Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Mark Coleman back in the octagon?

By Vince Guerrieri

Ultimate Fighting Championship is buying out Pride Fighting Championships.

And that thrills Fremont native Mark Coleman.

Coleman, an ultimate fighter for the Pride Circuit, based in Japan, started out with UFC. "I'm excited about the possibility of returning to the Ultimate Fighting Championships," he said. "I do prefer the cage."

According to the Associated Press, Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, the majority owners of UFC, bought pride for less than $70 million, and the deal could lead to megafights and possibly attract huge pay-per-view audiences for mixed martial arts fights.

"This is really going to change the face of MMA," Lorenzo Fertitta said. "Literally creating a sport that could be as big around the world as soccer. I liken it somewhat to when the NFC and AFC came together to create the NFL."

Coleman, a state champion wrestler at St. Joseph Central Catholic and a national champion at Ohio State, said he'll be leaving for Japan for the last Pride show under its current ownership and will see what unfolds. But he knows one thing.

"It's going to become a lot more popular in the United States," he said. "In Japan, pride is as big as Ultimate Fighting is in the United States, if not bigger."

The deal allows the Fertitta brothers to broker the biggest MMA fights possible in the near future, increasing their influence in this sports entertainment business.

everyone wants to see," Lorenzo Fertitta said. "It will allow us to put on some of the biggest fights ever."

The Pride circuit will now adopt UFC rules, and that means two main changes, Coleman said. First, it will become illegal to kick and knee an opponent in the head while on the ground; and it will become legal to elbow an opponent in the head while on the ground.

"They may sound like small changes, but they change the strategy," said Coleman, who started out in UFC before moving to Pride.

The sale gives Pride more financial backing to expand the business internationally after suffering a recent financial blow.

Major sponsor Fuji Television Network Inc. dropped Pride in June after a tabloid linked Pride to the Japanese mob -- a charge its owners have denied vigorously. To help bolster Pride, the company staged two PPV fights in Las Vegas -- including one with Coleman. Neither was a financial success. The fights gained exposure for Pride but lost money, making the sale of Pride more likely.

Buying Pride is the latest in a series of acquisitions that the brothers have made in the last six months. Zuffa snapped up World Extreme Cagefighting and World Fighting Alliance last year.

Thanks to a surge in popularity, the brothers' investment in UFC and MMA in general has begun to pay off.

Last year, UFC cracked $200 million in PPV revenue, putting it on par with World Wrestling Entertainment Inc.


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