A Press Conference was held on Thursday, March 15th at the DSE office in Aoyama, Tokyo where fight cards were announced for PRIDE.34 "KAMIKAZE" to be held at Saitama Super Arena. Aoki Shinya, Makoto Takimoto, and DSE President & CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara attended the press conference.
"There are voices here and there from Japanese fans stating that PRIDE seems to be directing all its attention towards the U.S., but PRIDE is after all a product of Japan so we need to maintain a firm grounding. I'd like to work towards regaining Japan's fervor in order to strive 10 to 20 years down the road."
Mr. Sakakibara delivered this message to Japanese fans in his opening statement at the Press Conference. After an interval of 4 months, PRIDE will be held in Japan for the first time since last year's New Year's Eve event. Although PRIDE has moved towards developing its foothold in the U.S., that doesn't mean that events in Japan will be any less engaging. To illustrate this point, PRIDE will welcome a new fighter to Japan in answer to "demands from many fans who have voiced their desire to see him fight for PRIDE."
That fighter is Zelg "Benkei" Galesic, who will battle against Makoto Takimoto. "Although he received offers from other organizations, his debut was fixed out of his own will to fight for PRIDE where the world's strongest men are determined. The DSE staff worked hard towards acquiring him, but I think the fan's voices also reached his Team Trojan and that played a big part," Sakakibara commented.
Standing up against the menacing newcomer is Takimoto, who will return to the ring for the first time in 10 months. Sakakibara threw a stern remark in Takimoto's presence, "He first came to PRIDE as a top Judo competitor, but he has yet to produce the results we would have anticipated from such a man. The next match will be one in which Takimoto will be expected to show what he has been doing for the past 10 months." He continued with words of encouragement, "I want him to win glory for himself. I don't want to see him end here. The match will most likely serve as a forecast to his future as a fighter. I want him to heat up the fans."
But Sakakibara warned, "His opponent is a formidable adversary. We're not putting Benkei on the ring to make Takimoto shine. He's young and powerful. It should be an interesting fight."
Making an impressive debut with a KO victory over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at the February 24th Las Vegas event, Sokoudjou will next challenge top Middleweight contender Ricardo Arona.
"No one ever thought he could fight so well against an opponent like Rogerio. That was the biggest upset of the evening. There were numerous demands from Japanese fans wanting to watch him fight live, and BTT wasn't going to leave things the way they are after Rogerio's defeat, so that's why we've decided to pit him against Arona. Sokoudjou accepted the challenge saying "the answer's yes whether my opponent is human or giraffe or Arona." I implore everyone to look forward to the fight. He's only 22 years old, and if Arona were to be taken down, I think it would be against a fighter like him," Sakakibara explained placing high hopes on Sokoudjou.
In regards to the rest of the fight cards, he hopes to announce the remaining 5~6 matches within the next 7 to 10 days. Sakakibara spoke as follows.
"As PRIDE's 10th anniversary, this year marks the end of one chapter. We hope to set up cards that are suggestive of the 10 years. We plan to center the cards around Heavy and Middleweight bouts, with 1~2 Welterweight matches, and the only Lightweight match being that of Aoki," affirmed Sakakibara, saying that they have set up the cards giving consideration to the fact that the Opening Round of PRIDE Lightweight GP at the end of May will be all Lightweight matches.
Although following the event in Las Vegas, there were talks of setting up a rematch between Takanori Gomi and Nick Diaz in April, "Gomi won't be fighting (in April). We've been talking with Gomi about focusing towards the Lightweight GP. Diaz has an injury, so we're not even sure if he can start fighting again in May. If a rematch cannot be arranged as part of GP, I think a title match sometime during the year would be just as fine." The plan is to settle the battle within the year.
In regards to the PRIDE Lightweight GP scheduled to be held in late May, Sakakibara gave out a cry of delight stating that "it's difficult to narrow them down to 16 fighters. We will gather the best fighters to decide the world's strongest. Even if they've never fought for PRIDE, we're also calling on several fighters whom fans would approve of nonetheless. Although we can't announce their names just yet, we are negotiating with new fighters for the event in May. Not all of the 16 competitors will be selected from those who have been fighting for PRIDE, but will also include fighters who have been achieving good records in other organizations." There will be about 5 to 6 Japanese fighters.
Although in the beginning of the year it had been announced that a title match would be held at every event of the number series, "it hasn't been decided for PRIDE.34. We were thinking of a Welterweight title match, but it would be difficult to set one up especially since Dan is injured." A title match seems unlikely at the event in April.
As for the cancellation of the April 28th Las Vegas event, which has been a topic of rumor, "it was postponed for a good reason. After our event in February ended in such success, we had doubts about being able to organize an event in only 2 months that would surpass both our 1st and 2nd U.S. events. In addition, we were unable to proceed with the main card that we had originally planned, so we decided to reschedule the event. Our next U.S. event will be held in late June in California. We hope to do 3~4 more events this year in places such as Las Vegas and New Jersey. We might also squeeze in PRIDE.35 in Japan in early June."
In regards to rumors about Fedor fighting in events of other organizations in Russia, "our staff is currently verifying the situation. When we last met with Fedor in January, he said "I want to fight in Russia. It would be fine if PRIDE comes to Russia, but otherwise I want to fight at M-1." This isn't sanctioned under the terms of our contract, but we will discuss the matter with him. Holding PRIDE in Russia with Fedor's match as the main card is not totally out of the question either. Conclusions should be reached from our discussion in about a week."
In addition, PRIDE.34 will be broadcasted live from Japan for the first time in the U.S. The event will be shown live in four countries, including Japan, the U.S., South Korea, and Brazil.