by Ken Pishna – MMAWeekly.com
The rumors swirling around a possible sale of Pride Fighting Championships have been endless. Who’s going to get Pride? Zuffa? Bodog? IFL? Vince McMahon? Ed Fishman? Or does it remain a property of Dream Stage Entertainment?
Of all the speculation, the least likely option is that Pride will remain under the ownership of Dream Stage Entertainment, their current parent company. Despite the strong desire to keep the promotion in the Land of the Rising Sun, the hurdles may be insurmountable. Pride has become a sinking ship with the loss of their homeland television deal amid accusations of ties to the Yakuza (Japanese mafia).
Although the public stance is that Pride “is not for sale,” there have been talks. In fact, MMAWeekly sources reveal that there have been talks, in one form or another, with most of the aforementioned parties. Does that mean that they have all made a bid for Pride? No. But as Pride looks to find a way to move forward as they have been dwarfed by the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s shadow, various options have been explored with many potential partners.
It appears that most suitors have dropped out of the picture. The two left standing at this point seem to be Zuffa (the UFC’s parent company) and Pride’s own President of Pride U.S.A., Ed Fishman.
Sources have indicated that Zuffa has made an offer to purchase Pride. Zuffa’s ownership has not confirmed the offer or any details about such an offer.
There is also reliable information that Fishman is in negotiations to purchase the company. Although he has not publicly confirmed that any figures have been passed back and forth, Fishman has recently made a public push for the company, saying, “I would like a chance to buy Pride.”
Despite neither Zuffa nor Fishman publicly acknowledging any detailed negotiations, it would make sense for both to pursue such a transaction. For Zuffa, for all intents and purposes, it would lock up the current worldwide mixed martial arts market and gather nearly every top fighter in the world under their umbrella.
As far as Fishman is concerned, he is in a win-win situation in his pursuit of the company. He currently has a multi-year contract with Pride as the President of Pride U.S.A. If he buys the company, he will move forward with marketing it the way he sees fit and has the opportunity and apparently the resources to strengthen Pride as a competitor to the UFC in the world-wide market, as the UFC is set to expand into several other countries, most notably Canada, Mexico and the U.K. Should he purchase the company, Fishman has plans to aggressively expand Pride’s presence as well, “I would not change anything except probably grow faster here in the United States, China, Russia, Korea, and other countries.”
If Fishman is not able to secure a deal to purchase Pride, just his attempt to do so would most assuredly drive up the value of the company. Although details of his current Pride U.S.A contract are not made publicly available, anyone purchasing the company would have to keep him on as President of the U.S. arm of the company or buy out his contract.
If DSE is inclined to sell or sees no other option, it would not seem unreasonable that they might be more inclined to sell to Fishman than Zuffa. Zuffa would obviously swallow the company up and assimilate it to their rules, their ideals, and their presentation.
Fishman on the other hand has stated to MMAWeekly’s Scott Petersen that his interest is not in changing Pride, but expanding its market. “I can tell you that, for me, I want to expand Pride the way it is. I love the way they make it more entertaining. I love the production value. I love that the fights go faster. I would not change anything except probably grow faster here in the United States, China, Russia, Korea, and other countries. What UFC has planned for it I have no idea if they’d keep it or just roll the fighters into UFC,” said Fishman.
His intent to continue to present Pride in the fashion that the Japanese owners have could weigh very heavily on DSE. Culturally, the Japanese are a very proud people and if Fishman wants to continue the company in a way that honors their creation, it could help to sway their decision on who to sell to, if indeed the company changes hands.
And who knows, if Fishman is successful, maybe we’ll finally get to see some of those dream match-ups that fans have been pining for, at least if he has anything to say about it. “I guess I have a dream that, if I’m lucky enough to buy [Pride], I would love to find out who has the best fighters in the world,” said Fishman. “Somehow I believe that UFC fans, they must have something good because they bought Cro Cop for much more money from Pride. He’s a great, great fighter from Croatia; even though he was defeated by Fedor, Nogueira, Hunt, and Randleman. I’m sure he will do unbelievable in UFC and I’m not sure the UFC fighters will beat him. Maybe someday they’ll take the challenge and put up their heavyweight with Fedor, and their middleweight with Wanderlei, their welterweight with Henderson, and their lightweight with Gomi and we’ll find out for sure.”
For a guy who doesn’t yet own Pride, sounds like he sure has a lot of plans at the ready to move the company forward…