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Wednesday War Room: The Japanese message to UFC about PRIDE

By Zach Arnold | April 4, 2007

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By Zach Arnold

Printable version of this post at BoxingScene.com.

Caleb (of The Fightworks Podcast fame) on whether or not UFC’s purchase of PRIDE is good for the sport for MMA.

If the message sent by Shukan Gendai on Monday wasn’t loud enough to Zuffa management to hear, then the message sent by Akira Maeda on Tuesday should do the trick. On the latest edition of FO Radio, co-host Luke Nicholson and I discussed the asset purchase of PRIDE by Zuffa LLC and what some of the risks involved in the deal were. One mutual observation we both agreed upon is that despite his public resignation from PRIDE, Nobuyuki Sakakibara is not likely (in our opinion) going to vanish from the fight game any time soon. After all, this is a man who invested a lot of time and energy in promoting what used to be a hot Japanese entertainment property like PRIDE (an organization that made an estimated $50 million USD in 2004).

Shukan Gendai is feeling its oats right now. They managed to bring down Dream Stage Entertainment and the backers of PRIDE. With a major feather in their cap, it is becoming increasingly clear that Gendai thinks the story still has some juice left in it. The obvious ‘hook’ for them is that the man they labeled as DSE’s ‘virtual owner’, Mr. I, is still supposedly missing and has an outstanding arrent for his arrest in Japan. Until this part of the story has a resolution to it, Gendai’s stance (from my viewpoint) is that the ‘new’ PRIDE may operate a lot like the ‘old’ PRIDE if DSE staffers are in fact kept on board by Zuffa for the ‘new’ PRIDE. Gendai made it very clear on Monday that they will not stop the negative campaign against PRIDE as long as there are fight promoters who want to continue to push the brand in Japan. Gendai focused its attack on Monday on Kunio Kiyohara, a man who used to be in a heavy position in power in Fuji TV to get PRIDE on the network. By attacking Kiyohara and further damaging his public image, they are putting the TV networks on notice that if anyone attempts to back the ‘new’ PRIDE, they will be made an example out of by the magazine. We discussed this on Tuesday and I stated that UFC should pay close attention to where Gendai’s negative campaign is heading.

Akira Maeda must also be feeling his oats as well. His online posting, in my opinion, is really a declaration of war against PRIDE and a warning shot to Zuffa & UFC that the old elements of PRIDE are not going away any time soon. The fact that Maeda took such a public stance is a clear signal that he’s not afraid of the old PRIDE power sources. It also indicates to me that he is laying the ground work to tarnish the ‘new’ PRIDE by claiming that new management (UFC) is not going to get rid of the ‘bad guys’ from the company. My viewpoint is that by establishing this premise so publicly, Maeda is firing a warning message to UFC about running any events under the PRIDE banner in Japan — with an underlying message that ‘if you run ‘PRIDE’ shows in Japan and any of the old DSE elements are around or involved in the events (production, ticket sales, promotion), then expect to get public criticism in Japan about it.’

If I’m working for Zuffa right now and I see such public comments and reports made by people in positions of power that could cause damage in the Japanese marketplace (and maybe outside of Japan), you must pay attention to what is being said and what the likely intent of those statements are. It’s crystal clear that any sort of misstep (unknowingly or knowingly) by Zuffa with the ‘new’ PRIDE is going to be pounced on and attacked. Any associations with questionable people or any sort of blunder will be magnified significantly in the Japanese press. The danger with having someone like Shukan Gendai attacking you is that this kind of publication will not stop their attack. They will call up TV networks to get a public quote. They will track people down (like they did with Kiyohara) and find out as much information as possible. If Gendai finds out or claims that old elements of DSE and the ‘old’ PRIDE are involved in the Zuffa-ran PRIDE, they are certainly not above placing calls to the NSAC (Nevada State Athletic Commission) or the NGC (Nevada Gaming Commission) or even Spike TV to stir the pot and advance a story that they feel will sell a lot of magazines copies and have a big impact.

Yesterday, I deemed Shukan Gendai as an ‘occupational hazard’ that UFC would have to deal with while running shows under the ‘new’ PRIDE banner. Now with Akira Maeda making his public comments, I’m convinced that Zuffa is going to be facing a (figuratively-speaking) bloody Japanese turf war with K-1.

