Thursday, March 8, 2007

Five Ounces of Pain: Jerry Millen interview

By Sam Caplan

Pride USA producer Jerry Millen is a known quantity to diehard mixed martial arts followers but a relative unknown to novice MMA fans. Millen's profile increased last year following an impromptu, heated debate with UFC president Dana White on Scott Ferrall's Sirius Satellite Radio show. The on-air confrontation between White and Millen has become the stuff of legend. While the two have not spoken head-to-head since, that hasn't stopped them from criticizing each other.

Millen became even more well known following a stint as Pride's post-fight interviewer for the final three bouts on the Pride 33 card in Las Vegas on Feb. 24. His performance has been highly scrutinized on several highly trafficked MMA message forums.

Despite the controversy he sometimes creates, if Millen is one thing, it's passionate. He strongly believes in the product Pride offers to MMA fans. During his past five years with the company, his passion has never wavered, even in the face of several high-profile fighter defections to the UFC and constant rumors of a Pride buyout. Millen believes Pride is the No. 1 MMA organization in the world, an opinion that he didn't hesitate to express during our recent interview with him.

Q: The rumors of a potential sale of Pride won't die down. Is Pride for sale?

JM: (Pride president Nobuyuki) Sakikabara, I guess, said it best. He said that he had two children, and that Pride is his third child. I've been with the company five years, and I kind of look at it the same way. When you ask if something is for sale, I guess you can say anything is for sale. I mean, you can't say that there's (anything) that's not for sale. If someone comes to you with $10 billion, you know ... but as far as I'm concerned, Pride is Pride and we're here to stay. Is it for sale? That's a good question. As far as I'm concerned, no.

Q: Where is Pride at right now, as it pertains to its TV situation in both Japan and America?

JM: I can't really speak so much on Japan, but I've got a feeling we're pretty close to a deal in Japan. Japan is a different culture and things work differently there.

I've been speaking with some television networks (in America) and there's definitely some interest. They're learning more about us, and I think after this show Saturday (Pride 33) I think there's going to be even more interest. It's tough to pin down a date with a television deal, because once you cut a deal you have to shoot a show, or do things after your production. In my heart, I know that we'll get a television deal here in America. You can't ignore it. I mean, MMA is blowing up here in the States. It's a proven ratings-getter. Unfortunately, right now, the biggest company and the best, in my opinion, it hasn't gotten the exposure that it deserves. But you can't ignore a 10,000-pound sleeping giant.

Q: Was there a number of pay-per-view buys that the company was projecting heading into Pride 33?

JM: You know, you can't really project it. One thing I wanted to say about pay-per-view buys, some other companies put out numbers on their pay-per-view buys. I could come out and tell you we did so many pay-per-view buys, and you'd never be able to find out what the number is. So some of the companies that are stating what their pay-per-view buy are, because I'm in the business and I'm privy to something, those numbers are always inflated by those other companies.

Q: And I guess one of those other companies would be the UFC?

JM: Yeah. They said Chuck and Tito did 1.2 million, I would bet every dime that I have that that is not the true number. I know it's not the true number. Of course they're going to inflate it, because you always want to come out better than you are. If that's the true number, then show me the check. Show me the check on the pay-per-view dollars that shows me you did 1.2 million buys.

Q: Will Pride 34 be offered live to North American viewers?

JM: Yeah, the very first time ever we've done a live broadcast in Japan will be the next show, Pride 34.

Q: There are reports circulating now that Pride's next scheduled event in the U.S. for April 28 in Las Vegas has been canceled. There's talk that promoter Ed Fishman pulled the event in a power play to get the current Pride ownership to sell him additional shares. Can you comment on the cancellation and the reasons why?

JM: As for 4/28, moving the event is not a big deal. Dan Henderson was going to defend his title at the event. Unfortunately, he broke his hand and could not do so. From a business standpoint, that weekend is too close to the Oscar (De La Hoya) fight (against Floyd Mayweather) on May 5. We had a great event on 2/24 and are on the verge of some other great news coming soon, so the cancellation of 4/28 is not that big of a deal.

