PRIDE in Jeopardy? DSE Loses Fuji TV Support

By Stephen Martinez Jun 9, 2006
The PRIDE Fighting Championship has been the scene of many memorable battles since the promotion’s first show in 1997. But now the Japanese mixed martial arts organization is in the middle of one fight where knees, punches, stomps or submissions aren’t the weapons of choice.

Instead a fierce backstage battle with legal ramifications — not only for PRIDE promoter Dream Stage Entertainment but also for MMA — is unfolding in Japan as we speak.

June 5 was a busy evening for the promotion. After opening its first official Dojo in Tokyo, good news quickly turned into shocking news when hours later Fuji TV, one of the most important supporters of PRIDE over the past few years, publicly announced it had cancelled its contract with PRIDE and that the participation of fighters or people associated with DSE/PRIDE for future Fuji TV shows was prohibited.

Seiya Kawamata, the president of K-Confidence, which promoted the Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye 2003 event broadcast by Nippon TV, alleged that three years ago he was threatened by members of the Yamaguchi-Gumi Yakuza family when they attempted to extort 200 million yen for the right to use current PRIDE heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures).

This was brought into the public eye when Kawamata, fleeing Japan with money taken from Nippon TV that was designated to pay fighters and personnel involved in the production of the show, filed a criminal complaint with the Kanagawa police accusing a member of the Yamaguchi-Gumi family of trying to extort him for the right to use Fedor, Mirko Filipovic (Pictures), Hidehiko Yoshida (Pictures) and Naoya Ogawa (Pictures), each of whom pulled out last minute.

Shukan Gendai

Kodansha Limited is the biggest publisher of literature and manga in Japan. Among their countless weekly publications is the tabloid known in Japan as Shukan Gendai.

The third or fourth largest weekly magazine in Japan, Shukan Gendai is well known for running sensationalist articles, covering such topics as political scandals, sports, celebrity gossip, and daily life in Japan.

Currently, Shukan Gendai is running a series of articles featuring exclusive interviews with Kawamata in which he alleges a major connection between the top fight promotional players in Japan — K-1 and PRIDE — and the Japanese mafia.

Also, Fuji TV has been a heavy target of allegations because, according to Shukan Gendai, Fuji TV knew of Yakuza involvement within the fight business in Japan, especially as it pertained to PRIDE. Despite being aware of this, Fuji TV continued to support PRIDE events.

Tokyo Broadcasting System, a major competitor of Fuji TV and the network that produces of K-1 and HERO’s events, could be the biggest beneficiary if PRIDE was forced out of the Japanese TV marketplace.

In terms of popularity, the New Year’s Eve network wars between K-1 “Dynamite” and PRIDE “Otoko Matsuri” (Shockwave) feature significant amounts of money, due largely to sponsors and television networks looking for big ratings.

Also, it’s rumored that TBS, which has a business relationship with Kodansha Limited, wants to focus this year’s New Year’s festival around the Kameda brothers, boxers who have developed a major fan base in Japan, especially after pulling a 40-percent rating earlier this year on a card they headlined for TBS.

This could leave K-1 off TBS for the upcoming New Year’s Eve extravaganza, so the perennial kickboxing promotion is rumored to be trying to jump ship from TBS to Fuji TV.

But in order to do this, PRIDE needs to be out of the picture.

What Lies Ahead?

On Thursday, 54 fighters and DSE employees along with over 600 hundred fans showed up at the Tokyo Prince Hotel for an emergency press conference headlined by PRIDE president Nobuyuki Sakakibara, who addressed the Fuji TV problem and announced the promotion’s future plans, including second-round matches for the Open-Weight Grand Prix.

Sakakibara emphasized that there weren’t any ties between himself or DSE with Yakuza families, and that all allegations made by Shukan Gendai, were only a negative campaign without any grounds or evidence.

Sakakibara also explained that the move made by Fuji TV caught him and the promotion “off-guard” and they were not expecting such a move from the network. DSE is now trying to work a deal with Nippon TV, but that may prove difficult considering the network carries K-1 Max broadcasts.

It’s interesting to note that Fuji TV was present at Saitama Super Arena last Sunday for the taping of Bushido 11, which was scheduled to air a week later for free on Fuji TV. Also the network was present early Monday when DSE opened “Dreamers,” the new PRIDE gym. However, just for a few hours later DSE received a notification from the network canceling their three-year broadcast contract, which was set to expire in September, and cutting all ties with DSE including employees and fighters.

Sakakibara announced that the promotion’s scheduled events, including the Open-Weight tournament, Bushido tournament, Las Vegas event and Hustle pro-wrestling shows, would continue despite losing Fuji TV’s support. The promotion, Sakakibara said, hopes to receive support from the fans to keep the promotion alive.

What’s Really Going On

This situation between PRIDE and Shukan Gendai, has put the MMA community in Japan in a not so favorable light.

While it’s not a big surprise for the average Japanese citizen to see the mafia involved with the fight industry in Japan — local pro-wrestling has a long history of this — it’s quite shocking to see how far these allegations have extended, including all the big players in Japan and how business, shielded from the public eye, is run.

Local authorities have not confirmed the allegations published by Shukan Gendai, though the Kanagawa police continue extensive investigations to track down any possible mafia involvement within the fight industry.

These actions from Fuji TV are mostly a result of the fact that DSE, due in large part to Shukan Gendai, is getting a lot of bad press in Japan. Top this with Fuji TV’s involvement in a public war against Internet provider Livedoor for control of Nippon Broadcasting System and it seems that Fuji TV is trying to distance the network from another media scandal, especially one with allegations of a possible relationship between DSE/PRIDE and the Yakuza community.

Despite promises from Sakakibara that PRIDE will survive and continue to promote events, with or without Fuji TV support, this move from the network will likely take a significant toll.

Without Fuji TV’s financial support, DSE could be in danger of being unable to pay fighters the sort of salaries they’ve become accustomed to. And booking big stadiums in Saitama, Tokyo or Nagoya could be a serious problem when revenue will be based on gates sales, not sponsors.
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