PRIDE FC's second foray into the American market seemed to go off without a hitch Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. The fights were amazing. I got to see a gogoplata live and in person. There were a slew of big upsets and a number of Japan's biggest stars made their Vegas debuts.
What more could fight fans ask for?
The only problem was as soon as the dust settled and I started to analyze the night's events I couldn't help but wonder what the future held for the once-mighty Japanese organization and whether its push into North America could continue.
An April date in Las Vegas seemed to be in question and two highly touted champions had just been decimated. Things were not as rosy as they seemed just a few short hours before.
If you would have told me before the show that Wanderlei Silva (Pictures) would get knocked out like he did, and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (Pictures) would become the biggest upset victim in the history of MMA, I probably would have laughed and said, "Sure, anything can happen." But if I had been told Nick Diaz (Pictures) would be locking up a gogoplata on Gomi, I think I would have shaken my head and called the person an idiot.
Are you kidding me? Two gogos in high-profile fights in a matter of two months? What is going on here?
I can see Shinya Aoki (Pictures) pulling it off, even against a stud like Joachim Hansen (Pictures). But for Diaz to tap Gomi, that was unfathomable — at least until it happened. Sherdog.com editor Josh Gross and I were sitting together and we just looked at each other in disbelief when Diaz slipped his leg in front of Gomi's face. Neither of us could believe what we were witnessing.
The fight was non-stop fireworks from the get go and Diaz' prediction that Gomi would have to "land a hot one" and "melt him" nearly came true when the PRIDE lightweight champ landed a big left hook in the first frame. After picking himself up off the canvas, the Stockton, Calif. native put a hurting on Gomi before submitting him. This was the fight of the night by far, one I won't soon forget.
Saturday's card was built around the American debut of reigning PRIDE middleweight champ Wanderlei Silva (Pictures). I remember talking to a DSE rep after PRIDE's U.S. debut in October who said the company would have to bring in an American to fight Silva. Henderson was the obvious choice, but I knew it could be dangerous for Wand.
It was tough to watch the likeable Brazilian go down like that, but a larger concern is the toll it may take on him. This loss puts him on the wrong side of two highlight-reel knockouts in his last two fights. The effects may linger and one has to wonder if he will ever be the same fighter he was before the brutal losses.
Let's not forget about the biggest upset, odds-wise anyway, in MMA history. Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou (Pictures) or "Judo Terry" (as I had been introduced to him before put a whooping on little Nogueira) was a plus-1600 underdog going into that bout. To tell you the truth, I thought that was generous.
"Minotoro" was seen as one of the biggest threats to Silva's supremacy at 205 pounds by many pundits and may have been in line for a title shot before succumbing to the clubbing left hand that put him in la la land. Now it looks like he will have to get a few wins before he gets his long-awaited crack at the title.
With all the PRIDE favorites going down in flames, the organization now has even more work cut out for it in building an American following. Silva can no longer be depicted as the best 205 pounder in the world — the excuse about losing to a heavyweight in "Cro Cop" no longer flies after a blown-up 183 pounder knocked him out.
Gomi is a suspect champion, especially in the eyes of UFC fans, after Nick Diaz (Pictures) made sure of that with his performance. Add to that the losses of two more title contenders in little Nog and Kazuo Misaki (Pictures) and you have a bit of a marketing disaster.
The coup de grâce, however, may be the fact that PRIDE 35, already scheduled for April 28 in Las Vegas, may be in danger of not happening.
All weekend rumors swirled that PRIDE USA's president Ed Fishman is the one who controls the venue and date. If he is not successful in acquiring PRIDE FC he may just pull his support, and in doing so stop DSE from running in Vegas in April.
That scenario could be catastrophic for PRIDE. Fishman is also rumored to have deals in place to get the Japanese organization a much higher-profile presence on television in the States if he is indeed able to buy the promotion. Without him, PRIDE USA may be a pipe dream and after seeing how damaging the well-publicized divorce with Fuji TV has been for PRIDE, things are not looking up.
It's too bad because shows like Saturday's are the reason PRIDE has built the reputation its has among diehard fans of the sport, and it would be a shame if they become a thing of the past.
I guess my biggest beef with last weekend's card had to be the handling of the Hayato Sakurai (Pictures)-Mac Danzig (Pictures) weight situation. According to Danzig and his manager Monte Cox the bout was supposed to be at 160 pounds. When the contract finally came a few days before the bout it stated 163 as the weight.
Danzig is a smaller lightweight and routinely fights at 155, while Sakurai and Gomi are the reason PRIDE set their lightweight division at 160. When Danzig's camp protested, they were told that the fight would have to be at a catch weight since the division limit is 155 in Nevada. When they asked why it wasn't going to be the same 160 that the Gomi-Diaz fight was taking place at, they were told to take it or leave it.
On the surface it looks as if both Gomi and Sakurai were being given the best opportunity to win. For Gomi, his opponent had been fighting at 170 and would need to cut an additional 10 pounds — something that didn't hamper Diaz after all. Sakurai came in at 164 and apparently had to cut pretty hard to get there. On the other hand, Danzig didn't cut at all and stepped on the scale at 160.
Now I am not sure it would have made any difference seeing how good Sakurai is, but it is a black eye for the promotion. First of all why are they waiting until the week of the fight to send out a contract? Secondly, what was the impetus for the choice of the weight if Sakurai could make the normal 160-pound limit? This is something that tears away at the legitimacy of the organization and it needs to be remedied.
As for the attendance figure of 13,180 I may have an idea how it was reached. Right before the show started, as journalists started to make the trek from the media room to their seats, ushers scanned the tickets we were given to designate our assigned seats. I guess it was a new twist on papering a crowd. My only question was were the security, concessions workers, PRIDE employees, ushers or fighters required to do the same? Because that is the only way they could have come up with such a big number.
Another problem I have with PRIDE as it has appeared in the United States is the constant one-upmanship it tries to play with the UFC. Now I know its just business but it seems juvenile at best and desperate at worst.
The king of this nonsense is Jerry Millen.
Jerry, please stop with the Dana-envy. It doesn't look good on you at all. You have some of the best fighters in the world and your production is top-notch, there is something to be said for letting your product do the talking every once in a while anyway.
The invariable self-aggrandizement reminds me of a guy who is always telling people how big his … err, how smart he is. And we all know what the truth usually holds when people try so hard to convince us of something. They are usually full of you know what.
As always, feel free to drop Savage a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. All comments and questions are welcome.