Q: Is any consideration going on toward holding a card in the U.S. in a city other than Las Vegas?

JM: Yeah. California recently just passed the ring. We got the ring passed, so a ring can be used in California now and I'm sure you'll definitely see a Pride event in California. MMA is just a hotbed in California, and I think the California fans deserve for us to come here.

Q: There are some reports that Wanderlei Silva was diagnosed with strep throat in the days leading up to his fight with Dan Henderson. Are those reports true?

JM: Yeah, Wanderlei was sick. He was at the hospital the night before, but Wanderlei is a trooper. He had a fever, couldn't breathe well, but Wanderlei Silva is one of the toughest fighters I know, and he knows how important it is for him to fight -- how important that fight was for himself, for Pride, and more important, to the fans. I'll tell you right now, Wanderlei Silva could lose a leg and still want to get in the Pride ring and put that show on for his fans because he's a true warrior. That guy is one of the toughest fighters ever.

I don't know any fighters who don't fight injured. Unfortunately, he was sick, but that was their second time around. Dan won the second one, Wanderlei won the first one. Now I guess we'll have to wait for the third one to find out who's going to win the rubber match, and hopefully Dan Henderson will be completely healthy and Wanderlei Silva will be completely healthy, and we'll go from there. Take nothing away from Dan Henderson though, man that guy's tough. Dan is a good friend of mine, I love Dan, and I'm happy for him. I'm very much happy for him.

Q: Coming into the Silva vs. Henderson match, there was a lot of talk of a champion vs. champion match between the UFC and Pride with Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei. With Wanderlei Silva having lost twice in the last seven months, does a Silva vs. Chuck Liddell match have any marquee value left?

JM: I think that fight still deserves to go down, and I know some people would disagree with me. I know Dana White is coming out saying, "Oh, it's unfortunate that it happened, that he got knocked out because now the fight can't happen." Well, Dana wasn't saying that he wanted to see the fight happen the day before the fight. Dana was making excuses. It's convenient that Wanderlei Silva lost, and now Dana White said, "Oh, I was going to make that fight happen this year." Well, why didn't you say that two days before the fight? If you truly wanted that fight to happen, why weren't you stepping up saying, "Let's have a meeting"? I've always said "Hey, let's sit down, let's have a meeting." Me, Sakikabara, Chuck Liddell and Dana White. Let's sit down; we'll make this one fight happen, because I was told that we can make this fight happen. Sakikabara wanted it. Make it happen. The only time Dana White stepped up and said he wanted to have it was after Wanderlei lost. That's easy to do. That's the coward's way out.

Q: With Silva having lost twice in the last seven months, might Pride consider maybe pushing Dan Henderson, or may someone like Shogun (Mauricio Rua) for a match with Liddell?

JM: My thing is this: Pride is the No. 1 organization in the world, and (then) you've got UFC. I'm willing to put up any of our champions against any of their champions. Unfortunately, they don't want to take that risk. Dana White doesn't want to give us any more exposure in the U.S. because he knows we're his only viable competition. He knows that, and he doesn't want to give us any exposure, and he said that in the radio interview we did together. But fortunately, eventually, we're going to catch on with or without him supposedly helping us. So he can choose to ignore Pride and its fighters and make all these comments about how we don't know what we're doing and this and that. But ... I've said it before and I'll say it again. With Dana, it's either put up or shut up, man. If you've got the best fighters ... you say that, we say it, let's put them together. Bring a couple of our guys together. Let's see who has the better fighters.

