ANAHEIM, Calif. — One of the things that has never made sense about mixed martial arts in its first decade or so of existence has been the passion with which its hard core fans root for a promoter.
Think about that: These fans root passionately for a promoter, not a fighter. Can you imagine a boxing fan rooting for Don King fighters, or for Top Rank fighters?
But the Pride Fighting Championship seemed to spark more passion in some of these self-described hard-core fans than a curvaceous blonde in a bikini.
UFC president Dana White exploded after Saturday's card at the Honda Center, in which one-time Pride superstar Mauricio "Shogun" Rua was manhandled and eventually submitted by Forrest Griffin.
White, of course, was hardly in a good mood given that his close friend, light heavyweight Chuck Liddell, dropped a split decision to Keith Jardine in the main event of UFC 76.
The loss probably killed a planned Liddell-Wanderlei Silva fight that White had hoped to make the main event of UFC 79 in December.
It's at least the fourth time the bout has been scuttled.
White sent Liddell to Japan to fight on a Pride show in 2003 with the intention of matching him with Silva. But before he got to face Silva, Liddell was stopped by Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
In 2006, White brought Silva to Las Vegas and had him come into the ring to hype a fight with Liddell, but Pride officials wouldn't agree to a deal.
Then Silva was beaten by Dan Henderson in February. When Liddell lost Saturday for the second time in a row, he said he's going to contemplate whether to fight again, which doesn't leave much hope for the dream bout.
White launched into a tirade against the Pride fan boys and the Internet sites he said who encourage them to denigrate the UFC.
"I want to say something and everybody knows how I've felt for years about these goofy Internet websites," White said through gritted teeth. "I hate them. They're biased, crooked and there are a lot of other bad things I can say, but I don't want to waste my time.
"They've been biased against us for years. Their reporting was always biased against us. They talk about fights that don't make any sense. Let me tell you what: We're the best in the business. Our matchmaker (Joe Silva) is the best. We put on the best and the biggest fights."
White paid big money to bring both Rua and heavyweight Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic to the UFC from Pride, but all he has to show for his financial layout is one desultory win in four fights.
But many of the best and biggest fights White spoke of come in his 205-pound division, which is stacked with quality.
Jardine repeatedly called Liddell one of the greatest fighters ever and the greatest light heavyweight in UFC history, but he stood toe-to-toe with the vaunted gunslinger and won Liddell's fight.
Jardine was buzzed several times by Liddell in the first round, but Liddell was never able to deliver the crushing blow that brought down the likes of Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz and Babalu Sobral.
Jardine repeatedly kicked Liddell in the ribs, a tactic which made it difficult for Liddell to set his feet and throw his punches.
Even though Jardine was wobbled several times in the first, he said he saw openings and realized he could hang and pull off the upset.
"I was pretty confident going into the second round of that fight," said Jardine, who was coming off a 48-second loss to Houston Alexander at UFC 71 in May.
If Rua was ever confident, he didn't show it outwardly. He was tentative and cautious against Griffin, who fought with his typical reckless abandon.
He methodically wore Rua down and submitted him with a choke with 15 seconds left in the fight.
Rua came in with a big reputation and was ranked No. 2 in the Yahoo! Sports Top 10 poll of the best fighters in the sport. Many other sites had him ranked at least as high. But he had few answers for Griffin.
White had the answer – which he's long had – which is to make the best fights. For years, he was unable to do that as the former owners of the Pride Fighting Championship were unwilling to pit their best against the UFC's best.
They built this mystical belief in their company among a small cadre of passionate and loud fans.
It's never made sense, because a good fight is a good fight, whether it's promoted by Pride, the UFC or the Triple-A leagues like Elite XC and Bodog Fight.
When Zuffa, the UFC's parent company, bought Pride in the spring, White gloated because he said he'd be able to make the fights he's never been able to make.
And those fights are going to be the way to identify the best fighters in the world.
He's going to match No. 1 vs. No. 2 in division after division on card after card. And after a year or two of those types of cards, the best fighters will be obvious.
Perhaps then, these silly Pride vs. UFC arguments can end.
Believe me, it's long overdue.
- Chuck Liddell
- Dana White
- Keith Jardine
- Pride Fighting Championship