It certainly will have implications on Zuffa management and UFC. The media challenge has been set by the Japanese. Will Zuffa management read the tea leaves and adjust accordingly?

News and rumors

Ratings for the first four IFL MyNetworkTV shows (a full month of programming): 0.8, 0.7, 0.8, and last night’s replay at a 0.7.

Gryphon points to a news report about Diego Sanchez working PRIDE’s upcoming Lightweight GP tournament. The curious thing is what weight limit the tournament would be at and how much weight Sanchez would have to cut to participate.

Pop culture alert

We’re not necessarily hip to popular culture around here (we do cover MMA though, which I think makes us popular enough), but even we in lazy-mode can put two-and-two together when I see two stories that might match-up together.

Yesterday, we saw this MySpace posting from Josh Barnett talking about rowdy American football players acting arrogant at a Playboy Mansion party he went to (via invitation from former PRIDE USA President Ed Fishman).

I shook it down a bit on the dance floor and had a great time overall with the only minus being a s— load of football players who thought they were baddest things to walk the earth. Call me spoiled but at the usual after fight parties the professional athletes from other sports don’t act the fool too much.

Tuesday on ESPN’s Around the Horn TV show, host Tony Reali had a quick segment on the show claiming that the LA Daily News was reporting that American football star Reggie Bush is now persona-non-grata (no longer welcome) at the Mansion due to a ‘conduct violation’. Here you go.

Just a completely lazy observation on our part…

Onto today’s headlines.

  1. MMA Weekly: Numerous drug test failures in California (over 23 fighters failed tests including Cesar Gracie and Bas Rutten, California fighters sure like their marijuana – related commentary at UFC Junkie)
  2. Black Athlete: Iowa tries to ban MMA
  3. The Canadian Press (via CBC Sports): Fall from cliff focuses Kenny Florian on MMA career
  4. Fox Sports: Boxing vs. MMA
  5. Grapplemonkey: Truth Fightware V3 stretch board short
  6. UFC HP: Heath Herring – UFC debut, take two
  7. The Canadian Press: Las vegas mansion can become a prison for residents on The Ultimate Fighter
  8. Today’s Sunbeam: Tara LaRosa coming back to New Jersey
  9. Deadspin: Women’s Thai prison boxing
  10. Fox Sports: Cameroon’s Sokoudjou goes for another KO (and he states he would not be happy if UFC changed PRIDE’s current fight rules)

Topics: All Topics, BoDog, Boxing, HERO's, Japan, K-1, MMA, Media, PRIDE, UFC, Yakuza, Zach Arnold | 30 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

30 Responses to “Wednesday War Room: The Japanese message to UFC about PRIDE”

  1. ukiro says:

    Could the “personal demons” Jerry/Gary Millen implied that Bas had/has in fact be a painkiller addiction? This is bordering on gossip material so I’m not sure it deserves being followed up too much, but I can’t help being a tad curious.

    Regarding Zuffa-Pride, I predict that the Fertittas are trying to make sure they have the whole picture right now, and once they feel they do, Shukan Gendais claims will no longer be given the silent treatment. How they go about countering the claims is another matter, and they would probably be wise to use some form of guerilla/viral marketing tactic rather than issuing press releases and sending Dana out to talk to reporters.

  2. white ninja says:

    the fertittas have no – and i mean no – juice or market power in Japan

    shukan gendai is published by Japan’s biggest and strongest publishing group, Kodansha. Despite Sakakibaras lies (as Shukan Gendai calls them) about suing Shukan Gendai – he never did so. Why? because the articles are true and there is nothing to sue for

    K1 has the support of all of the sports newspapers and has TV backing (TBS and Fuji)

    you think that Dana talking to Japanese reporters or some spin contained in a press release or even guerilla/viral marketing can take on this sort of market power?

    the fertittas are about to discover that Japan is not Las Vegas

  3. erik says:

    Is it also in your opinion that Zuffa now is run by both the Yakuza and Mob in Vegas lol. War on multiple fronts. Dangerous times for Zuffa, they may have bitten more than they can chew… After losing money on a now watered down ‘ultimate pride’ in Japan by the fans not willing to support it and a new fad hitting the US and taking away 90% of their fans gained through ultimate fighter reality show (ie. texas hold em’ & skateboarding lol)

    We may get some great matches but i have a feeling ufc wont be around 5 years from now… Josh Barnett put it best. Too bad they had to run such a beautiful thing into the ground, it was great while it lasted.

