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Rizin from the graveyard of golden oldies

By Zach Arnold | November 5, 2015

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Better late to the party than to be early and expose yourself as a fool. I’ve kept my mouth shut about the return of Nobuyuki Sakakibara, wondering if he had as much juice as some of his cheerleaders claims he has right now. In the fight business, you never know. The wild rumors of his money marks coming from the Middle East to pachinko money in Japan. What’s real and what’s not real?

Nature abhors a vacuum. Once PRIDE died, so did the national Mixed Martial Arts in Japan. Take away the alleged dark money, the professional wrestling icons, and TV support and you’re just an American-style independent promoter.

Since the death of PRIDE, Fuji TV has tanked in the ratings. They’re not a major player on New Year’s Eve. As Tadashi Tanaka correctly pointed out, Fuji TV has been airing a lot of South Korean programming that the Japanese public isn’t all that into. Mr. Tanaka quipped that people were wondering whether or not Korean money was involved in Fuji TV’s ownership. The irony of this is incredibly thick given that the Shukan Gendai negative campaign against PRIDE was built around the mysterious Mr. Ishizaka (“Mr. I”), a dark money figure with alleged ties to… South Korea.

The irony is even thicker when you consider that Spike TV, the network that ran a news program laying out the PRIDE yakuza scandal, is now going to work with Rizin through Scott Coker.

With Sakakibara’s return, the promise is that he’ll bring in pro-wrestling stars and big foreign names to juice up a dead Japanese scene. Given that Antonio Inoki is back in politics, someone had to fill his (small) role as the country’s only power broker. Throw in rumors of former K-1 boss Kazuyoshi Ishii perhaps interested in Rizing and the circus is back in town.

There are simply too many missing pieces of the puzzle to put the band back together again.

First, you need big-league professional wrestling stars. They don’t exist right now to do the crossover. Only a name like Shinsuke Nakamura could do it and I have serious doubts that New Japan would risk having their golden goose get humiliated like Yuji Nagata got buried against Mirko Cro Cop a decade ago. New Japan is the only pro-wrestling player in town. I don’t see the economics adding up for New Japan to prop up Sakakibara, especially given TV-Asahi’s ownership in the company.

There was talk of Kota Ibushi, but he’s got a herniated disc and I don’t see the natural cross-over fit. There was curious talk of Go Shiozaki, but Shiozaki is not a major name and he frankly has zero business leverage with any combat sports organization. After Misawa died, bad booking and development buried Shiozaki into a permanent glass ceiling situation.

That leaves you with Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Shinya Aoki and Aoki vs. Montanha Silva. The public may slightly care about the first fight but care less about the second fight.

Second, money. There are three plausible scenarios on the TV front: 1) Fuji TV is putting up a small amount of cash, 2) they’re doing a barter deal with Sakakibara, or 3) Sakakibara may be paying a small amount. Fuji TV is still scarred by what happened with PRIDE. There was talk about Rizin and the TV network ensuring protocols in place that Rizin would not do business with the dark side. Even with Fuji TV working again with Sakakibara, I cannot see the network in its current state risking a lot to chase a pipe dream like reviving MMA.

Three, big names. It takes a lot of cash to develop prospects over time to make them into household names in Japan. If you’re having to rely on Sakuraba or Akebono, it’s not enough to open the window for old fans to come back through let alone create new fans who are wondering what this MMA thing is. A decade is a long time to be away from the main stage.

The smarter play would have been to go through the pro-wrestling route and try to revive UWF, then turn-key it into an MMA project. By going through the PRIDE/DREAM route, you’re risking more money with fewer promoter-friendly parts to work with.

Even when Antonio Inoki was loading big New Japan cards in the 1970s and early 80s with foreigners like Ali, Hansen, Andre, and Dusty Rhodes, there was still an ability to sell some Japanese names on the cards who would turn out to be pretty serious draws (Fujinami, Sakaguchi, Choshu). There is no one available for Rizin who is Inoki-level, let alone Fujinami-level to build around.

