Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Details of Pride/UFC conference call in the U.S.

By Sam Caplan

Following a press conference earlier in Japan, a conference call in the U.S. was conducted at 11 a.m. EST announcing that Pride has been acquired. I wanted to give you some of the details.

- The call was hosted by UFC president Dana White with Zuffa owner Lorenzo Fertitta and Pride CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara also answering questions.

- The companies will be run as separate entities.

- A "strategic alliance" between Pride and the UFC began to be discussed "10 months ago," according to Lorenzo Fertitta.

- Dana sounded confident that Pride will get back on TV in Japan when asked.

- The idea of doing a Japenese version of The Ultimate Fighter was not ruled out. I guess it would be called The Pride Fighter.

- The "Super Bowl of MMA" concept with Pride vs. UFC mega matchups was discussed again. This seemed to be the big selling point as to why Pride being acquired is a good thing. Many reporters had questions about a proposed event (questions such as will it be held in Japan or the U.S., will there be multiple Pride vs. UFC fight cards during a calendar year, etc.) but little was offered in the way of detail. It sounds like a lot of things still need to be flushed out.

- When asked about changes to Pride, White quipped at one point "Pride will still be Pride and the UFC will still be the UFC." Fertitta and White were both careful when discussing this deal. They stated numerous times that "Pride isn't going to change." However, when pressed they gave some details, although I felt they had a reluctant tone. According to White, there will be universal rules in both Pride and the UFC. The rules they will be using will be NSAC rules. Elbows were addressed specifically by a reporter and the answer was "Yes." So there will be elbows in Pride. Also, there will be new weight classes. So despite the insistence that Pride isn't going to change, there will be at least a few significant changes.

- Pride will still have cards in the U.S. and will continue to be a global brand, as opposed to just an Asian brand. White also said that the UFC plans to expand into Japan. It sounds as though Pride's TV presence in the U.S. will increase. It wouldn't be a shock to see them come away with a new, major TV deal in the U.S. as a result of this transaction. The latter statement is just me speculating.

- Sakakibara will be stepping down after Pride 34 on April 7. When asked who the "new face of Pride" would be, Fertitta said they have someone in mind and that they are in discussions with this person. No names given. Besides the changing of weight classes and the adoption of NSAC rules in Japan, this was the most intriguing detail to come out of the news conference. Will it be a TV executive like Sakakibara, or will it be a former fighter who is revered by the Japanese?

- Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer asked about the Fedor rumors. Lorenzo Fertitta said that Fedor is still signed to Pride but added the caveat that they're "still trying to figure out the details of his deal." Dana or Lorenzo then added that if Fedor wants to fight the best, he'll stay in Pride. They did not sound 100 percent certain that Fedor can't fight anywhere else.

- They said that all of Pride's employees will be retained. Yet when someone had the stones to ask about Jerry Millen's status in the company the answer was "No comment."

- The idea of expanding into other Asian countries such as China was also addressed. Sakakibara also mentioned South Korea. Expansion talks in other Asian countries outside of Japan were already being worked on by Pride and will be expanded under the new ownership.

- Just as a general comment, Fertitta and White handled the whole announcement very gently (although Dana did have a few Danaisms, blasting the IFL, scoffing at the notion that K-1/EliteXC/Strikeforce/Bodog/Cage Rage will be hosting a press conference in LA later today, and saying he wants to bring his fighters over to Japan and "kick Pride's ass). As I alluded to earlier, they were careful in saying that Pride isn't going to change (even though it will on certain levels). I think Zuffa is very aware of the difficulties that could come with a U.S. company taking over a Japanese company and were careful not to say anything that would startle diehard Pride fans in Japan. They are doing their best not to come off as conquerers and are really selling the idea that the acquisition will be good for MMA fans.


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