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Today’s parallels between Strikeforce and K-1

By Zach Arnold | December 7, 2010

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K-1 claims that they will announce 10 fights for their Dynamite event (12/31 Saitama Super Arena) after their 12/11 Ariake Colosseum event takes place in Tokyo. I find this news to be curious because a week ago the company line issued to certain individuals is that they weren’t going to focus on Dynamite until after the Ariake Colosseum event. How things change.

K-1 says that they will talk to Satoshi Ishii’s management this week to see if they can get him booked for the Dynamite event. At this past weekend’s IGF (Inoki) event in Tokyo at Ryogoku Kokugikan, disgraced former Sumo wrestler Wakakirin is now Inoki’s Japanese ace in IGF and said he wanted to fight at the Dynamite event. Both Ishii and Wakakirin are aligned on the Inoki side of politics. A stranger sidebar to the Dynamite discussion is a PR stunt by K-1 to tease whether or not disgraced Livedoor boss Takafumi Horie (who’s now in the porn business) will appear at the Saitama Super Arena event.

The situation for K-1 on New Year’s Eve is critical. They need Tokyo Broadcasting System a lot more than TBS needs them, despite the attitude on display by some of “what else is TBS going to air that will draw just as well on NYE?” The truth is that as K-1 loses more power, TBS gains more control. TBS will continue to gain influence over K-1 as a company until they get tired of Kazuyoshi Ishii and pull the plug. Low ratings can have that effect on a relationship. The position K-1 is in going into New Year’s Eve is horrible. They will have less than three weeks to promote a show at a major arena with a rumored card line-up that, so far, has little or no relevance to the Japanese public at hand. Bibiano Fernandes vs. Hiroyuki Takaya, Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Marius Zaromskis, and Josh Thomson vs. Crusher Kawajiri all are DREAM-level fights but they do not come across as fights that a Japanese television executive would book for ratings, right?

(It should be noted that the original rumor for Dynamite matchmaking a few weeks ago was a fight between Sakuraba and Akebono.)

What’s been so fascinating about this year’s Dynamite show is that all the action has taken place behind the scenes. TBS holds all the cards. It would seem unlikely, at this point, that a pay-for-play deal was reached, but who knows? A barter deal (advertising split), should K-1 manage to somehow get a limited time frame on the network for NYE, would make the most sense. The problem is attracting significant sponsorship dollars. We’re far too late into the game here.

When one looks at the historical purpose of the New Year’s Eve big fight show (started by DSE & Antonio Inoki in 2000 at the Osaka Dome), the purpose was to attack the establishment. The establishment, in this case, was NHK’s traditional NYE powerhouse Kohaku. Inoki, PRIDE, and K-1 positioned themselves as the rebels challenging the status quo and proving that the Japanese fight game is the strongest in the world. It was a showcase for top Japanese stars and for developing new Japanese aces. Inoki brought the pro-wrestling marketing sense and stars from New Japan, PRIDE brought the major-league production values, and K-1 brought the juice through their television connections.

Look at the Dynamite franchise now, 10 years later. The juice is gone. If K-1 can get the event aired on TV, that is somehow considered a victory in this current climate. You would have never imagined that scenario, even three years ago. And… the fights being leaked so far in the press are intriguing but not for the reasons you would expect. Josh Thomson vs. Crusher Kawajiri is a fight that Scott Coker wants to see, but can you honestly say the mainstream public in Japan cares? No, which is why I think it’s fascinating to see that some of the fights that could end up getting booked on Dynamite will end up having more consequence on the matchmaking outside of K-1 rather than in the promotion’s own booking scenario.

I am reminded of a discussion Dave Meltzer had with Bryan Alvarez after the Strikeforce show in St. Louis last weekend in which they criticized Strikeforce for not announcing fights for their 1/29 San Jose event during the Showtime telecast. The word that kept popping up was ‘mindboggling.’ Was it because Josh Barnett couldn’t get re-licensed? Was it because Gilbert Melendez’s hand injury hasn’t healed up in time to book a trilogy fight against Josh Thomson? Those were the questions being asked in the discussion. That discussion led to a larger discussion about how much Showtime controls Strikeforce at this point as an MMA property and that Showtime has certain ideas and values as to how to book events. Dave claims that the reason Strikeforce preliminary fights aren’t shown on Showtime is because Showtime believes that since they are a premium cable channel that, unless you are already an established MMA star, you shouldn’t get air time on their channel as a nobody. “Airing prelims, that is a UFC move,” is how Dave described Showtime’s attitude on the matter. Strikeforce can put on good shows, but they are at the mercy of Showtime at this point.

