A report surfaced last week that gaming industry stalwart Ed Fishman was in negotiations to purchase the PRIDE Fighting Championships. On Wednesday, Sherdog.com spoke with Fishman, who currently serves as President of PRIDE USA, to get his side of the story.
The 63-year-old entertainment entrepreneur revealed a strong desire to purchase the company that’s home to Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures) and Wanderlei Silva (Pictures) — however any talk of a sale, said Fishman, is premature.
Sherdog.com: Are you interested in buying PRIDE and have you taken steps in that effort?
Ed Fishman: Yes I am. I wish I could have a chance to buy PRIDE. It’s to me the best MMA in the business. And I have absolutely made that known to Mr. Sakakibara — I call him Nobu. We have not gone into real heavy details yet. He is back in Japan now, and he’ll be here next week when we’re getting ready for the 24th. I’m sure we’ll have more conversations then, but I am dead serious about buying it.
I had an opportunity to first become acquainted with it about four years ago. I watched it. I’ve watched their production. I’ve watched the quality of their fighters. I’ve compared them. My background is in entertainment for the last 40 years, whether that’s owning the casinos that I’ve owned, whether that’s owning movies, television, putting on major shows, concerts. I realize the things they do are really good as far as putting on a show, and I sincerely believe that PRIDE has the best fighters in the world.
I think that the UFC probably agrees with me, because they just paid the highest price for one of our PRIDE fighters, Mirko “Cro Cop.” And he literally is as good as there is as far as a kickboxer, even though he was beaten by some of our guys — Fedor, Nogueira, Mark Hunt (Pictures) and Kevin Randleman (Pictures). I think he will do absolutely wonderful at the UFC and take on anybody there.
Sherdog.com: What exactly is the extent of your relationship with PRIDE now. There’s talk that you’re an investor, but can you elaborate on what your role is.
Fishman: I really don’t want to elaborate too much on my role except that I have a contract with them as President of PRIDE USA, and am hoping to take that further. For nine and a half years they only have done it in Tokyo and people have only seen it on pay-per-view. So we got the opportunity on October 21st to show something here of the difference. We had a great response and that’s why we’re doing it on the 24th. We have a great card. We have three champions on there. Most of our fights are not just a couple of good fights and undercards — they’re mostly all fights that each one of them rank the highest in the rankings.
I talked to Caesars Palace — as you probably know Caesars at one time was the home of the great sporting events, and that’s what they want to be again. So do a lot of the other hotels that came in and bought tickets — who never bought tickets for UFC before — because we’re an international company. We have a lot of international followers who came. They certainly played. It was certainly good for the audience. It was good for the casinos. It’s more of a high-end affair, and if I had a dream, and I was able to get this, I would challenge UFC in each one of our weights to find out, really, who has the best fighters. … I would love to make that challenge and see what UFC thinks about that kind of an event.
Sherdog.com: It sounds like, from everything I’ve heard, that the UFC also has a deep interest in purchasing PRIDE. Do you feel any pressure, as someone who would like to take control of the company in some capacity, to make the deal happen before the UFC can do it?
Fishman: No. I’ve heard the same thing. I haven’t talked to any one of the key people at all. I know them. I respect them. I think they’ve done an excellent job. Television has really helped them. I come from a television background. We’re talking about doing two television shows that will hopefully we’ll be announcing soon. A different kind that will certainly be very interesting, in a much larger way. I think that will produce a lot more pay-per-view.
The one thing that I would not want to do if I was able to get PRIDE is lower the quality of how we do our events, or lower the quality of the fighters that we have. The staff that I have met over in Tokyo is a well-oiled machine — the same as UFC has a well-oiled machine over here. We have some staff here that are very good, but I would embellish on that staff and bring in a lot more people here. And, you know, production-wise and everything else that they’re doing over in Japan, we would do the same thing here in the United States. And if I was able to buy the whole PRIDE company, I’d be talking about Macau; I’d be talking about Europe; I’d be talking about Russia — all the places I do business now in.
Sherdog.com: You have a long-standing relationship with Harrah’s, having sold your Players Club International to them and done other work with them. Would that be a relationship, if you owned PRIDE, you could do something together again?
Fishman: I think that’s something that’s possible. I think the first [PRIDE USA], both parties were very, very happy. And that’s the most important thing in doing an event. Harrah’s, especially the Caesars Palace name, were never one that really supported UFC. And some of the other ones like Venetian, Steve Wynn, Golden Nugget were not there either. So we literally were able to take a lot of people that I know and bring in, especially being an Asian-bred company — we all know that Asians like to play [casino games] — we were able to bring in some very good Asian play, and that was just an add-on to a very great event. So places from Monte Carlo to Atlantic City to the Caribbean to Macau — all over the world, in other words, where there is gaming, PRIDE is wanted. My vision is to take them there.
Sherdog.com: The first PRIDE event in the States last October: would you classify that as a success?
Fishman: Well, it’s hard to say what “success” means. Success as far as the people who came, who were maybe skeptical about is it going to be just another MMA card, it was a tremendous success. I mean from the people who live here, who have only seen it on television, who are the ones at the hotels. Every hotel that is in it now has bought more tickets, and enjoyed it even more. It was a good representation of us.
