by Al Yu – MMAWeekly.com
In a recent issue of Gong Magazine, Dream Stage Entertainment CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara announced several changes that Pride will undergo in the near future, including the fact that the Bushido series of events has been discontinued in Japan and will be combined with the regular Pride shows in the future.

As a result, all Pride shows from this point forward will feature fights in all four of Pride’s weight classes (160 pounds, 183 pounds, 205 pounds, and heavyweight).

Sakakibara also announced that the Pride Grand Prix for any given weight class will only be held once every four years, much like the Olympics. Since Pride has four weight classes, this means that there will be one new Grand Prix tournament each year.

While Sakakibara did not mention which one of Pride’s four weight classes will have a Grand Prix in 2007, it’s almost certain that it’s not going to be 183 pounds and it’s not going to be heavyweight (or “open weight”), since Pride just held Grand Prix tournaments for both of those weight classes in 2006.

That would leave the 205-pound division and the 160-pound division as the two remaining possibilities for a Grand Prix in 2007. Previously, Pride held Grand Prix tournaments for the 160-pound division in 2005, and for the 205-pound division in both 2003 and 2005.

With each of Pride’s weight classes only having a Grand Prix tournament once every four years, Sakakibara also stated that the four Pride title belts (currently held by Fedor Emelianenko, Wanderlei Silva, Dan Henderson, and Takanori Gomi) will be defended much more often. Specifically, Sakakibara said there will be at least one title fight on every Pride show from now on.

One thing that Sakakibara did not announce was a Japanese TV deal for the New Year’s Eve Pride Shockwave show. The originally hyped announcement date of November 10th has come and gone with no announcement being made. Further, all of the major Japanese TV networks have released their schedules for the big night on NYE, with no Pride broadcast in sight.

Fuji TV terminated its broadcasting agreement with Pride earlier this year due to several company scandals. The cancellation came despite the fact that on December 31st of last year, Pride drew its highest New Year’s Eve ratings ever and won the head-to-head New Year’s Eve ratings battle with K-1 for the first time, in what would turn out to be the final Fuji TV airing of the Pride New Year’s Eve show.

This year’s installment of the New Year’s Eve show, along with future Pride shows, will still be available in Japan on the satellite-based pay-per-view channel SkyPerfecTV, and in the United States on various cable and satellite pay-per-view outlets.

Despite the lack of a TV deal in Japan, or perhaps in part because of it, Pride is aggressively pursuing its plans for expansion, and Sakakibara stated that there will be up to twelve Pride events in 2007, with up to six of those events being held in the United States.