  4. Mateo Suge says:

    If you can’t bother to explain why you think UFC will not be around in five years, you shouldn’t put it in the comments section on this site. I think that is a very bold statement and an explanation why you feel that way is called for.

    BTW What did Josh Barnett say to put it best?

    And who ran what into the ground? Are you saying UFC ran Pride into the ground? If that is what you are saying (I really have no clue at this time), that is the complete opposite of what happened. UFC’s parent company saved Pride from total destruction. It took a fire sale to do it, but it is still what happened.

    The people who obviously ran Pride into the ground were the investigative reporters who found out it was a yakuza front. Or maybe it was the yakuza for doing such a poor job of hiding that they were the ones truly controlling Pride. It certainly wasn’t UFC or Dana White.

    A very confusing blurb that I did not care for.

  5. chis says:

    Why don’t these sad f*****s just move on from the old Yawn scandel because there just jealous that they don’t have the Fighters or the backing or glamour of UFC.K-1 needs to let MMA go and just try and revive it’s glory days of Kickboxing.

  6. Stu says:

    Could the “personal demons” Jerry/Gary Millen implied that Bas had/has in fact be a painkiller addiction?

    Probably not, Bas injured his knee again leading up to the fight so the only way he could fight was taking tons of painkillers.

  7. ukiro says:

    White ninja: Did you even read my post through? I specifically said that sending out press releases or Dana the talking head is NOT the way to go. I also never said they are guaranteed to be successful in turning the tide of public opinion, but what I said is that they’re much better off doing it with a guerilla/viral marketing approach than by brute force PR. And now that they’ve bought Pride they must at least try SOMETHING, don’t you think? Even you must agree with that. And as far as not having any marketing power in Japan – well, they have money, and you know what money can buy, right?

    It’s sometimes easy to mistake factual and accurate criticism for bashful negativity on topics one feels strongly about, but in the case of you Mr. White Ninja, I think many remarks regarding the Pride purchase are over the top and uncalled for, no matter how much accurate information they’re sandwiched between. Stick to the informed opinions (which you obviously possess) and ditch the hateful hexing.

  8. sebastian says:

    To clarify, Barnett said that Pride management ran Pride into the toilet.

    To have Sanchez in the LW GP makes sense on some levels. Hughes seems to be next up for the title shot and St. Pierre wont be rushed in back to back fights. Sanchez will be out of the title picture for some time.
    He doesn’t cut very much weight at all to get to 170. Some changes to his training and a more aggressive cutting phase might get him to 155. Though I think it would be tough.
    What seems unlikely is how long he’ll be away from the UFC. Especially is they don’t do the semis and the final in one fight.

  9. PizzaChef says:

    Millen probably saw Bas take a pill and tried to blown it out of proportion in a vague way. Bas has chronic injuries, it’s understandable why he is taking it. It’s not like he’s addicted to painkillers..

  10. Lynchman says:

    Well, if the Fertitta run Pride struggles in Japan, I would guess we will see them simply absorb it into the UFC and use those fighters in UFC shows here and around the world.

    It would leave Japan without a major MMA company.

    Not what they want to do, but it would hardly devistate them if the only thing they ended up with was the contracts to most of the Pride fighters and all of the footage.

  11. mmaguru says:

    the advantage that the ufc has with pride is they have the ability to sell the product worldwide and thier much better business men than the previous regime. i think it would take more than a personal crusade by a magazine to stop the fertittas. i’ll gaurantee you thier already looking to attack different market places throughout the world

    zach i usually love your columns but i think your putting waaaay too much into all of this.

  12. The Gaijin says:

    http://www.chuteboxe-usa.com/

    Wanderlei Silva vs. Igor Vov – confirmed.

    Fuck – they’re trying to kill my boy. Two KO’s against two world class opponents, so what do they do to get him back on course? Clearly put him up against a guy with probably the heavyiest hands at LHW…

    I was hearing in his last fight he was still suffering lingering effects of post-concussion syndrome as well, this smells very “Sakuraba”-ish.

