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Developing revisionist history

By Zach Arnold | July 14, 2006

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By Zach Arnold

On Friday, Josh Gross wrote an article on Sherdog titled Liddell vs. Silva: Why now? talking about the upcoming co-promotional matchmaking between PRIDE & UFC. The PRIDE source Gross quotes (and doesn’t dispute in the article) is engaged in amazing spin-doctoring, to the point that you start laughing at the claims being made. History and facts show a completely different story than the one being spread through official channels.

The first factually-questionable quote:

Though many on the outside saw Fuji TV’s severed relationship with PRIDE as the death knell for the promotion, those on the inside believed that a unique opportunity had presented itself.

No longer hamstrung by television executives that often had as much say in matchmaking as PRIDE officials, DSE was free to do what it wished.

That meant a serious discussion was underway to send one of the best fighters in the organization’s history to battle someone of equal standing on the other side of the world. Just a month ago, a deal was struck.

Nobody truly believes that people inside of PRIDE are happy about losing free TV media exposure. The credibility of this statement would be the equivalent of MLB losing their TV deal with FOX and stating that even though they lost billions of USD, they have “creative freedom” to do what they want.

  1. Let’s quote a couple of sentences from this week’s Figure Four Weekly online newsletter:

    Those in PRIDE were unaware that anything was going down and were just as surprised as everyone else when Wanderlei showed up in the ring (morale in the company is said to be at an all-time low for a number of reasons).

    On the surface, if this truly is the “ALL OUT WAR” that PRIDE claims, this looks to be an indication of major problems. Traditionally, interpromotional wars start when one promotion is going under, and usually by the time the dust is settled their fate is sealed.

  2. Let’s touch upon the claim made in the F4W newsletter regarding interpromotional scenarios with Japanese companies. As I touched upon in a previous posting, 1995 saw the biggest interpromotional feud of all-time in Japan as New Japan feuded against Nobuhiko Takada (ironically, the man who is the face of PRIDE right now) & UWF-International. The end result of that interpromotional war? New Japan made over $20 million USD on three Tokyo Dome shows, UWF-International got buried, and only Takada got protected somewhat.

    Recent history in Japan also shows us what the impact of losing TV can do to a company and how the idea of interpromotional feuding is viewed as a last-ditch effort to save a company. In 2000, All Japan faced a “company split” with Mitsuharu Misawa taking most of the wrestlers from All Japan (who were all under contract to Nippon TV) and formed his own company in NOAH. All Japan was left with Toshiaki Kawada, Steve Williams, Stan Hansen, Taiyo Kea, and Masa Fuchi. The “split” created massive chaos in All Japan, as they no longer had a TV deal and had bookings still planned at Nippon Budokan (a 16,000-seat building) in Tokyo. Without TV exposure and TV money, All Japan immediately resorted to bringing in free agent Gen’ichiro Tenryu (who betrayed the company in 1990 by leaving All Japan to go to “money pro-wrestling” league SWS) to try to pop a house at Budokan.

    After one Nippon Budokan show, Masa Fuchi ended up appearing in the New Japan ring at Ryogoku Kokugikan during a G-1 show to announce that he wanted All Japan to work with New Japan. The first of these interpromotional matches saw Masa Chono (NJ) go over on Masa Fuchi (AJ) in September of 2000 at Nippon Budokan. In October of 2000, Toshiaki Kawada faced Kensuke Sasaki in the NJ ring at the Tokyo Dome in a big-money match. Also, Chono & Tenzan & Hiro Saito jobbed to Shiro Koshinaka (an NJ wrestler, nonetheless), Masa Fuchi, & Toshiaki Kawada in a 6-man tag in Nagoya in the All Japan ring. A week later, Tenryu defeated Kawada to win the Triple Crown at Budokan. In December of 2000, Fuchi & Kawada faced off against Yuji Nagata & Takashi Iizuka of New Japan in the NJ ring in Osaka in a draw. This match took place days after All Japan tanked at Nippon Budokan for their Real World Tag League finals with Steve Williams & Mike Rotunda defeating Toshiaki Kawada & Masa Fuchi. One of the big blow-offs for the feud happened when Kawada & Sasaki had a re-match in January of 2001 at the Tokyo Dome. While New Japan cooperated with All Japan somewhat on shows in 2001, everything came to a halt in January of 2002 when New Japan’s Keiji Mutoh jumped ship with Satoshi Kojima to go to All Japan (and eventually absorb the company).

