Post-PRIDE SHOCKWAVE 2006 Comments from Dream Stage Entertainment CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara

2006 was a very busy year. DSE has always operated in an environment allowing for promotion, such as TV broadcasts.

However, when that environment disappeared, we were able to push on until the end of 2006 through the support of our fans.

This was a great way to close out this year. The event, the atmosphere, and the energythese were all exactly what PRIDE is about. This was an amazing event that we can proudly say is "PRIDE." I would like to say thank you from the bottom of my heart to all the fighters, winners and losers, from all 10 fights. As the promoter, I think we've made it this far through the energy of the fans and the fighters. Again, I would like to express my respect and gratitude to all 20 fighters.

We had many exciting Lightweight fights tonight. I could feel a youthful energy and power from the Lightweight fighters. The Lightweight Division has grown to become the most energetic of all PRIDE weight classes. It's a weight class of non-stop battles between fighters that fight with everything they have. Today, I'm officially announcing that PRIDE will hold a Lightweight Grand Prix in the coming year. Today, the fighters showed us that a Lightweight Grand Prix is the key to success. We want to hold the Opening Round of the Lightweight Grand Prix 2006 in May 2007, in Japan.

Shinya Aoki and Takanori Gomi stood out, with Gomi giving us a fight fitting of a Champion for the first time in a long time. I would never have imagined that the difference in strength was so great between him and Ishida but I guess it doesn't really matter what is said when you win like that. I'm looking forward to seeing him in next year's Lightweight Grand Prix.

Gilbert Melendez is the wild card. Looking back, amid the Heavyweights, Middleweights and Welterweights, this fight was exactly like Kawajiri said, a fight between two fighters that want to be the best in the Lightweight Division. Melendez overcame Kawajiri and it looks like he will become the eye of the Lightweight Grand Prix hurricane.

Fujita has made a complete recovery since his intense battle with Wanderlei Silva, so I hope that he will operate full-time in 2007 as the face of the Heavyweight Division.

2006 was a busy year for Yoshida, as well. I think this year provided a lot of themes for Yoshida going into 2007. He lost this fight but he also showed the strength of his heart, and his willingness to fight toe-to-toe with a Super Heavyweight. I'm sorry to say this but I know he would have been better prepared had we been able to make the offer to him a month in advance. I'm also very happy that Thompson accepted this fight. If Yoshida wants to fight Thompson again, I would like to make that fight happen. I think Yoshida may not have believed that he could lose this fight. I hope that he will not close himself up in his shell but rather run full-speed towards 2007.

There's nothing I can really say about the last two Heavyweight bouts. After two fights, it's still exciting to watch Nogueira and Josh and they gave us a "to be continued" bout. Josh is also admirable for accepting the rematch so quickly. Josh, Nogueira, Hunt and Fedor are now intertwined and the Heavyweight Division is in chaos as we enter 2007. I was shocked by Hunt's growth and I felt proud that Fedor is the PRIDE Heavyweight Champion.




Pride Fighting Championships: Please tell us about next year's schedule and Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic's move to the UFC.
Nobuyuki Sakakibara: Regarding the schedule, it's exactly as (PRIDE General Director) Takada said during the interval. We will hold PRIDE 33, under the title "SECOND COMING", in Las Vegas at the Thomas & Mack Center on February 24th. Following that, we will hold PRIDE 34 in early-April at the Saitama Super Arena. Then, we will hold PRIDE 35 in Las Vegas in late-April. In May, we will hold the Lightweight Grand Prix Opening Round in Saitama Super Arena. At the end of June, we plan to enter California, and we will hold the Second Round and the Final Round of the Lightweight Grand Prix between July and September. Then, we are also considering another Las Vegas event in October and another SHOCKWAVE next New Year's Eve. Next year will center on the Grand Prix series, the number series and the world series. As part of our world series, we are planning to hold events in South Korea, China, Brazil, Europe and Russia, in addition to America.
Mirko has decided to challenge himself in the UFC in 2007, just as the UFC officially announced today. We support Mirko's desire to challenge himself and we hope that he will be a success as one of PRIDE's top fighters. I think Mirko has left some unfinished business in PRIDE as well, such as rematches with Fedor and Nogueira. So, I anticipate Mirko challenging himself once again in PRIDE after he has taken the UFC Championship belt. For our part, we have decided to accept Mirko's desire and support him as we see him off.
Pride: Did you speak with Yoshida after his fight? Please tell us about his injuries.
Sakakibara: I haven't spoken directly with him yet. He seemed to run out of gas in his fight, then take in too much oxygen. He's recuperating in his changing room now. He didn't have any serious injuries and there wasn't any need to go the hospital for treatment. Yoshida is Yoshida, and I think that's why he decided to slug it out with Thompson but he was probably unprepared to fight such a big opponent.
Pride: How do you feel about match-ups between weight classes and the timing of stopping fights?
Sakakibara: I don't think there was so much of a difference in this match-up. You couldn't tell that there was a difference in size from the way Yoshida fought today. Matches that go beyond weight classes are the real thrill of mixed martial arts and we intend to continue these matches. Getting the timing right when you stop a fight is extremely difficult. Personally, I wish they had stopped it a little earlier. If you consider Yoshida's feelings, though, I think timing when to throw in the towel was difficult. It was difficult for the referee, too.
Pride: Will the BUSHIDO series disappear next year? How will you balance the number of events in Japan and overseas?
Sakakibara: First, the BUSHIDO events will be suspended. BUSHIDO was started as an experiment; a place where we could do things that weren't possible in the number series or the Grand Prix series. It wasn't originally created as an exclusive event for the Lightweight and Welterweight Divisions. As we continued to try different things in the BUSHIDO series, the Lightweight and Welterweight Divisions began to heat up, so BUSHIDO evolved into an event for them. Until now, the lighter weight classes were often viewed as being inferior to the heavier ones, but the situation is completely different now. I want to continue holding Lightweight and Welterweight fights in the number series while keeping an eye on the overall balance. Regarding the number of events, BUSHIDO is actually graduating up to the number series, so we are planning 12~15 events, including the overseas events. And, we want to hold half of those in Japan and half overseas.
Pride: Will you continue negotiating for TV broadcasts next year?
Sakakibara: Yes, we will continue because TV broadcasts, as a promotional medium, are an extremely vital factor. As Takada said, I also think of 2007 will be a year of change and challenges. The door will never open for you if you just stand around and so we have no choice but to keep pressing forward. We are holding discussions with TV broadcasters and their agents to see what is necessary to return to TV broadcasts and we are also considering changing PRIDE's appearance. It's really disappointing that this many events have gone without being broadcast on TV, and I am sorry. Both the fighters and us wanted to mount a challenge to competing sports and organizations through viewer ratings. I would like to truly apologize for being unable to do so.
This event was so amazing that I think the TV broadcasters will accept us next year. If it's a problem that can be solved by me quitting, then I will quit. If it can be resolved by changing the organization, we are willing to do so. What has been going on with PRIDE in the six months since FUJI TV cancelled our broadcasts? There have been a lot of rumors but truthfully, nothing happened. The truth of the matter was here in this event. It had been very difficult for us trying to prove that nothing is going on inside PRIDE, and it has been painfully difficult trying to prove ourselves innocent. We will give everything we have towards returning to TV broadcasts next year, too. If anybody here has any friends that work at a TV broadcaster, please introduce us! (laughing) Thank you all for your hard work over this past year.