Hidehiko Yoshida's long-awaited fight card for the December 31st PRIDE SHOCKWAVE 2006, to be held at Saitama Super Arena, has finally been announced. Yoshida's opponent on New Year's Eve will be James Thompson. Both fighters attended the press conference to speak about this fight. DSE CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara also made some interesting comments.
A press conference was held in a Tokyo hotel on December 26th, less than one week before the final event of the year, PRIDE SHOCKWAVE 2006, to announce Hidehiko Yoshida's opponent. Dream Stage Entertainment CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara began by expressing his regret for the delayed announcement, "As you know, we won't be on free TV this year and we wanted to announce the card to the fans and let them get excited as soon as possible. We worked on the card with that in mind but, unfortunately, it took us until today to announce the final card."
Sakakibara the explained that secret negotiations with a big star were the reason for the delay, "Please allow me to explain why it took so long to get to this point. Right when we were trying to determine who would be best to match against Yoshida, we received an offer from a famous martial artist, and we've been in negotiations with him until now. Unfortunately, we were not able to reach an agreement." The name of that famous martial artist, Francisco Filho, was also revealed.
"We heard from Francisco Filho that he wants to try mixed martial arts and that he wants to challenge himself in PRIDE, and were in negotiations until now. When we told Yoshida, he wasn't afraid at all and he gave us his approval, saying that he would definitely like to fight Filho. It's been three weeks since that point. I'm sure that even Yoshida, who is a very patient person, was tired of waiting. Although we unfortunately weren't able to make this fight happen on the New Year's Eve card, Filho feels strongly about challenging himself and challenging PRIDE in 2007, and we will do our best to realize a fight between Filho and Yoshida."
The king of judo VS the king of karate. If this fight happens, everyone will be talking about it but it looks like fans will have to wait until 2007 for this match-up. Sakakibara explained that James Thompson stepped in to face Yoshida, "We learned in our negotiations that Yoshida wants to have some kind of important theme in SHOCKWAVE and that he would like to challenge a fighter in a heavier weight class. I'm also grateful to James. Both fighters agreed to the match in a very short period of time and we were able to finalize Yoshida VS Thompson."
With this announcement, all ten fights have been finalized and the fight-order is expected to be announced tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. PRIDE General Director Nobuhiko Takada also spoke about the announcement; "I would like to thank James for approaching the fight with Yoshida in such a positive way. I think this is a great card for both fighters. To Yoshida, though, this is a risky fight considering what everyone is predicting. To James, this is a golden opportunity. If he can find some way, some chance to beat Yoshida, the face of PRIDE, it will be a huge step for him. This is also an important fight for him to show the fans that he belongs in this ring as we enter the next year. This is a fight he can't afford to lose."
Possibly relieved that his fight has finally been confirmed, Yoshida smiled as he greeted the crowd, "This is the first time my fight has ever been confirmed so close to the event, but James and I will both have had the same, short amount of time to prepare. I hope that we will both be able to give a great performance on New Year's Eve and I hope everyone is looking forward to the event."
"Honestly, I thought about not fighting this year and just watching when my opponent wasn't confirmed two weeks ago. Thompson's a hard puncher. You can tell by looking at his heroic battle with Fujita that this will be a tough fight." Yoshida also seems to have dome some preparation for the fight, "Kazu's [Kazuhiro Nakamura] fight was finalized early, so I have been training with him a lot. My motivation was different, though, because my opponent hadn't been confirmed." Yoshida currently weighs more than 100kg. Asked what his strategy would be for a Super Heavyweight fighter, Yoshida replied, "What strategy?! (laughing) The fight has just been confirmed, so I don't have anything like a strategy. We will just do our best, both of us."
Yoshida was optimistic about his delayed fight with Filho; "I leave everything up to PRIDE regarding who I fight, so never hear about someone that hasn't been confirmed. I didn't know until the last minute this time, either. I don't know when this fight will happen but I would definitely like to fight Filho."
"When I received the offer three days ago, I immediately hopped on a plane and came to Japan," Thompson explained. "I've been looking forward to this from the moment I received the offer on the telephone. I will give my best performance on New Year's Eve and ring in a wonderful 2007." Thompson had a hair stylist shave his nickname, "MEGA PUNK", into his hair just before leaving his home country.
"Yoshida is extremely strong on the ground. He's a difficult fighter to knock down. I think we will be able to give the fans an exciting fight." Thompson continued, "I do about half of my training wearing a gi and half without. It won't be a problem if Yoshida wears his gi." Thompson also revealed that he has been learning Brazilian jujitsu from Brazilian Jujitsu World Champion Braulio Estima and had just returned from a long training trip to America, where he trained with Josh Barnett, before he came to Japan.
Asked about his confidence an opponent with a gi, Thompson said, "If I get the chance, I'll use his own gi to throw him and I'm always looking for chokes."
"Will I use the gong & dash against Yoshida? That's a secret," Thompson added. "I actually planned to spend Christmas with my family and ring in the New Year with my girlfriend but I'm always ready to fly here if I have the chance."
Although Thompson was dominating Kazuyuki Fujita in their fight, the fight ended in a loss for Thompson due to his lack of stamina. Thompson has since lost 7 kg and increased his stamina. Will a lighter James Thompson be able to use his new training and overwhelming power and size to knock Hidehiko Yoshida across the ring on New Year's Eve?