Which is, ironically, the position Strikeforce’s Japanese partner, K-1, is in now with TBS. This is not a political position that Ishii ever thought he would find himself in. Even if TBS decides to air Dynamite, the big issue is money. If TBS doesn’t have to pay much money for the telecast, how will K-1 survive financially? All eyes are on this Saturday’s Ariake Colosseum event and whether or not K-1 can draw a good enough rating to maintain their relationship with Fuji TV. Here’s photos from today’s workout featuring Kyotaro (Keijiro Maeda).

The relationship between Fuji TV and K-1 goes back to the beginnings of K-1 as a national player in the 90s. K-1 aired their major shows on Fuji TV and then developed B-level “K-1 Japan series” events that aired on Nippon TV. Eventually, K-1 shifted towards the World MAX events and moved from Nippon TV to TBS. For two decades, the promotion has had an incredible run of shows on three of Japan’s biggest broadcast networks. I was recently reading an article from writer Ichiro Ochiai talking about the tragedies and triumphs of the K-1 Japan series aces like Musashi, Yusuke Fujimoto, Tsuyoshi Nakasako, Hiromi Amada, Nobu Hayashi, and Tatsufumi Tomihira. The lack of new Japanese superstars is what led to the irrelevance and death of the K-1 Japan series. Heading in 2011, K-1 finds all of their television properties in danger of extinction. The company is now at the mercy of television executives.

The sad predicament K-1 is in now reminds me of another sad predicament of someone who made a name for themselves under the Dynamite banner and that’s pro-wrestler Tadao Yasuda. Yasuda become a semi-household name in Japan after choking out Jerome Le Banner. The win caused chaos in New Japan matchmaking and Yasuda would eventually win the IWGP Heavyweight title because of a match result in a shoot fight. Yesterday, in quiet fashion, Yasuda announced that he would be having a retirement show on February 4th in Tokyo at Korakuen Hall. Yasuda was the classic hard-luck story you see in pro-wrestling all the time. He made the conversion from Sumo wrestling and never really panned out as a good wrestler. His penchant for gambling away his salary on pachislo (pachinko slot machines) was so prominent that it became the storyline used by TBS in the pre-fight clips for his 2001 Dynamite bout. His daughter was at ring side to watch him fight Le Banner. After Yasuda pulled off the upset win, he became known as “King Debtor of the Heisei era” in the media. He won the IWGP title, gambled away more money, turned heel in New Japan and became “Hollywood” Tadao Yasuda, and eventually left. He had a failed suicide attempt at his house in October of 2007. He became broke again due to gambling.

In the press report issued for his pro-wrestling retirement show, he says that he plans on moving away from Japan to head to Brazil because he’s too tempted to gamble his money away in his home country. He noted that he wants to teach Sumo wrestling. In a plea to the fans, he promised that he wouldn’t blow the money from the retirement show on gambling and that he would use it for retirement.

He’s fading off into the sunset on a predetermined date. The question is whether or not K-1 & Dynamite will fade off into the sunset shortly as well.

Topics: DREAM, Japan, K-1, Media, MMA, StrikeForce, Zach Arnold | 10 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

10 Responses to “Today’s parallels between Strikeforce and K-1”

  1. 45 Huddle says:

    Star Power. Neither have it in their promotion. Star power can fix a lot of problems an organization is having.

  2. 45 Huddle says:

    Completely off topic…. Duke Roufus started a conversation on the UG about the state of striking in MMA. A lot of good information on it. One of the most interesting things he said was:

    “As well we do not do a lot straight Kickboxing at the high levels in our training. Kickboxing is applied whilst we are mma sparring. I am good at kickboxing when we kickboxing. In mma I lose about 75% of my arsenal if I do not want to risk any easy takedown.”

    Just shows how different it is. So when people try to compare MMA striking to K-1, it really isn’t relevent. Even a top tier striker is saying so.

    He also talks about how they need to improve their defense….

