Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Comments from DSE President and CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara

Thank you very much for attending today's press conference, despite the fact that this was announced on short notice and on a weekday. I'm very happy to see so many fans and media people. Thank you very much.

I must warn you that I don't have a speech written. I tried to write one, but I just couldn't find the right words. I've written out how I want to start this speech, and I'll read these words, but after a few sentences, I may simply speak from my heart.

On October 11th 1997 at the Tokyo Dome, Rickson Gracie fought Nobuhiko Takada. That event gave birth to PRIDE FC, and this year we commemorate the 10-year anniversary. Our success is due in no small part to the support of fighters, fans, and other pertinent people. For that, I'd like to thank you from the bottom of my heart. Without your help, we would not have made it this far. Thank you very much.

Over the past 10 years, we made history, presenting 60 PRIDE events and more than 600 fights. We sought out the best and strongest in the world, echoing a theme that harkens as far back as Pankration matches during the Greek Olympics. This decade was a big success, but now we face a moment in time that will separate our past from our present.

This past year was a very difficult one for PRIDE, Dream Stage, its fans, and myself. There were numerous times when I wanted to give up and run from my position as the head of PRIDE and Dream Stage. But then I would remember the faces of the fighters and their matches. I remembered the support. I remembered how the staff, the fans, and the people around me pushed and encouraged me. And I remembered that I wanted to ensure that the PRIDE that I love would continue.

I want to make sure that the PRIDE ring, where miracles happen, will be here in the future. That is my goal here today.

As the representative of Dream Stage Entertainment, there were two things I wanted to accomplish in 2006: to return to broadcast television and rebuild our credibility in Japan. Our credibility was hurt due to being removed from broadcast television, and while I realized that we could easily resolve our problem if I resigned and left Dream Stage, such a drastic solution would not resolve the second, larger problem.

In 2006, MMA saw the birth of several new organizations, such as BodogFight, and also the sudden success of the UFC. Competing against these companies was going to take a lot of power, including financial stability.

I represent a small company, with only 200 million yen as capital. Comparatively, we were a rowboat going up against major ships and bigger boats, and we were about to enter very rough water. I realized that in order to assure PRIDE's continued success, I needed to find a solution to save our rowboat. Subsequently, I started to look for a faster boat with a stronger engine. One that could deliver us that much quicker. There were many different people who were interested in PRIDE, but I determined that there was one person worthy of being introduced to you today.

With that, I present Mr. Lorenzo Fertitta as the new owner of PRIDE.

Mr. Fertitta is the co-owner of Station Casinos, and also the co-owner of the UFC, which has been PRIDE's biggest competitor. He also was the commissioner of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which obviously is an important role in the world of MMA.

I first met Lorenzo when he assumed the position of UFC owner in 2001 and since then, we have been each other's toughest rivals. In some ways, however, we also have been fighting with the same goals, to nurture the growth of MMA as a sport. Lorenzo has a vision about the future of MMA and we've talked about it numerous times for hours at length. As such, in many respects, I also see Lorenzo as a comrade-in-arms.

Since last summer, Lorenzo and I have been talking about the future of MMA. Lorenzo has a large heart, and I know that he doesn't want our sport to be damaged, especially in light of how far it's come. Even though he owns the UFC, Lorenzo loves and respects PRIDE. He told me "OK, I'll give you a new ship to replace that rowboat. I'll give you an aircraft carrier."

Lorenzo believes that PRIDE should maintain its luster, and he will make sure that PRIDE is here to stay. I trust and believe in Lorenzo. PRIDE is like my baby, and I've decided to give the future of my baby to him.

But please don't misunderstand the situation. This is not a speech about the UFC purchasing PRIDE. The UFC will forever stay as a competitor to PRIDE, because the UFC is operated by Zuffa Entertainment and Mr. Dana White. And the position that Lorenzo is assuming is similar to that of a commissioner of MMA. He will create a new enterprise to represent PRIDE and I will transfer all of PRIDE's rights to the new company. As of PRIDE.34, to be held on April 8th, I will resign from my post as the President and CEO of PRIDE. I relinquish the future of PRIDE to Lorenzo, and I trust that he will keep PRIDE and the UFC as two separate major brands.

The UFC / PRIDE rivalry in the past has been the equivalent of a street fight. However, we can now fight in the future officially as a new major brand. And just think about what is now possible: UFC fighters in the PRIDE Lightweight Grand Prix, a rematch of Mirko Cro Cop and Fedor Emilianenko, and of course the dream match that fight fans have been talking about for years � Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva. I promise that fight fans' dreams will come true.

And to the fighters, not only can you be a PRIDE champion, but also a UFC champion as well, because now there really will be fights between PRIDE and UFC fighters. The sky is the limit.

Being just barely more than a decade old, MMA has a considerably short history. However, it has clearly captured the hearts of people throughout the world, and I think its safe to say that PRIDE had a lot to do with building this sport's foundation. But now, I entrust the staff of PRIDE and the future of MMA to Lorenzo Fertitta.

I'm quite emotional right now, and I have so much more to say. PRIDE is not just my child; it's my baby girl, and I would ask Lorenzo to take very good care of my baby, so she can continue to grow. As of PRIDE.34, Dream Stage will relinquish all involvement with PRIDE, and I will take my leave as the representative of PRIDE.

I regret not being able to realize PRIDE's return to broadcast TV during my tenure as the President and CEO of PRIDE, but I would like to erase all the negativity and bad publicity with my resignation. With my departure, there will be no obstacles, and PRIDE will have its luster again, shining bright and clean. Lorenzo is an excellent man with a lot of talent. Lorenzo, please make sure that you get our broadcasting rights back. It would make my staff very happy to see the Fuji TV staff running around the Saitama Super Arena, shooting a PRIDE fight again. Also, I'd like to wish great success for the Dream Stage staff, who will resign from DSE and become employees of the new company.

But fear not, for PRIDE is here to stay, and PRIDE still is made in Japan. The spirit of PRIDE still lives in Japan, and in the hearts of fans worldwide. This is the beginning of something bigger than we've ever known, and it is all thanks to the love and support that the fans have shown PRIDE and its fighters. Please take a good care of PRIDE, and thank you very much for your help over the past decade.


No comments: