A press conference was held at the Dream Stage Entertainment office in Aoyama, Tokyo on January 2nd where CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara announced the schedule of events for 2007 and spoke about other new developments.
Just two days after the amazing battles at the New Year's Eve event SHOCKWAVE, PRIDE has already kicked off 2007. Dream Stage Entertainment CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara greeted the reporters and announced the current 2007 schedule, "As I said after the event, this year will be about change and challenge. Also as PRIDE General Director Nobuhiko Takada said, this year, we are attacking. In addition to a return to the airwaves in Japan, we intend to take on the world. We know that the world of mixed martial arts wants PRIDE because the people of the world have told us so. We are not simply going to hold events in America, either. We are also planning to hold events in other countries."
[PRIDE 33 "SECOND COMING"] February 24 Las Vegas, America
[PRIDE 34] April 8 Saitama Super Arena, Japan
[PRIDE 35] April 28 Las Vegas, America
[PRIDE Lightweight Grand Prix Opening Round] Mid~Late May Saitama Super Arena, Japan
[PRIDE 36] Late June California, America
[Pride Lightweight Grand Prix Second Round] Late July Nagoya, Japan
[PRIDE 37] Late August Osaka, Japan
[PRIDE Lightweight Grand Prix Final Round] Late September Tokyo, Japan
[PRIDE 38] Late October Las Vegas, America
[PRIDE SHOCKWAVE 2007] December 31 Japan
As Sakakibara explained following the end of SHOCKWAVE 2006, the BUSHIDO series will be suspended from 2007 and the numbered PRIDE series will focus on the four weight classes, including Lightweight and Welterweight. "We want to have a title match from at least one weight class in each event and improve the value of each individual weight class," Sakakibara explained. Additionally, a Grand Prix from one weight class will be held each year. Each year will feature a different weight class and fighters from each weight class will have a Grand Prix opportunity ever four years.
Sakakibara also spoke about holding events in Korea, China, Brazil and Europe as part of the overseas series. "We have dispatched fighters and referees to the 2H2H event in Holland and ICON in Hawaii. We may hold an America event in Hawaii, too," Sakakibara said, explaining that these events would fall within the schedule above.
Sakakibara continued, declaring the creation of a Super Heavyweight Division, with a weight limit of around 120kg. "We want to gather all the monsters in the world and have a Monster Grand Prix. (laughing) Yoshida and Fedor's fights on New Year's Eve were battles that went completely beyond weight classes. If you think of them in terms of the Athletic Commission's standards in America, they would have been fights between Super Heavyweights and Heavyweights. Now we have Super Heavyweight fighters than can compete in their own division. They're not just big, anymore. There are also giant fighters like Hunt and Thompson that are also very skilled. We want to be a world leader in this regard and we will work very hard towards this weight class."
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Ricardo Arona and Dan Henderson's names have been mentioned as possible challengers in Wanderlei Silva's Middleweight Championship title match schedule for the Las Vegas event in February. Kazuyuki Fujita and Takanori Gomi were also mentioned as fighters scheduled to fight in Las Vegas. "I don't think the American fans have had the opportunity to really see all of the truly strong mixed martial artists. There are strong fighters in the UFC too, of course, but I don't think (the fans) know where the world's top-level fighters are. If we show them thrilling battles between top PRIDE fighters like Josh and Nogueira, and Kawajiri and Melendez, I believe they will understand," said Sakakibara.
"We will have to watch to see how his foot injury is recovering," Sakakibara said about PRIDE Heavyweight Champion Fedor Emelianenko. "I would like to have him return for the April number series event and later have a title match in America."
Pride Fighting Championships:
Please tell us about Yoshida's condition.
He doesn't have any major injuries. Of course, after a striking battle like that, he's resting at home to recover but he's not going to be away (from the ring) for long. If he wants to fight, I would consider having him fight in the February Las Vegas event.
If you hold title matches in America, will they be held under American rules?
Yes. We will hold them under PRIDE's Nevada rules. So, it would be five rounds of five-minutes each, with no knee-kicks to an opponent in the four-points position.
With two different standards existing for title matches, will you create a Championship title for America, or change the Japanese rules?
We have not considered changing the rules. We believe that the PRIDE rules (in Japan) are the best and we will continue working to have PRIDE rules recognized in America. For example, we can hold fights in Hawaii under PRIDE rules but that is a decision that has to be made by each state. The techniques that are not allowed and the length of the fights will change. However, the rules apply to both fighters, so I don't think it will give an advantage to either side when the rules change.
Will the BUSHIDO rules continued to be used?
All events in Japan will now be held with one ten-minute round and two five-minute rounds.
Will there be fights between other weight classes during the Lightweight Grand Prix events?
Not during the Opening Round event but I would like to put together some single matches from the Second Round.
Will the Lightweight Champion, Takanori Gomi, compete in the Grand Prix?
Basically, we would like for him to enter the tournament. Since he has the Grand Prix and the Lightweight Championship titles, we don't yet know if he will enter from the Opening Round but at the latest, we want him to enter from the Second Round.
Gomi said that he wants to take on the world as the representative of PRIDE.
It'll be a challenging year for the promoters as well, but I hope that the fighters will also make use of their own qualities and challenge themselves. If he wants to challenge himself in the UFC, I would like to clear a path to make that possible.
What kind of fighters would compete in the Super Heavyweight Division?
There are some fighters that you've already seen. However, there are other strong but still unknown fighters out there and we will continue to search for them. At the earliest, we would like to start the weight class from the February or April event.
What about Francisco Filho?
We intend to talk with him this year too, of course. Filho is already training with the Brazilian Top Team and we are in discussions with BTT. We would like for him to compete as soon as possible. He is a fighter that really represents karate so I would like to put together a style versus style match for him.
In your overseas events held outside of America, will you hold them in conjunction with a local promoter?
It will be case-by-case. I think it's best to partner with someone who is familiar with the way things work locally.
Did you watch the recent UFC and Dynamite!! Events?
I saw a little of the Dynamite!! Show. Giant Silva was impressive. (laughing) I think he was after that submission from the beginning. I was also surprised to see Choi Hong-Man singing. (laughing)
I think they were putting those matches together with their TV broadcast in mind. As a fellow promoter in the martial arts industry, I really hope that their (rating) numbers were good. There were a lot of novelty matches but I thought that as far as watching it on TV goes, it was a fun event to watch. It wasn't too intense and you could have fun watching it from home, so I think Mr. Tanikawa's world-view showed through. There are a lot of mixed feelings among us regarding Sakuraba but his loss was really unfortunate.
The UFC's Dana White has promised to gain new Heavyweights and hold events outside of America.
Of course. It's the same with UFC, PRIDE, K-1 and BODOG. If you are creating a stage for fighters to compete on, the fighters have to change. It's the same with professional baseball clubs, too. There are fighters that get stuck in PRIDE, due to either matchmaking or the general environment, and they may be able to be more active in a different place. While there are fighters that represent PRIDE, I think that other fighters are right to move towards a place where they feel they should go. While we will continue to search for new talent, there are probably fighters active in other organizations that appreciate the PRIDE concept, that want to be the best in the world and want to fight in PRIDE. While fighters will change, I just hope that the industry will maintain some discipline and not snatch fighters in a way that goes against the rules.
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