Last week’s FEG/K-1/DREAM-PUJI Capital announcement was met with more skepticism than optimism on this side of the Pacific. Apparently, the same can be said on their side as well. In a conversation with Fighters Only, a “leading agent” who has worked the Japanese MMA scene since the inception of PRIDE echoed many of the reactions found throughout the MMA community.
“First of all, PRIDE FC went under with associations of Yakuza (mafia) ties and that has done serious damage to MMA’s image in Japan. More recently, Japan’s economy took a turn for the worse and that means that the sponsors have all but disappeared. They have no money to throw around like they used to,” he told us today.
“Then you’ve got the exodus that happened when PRIDE went under. All the big names went to America, most of them to the UFC. Television ratings have not been good, they have not got many fighters to get casual fans interested. They are making desperate moves.”
The unnamed agent questioned whether PUJI will be able to come through on their commitment to raise the necessary capital needed to put Japanese MMA back on the map.
“PURI has promised K-1 it will find $200 million in investment – well, what if it doesn’t? What if nobody wants to invest? And that is extremely likely, given the state of Japanese MMA at the moment – would you invest your money in it?” he said.
“The top purse on DREAM these days is something like $30,000 in American dollars,” the agent says. “Sakuraba might get something like $50,000 or $70,000. They just don’t have the money to bring in the big names and if they can’t do that they will not win the fans back. They just aren’t interested.”
After a long pause the agent gave a heavy sigh and said, with heavy regret, “Japan is dead.”
Even if PUJI manages to pull through with the funds, a big infusion of capital doesn’t guarantee success. The folks who run K-1 and DREAM certainly know more about promoting combat sports than many of the yahoos that blew millions in the US over the past few years, but they can’t just sign a handful of ex-PRIDE stars like Cro Cop, Fedor, Wanderlei, Shogun and Nogueira and expect everything to go back to how it was in PRIDE’s heyday. I certainly don’t have the answers, but I suspect throwing Scrooge McDuck money at the problem isn’t the only one, if they can even get it.