I have respect for all MMA fighters. I give the guys credit, win or lose, for getting in there and putting it on the line. I have no disrespect for any mixed martial arts fighter, but if an organization says they have the better fighters, then put up. We're willing to put up, and Dana makes all the excuses, like "Aw, the Japanese don't know what they're saying and they don't know what they're doing." Those are excuses. I invite Dana White to sit down with me. He doesn't want to be in the room with me because he knows I'll debate him to the end of time. He can't give me an answer. He's never given an answer as to why Wanderlei and Chuck never happened after he announced it following the Babalu (Renato Sobral) fight. He announced it, and he never gave an answer. First, it was "Wanderlei got executed by Cro Cop," then "The Japanese wouldn't give me Wanderlei for three fights," and then "The fight doesn't make any sense. We don't want it. We don't want to give any publicity." In the same interview, he gave me full answers why the fight didn't happen, but he said once Chuck Liddell beats Babalu, that fight (vs. Silva) would happen. Then, after that, you didn't hear anymore about it. So I invite Dana White to sit down in a room. Let's make it happen. But he won't sit down with me. I know he won't.

Q: So he wanted Silva for three fights?

JM: That's what he's telling people, but of course, we're not going to give our champion to another organization for three fights. That's ludicrous. If you want a fight and then you want a rematch chance, then sure, why not? I'm just saying the fans deserve to see the best fighters against the best fighters. They (the UFC) want a monopoly on it, and we're not going away. Dana said he's going to steal our fighters. You know, if that's what you think you can do, and that's what it's going to take -- if you're saying you're going to steal our fighters, right there you're admitting who the better organization is. You're coming after our fighters because you're saying Pride has the best fighters. Maybe right there is the answer why none of these fights are happening. They'd rather just try and buy them all.

Q: A few weeks ago, the UFC signed former Pride heavyweight Fabricio Werdum, and Dana said he has plans to sign more Pride fighters. Are you concerned about losing more talent to the UFC?

JM: Fighters will come and fighters will go. There's a lot of loyal fighters out there. A lot of loyal fighters for Pride, because Pride, to me, treats their fighters better than any other organization. This is not just a business for a lot of us, especially Sakikabara. Like he said, Pride is one of his children, and he means it. He has a lot of passion, and he cares about the fighters, and he cares about their well being. Fighters will come and go. I mean we'll find some UFC fighters I'm sure, and maybe they'll try to sign some Pride fighters. But we'll always make more. There are more stars out there to be made every day. So, if they want to try and raid (our talent), I guess all I can say is bring it. Bring it.

Q: But does Pride have enough stability to get into bidding wars with the UFC over top fighters?

JM: There's bidding wars everywhere. Do we have enough stability? Yeah, of course we do. But at that point, you just got to figure out which fighter is worth keeping and which fighter is worth letting go. If Dana wants to pay a fighter more, that we don't feel is marketable, then I guess he can take it. Look, we just signed Nick Diaz, and look at the war he put on for us (against Takanori Gomi at Pride 33). I'm sure Dana is kicking himself in the ass over Nick Diaz. He'll say "I let Nick go, and look at what he did." But you know what? I went after Nick Diaz because the kid went out there and publicly said "I want to fight in Pride, the best in the world, I want to fight in Pride." I heard him do that on a radio interview, so I said we should go after Nick Diaz. The kid has got more heart than a lot of fighters.

If the UFC wants to bring war, then I guess we'll bring war. But you know Dana White, I hear he was doing a radio interview a couple a weeks ago, and they said hey, "We want to call Jerry Millen to get him on the radio with you." From what I hear, Dana said "If you call Millen and put him on the radio with me, I'll hang up." ... And you know what, there was actually a magazine, a fight magazine that wanted to do an interview with me, one-on-one with me and one-on-one with Dana White, and they were going to do a photo of Dana and I together, and they said "Are you guys ready to be in the same room?" and Dana declined it. Dana doesn't want anybody that's going to go up against him, and the problem is, (in) the MMA media, a lot of the guys don't want to step up to Dana because they're afraid they'll get banned from a UFC event or something. But I work for Pride, so I'm not afraid to call it like I see it. Dana White doesn't like confrontation, and he knows I'll give him confrontation, so he avoids me.

