By Zach Arnold | December 1, 2010
The public feeling of sadness and bitterness for K-1’s current financial situation compared to the collapse of PRIDE may sound the same but it really isn’t.
When PRIDE collapsed in 2007, the promotion attempted to stay bold and put on large-scale shows that appealed to the masses. In the end, it was a ploy to try to get the highest bidder — which turned out to be Zuffa. Nevertheless, there was a great sense of despair and sadness about the promotion’s demise despite the circumstances that led to its downfall. It died with a passionate fan base still remaining. The same cannot be said about K-1.
With there being an impasse between Tokyo Broadcasting System and K-1 over what to do with Dynamite on New Year’s Eve, the bitterness that fans are tasting has nothing to do with an emotional connection for K-1 as a product. This time around, the sadness is all about the fact that MMA may not make it again onto a major broadcast network in Japan for a long, long time (if ever again). The great fear is that MMA will go back to being a niche sport and suffer the same fate that professional wrestling did last decade. The great irony in all of this is that it was the MMA monster that severely damaged pro-wrestling. With network executives willing to back MMA, pro-wrestling lost whatever television support it had left. Despite being relatively cheap programming in terms of rights fees, Nippon TV dropped NOAH from the late-night network line-up and NOAH has never been the same in terms of popularity. New Japan is still hanging on to their late night TV slot on TV-Asahi because the company is owned by Yukes. Yukes can be both an owner and a sponsor at once. It has saved the promotion from the electric chair.
Currently, the situation right now for Dynamite appears to be on course for a ‘no TV’ show. In other words, it may air on HDNet and on SkyPerfecTV PPV, but perhaps not on broadcast television. The whole point of the New Year’s Eve concept when it was developed and crafted by K-1, DSE, and Antonio Inoki was to stage an assault on NHK’s Kohaku (Red & White Music Festival show) and demonstrate the strength and appeal of the fight game. It worked. Despite finishing second or third at times, the NYE shows demonstrated an erosion in viewership for NHK’s programming.
A decade later, K-1 is in bad shape. They have to put all of their eggs essentially in the Fuji TV basket and hope that their 12/11 Ariake Colosseum show in Tokyo does well for a TV rating. If it does not draw a good rating, then the promotion will be faced with less than three weeks to promote an event at Saitama Super Arena without heavy television money to pay big names for fights that people want to see. Then again, that quandary has plagued K-1 since the collapse of PRIDE — they haven’t been able to develop the kind of Japanese aces that the general public cares about.
Understand that for many of Kazuyoshi Ishii’s enemies, there is a mixed feeling right now about K-1’s demise. Negative because K-1 losing network support means that nobody else will be able to break in for a while. This includes UFC. If a Japanese network won’t support K-1, they sure won’t support a non-Japanese flavored product like UFC. Happy, however, because the Godfather has ran over a lot of people and did what he had to do in order to survive.
The belief amongst some of Ishii’s old enemies and people who have had negative feelings about doing business with him is that it will take a long time for the damage to dissipate but that eventually a new generation of promoters with more reputable backgrounds will come into the fold.
(For American sports fans, an example to think of: college university programs that have gotten the death penalty or close to it, like Miami or Baylor.)
Personally, I wish I could be that positive. However, history tells us that there isn’t a lot of reason to be positive when a major promotion collapses. When WCW collapsed in America, WWE never was able to replace or gain that audience. When PRIDE collapse, K-1 was not able to gain the trust of that fan base. They just faded away. Sure, there will promoters who will try to fill the void should K-1 collapse, but it simply will not be the same. It will certainly have a negative impact on agents and fighters looking for bookings outside of the Zuffa world.
I’m just starting to see some real talk about New Year’s Eve programming plans for the major broadcast networks in the Japanese media wires today. As I alluded to earlier in the week, this week is one of the most critical weeks in the history of K-1 for their survival and for the survival of the Dynamite show at Saitama Super Arena. Either the deal with TBS gets done soon or it doesn’t get done at all. They’re already way too late in the game here.
As for how K-1’s PR machine is handling the situation, all hands are on deck to promote the Ariake Colosseum event. They are all-in right now. Mr. Tanigawa will appear on Samurai TV to do some PR soon. I was also told by one source that K-1 plans on having the Dynamite show (TV deal or not) and that matchmaking will start after the 12/11 Tokyo show takes place. The period of time compression will be unbelievably stressful.
Regarding Mr. Ishii, he penned a column today that has nothing to do with K-1 but is quite… unique.