If you’re talking about the fights themselves and judging them, I must tell you I’m new to the game, but I’m new to a lot of games. I never owned a casino before I decided to buy one. So, what I’ve heard is that, some may be better than others. What I think the guys have done for the 24th is put together a better card, and something that has much better fighters in every division. So, literally, I don’t see many undercards on the 24th. We wouldn’t be doing a second time here if everybody didn’t like it. We wouldn’t have the sponsors. And I’m really excited about the card.
The following one is April 28th, which happens to be a Japanese holiday for Las Vegas when we’re doing it, just like the Chinese New Year when we’re doing it. And I expect a very big turnout for the Japanese holiday on April 28th.
Sherdog.com: Can you provide some background on how you were initially connected to Dream Stage Entertainment (PRIDE’s parent company) and why you feel they brought you in to become President of their U.S. office?
Fishman: If I remember correctly, four years ago I was in China doing some business consulting in Beijing on a new scratch-game card. One of the leading senators there who was a very big fan of PRIDE went ahead and insisted that I come [to Japan] and really see. Well, I said that’s great. I went to the Tokyo Dome and saw over 60,000 people, with thousands outside waiting to get in. That’s a Super Bowl to us. And they put on a show that was spectacular.
I came back, realized that most of the people on the card were international. I told a very close friend of mine who knows something about marital arts, Chuck Norris, that I went to Tokyo to see this, and he couldn’t stop talking about PRIDE as far as being absolutely the best fighters, absolutely the best production. And I got excited. I went back. I met Nobu. We sat and talked and I told him when he’s ready to come to the United States that we market a little bit different over here.
We’re very interested, as an ex-casino owner, of having Asian players come over. And probably 18 months to two years later he decided. He gave me a call and I think he was smart enough to realize that if you go to a new country you need to market and know the right people — and you’re opening up in the entertainment capital in the world that has everything, including a very strong competitor in the UFC. I explained to him that UFC is a very good company, that they’re a different kind of casino. That they are more for locals, mid-level — even though they’ve built a beautiful one in Red Rock and they’re good people, but they’re United States mostly. But, PRIDE, you’ve done the world. Now let’s make a hit in the United States.
It will take a little while when you bring it over and we will grow. He did his due diligence, on who I am, what promotions I’ve done, what experience I have in television and film and stars and the contacts I have here in Las Vegas. We made a long-term deal to do it. I must tell you I put together big casinos and maybe some sponsors and I help in making sure we bring over Asian players, who initially came as PRIDE fans. It worked over very, very successfully for the first one. And it’s working the same thing for the second one. That’s the reason. I think [Sakakibara] recognized that you need somebody who understands the American market. …
[Las Vegas] is a tough place to get going with any type of entertainment. You’ve got it all, and I decided to open up to every casino by doing it at Thomas & Mack, which is a neutral place, so that every casino could buy and not have worry about sending their best players to another casino. That worked very well also. And there were a lot of people out there who didn’t know whether or not it was going to be just another MMA card, but they believed in the past in the things I’ve done for 40 years. Most of them have proven worthy. Some of them have not been proven worthy, but luckily when we balance out we did better.
I know I wasn’t an expert on MMA, but I knew I can put PRIDE in casinos open internationally to players. And I know that the entertainment value, which is needed, would be there. And Nobu and his staff provided exactly that. When you talked about success before, that’s exactly it: people came. I was surprised when we do a four-hour show — you usually don’t do that long of a show ever in a casino; you don’t want to keep the players out that long — but yet [people] stayed for the whole thing. I told people that at six o’clock when we open, we open spectacularly. Just like the Super Bowl, in the middle they do something spectacular and that’s what we do. And we will continue doing that.
Sherdog.com: As you’ve gotten to know PRIDE — the people involved and the company itself — there’s always been a discussion as to who’s in control of the company. It appears Mr. Sakakibara has taken the lead there. Are there other players involved within the company whom you’ll have to deal with?
Fishman: Well, there are a lot people that I’ve met I would like to keep. I think [Sakakibara] may be open to stepping down in Japan and he’s told me that. There are some key people he has that would take over there. Here in the United States we do things differently; I’d keep some of the people he has here, but I would put on a lot of the marketing people I have in my company who know the American market, and especially know the casino market. Because I look at this as not only a great event, but I know that also bringing in players from around the world is an add-on to a casino and something that I’d want.
I know that Nobu as a majority owner, if he did sell it, I’d want him involved here in the United States and to continue somehow because it’s his baby. But he does realize that in the casino business you have to know something about it, so he respects what I’ve done and the people I’ve known. I remember the first time he came here and he gave me one-day’s notice and I set up meetings with six of the [casino] presidents and CEOs. Once they saw the videotape and saw what was going on and what it meant and who attends these things, everyone was willing to try it. And they know that I wouldn’t particularly disappoint them on it.
For now it’s working out well. I can’t tell you who’s going to buy it, who will do it. All I can tell you is that I’m sincerely interested in it. I’m talking to them about it. And I’d love to take this business and expand it all over the United States.