Friday, March 30, 2007

MMA Promoters React to UFC-PRIDE Merger

By Greg Savage

The mega-merger between the world's two top mixed martial arts promotions, the Ultimate Fighting Championship and PRIDE FC, has sent shockwaves that are still reverberating throughout the inner circles of the sport.

Aside from the dream-come-true fights, the newly fused companies have promised what one might view as a cataclysmic shift in power for the competing promoters of the burgeoning sport.

However, promoters in the sport don't appear to view Tuesday's news that way.

While some promoters we spoke with are concerned and others are looking to protect their investments, a la the super-alliance on display at the K-1 press conference Tuesday in Los Angeles, the overwhelming sentiment has been a cautious wait-and-see attitude. Still others such as the IFL's Gareb Shamus see the merger as a positive for his young fight league.

While longtime fans ponder the future of a sport sans a true foil for the consensus top dog, promoters understand the task at hand hasn't really changed despite the confluence of the game's biggest players.

"We're gonna keep doing what we do," said ICON promoter T.J. Thompson. "That's just dealing with what's in front of us like we have for the last 10 years."

One of the first major reactions to the announcement of the PRIDE sale came into focus only hours after the press conference in Japan publicly disclosing the merger. Fight Entertainment Group (FEG), parent of K-1, held a press conference to publicize an ambitious plan to hold a MMA show in the 92,000-seat Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on June 2.

The press conference also aimed to make it known that a number of the biggest promotions outside of UFC and PRIDE were jumping on board with FEG to create an alliance that would allow them to better compete in the ever-changing MMA environment.

Showtime-backed EliteXC, California's Strikeforce, Bodog Fights, England's Cage Rage, and Korea's Spirit MC, along with FEG's K-1 HERO'S are hoping to make a statement come June, but may have an uphill battle in their fight for a share of the MMA market.

FEG boss Sadaharu Tanikawa acknowledged the gravity of the merger, telling, "I feel that it's a huge impact with that news." He also made it clear that K-1 is here to compete, whether that is directly with UFC/PRIDE or in a complimentary capacity.

The sport's continued global proliferation was also on the mind of the FEG headman: "I think the UFC has the power to expand MMA worldwide," he said. "But also at the same time I feel strongly that our content is strong enough to expand around the world."

Another member of the collaborative effort is the British promotion Cage Rage. Once a strategic partner of PRIDE, Cage Rage promoters Andy Geer and Dave O'Donnell liked what they heard from FEG and the rest of the group. With a head-to-head showdown against the UFC looming on April 21, Cage Rage jumped onboard with an eye on creating strength in numbers.

Of the promoters interviewed, Geer and O'Donnell, perhaps spurred on by the direct threat imposed by the UFC invasion of their home turf, were the most outspoken in their desire to meet the UFC head on.

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