By Zach Arnold | July 9, 2006
By Zach Arnold
My previous post on UFC vs. PRIDE can be found here.
Reflecting upon the latest news developments with Vanderlei Silva apparently signing a 3-fight deal with UFC, one has to wonder what exactly is going to happen with both UFC & PRIDE in the future. There are a few possibilities on the horizon that could indicate something similar to what WWE did to WCW several years ago.
With PRIDE financially on the ropes, the idea of UFC absorbing their top names and weakening PRIDE’s power structure is a sneaky play. That’s smart business. Conventionally, the idea of using Silva as a “PRIDE guy” even though he is under UFC contract would make sense if UFC wanted to do an interpromotional war (similar to what New Japan did with UWF-International in 1995). In the case of WWE using WCW talent after the acquisition of assets, WWE had a chance to do some real big business with WCW, a nationally recognized name, in an interpromotional setting. Instead, WWE sabotaged the WCW brand and it’s a mistake that still haunts Vince McMahon to this day. In the case of the UWF-International vs. New Japan feud, Nobuhiko Takada had strong name value and was a nationally recognized figure in Japan. The three UWF-International vs. New Japan themed Tokyo Dome shows drew over $20 million USD. Ironically, what drove UWF-International to cooperate with New Japan was financial trouble. After a political campaign by Nobuhiko Takada (along with other UWF-International political issues), the company needed cash and ended up agreeing to work with New Japan — only to see New Japan matchmaker Riki Choshu bury the company and laugh all the way to the bank). The problem for UFC even considering an “invasion” angle with PRIDE (using “PRIDE guys” under UFC contract) is that PRIDE isn’t recognized nationally in America. In order for such an invasion angle to work, UFC will have to spend capital building up the PRIDE name over several months, if not a couple of years.
However, there are several factors that could screw up a “PRIDE invasion” in UFC. What if PRIDE collapses in Japan? What if police arrest certain individuals? What if Chuck Liddell loses to Renato Babalu in August? Unlike pro-wrestling, you can’t script every move in a shoot environment. The concept of doing a “PRIDE invasion” angle in UFC sounds great. PRIDE, having some of the most talented gaijin fighters in the world (including a certain former UFC Heavyweight champion who could be marketed as a major star in America), finds itself in an interesting position. Unable to pay the top dollar any more for gaijin talent, PRIDE finds itself seeing one of their top stars (Silva) go to UFC. The question is whether or not PRIDE has calculated that they can maintain some control over how Vanderlei Silva is booked without having to pay his salary. It’s a risky, perhaps desparate move. By the same token, PRIDE knows that Dana White is a huge mark for Vanderlei Silva and realizes that they may have plenty to gain by letting Dana pushing their brand in the United States. PRIDE has put itself into a very interesting position, one that nobody could have imagined a couple of years ago. Will Emelianenko Fedor be the next fighter to sign a UFC contract? If that happens, UFC will have both the PRIDE Heavyweight and Middleweight aces under their sleeve. But at what price?
I remain perplexed as to why UFC would want to go into business with PRIDE at this point, even if it means absorbing PRIDE’s top stars. Why not wait for PRIDE to collapse and then cherry-pick who you want to fight for your company? Why push a company (PRIDE) that has recently been scandal-tainted? There is a risk that the scandal could taint UFC if things progress badly in Japan.
Besides all of the factors listed above, the biggest risk that Dana White faces is that the “PRIDE guys” will likely beat the native UFC fighters. However, unlike in pro-wrestling, you can’t book your native fighters to make come backs and go over the heels in the storybook ending. It’s a shoot environment, and UFC may find itself in a situation where they look second-rate by having the “PRIDE guys” beat all their fighters — with the real possibility that UFC won’t be able to build up any native fighters who can stop and beat the outsiders.
As a fan, it’s certainly an exciting time period of watch. Everyone who is a hardcore fan wants to see Silva vs. Liddell. With that stated, what will the casual fan think about that match? I can only imagine how many casual fans will start cracking jokes on how Chuck Liddell is fighting the Brazilian clone of Kurt Angle. Speaking of Angle, he’s reportedly (according to various wrestling web sites) to be on the sidelines for 30 days, needing a break. The WWE does have a wellness (drug testing) program and it’s garnered some headlines this past week.
One important question that does need to be asked revolves around drug testing. The Nevada State Athletic Commission performs drug testing for all fighters involved in title fights. Given that there is no drug testing of fighters in Japan, how will this situation play out when the “PRIDE guys” start working in California or Nevada? Will all the UFC vs. PRIDE fights be non-title bouts, or will UFC be confident that the fighters will pass the tests without fail?
The more and more I think about what is happening with UFC, the more intrigued I am about what direction this company is heading. Investing time and money in pushing the PRIDE brand seems to be a high-risk, low-reward proposition for UFC. For PRIDE, it seems to signal an all-in-or-nothing strategy that will garner big headlines in Japan, but do little or nothing for their domestic box office business. Without Fuji TV’s support, PRIDE is facing some very tough decisions. You never know who your friends and enemies are from one day to the next.