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Safe to issue K-1 their Last Rites?

By Zach Arnold | October 16, 2011

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If you have been following the Twitter accounts of Dan Herbertson, Mike Hackler, and Dave Walsh, then you may have heard the news tonight that K-1’s October 29th World GP event in mainland China is about to be canceled.

The idea of K-1 running a show outside of Japan without Japanese television support sounded absurd on its face. The fact that people bought into it as a grand plan were the same ones who thought that PRIDE running shows in Las Vegas was all about going global. (For Ed Fishman, his efforts into making PRIDE a serious deal were legitimate. As we later found with Nobuyuki Sakakibara, he was looking to get rid of PRIDE to Zuffa.) Without Japanese television money, the K-1 business model is largely non-existent. This is why DREAM has been a money loser.

Consider the following — K-1 wanted to run an event in mainland China that wasn’t Beijing or Shanghai. It ended up being… Nanjing. Yes, the same area that was home to the Rape of Nanking. Given Kazuyoshi Ishii’s nationalistic pride and connections, I found remarkable symbolism with this decision. The event was supposed to take place at the Nanjing Olympic Gymnasium with broadcaster JSBC (Jiangsu) involved as the television partner. Take note that the venue is a 13,000 seat venue and that the show announcement was made five weeks before the show was set to take place. To classify this as a rush job would be an understatement.

Since the show announcement was made, there’s been a flurry of foreign media reports about event problems involving talent booked for the show. (Largely from It’s Showtime.) Then came the news of Badr Hari leaving K-1 to go to boxing and others following suit to go elsewhere. Those fighters wouldn’t be leaving if the money was still to be had. In fact, one person claimed that K-1 supposedly wanted fighters on the World GP show to agree to a 50% reduction in past money owed to said fighters. That’s an old-school Japanese promoter trick, so to hear about it being proclaimed by foreigners is a real embarrassment and loss of face. Then again, K-1 didn’t have much face left to lose at this point.

Dave Walsh says that Simon Rutz will issue a statement on the matter today. If, by hook or by crook, the show still does take place… you can watch it in the States on a BUD (big ugly dish) on C-band.

When the promotion booked Dynamite last year at Saitama Super Arena without major television support, I said it was a Pyrrhic victory and the final end for the promotion. You can’t run show after show and bleed cash heavily. The same thing happened to PRIDE after Fuji TV cut financial ties with the promotion. They continued to run Saitama Super Arena, draw respectable crowds, but hemorrhage cash and covertly look to sell the deal to someone else.

PRIDE’s death, of course, was thanks to the negative campaign by Shukan Gendai about the yakuza scandal. The key & integral figure in that scandal was a yakuza fixer, Seiya Kawamata, who was aligned with Kazuyoshi Ishii. Kawamata worked the biggest fight shows of the last decade in Japan when K-1 & PRIDE were cooperating. Once the two factions stopped cooperating, Kawamata hedged his bets and ran his own deal with Inoki. Of course, Kawamata was always friendly to Kazuyoshi Ishii and yet it was PRIDE that got hammered when Kawamata went after them for the fallout from the Inoki show. For K-1, the death of PRIDE was supposed to set the stage for their golden opportunity to become Japan’s only major fight player and to be UFC’s global rival.

So, what happened? PRIDE’s fans left and didn’t come back, much in the same way that WCW’s fans left and never went to WWE after WCW was killed off. MMA was never K-1’s bread and butter play, so K-1’s MMA product left a lot to be desired. Despite having Akira Maeda as the face of HERO’s, HERO’s was largely a useful tool to lure in Kazushi Sakuraba and kill off PRIDE. HERO’s feel to the wayside and we got DREAM, which was the company made up of former DSE employees that left when Jamie Pollack and Zuffa tried to run a PRIDE revival and instead got the hell out of town when trouble started brewing. DREAM never felt like PRIDE in terms of having the mega superstar draws and it grinded along without making a huge imprint on the MMA landscape. The whole idea of DREAM for K-1 was that the promotion would get TV help from K-1 in exchange for K-1 not having to pay the heavy costs of getting involved in the MMA scene. Now we’ve seen how that turned out.

This isn’t the way things were supposed to go down if you were in the K-1 camp. They got rid of their chief rival but ended up getting exposed as the Emperor with no clothes. Whether remnants of the company attempt future spinoffs, that’s anyone’s guess. At this point, it doesn’t matter.

Topics: DREAM, K-1, MMA, Media, PRIDE, Zach Arnold | 18 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

18 Responses to “Safe to issue K-1 their Last Rites?”

  1. Nepal says:

    The idea of running a show in Nanjing and expecting to attract an audience is bizarre in itself. Even disregarding the issue of dislike for the Japanese particularily in that area. Nanjing is a huge city but MMA??? What’s that??? There are tons of rich people all over China but are they going to an MMA event? The masses couldn’t possibly afford a nosebleed seat anyway.

    No TV revenue, no gate revenue (to speak of). This just doesn’t add up.

    • Chromium says:

      Uh,
      1) K-1 is kickboxing not MMA
      2) Only one of the fighters on the entire card was Japanese
      3) Otherwise, yes, it was a baffling decision

  2. Joey says:

    What exactly is the “trouble” that Jamie Pollack and the UFC encountered in Japan? This is mentioned by you a lot but it’s not really clear. Thanks

    • Zach Arnold says:

      What exactly is the “trouble” that Jamie Pollack and the UFC encountered in Japan? This is mentioned by you a lot but it’s not really clear. Thanks

      When Dana made his announcement of UFC vs. PRIDE Super Bowl during the Roppongi Hills presser, Jamie moved from LV to Tokyo to run the PRIDE office. The employees were all DSE-first, so it was a hostile working environment. While UFC was trying to get things off the ground, Sakakibara and stooges were staging pro-wrestling angles for the Japanese press at those offices and at the Takada Dojo to push Hustle shows. So, you had Sakakibara going into biz for himself and clowning around while Jamie was getting the runaround.

