by Al Yu – MMAWeekly.com
2006 was a turbulent year for Dream Stage Entertainment, the parent company of Pride Fighting Championships. After losing their lucrative television contract with FujiTV, the company has been unsuccessful in securing another television deal with the remaining major broadcasting companies. The loss was a huge setback but it didn’t deter the company from making its debut on American soil.
Back in December, DSE CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara took part in an interview that was published in the Japanese magazine Kami Pro. In the interview, Sakakibara was unusually candid and acknowledged the UFC’s large control of the American MMA market. “The UFC is getting 600,000 Pay-Per-View buys. We cannot catch up with the UFC at this rate. If we can’t get a share of the U.S. market, we won’t be able to keep the best fighters.” Sakakibara also admitted that their debut in the American market was late and should have been made at the beginning of 2006. “We held Pride 32 in Las Vegas back in October but it was too late…10 months too late.”
Despite their setbacks, DSE will continue its journey into the growing American MMA market. “Among sports today, MMA is the only sport where the best fighters come to compete in Japan. But the situation is changing now. If Pride wants to keep its number one status, we have to make the move to the U.S.”
“Pride fighters love the organization,” added Sakakibara. “However, when other promotions offer 30%-40% more money, it’s possible that fighters may leave. We do our best to stay competitive.” Recently, the UFC announced that Pride Open Weight Grand Prix Champion Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic would make his debut with the organization in February. For Pride, the departure of the Croatian fighter was a huge loss. Ranked as the #2 heavyweight fighter in the world by MMAWeekly.com, Mirko’s acquisition bolsters the UFC’s heavyweight division.
“The UFC made an official announcement on Dec. 30 that Mr. Mirko “Cro Cop” will fight in the octagon. As for DSE, we support his fighting spirit and as a Pride fighter we wish him good luck. We hope he does well and wins the UFC belt,” commented Sakakibara. “There are still things that Mirko can do in the Pride ring such as a rematch with Fedor and a rematch against Nogueira. There are things that he hasn’t finished yet. So after challenging the UFC, I hope that he will come back to Pride and partake in these fights. I would like to give him a very good sendoff.”
After a tumultuous 2006, DSE ended the year on a positive note with their Otoko Matsuri (Shockwave) show. So what can we expect of Pride in 2007?
DSE have announced plans to introduce a super heavyweight division. Inspired by James Thompson’s recent upset over Hidehiko Yoshida, DSE CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara mentioned that the company may hold a “Monster Grand Prix” consisting of the best super heavyweight fighters from around the world. Sakakibara further noted that he’s not “looking for low caliber fighters like Akebono, but super heavyweight fighters with real skill.”
In addition to the new weight division, Sakakibara announced that this year’s Grand Prix will consist of lightweight fighters. “I think the lightweight leaders are Japanese fighters. I think lightweights have the biggest momentum right now. They are hungrier than the fighters in any other weight class. I would like to make the official announcement that we will have a lightweight Grand Prix next year . I am very confident that the lightweight division is the key to our success. The opening round will be in May of 2007.”
DSE has released a schedule of their events in 2007 and the company plans to hold four of its ten events in America. In addition to further establishing Pride in the U.S., Sakakibara stated that they will aggressively continue to pursue a television contract in Japan.
“In terms of promotional media, television broadcasting is very important. So we’d like to aim for a return to television as soon as possible; we can’t just wait anymore. As Mr. Takada said, the year 2007 will be the year of change and challenge. We have to be aggressive and we have to think of ways of securing another television deal. Personally speaking, we regret that we did not have television broadcasting for Otoko Matsuri. I feel sorry for the fighters and people who worked on this show because we were not able to communicate our passion through the TV. We would like to go back to television broadcasting and compete with different kinds of shows and get good ratings. Competing against other organizations is healthy. I wish we could have done that this year for New Year’s Eve. I would like to have seen what kind of ratings we would have gotten. Because of the quality of the show, I am sure we can make a return to television.”
Furthermore, Nobuyuki Sakakibara stated that he would go as far as to resign from his position at DSE if it were necessary. “If there are any shortcomings that we have, we’d like to fix them. If my resignation can change everything, then I will quit. I am willing to resign. In the last 6 months, I have been asked ‘what really happened?’ There are a lot of rumors. Did anything happen? No. We are showing you the truth.”
Pride Fighting Championships 2007 Schedule:
February 24th – America – Las Vegas – Pride 33: Second Coming
April 8th – Japan – Pride 34
April 28th – America – Las Vegas – Pride 35
Late May – Japan – Pride lightweight GP Opening Round
Late June – America – California – Pride 36
Late July – Japan – Nagoya – Pride lightweight GP 2nd Round
Late August – Japan – Osaka – Pride 37
Late September – Japan – Tokyo – Pride lightweight GP Final Round
Late October – America – Las Vegas – Pride 38
December 31st – Japan – Pride Otoko Matsuri (Shockwave) 2007