On March 16, 2003, at Pride 25, Fedor Emelianenko and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira met each other in the ring for the first time. It was this match that truly signaled the rise of Fedor as one of the great heavyweights in mixed martial arts.
Fedor had earned a title shot against Nogueira who had submitted six of his last seven opponents; it was universally accepted that opponents of Nogueira should stay away from his playing in his guard. This is where Nogueira was at his best and his competition often found themselves tapping out against the champion. In fact, four of Nogueira’s seven submission victories in Pride had come by way of triangle chokes alone.
When the fight began, Fedor did not stay away from Nogueira’s guard however; instead he played right into it. The two fighters seemingly were playing right into each other’s strengths — Fedor into Nogueira’s guard where he risked being submitted, and Nogueira taking vicious blows from Fedor who was a master of ground and pound.
It was impressive to see the two competitors battle each other in what became a classic bout. It was said at one point that the shots Fedor was landing on Nogueira “sounded like a buffalo being hit with a baseball bat.” At the end of the first round, the two fighters returned to their corners with the fight already having passed expectations.
During the second and third round of the fight, the two continued to battle and neither fighter seemed to be concerned about playing into the other’s strength. The third round came to an end with Fedor raining down punches on top of Nogueira. When the bell sounded, Fedor helped Nogueira to his feet and embraced him. Nogueira then fell to the mat and pounded it with his fists. Nogueira had obviously known that his reign as Pride’s Heavyweight Champion was now over.
Fedor had fought a perfect fight and landed some of the most ferocious hammer fists in any fight. The judges declared that Fedor won all three rounds of the fight in a unanimous decision. Fedor was the new champ and it was only the second time in which the title had changed hands in Pride. Fedor would go onto dominate Pride by going undefeated until 2011.