  13. Euthyphro says:

    Jerry wouldn’t have seen anything – Bas’ injuries occured after leaving PRIDE. Jerry was just trying to stir up innuendo to discredit Bas, nothing more. Everyone knows he likes to enjoy himself, and Jerry tried to use that perception to his advantage, but forgot he was disparaging one of, if not the, most popular figures in the MMA community.

    On Shukan Gendai — if the magazine can’t target someone who currently works for PRIDE Worldwide — no shadowy figures in the darkness, but ACTUALLY identifying an individual who is known for their affiliation with PRIDE, to link to the Yakuza, then they won’t get anywhere. Sakakibara — their old target — is gone. There isn’t a new figurehead president installed by Zuffa yet, so Gendai is going to have to keep going after Fuji TV producers, cameramen, janitors, ticket-takers, or whoever else they can find. Right now, they’re blowing hard at a few dying embers to keep a fire burning, but by removing Sak, Zuffa took most of the oxygen out of the room.

    As for Maeda, people who live in glass houses…

    Does he really think that Zuffa/PRIDE Worldwide staff can’t do some opposition research and leak it to a competing publication? It’s not like FEG is a squeaky-clean operation. His declaration of war may very well come back to haunt him.

    Finally, even if this folds, more recent indications suggest that the Fertittas bought PRIDE’s assets for far less than the ~65 million mentioned earlier on this site and others. A recent article (which was linked to here) commented that Lorenzo and Frank had planned on sitting on the sidelines until PRIDE folded, and then buy up fighters individually. However, a precipitous drop in the sale price of the organization spurred them to jump in and make a bid. I heard one rumor placing the final sale price more in the area of $13 million than the $65 being bounced around earlier. At this price, even IF Shukan Gendai can make it difficult for Zuffa to relaunch PRIDE on free TV in Japan (which I still think is highly unlikely) Zuffa can consider it a $13 million investment to kill off their greatest competitor and absorb their best fighters without letting them spread to organizations-in-waiting.

  14. Zach Arnold says:

    zach i usually love your columns but i think your putting waaaay too much into all of this.

    Never underestimate the kind of ruthlesss pushback from players in the Japanese fight game. Shukan Gendai pushed Sakakibara and DSE into a situation where they ended up off Fuji TV and looking to sell the PRIDE assets in under a year after losing television. They smell blood and sense weakness here – much like I think Maeda does. This is a turf war brewing. The K-1 natives are not going to sit there and watch UFC experiment with PRIDE as their new toy in Japan. Not a chance.

  15. Rollo the Cat says:

    “Zuffa can consider it a $13 million investment to kill off their greatest competitor and absorb their best fighters without letting them spread to organizations-in-waiting.”

    Agreed, and if the fertittas are smart, and I assume they are, they must have a plan B exit strategy in place already. This was my feeling from the beginning.

    I wonder what

  16. Jeff says:

    Reggie Bush “persona non grotto?”

  17. [...] Speaking of Sanchez, Zach Arnold at FightOpinion.com picked up on a report that Sanchez might be a participant in PRIDE Fighting Championship’s upcoming lightweight tournament. [...]

  18. KennyP says:

    Jeff Says:

    “Reggie Bush ‘persona non grotto?’ ”

    Maybe he’ll through his own parties. He can invite Cade McNown, Luke Wilson, Johnny Drama, and Pauly Shore.

  19. [...] There’s also a report that FightOpinion.com picked up that Sanchez might participate in the upcoming PRIDE FC Lightweight Grand Prix. I’m not sure about the credibility of the source (it appear to be in Japanese) , but it is intriguing to say the least — can Sanchez cut to 155 pounds or will the tournament be at the 161-pound PRIDE FC limit that is supposed to be nixed? We’ll keep you posted.            April 4th, 2007 var AdBrite_Title_Color = ‘b10015′; var AdBrite_Text_Color = ‘666666′; var AdBrite_Background_Color = ‘FFFFFF’; var AdBrite_Border_Color = ‘FFFFFF’; [...]

  20. chis says:

    Next Zuffa buys K-1.

