Issue 029

September 2007

By Hywel Teague

For many centuries the islands of Japan were isolated from the rest of the world. Foreign travellers were not permitted to land upon their shores, and all outside influences were shunned. A period of medieval life was prolonged while the rest of the world rushed into the industrial revolution and beyond. 

The isolationist policy was eventually broken down by persistant gaijin (the Japanese for foreigners, in this case Portuguese missionaries and the American navy) and the Land of the Rising Sun relecutantly opened its doors to a new era. A strong sense of national identity remained and regardless of imported ideas and technology, many quintessentially Japanese ways of life remained. 

The second World War changed everything. Already a developing industrial nation, after the war was over Japan cast off much of its old trappings and plunged headfirst into a period of growth that saw massive change. But old ideas remained, particularly certain attitudes peculiar to the Japanese. 

It is sometimes difficult for non-Japanese to appreciate this. The Japanese have a way of doing things that is, for want of a better expression, very Japanese. This has caused muh consternation for outsiders. Straight forward business dealings are often far more complicated than meets the eye, and Japanese behaviour can raise eyebrows among foreigners unused to dealing with them. Also, things that are seemingly transparent at first glance are often quite opaque, and none moreso than the ongoing debacle that is the situation with 

At one point Pride FC was the biggest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion on the planet. Only a few years ago, they were routinely selling out events that were double and even triple the size of the biggest Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) events. With the top names in the game on their books, massive TV exposure in Japan and a worldwide following, Pride was riding high on a tsunami-sized wave. But every wave has to break, and a wave that big will break in spectacular fashion. 

A series of very public scandals linking the once-dominant MMA promotion to Japanese organised crime (the yakuza, a centuries-old Japanese institution equivalent to the mafia) left Pride FC without a free-to-air domestic TV deal, effectively crippling them financially and severely damaging their reputation in their homeland. Pride received massive amounts of funding from Fuji TV, which covered their production costs, and the large audience numbers they pulled in attracted advertising money. When the plug on their TV deal was pulled, Pride’s future was left in severe doubt, and although they struggled on for a few months, their fate was sealed. 

The UFC had always had something of a shaky relationship with Pride FC. The UFC sent fighters to represent the organisation in Pride FC, Pride FC had promised to reciprocate (they sent fighters to appear in the Octagon and issue challenges, but the fights never came off) and Dana White had appeared as a guest commentator! As dysfunctional as it seemed, there was a (grudging) mutual respect between the two, but that all changed when Pride began “acting like douchebags” (to quote 

Joe Rogan). 

A series of incidents served to wind up the powers that be in the Zuffa offices, but two in particular sealed the deal and put the final nail in the coffin of their working relationship. First off was sending Wanderlei Silva, then the Pride 205lb champion, to challenge Chuck Liddell, then still UFC 205lb champ, in the Octagon, with absolutely no intention of making the fight happen. They used the free exposure as marketing for their upcoming American event, their first outside of Japan. 

When Mirko Cro Cop defected from Pride FC to the UFC and Dana White and co. requested footage of him in action (a long-standing arrangement between the promotions) Pride FC mischievously (or possibly maliciously?) sent a video of him getting submitted by Antonio ‘Minotauro’ Noguiera. For the UFC, this was the final straw. 

The competition really hotted up when Pride FC went to put on their second event in the USA, returning to Las Vegas, hometown to the UFC. With practised nonchalance, the UFC professed that it didn’t bother them in the slightest… Or maybe they knew something we didn’t, as shortly after their event in Las Vegas Pride FC returned to Japan and dropped a bombshell. 

On 27th March this year Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta (one of the co-owners of the UFC) appeared at a special press conference in Roppongi and announced that they were buying Pride. A ‘farewell’ event in Japan in April was the last we have seen of Pride FC since, although persistant rumours of upcoming events refuse to go away. 

Partly due to internal mismanagement, partly to the hard hitting series of exposés that still appear in the mainstream Japanese press, the once bullish and sometimes eccentric Japanese promotion has been reduced to nothing, and right now no-one save the people in Pride FC Worldwide Holdings LLC (the new company formed to take over Pride FC) seems to know what is going on. 

When questioned, Dana White has repeatedly described the situation with the buyout as “a mess”. We know that White is working hard behind the scenes to sort out the murky legal matters that are impeding their progress, and recent statements from him have been more positive than before, but we are still left begging the question; just what the hell is going on with Pride?