Icarus of the East: The final days of Pride FC (Part two)

Nothing gold can stay...

Pride never die.

It's funny how a promotion, dead for nearly half a decade, can still illicit such fervor among its loyal fans. You won't see such passionate fans for the International Fight League, EliteXC, or Affliction. There was definitely something special about Pride FC.

Maybe it was the giant, packed stadiums. Perhaps it was the larger than life fighter introductions. It could even be Lenne Hardt, the woman whose half scream/half shriek announcing became synonymous with Pride fighters.

There's literally no better way to say "Mirko Cro Cop" than how Hardt did it.

In the opening installment, we looked at the year leading up to the beginning of the end; the calm before the storm. Everything seemed to be looking up for the world's premier fighting organization and nothing could slow their momentum down.

This week, we begin to dive into the scandal that rocked Pride FC to its core and ultimately brought it to its knees. 

Pride Fighting Championships had just come off a banner year. 2005 hosted an exciting middleweight grand prix, amazing Bushido events, and the heavyweight match-up of the decade between Fedor Emelianenko and Mirko Filipovic.

The beginning of 2006 was rocky, to say the least. Their first show lacked the normal firepower that Pride events were known for and their much ballyhooed openweight grand prix had an element of bait and switch to it. In the end, it was a glorified heavyweight tournament. Bushido was putting on stellar shows but hemorrhaging money and suffered from not having a big star the Japanese fans could get behind.

And despite having a deep roster of great fighters, Pride had very little in the way of marquee match-ups left. Fans clamored for a match-up between Josh Barnett and Fedor but Barnett losing three times to CroCop left little room for that option. Wanderlei Silva had cleaned out the middleweight division and even if he would agree to fight his teammate, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua was on the sidelines due to a freak elbow injury.

But beyond a lack of match-ups, Dream Stage Entertainment (DSE), Pride's parent company, was about to have a lot more to worry about.

Starting as early as February of 2006, arrests were being made concerning the events that took place before the Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye event New Year's Eve 2003. The long and short of it was that yakuza pressure was used in relation to Filipovic and Fedor's participation (or in "Cro Cop's" case, lack thereof) in the show.

This merely got the ball rolling. Two months later, Shukan Gandai, a Japanese tabloid began printing allegations that DSE higher-ups were either A) heavily influenced by the yakuza B) put in place by the yakuza or C) yakuza members themselves.

This would be the equivalent of finding out Bud Selig or David Stern was linked to the Mafia in some way. This was a big deal. MMA was (yes, WAS… if Dream and World Victory Road's failure to garner any major interest is any indication, MMA today is a non-factor in the Land of the Rising Sun) a huge industry, selling out huge arenas that Dana White, UFC President, would sell his first-born son to be able to fill.

Shukan Gandai continued printing these accusations, DSE countering their claims and took the matter to court. Shukan Gandai was never in fear of being sued for libel. Their accusations held some weight and began to pick up steam.

They reported that May that Fuji TV was considering dropping DSE programming from their schedule. This was planned for September, as that was the end of their current contract. Again, DSE CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara countered these claims and actually made a statement in which he said Shukan Gandai's articles were essentially unfounded and should stop. Shukan Gandai denied this.

Then the bomb dropped.

On June 5, 2006, it was widely reported the Fuji TV severed all ties with DSE and Pride Fighting Championships. Not waiting until September, they dropped the promotion's programming citing a breach of contract for "improper conduct." All this due to a series of articles from a tabloid magazine.

Sakakibara immediately went on the defensive and claimed the revenue lost would only be 10 to 15-percent. He went on to say that production values would stay the same and, in fact, there would be no noticeable difference between the Pride of six months ago and the Pride we'd see six months from now.

He also reiterated plans to crack the American MMA landscape, bringing Pride FC's distinct style of fighting stateside.

This was all, of course, lip service.

Pride Fighting Championships was in big trouble.

In the final installment, we'll delve into the death rattle; their two shows in America, their sale to the UFC owners, and the last Pride show ever.

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