Could The UFC Resurrect Pride FC For A One-Off Event?
What Would There Be To Gain From The Card?
"I've [or, we] pulled everything out of the trick box that I can and I can't get a TV deal over there with Pride. I don't think they want us there. I don't think they want me there." Those were UFC President Dana White's words in August 2007 concerning the failed revival of Pride Fighting Championships after Zuffa and Ultimate Fighting Championship co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta purchased the promotion on March 27, 2007.
Nearly four years later, the Pride brand remains dead much to the dismay of hardcore mixed martial arts fans. Zuffa's original plans were to keep the Pride brand alive, much like they did with the WEC until its recent merger with the UFC. However, every attempt the company made to revive the promotion has fallen short. Now that we are nearing 2011, could it be time to once again try to put together a Pride reunion? Is it possible or beneficial for Zuffa?
If Zuffa were to resurrect Pride, a one-off reunion seems more logical than a full-scale return. With the UFC's growing popularity and recent absorption of WEC's roster, I fail to see why the UFC would want to cut its roster to support another promotion. A one-off reunion seems more possible.
When Zuffa purchased its greatest competitor nearly four years ago, it seemed unnecessary for the company to ever consider reviving the Pride FC brand. However, with the UFC's interest in the Asian market growing, a Pride reunion could be the promotion's breakthrough event in Japan. If Dana White and UFC matchmaker Joe Silva could impress the Japanese audience with a strong card, future UFC events could be booked in the country. Also, the substantial amount of money that would be generated would be more than enough to convince the Fertitta brothers to attempt a Pride comeback show.
The location of the event would be crucial in its planning. Even though, Pride FC did hold a number of cards in the United States towards the end of its run, it would only make sense to hold the one-off event in Japan. During the promotion's hey-day, it was not out of the ordinary for the promotion to draw nearly 50,000 spectators for major cards. While attendance may be respectable in the United States, the event could draw record numbers if held at the Saitama Super Arena in Japan.
Of course, a major factor to consider in putting on the event would be the availability of Pride Fighting veterans. As a part of their acquisition of the company in 2007, Zuffa agreed to take on the contracts of the fighters remaining on Pride's roster. Today, many of those fighters either still compete for UFC or have yet to have their contracts fulfilled. Those fighters include UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Takanori Gomi, Wanderlei Silva, Heath Herring, and Mark Hunt.
Even though that list is quite lengthy, a large number of Pride's most notable fighters are employed elsewhere. Former Pride Champions Fedor Emelianenko and Dan Henderson as well as Pride veterans Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum, Kevin Randleman, and Josh Barnett all work for Strikeforce while Kazushi Sakuraba, Kazuhiro Nakamura, Ikuhisa Minowa, and Hayato Sakurai are employed by Dream, Pride's successor in Japanese mixed martial arts. There is also a considerable field of free agent fighters that formerly competed in Pride FC. Those fighters include Kazuyuki Fujita, Mark Coleman, Dennis Kang, and Paulo Filho are all available for usage.
In summary, even though, Fedor and "Hendo", two of the company's biggest draws, wouldn't be available, there is with all certainty more than enough talent to book a full card. That leads to the obvious question of matchmaking. The first bout I would schedule would be a rematch between two of the promotion's most important fighters- 2006 Openweight Grand Prix Winner Mirko Cro Cop and former Heavyweight Champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Both fighters are currently under contract with the UFC and are in the later half of their careers. Because "Big Nog" won their only match-up in 2003, it has been more than time since their original meeting. Although the bout has main event potential, I would book it as the headline.
My idea for the main event is actually a UFC title fight. If Shogun is able to defend his UFC Light Heavyweight Championship against Rashad Evans, a re-match with Quinton Jackson would be an exciting and historic fight. The two Champion fighters first met in 2005 when Rua scored a TKO victory. In a first-time meeting of two legendary Pride middleweights (a division that ranged from 183-205 in Pride), Wanderlei Silva could square off against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. The fight would certainly be explosive, and a knock-out would almost be a guarantee.
If a Pride reunion were to be held in Japan, circus fights, which are wildly popular with the Japanese crowd, would be required. I would personally like to see any fight featuring Bob Sapp. "The Beast", who at one time captivated everyone in the Land of the Rising Sun, is a perfect opponent for fellow super heavyweight Mark Hunt. The event would also be the perfect opportunity for Heath Herring to make his return to the sport after a two-year hiatus.
To complete the card, Gomi and Coleman would be obvious picks, but a promotional deal with either Strikeforce or Dream may be required. As you could guess, the odds of any co-promoted card involving the UFC happening are highly unlikely, as Dana White has expressed his discontent with the idea. The hesitation to co-promote the event along with Dream or Strikeforce is one of two major setbacks Zuffa would encounter in scheduling the event.
The other major hindrance would be the reluctance of the Japanese MMA industry in allowing this event. In reference to how I opened this article, those in control of the major Japanese broadcast networks and larger venues have rejected all proposals from Zuffa and UFC to resurrect the Pride brand. My guess would be that the Fighting and Entertainment Group, the father company of Dream and the world's largest kickboxing promotion, K-1, would do everything in their power to interfere with any card spearheaded by Zuffa.
While the idea of a Pride Fighting Championships reunion may be attractive to MMA fans, in reality, it seems nearly impossible the event would ever take place. There are too many obstacles standing in Zuffa's way for the planning of the event to be completed. With Pride's fighters spread out between promotions and Japan's mixed martial arts promoters standing in the way, a one-off resurrection of the second largest promotion in MMA history may never occur. With many of Pride's former top fighters nearing retirement, there may soon be no reason for Zuffa to even consider the idea. As sad as it may be, Pride Fighting Championships could be dead forever, without a proper send-off.