If you are hoping to appeal to big-name sponsors for a NYE show, the preparations usually begin during late August to book big names so that by October you have something to pitch to ad agencies like Dentsu to bring in the big bucks. PRIDE paid $5 million bucks for Hidehiko Yoshida vs. Naoya Ogawa and that turned to be a monster fight in PRIDE’s history. We’re in early November and I don’t see the major names on tap that could attract 10 million viewers on NYE. At this point, 7 million viewers would be an accomplishment. Better to set the bar low than to raise expectation levels from the past.

Topics: Japan, MMA, Media, PRIDE, Zach Arnold | 12 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

12 Responses to “Rizin from the graveyard of golden oldies”

  1. rst says:

    Where’dya get to for a while there boss?
    I couldn’t access the site for a few days and it made me very upset.

    “Nature abhors a vacuum.”

    I agree.

    • DIAZ'S PACKED BOWL says:

      Masato > Kid
      its still a great match in Japan, too bad rizin won’t be promoting it…wonder who TK will be fighting?

      and… for the 4th time this year i’m looking forward to bellator, mainly to see Held get the belt, but the brooks pitbull conflict dynamic brings it up a notch.

      Held > Brooks by painful leglock
      Straus > pitbull by payback beatdown and choke
      Lashley > Thompson by the laydown.

      • DIAZ'S PACKED BOWL says:

        Great bellator card with two totally different title matches! Super technical Held got the predicted painful knee popping bar but Brooks is one tough sog!
        And those bellator announcements, way better than UFC announcements.
        And those wild and colorful shorts and walk out outfits, wow! Face it… Ufc can’t beat those.

        Fri’s Bellator > Sat UFC

  2. Max says:

    Who is bankrolling this KYOKUGEN?

    What’s the point of it?


    Isn’t it a bit strange that one day after Crocop rips on reeboks low quality gear while revealing that Reebok won’t allow him to wear his checkerboard croatian flag shorts, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof, he quits fighting? Siteing an injury no one heard of until now.

    Does crocop have a non exclusive contract?

    Crocop Fedor 2 would be a welcome addition to a certain upcoming show in Japan.

    • CaptObvious says:

      I think pissing hot had more to do with it than shorts.

      And all UFC contracts are exclusive.

      Ask Randy Couture.

      • DIAZ'S PACKED BOWL says:

        Well regardless the real reason, it was obvious from the timing of his retirement that it had little to do with his “injury”. Hes fought injured before, even with Fedor.

        Its a potential violation.. so far, we don’t know why. Maybe it was due to the therapy “drug cocktails” as he referred to them, maybe he forgot to tell usda where he was ala Cerrone.

        While I doubt the frattatas would even consider releasing him so he could build up ANY rival promotion…gotta admit Fedor Crocop 2 would be optimum.

        • DIAZ'S PACKED BOWL says:

          Did you see that twister sub by Lee at ONE? That was a solid show even though that Sap’oh wussed out, wolfing down multiple breakfasts and getting an IV isn’t a good way to stay under the weight limit.

          How about UFC pos Dana? not even going talk about how $hitty a person he is or how much of a lying dirtbag he is. He’ll get his someday. He’ll piss of the wrong fighter and that will be that.

          RR looks like garbage and could barely put together a coherent sentence after the weigh in. I hope she gets tooled up, HH has a good shot at just dancing around and picking her apart. RR striking is pretty weak, unless she hits you.


    I forgot to add, 193 is a pathetic gutted card, how it sold 50,000 tickets is beyond me. I guess aussies really are that stupid and ten years behind whats hip.
    The korea show is gutted… crocoped-out, not too mention the most popular Korean fighter on the card is without an opponent with Madsvidal in for injured alves. I would be amazed if the frattatas don’t try to sell ufc after 2016.

    glad to watch ONE and Bellator(which I dubbed the new pride years ago) with their popular stars and great young talent not to mention the colorful and unique outfits the fighters wear.
    I hear that fighters in every other show but the ufc actually get to chose what to wear, like any average grown up does.

  5. SpikeyRizin says:

    The lost episode of Spike TV’s MMA Uncensored Program – Miro Mijatovic vs PRIDE and the Yakuza

  6. SpikeyRizin says:

    The lost episode of Spike TV’s MMA Uncensored Program – Miro Mijatovic vs PRIDE and the Yakuza


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