Q: Has Pride had any talks with Brandon Vera?

JM: No, I don't think we've had any talks with him. I know Brandon Vera is looking around, but I don't think he can talk to anybody right now because he's still on that deal with the UFC. I think he's a tough heavyweight. We'll see. I know that he's not happy in the UFC; he's pretty vocal about that. You never know.

Q: Brock Lesnar will be making his MMA debut this spring for K-1 Heroes. Reports are that he's signed to a one-fight deal with K-1. After he fulfills his obligation to K-1, will Pride pursue him? Is that a guy you could see on the Pride heavyweight roster?

JM: I guess you got to wait and see how he fights. He was a pro wrestler, and he tried his thing in football, so I think you just got to wait to see how much heart this guy has got, and how good of a fighter he is, and then it boils down to money and marketability.

Q: Does Pride have a contract with Cung Le?

JM: No.

Q: Is he someone that could fight on a future Pride card?

JM: Pride? Yeah, for sure. I think Cung Le is a very good fighter. He's a great fighter. He has a good fan base, so you never know. I don't rule out any fighter. If you look at some of the guys that we brought in this weekend (at Pride 33), like you look at a kid like Jason Ireland out of Michigan, nobody expected Jason Ireland to give Joachim Hansen a hard time at all, and that fight was phenomenal. Nobody expected Sokoudjou to beat Rogerio Nogueira.

Q: What was behind the decisions in not retaining (former Pride TV commentators) Bas Rutten and Mauro Ranallo?

JM: As the company grows, I think you have to get better. With me making the decisions on the television broadcast side, I wanted professional broadcasters. We're an American broadcast; I wanted Americans on the broadcast and I wanted professionals. I wanted guys who knew how to do television and I wanted some professional guys. That's about all I can really say about it. Pride needs to grow, and to grow, you need to make changes, so we decided to make those changes, and I wanted to bring in some professional broadcasters.

Q: I interviewed Bas a few weeks ago and he said he was not happy with the treatment he received from Pride toward the end. Would you care to address that?

JM: Some of the stuff I wasn't privy to, but one thing people have to remember that in any organization, the stars are the fighters. People watch the fights for the fighters. I don't know anybody who buys a pay-per-view for a commentator, for Bas Rutten or for Mauro Ranallo. People buy the fights for the fighters, not the commentators. I think the problem sometimes is egos get big and the commentators think they're stars, and they're not. The fighters are the stars, and when you think you're bigger than the fighters, then I think there's a problem.

Q: What was behind the decision of having you do the post-fight interviews at Pride 33 instead of a member of the announce team?

JM: They wanted somebody to go in there and do it, and my thing is why spend thousands of dollars to have a third person in there to go up and do some in-ring announcements, and those three guys (TV commentators) at the table? All three of those guys that I interviewed I've known -- well, I've (known) some of them for years. I know those fighters, so why pay someone to go and do something we can just have done? The Japanese were involved in the decision, and they just said "Just go up and do the interviews, Jerry," and I wasn't going to argue with it.

I'm very passionate about Pride. I don't care about being on television. I don't care about being a star. I've been on television; that was my past. I used to work on the E! Channel and I was on-air at the E! Channel; I used to be a television reporter on the entertainment show Extra; I used to be a sports reporter with CBS. I don't care about being on television. That's not my dream. I've already done that. So it had nothing to do with wanting to be on television or some kind of ego boost. I was available, they needed someone to do it. There was nobody else to do it. I jumped in and I did it, and that's pretty much it.

I'm not here for the money. I'm not here for any fame. I'm here to take this sport and help this sport become what it should be, and in my mind and in my heart, I know that this will replace boxing, if it hasn't already. This sport is going to be huge, and I've invested five years of my life into it. I do it for the fans and for the fighters. If there is some self-fulfillment in that I can help this sport and help America realize what Pride is and expose Pride fighting to the world, then that's what I'm here for.


No comments: