When FEG, the parent company behind K-1 kickboxing and Dream mixed martial arts (MMA) in Japan, declared bankruptcy earlier this year, many assumed that the end-of-the-year spectacle that is the New Year's Eve Dream show was dead and gone forever.
But that wasn't the case.
Like a white knight, new kickboxing promotion GLORY Sports International partnered with One FC just one month ago and announced a special Dream 18 New Year's Eve event.
Dream wasn't dead, just under new management.
One of those new managers is GLORY CEO Marcus Luer, who spoke to MMAmania.com about the huge year-end event which will be taking place later today (Dec. 31, 2012), from the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan and will feature several MMA fights followed by a full 16 man Grand Prix-style tournament featuring GLORY kickboxers.
Luer discussed the makings of this year-end Japanese spectacle, learning from FEG's mistakes and the future of Dream moving forward in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You signed a big deal with CBS Sports very recently. How does it feel to have such an important event being broadcast on United States cable to a good sized audience?
Marcus Luer: It's very exciting and we're thrilled to partner with CBS Sports Network on this particular show. It's the first time we're on a public cable network in the United States which is very exciting. The last couple shows we had were on smaller platforms. so it's great to be on a nice strong platform with a big name attached to it and give our fans and also the general public in the US a chance to see what we can do.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you think a deal like this will help open the doors with the Japanese, who have been a bit more hesitant to accept you guys at least for now?
Marcus Luer: Yeah, it's funny. I look at this really like separate pieces of the puzzle. Naturally, the world will look at what happens in the United States and sometimes take certain leads from it but the Japanese broadcast industry is unique with its own little rules. For us, being on the ground here, we'll basically have all the major broadcasters in the stadium. They'll be sitting ringside and I think that will be an even larger impact besides them knowing what we're doing in the US in that sense. We're looking at all the different angles to make sure the right people know what we're doing is the right thing for the sport. We're reviving it in Japan and there are different strategies to it.
In the US, GLORY type of kickboxing is very new. People aren't necessarily familiar with it so it is a very different strategy compared to what we're doing here in Japan where every kid on the street has heard of K-1 and would recognize some of the superstars we're bringing back into the country. Here, it's a different type of brandbuilding we need to do. We need to get people do understand that we are the new kid on the block here which has the stars which you grew up with and are familiar with. They're now with GLORY. They're here. That's also part of why we teamed up with Dream, to leverage certain strengths of their brand and hopefully speed up the process in general.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): These Dream shows have had this history of not just being entertaining with the fights, but it's also about the spectacle. They have all kinds of crazy things going on with dance numbers, singing, entrances and more. Are you planning on including that too or are you more focused on the combat aspect of the show?
Marcus Luer: We're planning on pulling out all the stops and we're gonna have a great show for all the senses. We're actually using video mapping technology that was recently used at the Olympics. You might have seen some of it. It's a brand new technology and we'll be using that as our backdrop in the GLORY portion of the show at least, you'll see some very cool animated stuff.
As for the entrances for the fighters, Dream has its own styles and we left this to our Japanese colleagues here to do what they do best. Dream will be in a typical Dream fashion with all the glamour and pyro and GLORY will have its own style in a different way but will for sure have the pageantry around it. Also yes, Lenne Hardt, the screaming Pride lady will be present.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I think one of the things the hardcore fans in the United States have looked forward to at the end of the year the last several years has been that New Year's Eve Dream show and the K-1 World Grand Prix. While it's two separate shows back-to-back, it's almost like you fused both events into one and then ramped the stakes up a notch.
Marcus Luer: (laughs) Yes, absolutely. Having a 16-man Grand Prix, that's exactly what it is. The product initially was independent shows as well. When we looked at our GLORY Tokyo show, it was always that 16-man tournament which is just the most stacked kickboxing card the world has ever seen and we did take it up a notch from the K-1 days because they always had the eight-man tournament. Having 16 guys start the night and one guy finish, having to win four times, that's huge. We believe it's going to create some amazing drama in that particular section of the night.
The Dream show itself is a great show with a lot of great fighters, guys people would recognize. Guys who fought in the UFC, fought in Strikeforce, Bellator, One FC et cetera. It's a good mixture of people who will excite the fans so I think we're really providing the best of both worlds to everyone.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): With the partnership with Dream and the addition of mixed martial arts, you guys are branching out a bit. Is that something we can expect moving forward or is this more of an end-of-the-year special occasion?
Marcus Luer: We are reviewing what we want to do in this particular space. One thing I can tell you is this is a very Japanese focused approach. There's absolutely no plans to take the Dream brand outside of Japan so it won't go to the US or anywhere else with that particular product. If we do anything more with them, it would be focused on the Japanese market and finding ways to leverage them in the right way together with what we're doing with GLORY. GLORY is our global product and we have big plans for the United States. You've probably seen the announcement of the Road to Glory development product. I can tell you there are plans for at least three shows in the United States next year as well and we're talking about proper GLORY shows, full GLORY shows and there's lot of things happening around the world. We're looking at at least 10 shows in total next year. Three in the US, three in Japan and four in different countries in Europe. It's gonna be a busy year.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You had a great tournament earlier this year which was won by Giorgio Petrosyan and you possess six different weight classes. How many tournaments are you looking to start running per year especially with your eyes set on 2013?
Marcus Luer: I'll say the minimum will be 10 and in the long run, we'll be looking to add one or two more per year. It all depends on the traction we can gain in the United States and depending on if those go the right way, we'll have more events in the US. The calender has five shows lining up in the beginning of the year starting up in London on March 23rd and we'll be going to Istanbul, Milan and we'll show up Tokyo again. The show after that should be our debut in the United States, sometime near the end of May or beginning of June.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): In the United States, the stand-up has always been the most exciting part of the fight for the fans during MMA bouts. What do you think it will take for kickboxing to take that next step in the United States because for some reason or another, it just hasn't been able to do it yet?
Marcus Luer: I agree. We did a lot of homework and study on why K-1 wasn't as successful in the US as they were in Japan. Without going too into detail on that, I believe we do have an answer to it. On the other comment about the stand-up portion which everyone loves in the MMA space, that's basically going to be our calling card. We're going to be saying to guys, "You like the stand-up art? Well that's what we're all about!." That's first of all.
Second of all, what does every fan like more than anything else? It's a knockout. Well our guys have the highest knockout ratio of any fight sport on the planet. We have guys who have a 70-80 percent knockout ratio which is way higher than you find anywhere else in MMA. You like knockouts? You're gonna like GLORY. That's basically what our message is.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've mentioned that you learned a lot from the mistakes of your predecessors. What are some of the key mistakes that you want to make sure you don't want to repeat from say the guys at K-1 and FEG?
Marcus Luer: I think a couple of things and we spent an unbelievable amount of time with these guys. As you may know, at one point in time, we tried to buy K-1 but we walked away from it. First of all, it was always a heavily isolated organization. The guy at the top of the organization only spoke Japanese so you're gonna struggle coming into the United States or anywhere else in the world if there's a certain national limitation to it.
We have assembled a very international team. We have people on the ground here in Japan that are Japanese which is the way you should be doing it. We will be rolling into the United States with people from the US who know the market well and in Europe we have a bunch of Europeans. We're approaching this like any large corporation in the world would do it. We hire a local expertise on the ground, have a guy like me can run things around the world and then the chances of success are going to be a lot higher from the get-go.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Even though K-1 made their mistakes, they were able to get that brand name out there. When people, even in the United States, think of kickboxing, they think of K-1. What are you guys trying to work on to get that brand name out there to the point where if people think of kickboxing, they think of GLORY?
Marcus Luer: First of all, we have a lot of respect for what we call the old K-1 had done in the past. We were all fans of it ourselves and that's why we are doing what we're doing now because we saw the potential of what K-1 had started but wasn't really able to live up to it and then created a lot of mistakes internally, made a mess of themselves and went bankrupt.
We do believe that certain things K-1 has paved the way for us to build the brand. Part of it, and like in every sport, it's driven by the stars. Whether it's the fighters or the athletes on teams. We get the top guys in the world under contract with us, fighting in the weight classes we've created and more will come so we do believe that at the end of the day, people will look for the talent and that's us. As much as K-1 has a great history and they've been around for 15+ years, if you no longer have the best guys in the world, you aren't allowed to be called the number one in the world anymore. And I think that's the unfortunate part for them and that's what where we've been building ourselves on.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): If this CBS Sports deal is successful enough, do you foresee a day where you are on network CBS just like how the UFC has a deal with Fox?
Marcus Luer: Why not? That's clearly where we're aiming. We want to be on network TV. We want to be on the big cable networks. We want to be on pay-per-view in the United States and we knew that will take some time for certain parts to it but we do believe we have the product and the right people behind us and we have the financial resources for it and so far, from what I can tell from all the discussions and I'm very much involved in the discussions in the United States about TV, there's a real appetite for it. There's an interest. So far, they like what they see as far as I can tell.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Last but not least, this year-end show has been an important event for the people of Japan, having become quite a tradition dating back to the Pride TV wars back in the late 90s and early 2000's. Is this expected to be something you keep doing every year, or was this year more of a one-off?
Marcus Luer: No, no, you're absolutely right. This is not just a one-off from a year-end point of view. We want to continue that December 31st window and that's why we kicked it off like we did. Whether it will always be in this type of format like you see this year, that's clearly up for debate and we'll see what we do with Dream in the general sense, but we like that December 31st window and hopefully this year, we'll kick it off in the right way with our show here and have many more years to run.
You can follow Marcus on Twitter @MarcusLuer.