ANALYSIS: UFC owners buy PRIDE
On Saturday, an earthquake in Japan left at least one dead and numerous injured. Today, more seismic activity originated in Tokyo and this time the tremors were felt by the world of MMA as it was announced that the Fertitta brothers, owners of the parent company of UFC, have reached an agreement to buy PRIDE -- their rival Japanese organization -- from Dream Stage Entertainment Inc. Rumors of such a buyout have been rampant over the past few months, especially with PRIDE beset by problems such as the loss of Fuji TV as a sponsor and the league's purported links to the Japanese mob. Those rumors heated up significantly over the last 10 days, culminating in the Tokyo press conference on Tuesday in which the deal was officially announced. According to the AP story,
"To buy the company, the brothers created a new entity called Pride FC Worldwide Holdings LLC. The newly formed company will take over Pride assets, including its trademarks, video library and valuable roster of fighters, from Dream Stage. The Fertitta brothers, who own Las Vegas-based Zuffa LLC, the parent company of UFC, intend to keep the well-known Pride name and promote fights under that brand."
According to a report by Scott Petersen of MMAWeekly.com, PRIDE's current President Mr. Sakikabara will step down after PRIDE 34 on April 8.
This deal drastically changes the landscape of the global MMA scene. With that in mind, let's take a closer look at what this could mean for MMA fans, fighters, and organizations alike.
- Rather than competing against each other for the same fans, the Fertittas can now utilize both leagues synergistically to complement each other and broaden the MMA fan base both in the US and abroad. The combined resources of the two already-elite leagues can be spent more judiciously -- not on combating each other, but rather expanding both brands without fear of impingement from the other brand.
- MMA fans are often divided in their loyalties to PRIDE or UFC. With this arrangement, these loyalties can be still maintained because both brands will apparently remain in their current form. PRIDE will be run independently of UFC and its basic organizational structure will be kept intact, meaning future PRIDE events should still look much like PRIDE events of the past.
- The one change the Fertittas did say they would make is to standardize the rules between the two leagues. PRIDE will now adopt the unified MMA rules of the Nevada State Athletic Commission and will also have the same weight classes as UFC. This is a good change because for MMA to be a truly global sport (and one day an Olympic sport as some hope), unified rules are a must.
- Another change the Fertittas announced is the introduction of a Super Bowl-like mega-fight card between the two leagues once a year. Such a fight card would apparently feature the title holders from both leagues in all the weight classes, effectively crowning overall champions for the year. This may be the single biggest attractive byproduct of this deal for the fans. Instead of wondering about such fights, we will have the opportunity to see them on an annual basis.
- As a journalist, I'm hoping that the deal benefits the US media by making PRIDE more accessible to us. UFC is very receptive to dealing with the mainstream media and I imagine that attitude starts at the top with the Fertittas. I hope the brothers infuse the same sort of openness in the PRIDE organization, which is notorious for not having a good relationship with the US media.
- I'll be curious to see how the fighters are affected by this deal. Will we still see fighters crossing over between the two organizations? Will the two organizations engage in bidding wars over fighters to garner their services? How will fighter salaries be affected by this deal? And how will this deal affect the contracts of those such as Nick Diaz who is an EliteXC fighter, but was allowed to sign with PRIDE for a two-fight deal?
- And finally, what will become of the other MMA organizations such as K-1, Cage Rage, IFL, and EliteXC? UFC and PRIDE under one ownership umbrella is a very imposing thought. How can these other organizations compete against such a behemoth? Will we see mergers between them as well? Many MMA fans may have missed it, but today EliteXC and FEG -- the parent company of K-1 -- announced a joint event to be held at the L.A. Coliseum on June 2. There have also been rumors online of a potential deal between K-1 and Cage Rage. I believe today's deal is only the beginning of organizational realignment in the world of MMA.
However all this plays out, the repercussions of today's news out of Tokyo will be felt not only for the next few months but for years to come.