Member Since: 3/25/04
An unheralded 21-year-old American named Nate Marquardt came out of nowhere to take the 177 tournament to become the first-ever "MW" KoP (and the youngest KoP ever).
The favorites going into that 8-man tournament had actually been Kiuma Kunioku and Shonie Carter, while Nate was still a virtual no-name at the time - and Nate actually ended up upsetting both of them in the same night to surprisingly take the title. Nate had not even been on the A-level radar before that tournament - but he sure was afterwards, as he was now the holder of a major title and ranked as a top-10 WW in MMA.
Nate didn't even cut to fight in the 177 division back then, and said that he walked around at around 175, and could make 170 if he wanted to - which he subsequently proved by doing just that to fight for the vacant IFC WW (170) championship in California against Cesar Gracie student, Gil Castillo. (Where this matchup would directly determine who would then get a title shot in the UFC for their new 185 championship against Dave Menne.)
Nate ended up losing a very close decision to Castillo in a back-and-forth war - and so Castillo is the one who ended up moving up to 185 and the inaugural title fight in the UFC (although Nate would say afterwards that, while he felt he could have beaten Menne, he would have needed to bulk up somewhat to regularly compete at 185 anyway).
Nate then goes back to Pancrase and loses his 177 KoP to Kunioku in a very close, if not questionable, decision - which now evened up their career 3-fight series at 1-1-1 (which really was as close as it could be, and not just numerically - but where each individual fight was close and non-decisive, although Nate seemed to have the edge overall in their performances).
During Kunioku's reign, however, Pancrase revises their weight classes and adds new ones - where their "MW" division now increased from 177 to 181, and Kunioku actually moved down to become the new 166/"WW" KoP, in addition to the 181 KoP - simultaneously reigning in two weight classes as KoP, before going back up to defend his 181 title against Marquardt in their fourth matchup.
And while all 3 of their previous fights had been close - this one was not, as Nate would emphatically KO Kunioku with a spectacular flying knee to both reclaim the title and definitively take the series with Kunioku (where the final fight was not just the tiebreaker, but the only distinctly decisive outcome they had).
Marquardt's tetralogy with Kunioku really served as the defining series of fights for Pancrase's new "MW" division - just as Marquardt himself would serve as the defining champion for that division as a whole (who, along with perennial contenders in Kunioku and Izuru Takeuchi, really formed the core of that division). And Marquardt would ultimately go on to become the greatest under-OW KoP ever.
After winning the now-181 KoP, Marquardt then successfully defended against Takeuchi (decisively avenging a prior loss), and eventually defended against Ricardo Almeida - a top-10 fighter at the time, in what was actually the last matchup between two consensus top-10 fighters to take place in Pancrase (along with another top-level matchup in Kondo-Kikuta on the same night for the LHW KoP - when both titles still meant something at the major-league level of MMA).
Marquardt, however, loses the title to Almeida by submission (with a sliding Gracie dropkick added for good measure) in suffering what was his most definitive - and only unavenged - loss during his KoP run in the MW division.
But Almeida then retired and vacated his championship - leaving Marquardt to take on Misaki for the vacant 181 title (although Misaki wasn't top-10 yet, and wouldn't become so until after he beat Hendo in Pride) - where Nate then beats Misaki to win the KoP for the third time.
Marquardt then successfully defended against Takeuchi again (to take their career series, 2-1), before leaving Pancrase as the reigning 181 KoP and as an established top-10 MW (after having originally been a top-10 WW) - to now go on to the UFC and their 185 division (debuting against another top-10 MW at the time in Ivan Salaverry, in what turned out to be a horribly disappointing fight).
But Nate's departure from Pancrase really marked the finalizing move capping off what had been a gradual ongoing process for years - the decline of Pancrase as a major league. (Where every previous Pancrase great had left, declined, or retired.)
Because Marquardt would be the last fighter from Pancrase who would ever become recognized as a definitively established top-10 fighter based primarily on his accomplishments in Pancrase - and especially for his run as the KoP (which has since been relegated to being largely a minor-league title, although Sandro has been the best guy to win a KoP since - who is a top-level fighter himself, despite a general lack of recognition before his entry into Sengoku).
So Nate was really the last great KoP. He was the last top fighter from Pancrase, actually based on Pancrase - and more broadly, the last representative of Pancrase from its days of being a major league, and the last representative of the KoP itself as being a major title in MMA. Up to that point, Nate had been the only great Pancrase holdover who was still a top fighter, still in his prime, still in Pancrase - and thus, his departure ultimately, definitively finalized the end of an era in Pancrase.