By Zach Arnold | January 31, 2011
Rarely do you get a string of small stories that come together to put together a narrative in the MMA industry, but this is one of those times where it’s there, hanging like fruit from a tree to get picked.
To my astonishment over the weekend, Strikeforce boss Scott Coker on multiple occasions told the US press in attendance in San Jose that he was having dinner with Sotaro Shinoda to negotiate bringing a Strikeforce show to Japan under DREAM auspices for April 9th. I chose the word astonishment because not one US media type blinked at all when Shinoda appeared in town, let alone had his name publicly mentioned by Strikeforce. Why? Sotaro Shinoda was Nobuyuki Sakakibara’s right-hand man in PRIDE. PRIDE, of course, had the Shukan Gendai yakuza scandal that resulted in Fuji TV cutting ties from the organization and ultimately led to the company’s demise. Suffice to say, you can see how ex-PRIDE employees under the DREAM banner could make things difficult in terms of attracting potentially big sponsors or television deals in the country.
If you need a reminder of who Mr. Shinoda is, type his name into Google and you’ll see this entry at the top of the search engine. It was an old screen capture we did of him several years ago when he had a last-minute trip to Costa Rica for a Bodogfight TV taping. Read the old post to get a flavor of what Bodog thought of him. (Shinoda was in Costa Rica to try to find out what was going on with M-1/Red Devil and Fedor.)
In response to me bringing up the obvious (implications) about Scott Coker publicly being seen with Sotaro Shinoda, the initial reaction I got from various writers was a shrug and, to paraphrase, “Well, Scott doesn’t think it’ll hurt him, obviously. Why does he care about it when Showtime is his TV partner and not the Japanese networks?”
So, let me bring up the obvious link to our extensive archives and years of coverage from start to finish about PRIDE’s collapse. You’re welcome. As Fuji TV demonstrated in 2006, you can have a hot product that draws lots of money and big TV ratings and still completely cut the cord when there is stockholder pressure due to who you are associated with and what the media points out in regards to those associations.
Am I saying that Nobuyuki Sakakibara is still involved in MMA? No, he’s off somewhere in Okinawa goofily trying to run a soccer club and live out a fantasy. What I am saying is that when you deal with top management that was involved in a company that got labeled ‘yakuza’ in the media by various outlets (like Shukan Gendai) and ended up losing funding from such a media powerhouse like Fuji TV, it’s pretty hard to remove that taint. Who you associate with, especially when entering into a new market, matters in Japan. Just ask Jamie Pollack and UFC about it when they tried to run the PRIDE office after the asset sale purchase.
In other words, who you are seen with and who you deal with is of the utmost importance in Japan. I wrote about Strikeforce’s high-risk, high-reward plan to try to do business in Japan. A healthy part of that risk is being judicious in how you handle your business affairs. Mr. Coker would be wise to smarten up quickly.
Riddle me this — why don’t you see Mr. Shinoda much publicly in the Japanese media circles? When it’s a DREAM announcement, PRIDE’s version of Baghdad Bob in Mr. Sasahara is trotted out to the cameras (occasionally alongside Shigeru Saeki). When it’s a more serious K-1/DREAM news presser, it’s Mr. Sasahara and Mr. Tanigawa who are in front of the camera.
Here is what Mr. Coker said after his HP Pavilion show Saturday night in regards to booking fights in Japan:
TJ DE SANTIS: “You mentioned Japan. Is that a destination you think Strikeforce will get to?”
SCOTT COKER: “Yes. I have Shinoda-san over there waiting. We’re going to have dinner and talking about trying to get Strikeforce into Japan this year.”
TJ DE SANTIS: “What was the catalyst for making that discussion happen?”
SCOTT COKER: “I mean, you know, you guys know that I worked for K-1 for many years, for eight years and I always had a great respect for Japanese fight fans and, you know, it’s ingrained in the culture. I mean, when you grow up in Japan you’re doing martial arts, you know, and so it’s integrated into the culture and it’s just an amazing place to go watch fights and they’re educated fight fans and I said I wanted to go to Japan for 2-3 years and for it to finally become something that’s possible, it’ll be a milestone for our league.”
TJ DE SANTIS: “I’ve heard some rumblings of possibly having a Lightweight tournament over there. Is that something that you’re thinking about?”
SCOTT COKER: “That’s something that we’re going to talk about because I know that they would like to have a tournament and if they do we’ll support them and send over some of our top guys, but it’s premature. We haven’t had that conversation, yet.”
By the way, as someone who’s bread and butter has been focused on the Japanese fight scene for most of my life, you might be interested in reading about this timely article. If you thought things were hard right now in fields like Sumo and pro-wrestling, try this on for size.