    Throughout the entire period of the New Japan/All Japan interpromotional relationship, it was a case of one company (NJ) having to carry and build up All Japan the entire time. New Japan ultimately made more money on the deal, and All Japan was left stuck in the same position it was in the first place (no free TV deal – only on GAORA on cable, running out of dream matches to promote). The idea of interpromotional feuds has long been a staple of the Japanese pro-wrestling industry, especially for companies struggling to do any sort of domestic business and running out of ideas on how to save their own company. Once you play the trump card of interpromotional matches, that’s it. There’s nowhere else to go. For MMA fans online who continue to bash others who try to talk about Japanese pro-wrestling and MMA in the same context, it is historically and factually important to study both industries to understand how the Japanese business mindset works.

  3. The claim by the PRIDE source (in the Sherdog article) that DSE was hamstrung by Fuji TV is very debatable. Why is it debatable? The chief producer of Fuji TV broadcasts of PRIDE events was Kunio Kiyohara. Kiyohara was so closely aligned with PRIDE boss Nobuyuki Sakakibara that when the PRIDE/Fuji TV scandal occured (resulting in Fuji TV yanking PRIDE shows off the network), it was Kiyohara who was demoted from his job as chief producer for Fuji TV and re-assigned elsewhere in the FujiSankei conglomerate. The idea that Kiyohara was a combative force creatively for PRIDE is a questionable claim, at best.

    The amount of money and advertising that Fuji TV invested into PRIDE was enormous. PRIDE was a serious moneymaking operation that drew big ratings. For someone to claim that Fuji TV dropping them was actually a positive move is jawdropping.

Finally, let’s close out this post with another quote from the Sherdog article:

More important, the PRIDE executive explained, if this arrangement works the way DSE hopes it will, the Japanese company will have insured its future for the next 20 to 30 years while establishing its legacy as a standard bearer when people look back in a century’s time.

The reality is that you don’t ask to book an interpromotional feud with your rival unless the wheels are coming off (see: UWF-International & All Japan). Interpromotional feuds are often last-ditch efforts to save a company that is falling apart. Notice that in the Sherdog article it states that UFC is paying the salary of Vanderlei Silva for the proposed November fight against Chuck Liddell. PRIDE’s decision was clearly about finding a money mark that could help keep their operation surviving and not die a painful death.

The impact of losing Fuji TV was a devastating blow for PRIDE. All one needs to do is to refer to what PRIDE boss Nobuyuki Sakakibara said at the infamous June 7th press conference in regards to how PRIDE got dumped by Fuji TV in the first place. Anyone who watched the Japanese version of the PRIDE telecast on SkyPerfecTV did notice some differences in production-values. Without having Fuji TV’s mega-slick production technology at hand, it made a noticeable difference. The spin-doctoring of PRIDE’s health as an organization right now is something that needs to be challenged by everyone – the media, the fans, and people doing business with the company right now.

Jeff Thaler comments on the Sherdog article.

Topics: All Topics, Japan, Media, MMA, PRIDE, Pro-Wrestling, UFC, Zach Arnold | 12 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

12 Responses to “Developing revisionist history”

  1. ditch says:

    “it is historically and factually important to study both industries to understand how the Japanese business mindset works.”

    There are reasons for this and few people bother to understand why it is.

