For fans who go back to MMA’s so-called Dark Ages, Pride FC was a life raft in which to keep the spirit of the sport afloat. Pride was doing big shows in Japan for a decade, creating myths, turning regional figures into folklores, importing the biggest names from around the globe to its stages and exacerbating the spectator experience. Pride was pyrotechnics and million-watt bombast. It was anticipation and Lenne Hardt’s blood-curdling shrieks. There was Wanderlei Silva and Fedor Emelianenko and Cro Cop and Sakuraba, soccer kicks and brutality, the quiet awe of the Japanese fan base.
At its peak, Pride felt like it would go on forever. And yet, as of this Saturday it will have been 10 years since the final Pride show, which took place on April 8, 2007. For the 10 years that Pride flourished, we are now equidistant to its demise.
Still, to this day, the promotion lives on with a kind of cult status. To what extent were there scripts, drugs, and organized crime ties? Who knows, it all goes into the promotion’s rock & roll lore — but in the pre-Zuffa days of the UFC it’s undeniable that Pride did its part in ushering MMA into the 21st century. And because it is remembered so fondly, for all its quirks and nuttiness and overblown production, Pride’s founder Nobuyuki Sakakibara — the man who dreamed up the theatrical productions back when MMA was largely illegal in the United States — says it’s bittersweet to look back on.