So, there’s that situation in Japan. Our next situation(s), if you want to call them that, deal with two fighters. Now, dealing with fighters is like herding cattle and we all know that there’s a lot of pettiness and jealousy that goes on. However, as we’ve seen with the UFC, if fighters don’t respect or fear you, they won’t act out of turn. Time and again with Strikeforce, we’ve often seen the opposite. See: Nick Diaz being unhappy last week on a Showtime conference call, talking about ’still’ driving a Honda and why he’s not fighting guys like Georges St. Pierre. Remember when Strikeforce got suckered into a media war with Bellator about why a fight between Gilbert Melendez and Eddie Alvarez hasn’t been booked? That started with the two fighters calling each other out.
Gilbert is back, this time saying don’t blame him for not being able to fight… Frankie Edgar, UFC Lightweight champion.
KENNY RICE: “Gilbert, A, B, C, D. Let’s go all the way down. What’s the deal with Strikeforce right now? How many fights left?”
GILBERT MELENDEZ: “The deal with Strikeforce is, um, we’re coming to an agreement right now, you know, and I’ll think there’ll be a couple of fights for me for Strikeforce, so… Right now it’s not a matter of, you know, who I fight. It’s a matter of just when I fight. They have a bunch of contenders, you know, Justin Wilcox now, (Lyle) Beerbohm, (Billy) Evangelista, Josh Thomson, JZ (Calvan), so I’m basically just having to defend my throne, you know what I mean. It doesn’t matter who, it’s just when and that’s my plans for now and hopefully we’ll have something in the next cuople of months or the next, you know, maybe couple of weeks, you know, an exact date and an opponent.”
KENNY RICE: “Are you a free agent right now technically?”
GILBERT MELENDEZ: “Technically, no, I’m not, man. Some of these agreements are structured really well, you know, with the Championship Clause and all and you know I’m proud to be a part of Strikeforce and everything, but as a champion this comes along with it. It’s not that easy to walk away with your title and, you know, Jake’s one of the few guys who has and stuff but it’s not an easy thing to do.”
BAS RUTTEN: “Are you allowed to fight in Japan?”
GILBERT MELENDEZ: “Yeah, I’m definitely, well under Strikeforce’s permission I am, yeah. It’s something that I would love to do. I love fighting in Japan and that’s neat, you know. It’s kind of up to the promotions, you know what I mean? I want to fight all these guys, you know, I want to fight all these dudes, but it’s not up to these, us fighters. It’s really up to the promoters. If you want to see me fight Frankie (Edgar), talk to Dana (White) & Scott (Coker). So don’t blame us fighters. I’m just fighting, trying to get my money, and I’m where I’m at.”
A second fighter voicing displeasure, albeit on a larger vocal scale, is Siyar Bahadurzada. He talked with MMA writer Tomas Rios about his situation with Strikeforce. Suffice to say, his words were not very kind to the promotion. Rios claimed that when he tried to get a comment from Strikeforce PR man Mike Afromowitz on the story, Mr. Afromowitz allegedly told Rios that he (Rios) wasn’t good for the sport. So, he and Joe Rogan have something in common apparently.
Here was Mr. Coker’s response (via an interview with Ariel Helwani) on Bahadurzada’s comments:
ARIEL HELWANI: “Wanted to get your take on a situation that’s been brewing with a fighter by the name of Siyar Baha. He’s been saying something things about Strikeforce, now saying that the reason he hasn’t fought for Strikeforce is because he’s of Afghani descent. How do you respond to this?”
SCOTT COKER: “That’s comical. I mean the reality was that, you know, I still don’t even his visa has been finished yet. It has been a little tougher because, you know, the country and everything to try to get a visa but I don’t think the visa has been completed, so once he gets through his process of getting his visa together then you know we’re have another conversation with him but it’s silly to say it’s based on this or that. I mean, the reality is, you’re a Golden Glory fighter, he should act like a Golden Glory fighter and, you know, get your paperwork done, get what you got to do, and then we’ll put you in the cage and test you out. But in the mean time, you know, talking the way he did, it just was very silly to me.”
ARIEL HELWANI: “Has that perhaps severed your relationship with him?”
SCOTT COKER: “With Siyar?”
ARIEL HELWANI: “Yeah.”
SCOTT COKER: “Uh, no.”
ARIEL HELWANI: “The things he said about the organization.”
SCOTT COKER: “The relationship is with the camp, it’s not with the fighter. To me, Bas and I have done many business deals together and, you know, we have Alistair (Overeem), we have (Sergei) Kharitonov here, we have Marloes Coenen here, so we have a good relationship with the camp. So he’s one of the fighters in their camp. When he gets his act together, we’ll put him in the cage.”
ARIEL HELWANI: “What are the chances that we see him in the Strikeforce cage in 2011?”
SCOTT COKER: “You know what, I uh… I would say… you know, once he gets his visa stuff done…”
ARIEL HELWANI: “You’d like to see him fight for Strikeforce, right?”
SCOTT COKER: “Sure, why not? Why not? I mean, you know, I can understand his frustration because he doesn’t understand because he’s so far away and, you know, whatever but in saying that, though, Ariel, he also has to act like a professional. If he can’t, we’re not going to have him.”
Everything should go smoothly in 2011, shouldn’t it? ‘Keyboard warriors’ aren’t ‘good for the sport.’