Sakakibara speaks about Las Vegas, PRIDE future

Dream Stage Entertainment held a press conference at the Aoyama, Tokyo office on January 23rd to announce four fight cards for the upcoming February 24th event in Las Vegas, Nevada, PRIDE 33 THE SECOND COMING. At the press conference were CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara and four announced fighters Takanori Gomi, Kazuo Misaki, Kazuhiro Nakamura and Hayato "Mach" Sakurai. These four PRIDE samurais will shock America!

"We have no intent to neglect the Japanese market. We have to return to the air waives this year. That is one of our biggest goals," Dream Stage Entertainment CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara said in his first appearance since the January 2nd press conference. After Sakakibara greeted the gathered press, he announced the participation of four Japanese fighters in the February 24th Las Vegas PRIDE event.

"There are now several organizations competing in America, including the UFC and BODOG, but you can only find the Japanese samurai spirit in PRIDE. When we send fighters out, we do so with confidence that they will show the fans what a PRIDE fight really means and that is why we selected these four fighters."

These cards, however, were not put together solely to please the American market. Rather, they are to be examples of the standards required to fight in PRIDE. In short, these four fighters were chosen to show the American fans what it means to be a PRIDE fighter in a PRIDE fight. Nor will these fighters be taking on easy opponents. They will face some of America's most well-known and active fighters.

Sakakibara continued, explaining some of the attractions of these match-ups, "We have put together cards that will shock the Americans. We expect Gomi and Misaki to fight, and win, like PRIDE Champions against their opponents, who are aggressive fighters that have already achieved solid records and fame in the US. Kazu's opponent is not as well known but he has fought in nearly 50 bouts. Mach's opponent had a 16-fight winning streak in King of the Cage; originally trained in RAW and also auditioned in the first PRIDE tryouts in the US. I believe he will come out aggressively."
"No matter which fight you look at, there are no easy wins. We are entrusting the Japanese, PRIDE spirit to these fights," Sakakibara said, cheering on PRIDE's Japanese representatives.

While American's are proud of their country and often chant "USA! USA!" during fights that include foreigners, they also recognize talent when they see it. In the previous PRIDE event held in Las Vegas, Russian fighter Fedor Emelianenko received the loudest cheers, rather than his American opponent Mark Coleman, proving that the American fans recognize and respect true strength. On the other hand, the American fans hold nothing back when fights turn boring and all of the Japanese fighters announced today will undergo strict "testing" by the American fans. Will they be greeted with cheers or showered with boos? While winning and losing is important, these fighters will also have to give fights that will capture the hearts of Americans. According to Sakakibara, he has asked the fighters to begin learning English in an effort to form a closer bond with the American fans.

● Question & Answers with Nobuyuki Sakakibara



Pride Fighting Championships: You went to America at the beginning of this year. What was the purpose of that trip?
Nobuyuki Sakakibara: I had (Wanderlei) Silva come to America and we had a press conference with Dan Henderson as part of the promotions for the February event.
Pride: How was the response to that?
Sakakibara: Everyday, the spotlight on mixed martial arts gets brighter and brighter. Now ordinary people are beginning to understand mixed martial arts and I feel that the demand for mixed martial arts is growing. It's similar to the situation five or six years ago in Japan. The media at the conference, including CNN, also told me that the growing popularity of mixed martial arts is the reason that the came to cover us for the first time.
Pride: You have continued your talks with the UFC, right?
Sakakibara: While we view each other as fellow promoters, we are also competitors. I respect the success of the UFC and we will continue our efforts to catch up in the US market. We don't lack anything (compared to the UFC) in terms of fighter levels and content, after all. However, they have the home field advantage and our promotion is running behind, so we're working to reinforce those deficiencies.
Pride: Do you have any secret strategies for defeating the UFC?
Sakakibara: Sending Mirko ("Cro Cop" Filipovic) is our secret strategy. (laughing) Actually, we are grateful to the UFC for developing the (American) market and increasing the recognition of mixed martial arts. It would be difficult for PRIDE alone to capture the attention of ordinary people. I think it's fine if people consider the UFC to be a gateway to mixed martial arts. Once they step through that gateway, they will find PRIDE waiting for them.
Pride: Will you attend the February 3rd UFC event in which Mirko will fight?
Sakakibara: I will go to cheer for Mirko, of course. I think that among all new sports borne in this new generation, mixed martial arts is the most exciting. If UFC fighters want to fight in PRIDE, that's fine. On the other hand, if PRIDE fighters want to challenge themselves in the UFC, that's fine, too. Maybe it's a little ridiculous to have two major leagues but we are thinking 10~20 years into the future and working towards a dream of having PRIDE VS UFC events in America and a Super Bowl of mixed martial arts where the Champions of every weight class from both organizations fight against each other in a place like Dodger Stadium.