By Zach Arnold | April 29, 2010
Let the wisdom of Josh Gross fill you in:
The DREAM light heavyweight grand prix set for May 29 has been canceled. Fighter reps were told Wednesday. Still working on the reason.
Looks like the reason for the cancellation is an issue between DREAM and its TV partner, TBS.
Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong this year for both K-1 and Real Entertainment, the parent company of DREAM filled with ex-PRIDE staffers from Dream stage Entertainment. (Get it… Real Entertainment, Dream Stage… clever, aren’t they? It’s like Nobuyuki Sakakibara having Ubon Inc. as a company because Ubon is Nobu spelled backwards.)
The last part of Josh’s comments is the most important to focus on. Tokyo Broadcasting System not ponying up the cash to pay for a Light Heavyweight GP tournament featuring Gegard Mousasi and Renato Babalu is not surprising. TBS wants Japanese stars and ratings. DREAM features neither of those qualities. To top it off, the 5/29 Saitama event is headlined by Nick Diaz vs. Hayato Sakurai in a Strikeforce vs. DREAM interpromotional feud that has zero juice to it. Any juice that could have been obtained was squashed when Gilbert Melendez destroyed Shin’ya Aoki in Nashville on April 17th.
The purpose of DREAM for K-1 was largely as a television property to keep any possible MMA competitors off of over-the-air Japanese television. Since cable and satellite television is not a viable option for a Japanese fight promotion to generate much cash flow with, OTA is the only way to survive as a major league property in that country. Without TBS cooperating, DREAM as an entity is largely dead and everyone knows it.
The goal of K-1 Godfather Kazuyoshi Ishii was to control the entire pipeline of television for the fight business in Japan. He achieved that goal once PRIDE died. He was the only ball game in town. Wanted to promote your league in Japan and be on television? You had to go through him and do business on his terms, meaning you picked up a lot of the costs for producing a live show and K-1 split some television money. The plan, in theory, is a great one unless the product you put on television has no appeal to Japanese television audiences.
So what happens if DREAM dies and K-1 struggles to keep their network television deals going? It opens the door for someone else to try to get their own OTA television deal. The problem is that there is no real competition in the fight game right now. Also, anyone with a questionable background in Japan is not going to put a lot of skin in the game given that PRIDE had their fallout from the yakuza scandal.
But let’s say that someone does try to make a play for an OTA deal given K-1’s current weakness. The most likely candidate to try to make something happen would be Takahiro Kokuho, the boss of J-ROCK (the managing company of Hidehiko Yoshida and his stablemates). Kokuho is the classic successful-agent-turned-failed-promoter businessman in the fight game. When he was top dog as an agent during the PRIDE days, he got his man Yoshida an estimated $5 million USD fight purse to fight Naoya Ogawa for a New Year’s Eve event. Like most agents in Japan, Kokuho’s power source backing him was very strong. Once PRIDE collapsed, Kokuho ended up trying a major play with Sengoku. Kokuho claimed that he would be the antithesis of DREAM booking and that he had “scientific methods” of booking fights. In the end, he was a terrible booker and committed the ultimate sin in the fight game — he was and is boring.
In many respects, Mr. Kokuho is the Japanese version of Monte Cox without the volume of fighters Monte has on smaller deals. Both men have had big track records in the fight game as agents and have delivered in big deals. (Ask Tim Sylvia about that regarding those Affliction pay days.) However, neither man is what you would call someone who would do well leading a major-league MMA promotion.
So, if Mr. Kokuho isn’t the man ready to crack open the door for an MMA play in Japan, who is? Antonio Inoki? Been there, done that. It’s possible he could get one more shot on a trial basis with a network given that he still has name value in the country. But who else is there who could make something work should DREAM entirely collapse? It’s difficult to say. Akira Maeda has his promotion with The Outsiders but it’s largely just to stay occasionally active in the business. Right now, the Japanese promoter war chest is largely empty.
However, don’t make the mistake of assuming that a UFC-type product could waltz into the Japanese marketplace and do strong business consistently. The Japanese fight fans want a Japanese product with Japanese faces all the way around. Unfortunately for DREAM, they really haven’t been able to deliver too much on that end lately, either.