  21. Mike says:

    In response to a comment up at the top of this thread, reporters didn’t run PRIDE into the ground; PRIDE ran PRIDE into the ground by associating with mobsters. If they didn’t, there would have been nothing for reporters to report.

  22. D.Capitated says:

    Never underestimate the kind of ruthlesss pushback from players in the Japanese fight game. Shukan Gendai pushed Sakakibara and DSE into a situation where they ended up off Fuji TV and looking to sell the PRIDE assets in under a year after losing television. They smell blood and sense weakness here – much like I think Maeda does. This is a turf war brewing. The K-1 natives are not going to sit there and watch UFC experiment with PRIDE as their new toy in Japan. Not a chance.

    What are they going to do? Take hits out on PRIDE officials and risk getting shut down themselves in an even bigger scandal? Maybe they can sign guys that may be under iron clad contracts and lose millions in court to people with resources likely exceeding that even of their backers.

  23. [...] Diego to possibly compete in the PRIDE LW GP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I could not belive that this was possible but the fight opinion says it could happen. Taken from UFC Junkie Gryphon points to a news report about Diego Sanchez working PRIDE’s upcoming Lightweight GP tournament. The curious thing is what weight limit the tournament would be at and how much weight Sanchez would have to cut to participate. Diego would be huge for 160. what r u guys thoughts? FightOpinion.com – Your Global Connection to the Fight Industry. __________________ GSP > Matt Hughes The New ADCC Champion Of The World: Justin "Chim Chim" Garcia Top 5 Favorite Fighters: 1. Georges St. Pierre 2. BJ Penn 3. Karo Parisyan 4. Nick Diaz 5. Rampage Jackson [...]

  24. kobashi says:

    Mike: Have not all the Japanese MMA/Pro Wrestling promotions had some kind of relations with the Criminal Gangs somewhere in there lifetime.

    Maeda is gonna try his best not to let Pride get too the stage it was once at. No doubt K-1 Hero’s was waiting too snatch the DSE contracts once Pride went under.

    Zach: how is the relationship between Maeda and Takada these days?

  25. Grape Knee High says:

    “I heard one rumor placing the final sale price more in the area of $13 million than the $65 being bounced around earlier.”

    Well, Dana did say right after the deal was announced that the purchase price was “a hell of a lot more than Barry Bonds is making.” The article I saw this in then pointed out that Barry Bond is making $15.8 million this year.

    This information, in conjunction with the AP article saying “less than $70 million”, tells me that the price that PRIDE was officially bought for was, indeed, the rumored amount of $65 million.

    Now, while that might be the “official, publicly stated” amount and not a real amount, I have no reason to believe that the UFC would want to spread mistruths about this. They could also have structured the payment in such a way that *everyone* is correct in a way. Maybe the assumption of DSE’s debt (and Sakakibara’s alleged personal debt) was considered a part of the purchase price that the UFC announces (as it should), but the Japanese press is just talking about the pure price of the assets.

    At this point, I’m just going to wait and see how this entire thing unfolds. It could be a success. It could be a horrible, spectacular failure. Or maybe something in between.

  26. Euthyphro says:

    Grape — I’m not convinced on the $65 million figure. No offense to you, but what really made me wonder was the comment that the Fertitta’s only jumped in once the price for PRIDE dropped precipitously and they were afraid of others coming in to scoop up the company. We know that, earlier, Fishman was negotiating at the $65 million level, so my assumption is that the price must have dropped from $65 mil to something else. As for the AP story, after having read it, my impression was that they got their facts from sites like this one and Sherdog.

  27. Ivan Trembow says:

    Sources indicated at the time of the purchase that it was in the range of $65 million.

  28. Allen says:

    Remember that time Maeda tossed a guy through a McDonald’s window? That was cool.

  29. Euthyphro says:

    Ivan, not to beat a dead horse, but are these sources you contacted yourself? You have information from an inside source on the sale price?

  30. Grape Knee High says:

    “Ivan, not to beat a dead horse, but are these sources you contacted yourself? You have information from an inside source on the sale price?”

    Euthyphro, you’re getting as myopic as Zach sometimes seems to get on this topic. What makes your $13 million number any more plausible than the $65 million number? Nothing. There’s no proof for either number as of yet.

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