Denis Kang’s mildly surprising submission defeat against Alan Belcher during last night’s UFC 93 telecast will go down as yet another disappointing UFC debut by former a PRIDE star.
Many of PRIDE’s once mighty stars have now migrated to the UFC, and with few exceptions all have provided their share of disappointing moments.
When the UFC “stole” Mirko Cro Cop from PRIDE in late-2006, many pundits believed that the promotion had executed one of the biggest coups in the sport’s young history. However, the end result was nothing more than one of the sports biggest busts.
The Croatian striking specialist made his UFC debut at UFC 67 in February 2007 against a hand-picked opponent in Eddie Sanchez. The matchup was put together as a showcase for Cro Cop to demonstrate to American fight fans the same lethal left high kick that made him a star in Japan.
It’s almost two years later and UFC owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta and UFC President Dana White are still waiting for that coffin kick. The disappointment created by Cro Cop’s TKO of Sanchez via punches instead of the infamous high kick pales in comparison to the upset defeats he’d go on to suffer against Gabriel Gonzaga and Cheick Kongo.
The theory of a PRIDE curse began to gain traction even before Cro Cop’s formal arrival. At the time, Heath Herring’s unanimous decision to Jake O’Brien at UFC Fight Night 8 seemed like an aberration at the time. Little did we know that it would become a trend.
At UFC 73, Herring stepped up and gave former PRIDE heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira a run for his money. Then, Marcus Aurelio lost his Octagon debut to Clay Guida at UFC 74. At UFC 79, Wanderlei Silva lost in his return to the UFC against Chuck Liddell.
Still not buying the idea that a “PRIDE curse” truly exists?
Do you need to be reminded that both Silva and Nogueira are coming off disappointing performances at UFC 92 last month; that Fabricio Werdum was dropped from the promotion soon after being upset by newcomer Junior dos Santos at UFC 90; and that Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou got the pink slip following his UFC 89 loss to Luiz Cane.
Is it overkill to mention that Bushido standouts Akihiro Gono and Ryo Chonan are a combined 2-3 inside of the Octagon and that Kazuhiro Nakamura not only went 0-2, but tested positive for marijuana following his debut at UFC 76?
Oh, and how could I forget the horrific encore at UFC 93 of Shogun Rua’s submission loss to Forrest Griffin during his Octagon debut at UFC 76? Did we really wait a year and a half for that performance? Rua is lucky that he won, otherwise, he might have joined Aurelio, Werdum, and Sokoudjou as former PRIDE standouts that were sent packing by the UFC.
Thus far, the only PRIDE success stories in the UFC are Dan Henderson and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson but there are a couple of caveats that must be mentioned. First, Henderson fought in the UFC before he ever competed in PRIDE and Jackson came over to the UFC directly from the now-defunct WFA as opposed to coming directly from PRIDE.
Was it unreasonable to expect Kang to “break the curse?” Considering Kang went through a 13 month stretch between 2007-2008 in which he lost three times in four fights, the expectations set for him might have been too high.
But those high expectations were set because Kang was once a consensus top ten middleweight who has recorded notable victories over Murilo “Ninja” Rua, Amar Suloev, Andrei Semenov, and Gono. After recording consecutive victories over Marvin Eastman and Jae Young Kim on small shows, Kang fans thought he might be back to his former self.
There was a hope leading up to his UFC debut that the semi-high profile free agent acquisition could emerge as a legitimate challenger to current middleweight champion Anderon Silva after recording 1-2 wins. After the first round, Kang hardly looked like a legitimate threat to Silva but he didn’t look bad either.
Despite appearing stiff and mechanical while standing against Belcher, Kang was still efficient in his striking and showed a decisive advantage on the ground during brief exchanges. It appeared as though Kang was getting over some rust and Octagon jitters before hitting his stride. But before he could, seemingly out of nowhere, Kang displayed one of his mental errors that have become trademark in recent years. He left his neck out and Belcher took it, forcing him to tap with just 24 seconds remaining in the round.
Despite the disappointing effort, Kang remains an extremely gifted fighter who could still emerge as a challenger to Silva. While the UFC brass can’t be happy with his performance, he will likely get second and even a third chance because he is of Korean heritage and the company has plans to expand into South Korea in the future. The fact that Kang is also a Canadian citizen is another feather in his cap as Canadian UFC fans love to support their own.
Needless to say, Kang will get a second chance to make a first impression. However, when you look at the history of all of PRIDE’s former stars that have tried and failed to establish themselves in the UFC, the odds of making it aren’t in his favor.