  3. notthface says:

    I never get the complaints about Showtime not airing Strikeforce’s prelims. They do it all the time, it’s called the Challengers show. The prelims are on the Challenger card. At any Strikeforce event how many of the prelim fighters are actually signed to Strikeforce? There’s a handful of fights we can pick out (Comier vs Devine, Beerbohm vs Vitor, Heiron vs Riggs) but it seems as if almost every prelim fighter is booked through a local promotion like KOTC. These fighters are not signed to Strikeforce so why would Showtime want to give them free publicity? Thse fighters are there to help fill up a card and draw local fans for the gate.

    Strikeforce and Showtime do this because all they really care about is the TV portion of the card. It’s cheaper to only book 5 fights and get a license fee for it then to book a full card and hope a couple fights make the broadcast. Their are trying to maximize their fighter purses.

  4. liger05 says:

    I remember when New Japan gave Yasuda the IWGP title. Bad times!!!

  5. When it comes to the criticism of Strikeforce being indebted to Showtime for survival, I think to myself – where would they be without Showtime? Cung Le had left for movies, they had no heavyweight division of any sort, Frank was near retirement, and they wouldn’t have the ability to retain any of the top guys they currently have, much less sign someone like Dan Henderson or Fedor.
    Their one star in the pipeline is still around but looks like he won’t be much (Billy Evangelista). So…I don’t get the criticism.

    Isn’t this like bagging on how every promotion that isn’t the UFC or Strikeforce is depending on casinos to exist? I doubt the MFC even sells 300 tickets via Ticketmaster or the venue’s box office.

  6. Sergio says:

    “That discussion led to a larger discussion about how much Showtime controls Strikeforce at this point as an MMA property and that Showtime has certain ideas and values as to how to book events.”

    Hey guys! So with the above comment mentioned,I have a quick question about the SF/CBS deal?

    -Is it safe to say that the reason why SF never did another show this year on CBS was because of the brawl?

    -And also because maybe Coker didnt get back to CBS after the brawl in a timely manner to smooth things out?

    We know Coker will be talking to CBS in Jan to setup shows for 2011 but I find it hard to belive from a business standpoint that he would wait so long after the brawl to smooth things out with CBS.Coker hasn’t really said why no more shows on CBS this year.Maybe it was a combination of the brawl & poor ratings that killed it for the year? Also can some one give insight as to how Paul Haymen can help SF? Id love to hear anyones insight on why no CBS shows this year.
    thank you!

    • Steve4192 says:

      “Is it safe to say that the reason why SF never did another show this year on CBS was because of the brawl?”

      The brawl certainly didn’t help, but I think the lukewarm ratings had a lot more to do with it.

      “And also because maybe Coker didn’t get back to CBS after the brawl in a timely manner to smooth things out?”

      I’m sure Coker tried like crazy to smooth things out and work a new deal. He would have been a fool not to. I think it is more likely that CBS told him, “Don’t call us. We’ll call you.” in the aftermath of the Nashville debacle.

  7. robthom says:

    Funny situation.

    (Japanese MMA = funny situation)

    They need Japanese fighters for the Japanese audience, but Japanese fighters aren’t always the best fighters.

    IE: Making a “better” event wont really help.

    • Steve4192 says:

      The don’t need Japanese fighters so much as they need fighters that capture the interest of Japanese viewers. Two of the biggest ratings draws in the history of Japanese MMA (Bob Sapp, Akebono) were not Japanese, but they were guys who resonated with the Japanese fans.

      Problem is, there are no gsijin like Sapp or Akebono left on the Japanese MMA scene, and the big three Japanese draws (Kid, Yoshida, Saku) are all on the downside of their careers.

  8. Black Dog says:

    Ishii appears to be the only big name with potential right now; doesn’t sound like he’s going to do the event, unless he gets an opponent he can handle and the money’s good.

    The latter doesn’t sound like it’s there.

    Add to it, they can’t fall back on the old standby of throwing guys like Sakuraba on the card; that act has worn painfully thin.

    The Japanese aspect of the game could be headed into a winter of uncertainty. It might be time for K-1 and others to examine the amateur ranks, such as Maeda’s version of RINGS, and elsewhere. This won’t mean the end of K-1 and other such promotions; just a hibernation til they can find the talent, develop it and again provide incentive for TBS and other networks to bankroll it again.


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