Monday, March 26, 2007


By Loretta Hunt

Who should buy the PRIDE Fighting Championships?

That was the question posed in the latest Fight Network Poll on our homepage. Here’s what you said:

50.0% Zuffa LLC (Fertitta Bros/UFC)
11.5% FEG (K-1 HERO's)
8.3% ProElite/SHOWTIME (Elite XC)
11.5% Calvin Ayres (BodogFIGHT)
5.2% New Organization
13.5% Stay Under Current Ownership

The results were loud and clear, and possibly a little prophetic. Though none of the major players will go on record yet, there is significant industry buzz circulating that majority UFC owners and Las Vegas casino magnate brothers Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta reached, at least, a verbal agreement with Dream Stage Entertainment CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara for the purchase of the PRIDE organization in part or in whole.

Included in this, it is believed Sakakibara will step down from his post at a press conference scheduled tomorrow at 6 PM in Tokyo, making way for new ownership.

This is not a cut and dry deal by any means, and is one that could dissolve for a number of reasons at any given time.

One of the largest hurdles for the Fertittas expediting such a transaction is the Japanese culture and climate itself. U.S. ownership of a Japanese company would not be taken lightly in the Land of the Rising Sun, while the PRIDE organization’s alleged tie-ins to the Japanese mob Yakuza has tarnished its reputation and soured a lucrative television deal with FUJI TV.

A potential resolution seems to be the one currently forming: a representative from Tokai TV, an affiliate to FUJI, takes the helm of a new company that will acquire ownership of the fight promotion. That the Fertittas are supposedly backing this company would likely be a downplayed note to the press, while Sakakibara’s omission from the company’s future plans could very well relieve tensions and clear the way for PRIDE’s return to FUJI TV. It is most likely not coincidence that Sakakibara once worked for Tokai TV as well, while a behind-the-scenes involvement from the man who built up PRIDE from 2001 on is not out of the question.

While 13.5% believed the PRIDE promotion should stay under its current ownership, it should be noted Dream Stage Entertainment has accrued monstrous debt since its FUJI TV ties were severed. Former President of PRIDE USA Ed Fishman, who filed suit against the Japanese outfit last week for breach of contract and non-payment, has stated Sakakibara told him in Jan. that debt reached into the 30-40 million dollar range.

Fight Entertainment Group (FEG) and Calvin Ayres’ both tied the poll with 11.5% of the vote. It appears FEG made a play at PRIDE, but have since moved on and will collaborate with U.S. newcomers Pro Elite/SHOWTIME for a joint event in Los Angeles on June 2. The choice of venue is questionable and far-fetched – the L.A. Memorial Coliseum host NFL events drawing 68,000 spectators. No MMA card on U.S. soil will even come close to those numbers at this time.

Internet gambling guru Calvin Ayres’ BodogFIGHT keeps chugging along on fledging cable channel Ion Television in the U.S., while the series is getting respectable numbers with The Fight Network in Canada. Rumblings that PRIDE Heavyweight Champion Fedor Emelianenko might jump ship to join BodogFIGHT are unsubstantiated at this time, and even if the world’s number one fighter did join the new group, the promotion has little contender capability at this time to create enough compelling bouts - one fighter does not an MMA promotion make. Of course, that could change…

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