      It got to the point where Jamie went back to the states after a few months and Zuffa gave the DSE workers their pink slips. This was the controversial ‘you’re fired, get your stuff out of the office’ sign at the facility that the Japanese press spun into ‘those evil foreigners ruined PRIDE and didn’t care about its workers’ spin.

      A lot of people assume that I was on the side of Sakakibara when that went down. Trust me, nothing could be further from the truth. That guy and his boss (Ishizaka) brought the business down in Japan.

  3. 45 Huddle says:

    Things are really falling apart in the combat sports world. Bellator has an owner that is liquiding it’s assets in the middle of next year. K-1 is gone. Showtime just lost it’s head of sports, which can’t help them.

    Unless you are HBO or the UFC…. Things aren’t looking up for the most part….

  4. Dave says:

    Rutz made his statement, let the cat out of the bag that a lot of us have been biting our tongues on; Bas Boon and Frederico Lapenda (if you don’t know who he is, shame yourself and your MMA knowledge) have been in the process of purchasing K-1.

    If you wonder where things went wrong and why Bas Boon’s illness over the summer helped cause tons of problems within Golden Glory look no further than this. They were 100% certain they had bought K-1 earlier this summer, then nothing happened. They kept telling their people “we bought K-1, we bought K-1…” and nothing happened, they had to keep a lot of this secret due to the deal not being finalized and it cause massive amounts of internal tension.

    Well, it turns out Ishii was shopping around and over the summer was in talks of selling it to a Korean company, which Boon and Co. did not know about.

    Neither company could get Ishii’s signature to finalize the deal, though, apparently, which has been the lone thing holding this deal back.

    K-1 won’t “die,” it actually looks like it will be under new management by 2012.

    • 45 Huddle says:

      Do you think this had anything to do with GG getting banned by the UFC short term or Alistair Overeem leaving GG?

      • Dave says:

        When Bas was sick some of his associates handled Alistair’s contract negotiations and decided to use the fact that they were now the ‘competition’ as leverage. All of this while trying to secure Fedor for United Glory shows and make a serious push for MMA.

        There were some serious mistrust issues when the K-1 deal didn’t materialize, especially with a lot of the waiting involved, and when the mass-firing happened a guy like Overeem found himself in a terrible spot when he was supposed to be in a position of power. All of a sudden he wasn’t going to get the K-1 money owed to him and he lost his job in the US, where sponsorships pay very well and fighting paid well enough and he believed he was being lied to.

        What is sad is, he probably wasn’t being lied to, but if you are told something will happen and it takes four months with nothing still happening, I can see that destroying trust.

        I had heard some very concrete dates for the announcement of the K-1 deal, first it was August 15th, then it was September 5th, then it was October 3rd, and it got to the point where I was kind of laughing off the whole thing or thought my usually reliable sources were just so far off the mark.

        But yeah, this had a lot to do with the Zuffa firings and Overeem leaving, as well as Saki and Zimmerman wanting out.

    • nottheface says:

      Weren’t there also rumors that GG was trying to set something up with Coker and Strikeforce earlier in the year, who in turn were rumored to be up to something K-1 (a company Coker had a previous relationship with)? Was there some plan for GG to take over K-1 and then the two to co-promote between MMA and Kickboxing around the world? I remember Boon didn’t seem happy when the Zuffa purchase went through.

      And as 45 Huddle noted, it could explain why Overeem jumped from GG to the UFC – because they no longer had K-1 to offer him.

      It’s sad to see K-1 collapse like this. Of all the Japanese fight organizations, this one seemed to be on fairly solid ground only a few years ago. How quickly things change.

      • Dave says:

        Yep, and those guys really can’t stand Coker now, consider him a liar and a slimeball.

        GG had been looking to take a dual-pronged approach and the K-1 and Strikeforce brands were extremely strong brands around the world.

        K-1 had actually been in bad shape for a long time, 2006 was almost the end of the line.

  5. Zack says:

    Bummer. K1GP is always one of the best shows of the year.

  6. ot says:

    In light of the mess with K-1, Zuffa should convert Strikeforce into a kickboxing promotion.

    • Chromium says:

      I keep hearing this, but the UFC gets most of their money getting North Americans to pay $50-60 for PPV events.

      Meanwhile kickboxing is a mainly European sport, with little presence in North America and what fans there are over here are mostly just us hardcore MMA nerds. You love the K-1 Grand Prix, but would you pay $50 a show for that? How about 8 times a year (with some of the lesser shows being “free”)? Do you think it would get 100,000 buys?

      There is not a paying market over here for kickboxing, and the Strikeforce brand means almost nothing in Europe or Japan. I know that kickboxing is what Strikeforce started out promoting, but it’s just not feasible. They moved into MMA for a reason.

      Let Europe be the stewards of kickboxing. Kickboxing is not dead or dying there.

      • Dave says:

        A slow start would be good. Think of how Strikeforce worked out and their trajectory. Airing shows on Sherdog, co-promoting with a company that had a stronger TV deal (ProElite) and then eventually taking over their TV deal.

  7. K-1 and MMA says:

    [...] Arnold over at FightOpinion.com has got a solid piece up on what appears to be the impending demise of K-1, the once-great Japanese promotion responsible [...]

  8. [...] Safe to issue K-1 their Last Rites? asks Fight Opinion [...]

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