By Zach Arnold | October 16, 2011
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.