More loosely regulated than Ultimate Fighting Championship, even showier than the WWE, Pride Fighting Championship is a mixed martial arts phenomenon sweeping the world. Operating under the rules of "ValeTudo"--or anything goes--the contest welcomes international masters of all fighting disciplines, including judo, karate, wrestling and any exotic variant thereof.
With UFC showing its age and the WWE bleeding viewers and losing key wrestlers (the Rock is focusing on his acting career, and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin has apparently left the circuit), the Japan-based Pride is poised to make a splash in the U.S.
"Pride is the premier combat sports organization now," says Renzo Gracie, black belt in jujitsu and world-class combatant. "They bring the biggest crowds...some shows have over 52,000 people. Fights are so beautifully orchestrated, they make WWE, UFC and anything like that look like a beginner's project."
The five-year-old league plans a Stateside invasion this September, as soon as authorities sanction its activities. Likely venues include Hawaii and Las Vegas.
For now, however, American audiences have to content themselves with videos of the previous competitions and a pay-per-view offering of the most recent contest: Demolition. The eight-bout card, headlined by American Don Frye vs. Japan's Yoshihiro Takayama will be available this Sunday at 9 p.m. ET/ 6 p.m. PT.
Although excessively brutal at face value, this is a sport of scholars, not street thugs, or so the thickly muscled combatants tell us. These beefcakes must be familiar with multiple techniques, and once engaged, the conflict can become downright scientific, as something simple as stamina level, body position or an exposed joint can turn the tide of battle.
Think Jean-Claude Van Damme's Bloodsport with brains.
"People don't understand," bemoans Gracie, whose family helped pioneer both Pride and the better known Ultimate Fighting Championship. "They see us only as bruisers. We're actually thinkers. This is an art. We study this so much, play with people's leverage, balance, momentum. It's unbelievable. Martial arts is always evolving. There are always new things to learn and add. It's an infinite source of knowledge."
That, and hospital bills if you don't know what you're doing. In other words, do not try this at home--entrants typically boast a minimum of five years' prior experience before stepping in the ring. And then there's the small matter of training, which requires upwards of seven hours a day, six days a week of weightlifting, combat practice and muscle development.
Oddly though, serious injuries are few and far between. Most wounds are simple cuts and bruises, to which men in such peak physical condition are all but oblivious. All that blood you see? Flesh wounds. Even something as major as a broken arm only sideline superstars for three-four weeks.
"I've been around fighting my whole life," laughs Gracie. "If you look at me...the only scar I have is from riding a bicycle. You'd be better fighting than riding a bike in the street."
Well, assuming you comprehend the in-ring dynamic and can bench 350. Explains Gracie, "Once you understand the sport, it makes the Russian ballet look uncoordinated. When you can see what's really going on when two good grapplers are going at it, it's a beautiful thing."