A milestone was quietly passed today.
It was eighteen years ago that a crowd, said to be 47,000 strong, packed the Tokyo Dome to enjoy what we now call PRIDE 1.
That historic event, then called KRS-PRIDE, was headlined by the legendary Brazilian jiu-jitsu artist Rickson Gracie, against Japanese pro wrestling hero Nobuhiko Takada.
How big was PRIDE 1? It was far and away the biggest MMA event of its day — and in fact, its attendance still ranks among the sport’s top ten according to MMA history site Tapology.
But to tell the truth, MMA wasn’t even really a sport yet in 1997. We didn’t really use that term yet. We called it no holds barred, vale tudo, extreme fighting, ultimate fighting, or reality combat, or something else. But whatever it was, PRIDE 1 was one of the events that helped put it on the map.
The show brought a uniquely Japanese combination of pro wrestling spectacle and legitimate martial arts talent, which became the PRIDE formula for years to come.
Eighteen years later, does it hold up? Yes, and no. I revisited PRIDE 1 earlier this year as part of a “throwback” series for MMA Nuts. I ended up recommending giving “Choke,” the documentary which followed Rickson Gracie’s preparation for the 1997 Japan Vale Tudo, instead.
It was tough to write that, but unfortunately, watching the event on Fight Pass just doesn’t really capture the history or atmosphere of the day. The fights, of course, are up and down.
“The confusion of this time — which could be fun, watching martial artists walk into something unknown — is the big takeaway,” I wrote back then.
In an MMA world where everything seems to fit a formula, PRIDE 1 was a wild, wild time where no one knew what was coming next. That’s something well worth remembering.