    Though there have been gimmicky boxer vs wrestler type events in US pro wrestling, along with the occasional shootfighter (Ken Shamrock), the ability to win outside of standard wrestling matches stopped mattering in the ’50s or so when it started to become 90% spectacle.

    In Japan, wrestling was much more about strength instead of cartoonish heroes and villains. Wrestlers, especially Antonio Inoki, would take on legit fighters in worked fights to prove the strength of wrestling (though oddly enough his signature fight with Ali was a shoot). Inoki student Akira Maeda pioneered MMA-influenced wrestling with UWF, the promotion that gave Takada fame and thus helped birth PRIDE. UWF or “shoot style” pro wrestling never appeared in any form in the US, thus non-boxing shootfighting entered the media’s consciousness with UFC 1. Which seemed brutal and inhuman to a people ignorant of anything resembling MMA, thus today’s continued smearing of MMA by the media.

    In Japan, pro wrestling set the table. Takada got people interested in the Gracies (a modern-day Inoki vs Ali) and the rest is history. Pro wrestling set the table, and thus certain tricks of the pro wrestling trade remain.

  2. Shaolin says:

    I find this halarious, I found gross article (who has way much more journalistic integrety when it comes to mma then arnold) wrote a positive peice about pride, and I just new zach would have to bitch about it, since his small time ass has some sort of beef with pride, I am not even going to bother anymore.

  3. Shaolin121 says:

    And fuji tv was so devestating to pride it made up 12 percent according to japanese media of prides profits.

  4. Zach Arnold says:

    [And fuji tv was so devestating to pride it made up 12 percent according to japanese media of prides profits.]

    From a May 8th post:

    I have heard that Fuji TV paid DSE 600-650 million yen for PRIDE’s Otoko Matsuri (Man Festival) 2003 event.

    If we consider 10 million yen for 30 seconds as the base amount, and that the 15-second spot sponsors are paying 5 million yen, then this produces a total amount of 750 million yen of revenue to Fuji TV. Part of this money was paid to DSE as a broadcasting fee

    750 million yen = $7 million USD. 600-650 million yen = $6 million USD. So out of this Fuji TV contract worth approximately $13 million dollars, the amount of money from the TV deal is only 12-15% of the entire profit for PRIDE? PRIDE made that claim in the media (15%), and also claimed that they got the same amount in PPV buys. All the financial signs clearly point to the Fuji TV cancelation having a negative financial impact, to the point that Sakakibara has been publicly quoted as saying that fighters will have to make sacrifices in the future to fight for less money. Will that settle well with the top names over the course of a long period of time?

    PRIDE has gone to a situation where they were seen in prime-time by anywhere between 12-to-20 million Fuji TV viewers, to maybe 50,000-70,000 PPV subscribers on SkyPerfecTV? It’s a large drop in media attention.

  5. jalapeño says:

    Josh Gross is very fine fight analyst and a rather poor business analyst.

    Dude got spun. Bad.

    The lack of familiarity with Japanese language and culture makes the “reporting” on PRIDE throughout much of the MMA media a joke. Gross is fiercely skeptical of the UFC, and he’s right to be so vigilant. But I think one reason Gross, among many others, lets PRIDE have it relatively easy is because he simply doesn’t understand what’s going on because he doesn’t speak or read Japanese.

  6. captain~swing says:

    Ditch,

    “UWF or “shoot style” pro wrestling never appeared in any form in the US”

    How do you explain the 3 UWF-i “Shootfighting” PPVs?

    When dropping someone on their head over facts it’s best to have your own straight.

  7. ditch says:

    I have never heard of UWFi PPVs in the US. Did they get significant notice? Did they take place in the US?

    I’m talking about US-based shoot-style pro wrestling. More importantly I’m talking about the context in which MMA promotions came up during the ’90s, with Japan being far more ‘ready’ for it than the US.

