seeded into the 2nd Round. However, it was announced that his hand hasn't healed as quickly as expected and on doctor's orders, Emelianenko will not participate in the Open Weight Grand Prix.
Dream Stage Entertainment CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara explained the change. "I spoke with Fedor right after the Opening Round. He felt very strongly that he wanted to fight because of the expectations he felt (from the fans) at the event, his brother Alexander's loss and the challenge from Josh after beating his brother. Fedor told me to look forward to his fight in July. However, when he returned to Russia and had his hand reexamined, they realized that it would be difficult to remove the plate that has been inserted into his hand as a splint, and that the surgery to remove the plate would be in the beginning of June, at the earliest. The wound would then have to be stitched. There's just not enough time for him to restart his training in time for the 2nd Round. Even so, Fedor himself said he would be ready but if he competed in the 2nd Round, despite his injury, and then became unable to compete in the Final Round, we would take a big hit and it would be a big disappointment for the fans. It's heart breaking but after hearing the opinions of the doctors, the decision was made to give him enough time to let his injury heal.
We discussed this decision with Fedor's team and his schedule has been changed so that he will miss the 2nd Round and the Final Round. Fedor will then fight in a single match in an event some time after September, and then fight the Open Weight Grand Prix Champion on New Year's Eve. I think that his return match could be held at the Final Round event in September or even the main event at the PRIDE event in America we have planned for late-October."
Emelianenko's absence will come as a hard blow to the fans. However, it was the face of PRIDE, Wanderlei Silva, who saved the day. DSE was negotiating with Silva, the Middleweight Champion, about a title defense within the year and a single Middleweight fight in July, in addition to his participation in the Open Weight Grand Prix Opening Round event. However, Emelianenko's withdrawal from the Grand Prix changed the situation. DSE offered Silva a spot on the Open Weight Grand Prix 2nd Round card, as a member of the tournament, rather than a single fight, and Silva accepted. Silva sent a message regarding his participation in the Open Weight Grand Prix, "I always wanted to fight in the Open Weight Grand Prix. I will fight anyone. My opponent will come at me and I will go for them, of course. I want to have a battle of will power. I think that is what PRIDE fighting is all about. It doesn't matter if it's the Heavyweight Division or the Middleweight Division. I will fight for all the fans that cheer me on."
Recent times have been turbulent with Sakuraba's departure and news of Silva attending another organization's event, and Sakakibara spoke of his happiness and gratitude for Silva's Grand Prix participation, "He really is a life saver. I am truly happy about this."
Sakakibara continued, "In America, the UFC has rapidly expanded the scale of their events and a new organization called the WFA announced entering the market. While it's not really stealing', the problem of fighters changing organizations is going to come up. In fact, Quinton Jackson will fight in the WFA. The WFA offered him a large amount of fight money, an amount that we wouldn't offer him with respect to his potential. We didn't match that offer. I think Jackson would still be with PRIDE if he hadn't received that offer and Wanderlei has also received large offers from many different organizations. However, I received some heart-warming words from Chute Boxe's leader, Fujimar. He told me that, to Chute Boxe, PRIDE is their family. They have grown alongside PRIDE and they're not going to leave PRIDE. Rather than leave PRIDE, Wanderlei has decided to compete in the Open Weight Grand Prix as the Middleweight Champion."
The Open Weight Grand Prix 2nd Round will now include Silva, Yoshida, Nogueira, Filipovic, Fujita, Barnett, Hunt and Werdum. Before the announcement of Fedor's non-participation, the top 6 matchups most wanted by fans according to voting on the Japanese PRIDE site were as follows:

1st Place: Hidehiko Yoshida VS Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic
2nd Place: Josh Barnett VS Fedor Emelianenko
3rd Place: Josh Barnett VS Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
4th Place: Kazuyuki Fujita VS Mark Hunt
5th Place: Mark Hunt VS Fedor Emelianenko
6th Place: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira VS Fabricio Werdum

Now that Silva's participation has been confirmed, the Japanese PRIDE site has decided to re-open voting until 12:00 on May 22nd. "We know the questionnaires we received at the event are important. We want to collect new questionnaires and use them as well when we decide on the final matchmaking," Sakakibara said. "I'd like to see a fight between Wanderlei and Mirko under PRIDE rules, and I'd like to see a rematch between Wanderlei and Yoshida. Since it's an Open Weight event, a fight with Fujita would be interesting, too. Looking at the data collected, Nogueira VS Fedor was in last place and Fedor VS Mirko was just one place above that. The fewest votes for a Fujita fight were for Fujita VS Yoshida, but we have seen good numbers for Fujita VS Werdum. In short, most opinions have been the fans want to see something new, rather than seeing matchups that have taken place before. Rather than see Japanese VS Japanese fights, the fans believe that the two world-class Japanese fighters can beat other top-fighters. They want to see them fight foreign fighters." Sakakibara continued, commenting on the 1st place dream match-up of Yoshida VS Mirko, which received twice as many votes as the 2nd place match-up. "It'll be difficult to put this card together (laughing) but I think both fighters will understand and accept the opinions of the fans."

Comments from Fedor Emelianenko
To my fans, I'm very sorry that I will not be able to compete in this year's Grand Prix.
I really want to compete but the doctors decided that I should not. I feel very sorry for this and would like to apologize to all of the fans that were looking forward to my fight. My hand is getting better but I need to have one more operation. There is a plate in my right hand at the moment but I've already had the stitches removed and I'm doing a little bit of rehabilitation.
I promise that I will heal my hand and return to the PRIDE ring by this autumn. Then, I want to fight the Open Weight Grand Prix Champion.

Fedor Emelianenko
PRIDE Heavyweight Champion

● Regarding the event in America
Sakakibara also commented on PRIDE's American debut, which looks to become a reality this year. Although it's hasn't been officially confirmed, the PRIDE American event is planned to be held in the latter half of October. "The UFC is rapidly growing as a business, and we would like to enter that market. Of course, we are in contact with the UFC's Dana White and we do not want to create any wild upsets in the industry. We want to hold our event in another country while also maintain respect for rules and morals. Additionally, we have no intentions of holding an event designed for Japan in America. We want to have an American event that is designed for the American market. We want to challenge the UFC but we also hope to be helped by the UFC."
Sakakibara also completely denied the rumors that DSE might have been involved in Bob Sapp's non-participation in another organization's event. "I've spoken with Mr. Tanigawa [President of K-1] about this already. We do not make offers and try to steal fighters that are still under contract. Anyway, we would never even be able to come up with a scheme where a fighter would attend the opening ceremony and then get him to flee right before his fight. (laughing) I think the fact that those rumors even started in the first place is fundamentally wrong."