by Scott Petersen – MMAWeekly.com
It’s official. Zuffa co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta and UFC president Dana White came to Japan today to announce that Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta have acquired Pride.
The president of Pride, Mr. Sakikabara, looked solemn as he took the stage in the Roppongi Hills Arena, where over a thousand fans gathered in the cold to find out what was going to happen to their beloved Pride. Sakikabara said, “We had a very difficult year in 2006,” adding that there were many times that he wanted to quit, but when he thought of the faces of the fighters, the fans, and his staff, he was bolstered to keep going. He added, “The Pride which I love… I wanted it to continue. I wanted the Pride ring, which sometimes creates miracles, to stay.”
Sakikabara said he knew that if he resigned from his position that Pride’s problems with getting a Japanese TV deal would be solved and Pride’s image would be clean, but he was more concerned with the quickly changing MMA landscape, especially the UFC’s increasing power and the creation of new MMA companies like BodogFight. He likened his Pride organization to a rowboat compared to the other ships.
Sakikabara acknowledged that there were many offers from different parties during the road traveled to selling Pride in recent months, but it was the Fertittas that he trusted to take care of his “baby girl.” He mentioned the fact that the Fertittas bought the UFC in 2001 and it’s now a huge success, adding that Lorenzo Fertitta “respects and loves MMA.”
Sakikabara said that he wanted someone with this strong love for the sport and whom he could trust to run Pride in a desirable way. Sakakibara said, “Lorenzo respects Pride, Lorenzo loves Pride, and Lorenzo will make sure that Pride is here to stay.” I wanted to find a way to make Pride ‘immortal.’
Sakikabara pointed out that it isn’t the UFC that is buying Pride; it’s the Fertittas. He said that the Fertittas will have 100% ownership, unlike with UFC parent company Zuffa, where the Fertittas own the vast majority of the company (believed to be 90%) and Dana White owns a minority stake (believed to be 10%).
Sakikabara said, “As of Pride 34, which will be held on April 8th, I will resign my post as a representative of Pride.” He added that the employees of Dream Stage Entertainment, which had been Pride’s parent company prior to the Fertitta purchase, will also resign and they will then become employees of the new company that the Fertittas will form to operate Pride.
Closing out his remarks at the press conference, Sakikabara said that he trusts the Fertittas to keep Pride as a major brand, that he looks forward to seeing the dream matches that are now possible, and that he looks forward to seeing Pride “get broadcasting back.” He added, “Don’t worry, Pride stays here… and the spirit of Pride still originates from Japan.” Before leaving the podium, Sakakibara left with these words: “Please take good care of Pride.”
In a small gathering with some members of the media after the main press conference, Sakikabara said that the new company that the Fertittas will be forming to operate Pride would be called Pride FC Worldwide.
Lorenzo Fertitta, co-owner of Zuffa and the UFC, came onto the stage after DSE executive Nobuhiko Takada said a few words. Fertitta said that he was happy to announce “the combination of the two biggest and two most important MMA organizations in the world.”
Fertitta recounted how he watched a Pride PPV at his home seven years ago, which included the legendary 90-minute battle between Kazushi Sakuraba and Royce Gracie, and that was the beginning of his “love affair” with Pride. After coming to Japan and seeing Pride live, he was “hooked on Pride forever.”
Fertitta said, “Bottom line, I’m a huge fan of MMA. This is not about business. This is not about making money. This is about putting together the dream fights that me and you as fans have always wanted to see.” Fertitta continued, “The UFC is like my baby, and now I have another and I love both just the same.”
Dana White, president of the UFC, then took the stage and said, “Today is a great day for me. I’m very excited today.” White talked about the possibility of dream match-ups and mentioned that he has been “challenging Pride and Pride fighters to fight in the UFC” for years.
White also said that he disagreed with something that Sakikabara had said just minutes earlier about new MMA companies rising in prominence. White said, “I laugh at that. I think they’re all a joke. The only two companies in this world that matter are the UFC and Pride.”
White previously said in an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal that Pride will be adopting the UFC’s rules and weight classes. “As far as I’m concerned, if an organization doesn’t follow these rules, it’s not MMA,” White said. White also said that he would have “the option to use Pride fighters in UFC shows” if he chooses.
The sale price was not mentioned during the press conference, but the Associated Press cited an anonymous source close to the negotiations who said that it was under $70 million, which corroborates previous MMAWeekly reports that the sale price was in the range of $65 million.
As part of the deal, the Fertittas will acquire Pride’s trademarks and intellectual property, as well as its video library and the services of the fighters that Pride currently has under contract. It will ultimately be up to the Fertittas to decide which fighters compete in the UFC and which fighters compete in Pride.
Pride and the UFC took very different paths in 2006. In the same year that the UFC grossed $222,766,000 in pay-per-view revenue, which was more than any other MMA, boxing, or pro wrestling promotion in the history of pay-per-view, Pride struggled financially after losing its Japanese TV deal with Fuji TV in June.