PRIDE will have its first event of 2005, PRIDE 29, at Saitama Super Arena on February 20th. We asked the President of Dream Stage Entertainment, Nobuyuki Sakakibara, what to expect from PRIDE in 2005, with only one month left until their first event.




Pride Fighting Championships: First, please give us a review of the New Year's Eve show, SHOCKWAVE.
Nobuyuki Sakakibara: It was a fitting event to close out this year. I'm proud of the event and that it lived up to the PRIDE name.I think everyone felt just the right amount of exhaustion from the tension and excitement of watching all 11 fights. As the promoter, I'm glad we were able to see Fedor VS Nogueira, which was cut short in August. I also think the two judo players, Yoshida and Takimoto, gave incredible fights.The three BUSHIDO fighters also did a good job helping us close out the year. This was a transitional event for PRIDE. We cannot simply write it off as a "dot" on a timeline.SHOCKWAVE was a turning point for us, and there must be something there to connect our efforts of last year to those of this year. We must create events that connect the "dots"; events based on continuity.In that sense, this event successfully bore the task of bringing us into the New Year.
Pride: What do you think about the television viewer ratings for New Year's Eve?
Sakakibara: We're satisfied with them. Over a 5 hour and 40 minute show, we had a surprising average rating of 14% in the Kanto area. It snowed on the day of the event but the event still began at 5:30pm as planned. The (PPV) broadcast began at 6pm and the free broadcast began at 7pm. During that one hour, we went from recording to editing to broadcast, but the broadcast got so cramped that the "delayed" broadcast was nearly live.
A s you can understand from that, we are not in the business of making software for free broadcasts. The free broadcast was nearly live but even without making software for those that want to watch without actually paying money to PRIDE, we were able to get 14%. I think it's wonderful. Fuji Television and our goal for this year's New Year's Eve show was to get higher ratings that last year's. Not only did we pass that test, these were apparently the highest ratings Fuji Television has had on New Year's Eve in the past 20 years.
Pride: Has Fuji Television asked you to do another New Year's Eve show this year?
Sakakibara: Yes, when I met everyone from Fuji Television, they said that they wanted us to do it again. (sigh) It looks like I won't be able to relax and watch the other New Year's Eve shows this year, either. (laughing)
Pride: And PRIDE will kick this year off with PRIDE 29 on February 20. What can we expect in this event?
Sakakibara: Well, PRIDE 29 event will start this year into motion, including the Middleweight Grand Prix starting this April. So, we believe the matches in this event should forecast the Middleweight Grand Prix and we can use is as a final selection test for those fighters that want to be in the Grand Prix. All of the matches won't be evaluations, though. We'll probably have several matches with fighters that are already confirmed for the Grand Prix. Some candidates are Quinton, Alistair, Shogun, Rogerio...and Vovchanchyn will drop to middleweight and compete this time. There's also Ninja, Arona, Sperry, Paulo Filho, etc. I'd never be able to quit if I tried to list all of the middleweight candidates. For now, we plan on creating several matches between the candidates I just named.
Pride: Vovchanchyn's going to become a middleweight? That's scary.
Sakakibara: If you think about things like his height and reach, I think the Middleweight division in the current PRIDE is the best for him. The fighters now are a lot bigger and more technically advanced than they were in the beginning, so the Middleweight division is the best place for someone built like Vovchanchyn. I'm very interested to see how he is going to fight.
Pride: Do you think he could be a threat to (Middleweight Champion) Wanderlei Silva?
Sakakibara: I think that's a good possibility.
Pride: What about Japanese candidates?
Sakakibara: Basically, all of the Japanese fighters matches will be evaluation matches. Nakamura, Yokoi, Kanehara, the guys from Pancrase...these fighters will have to show us results good enough to make the fans say "we want to see them in the Grand Prix." Additionally, Saku (Kazushi Sakuraba) has told me that he really wants to fight in February because he wasn't able to fight on New Year's Eve and because, as a pro, he wasn't able to fulfill the fans' expectations. This hasn't been finalized yet, though. His injury hasn't completely healed yet, he only re-started his training from the 15th of this month and it still seems to hurt him. It will depend on how his condition develops but it's possible that Saku will fight in February. We're finalizing the card now and expect to be able to announce it next week.
Pride: Will there be any Heavyweight matches?
Sakakibara: Mirko's. We'll put together a fight for him that will place him on to the path to a Heavyweight title match, his goal for this year. We are also planning for Kharitonov to fight.
Pride: There seem to be some fans that think you have been neglecting the regular PRIDE series since you began the Grand Prix.
Sakakibara: I don't think so. (laughing) In PRIDE 28, we had a Middleweight title match, Mirko VS Josh and a fight with Hunt. Compare (the Grand Prix) with past regular PRIDE events. There's nothing inferior about them. I think the Grand Prix is just viewed that way because it's on a higher level. "Neglecting"? That's ridiculous. (laughing)

The 2nd half of this interview with DSE President Nobuyuki Sakakibara will be online soon.