  8. Good counterpoint to the Sherdog article, which is hopelessly biased by their dealings with Zuffa and Dana White.

    The title you chose is interesting, since you seem to be suggesting a somewhat deterministic view of history (and the future). I don’t buy that a UFC-Pride co-promotion will necessarily end in the dissolution of Pride. If I understand your argument correctly, the main force which weakened UWFi was a decline in credibility due to the booking of their interpromotional matches. This obviously won’t be as relevant in the MMA context, since MMA booking, assuming all is above board, does not determine outcome. Booking can certainly stack the deck in favor of a particular fighter, but the final outcome is still in the fighters’ hands. It’s certainly possible that Pride’s fighters will win all or most of their matches. (Unlike many, I don’t think it’s likely Pride–or UFC, for that matter–will completely dominate.)

    The All-Japan comparison seems more apt, since this is essentially the problem at hand for Pride–no meaningful television outlet. I agree that this is a much bigger problem than Pride–or its American apologists–are letting on. I have to agree that Pride’s primary motivation in cross-promoting with UFC is to staunch the bleeding (which was already underway even before the Fuji deal was cut off), keeping its fighters from jumping to K-1 or UFC. But the secondary motivation is that this gives Pride a chance to bide its time and come up with a better long-term strategy. This could be seeking out a new deal for TV in Japan. Since I know very little about the Japanese television industry, I have no idea if this is likely. My impression is that it is not. The other possibility is to export Pride to other countries, establishing it as the primary venue for MMA worldwide. This would begin with Pride talent defeating UFC talent, thus proving that Pride has the best fighters in the world.

    This globalization point is essentially the line which Pride fed to Josh Gross. I think it’s true to a point, but Gross failed to do his duty in two regards. First, he never acknowledged the potential (and actual) talent drain confronting Pride. (I guess this is part of a larger problem of failing to acknowledge that Pride was actually weakened by losing its TV deal.) Second, Gross offers only the faintest hint that this business model might not work out.

    I would think the odds are against Pride in the US, actually. I do think that American fans will want to see more of any Pride fighter who beats a big-name UFC fighter. However, I don’t think the American fans will care if this happens in a Pride ring or a UFC cage, so long as they get to see the fighter in question. Pride’s plan is to establish itself as a brand on equal footing with UFC in America by promoting shows featuring these fighters. Given its money problems, I think it’s much more likely that UFC will simply sign away these fighters. The rest, presumably, will go to K-1.

  9. The only reason you go to your competitor is because you are in trouble. “if you can’t beat them, join them” has to be prides motto lately, unfortunately because loosing t.v., whether it is in the us or abroad, is devastating.

    Lets remember the reason the UFC (or a large reason) is where it is today is because of its TV product. I’m not so sure we have to be critical of Pride as if to take them down, but Japan is often misunderstood when being viewed from afar.

    Most people who have never lived there or know the culture assume many things, and that leads to a lighter side of reporting, storytelling, and viewpoints.

    But who cares? Hopefully Wandy will represent, knock Chuck on his rear, and the world view can open up.

    Or Chuck can win, and the UFC can continue to market a mediocre dumbed down product to a dumbed down crowd.

  10. Norio Ohga says:

    “But I think one reason Gross, among many others, lets PRIDE have it relatively easy is because he simply doesn’t understand what’s going on because he doesn’t speak or read Japanese.”

    You guys talk as if Mr. Arnold understands Japanese, which is a pretty laughable contention.

  11. Zach Arnold says:

    [You guys talk as if Mr. Arnold understands Japanese, which is a pretty laughable contention.]

    Care to talk about the general topic at hand instead of an ad hominem attack?

  12. Mike Coughlin says:

    Zach’s dead on here. Sherdog as an entity is completely flawed at this point. They continually attack the UFC for shallow reasons and as a result, seem to fawn over any competition (PRIDE, WFA, etc…). To claim that losing network TV, and the millions of dollars that go along with it, is a good thing is a joke.

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