As Strikeforce prepares to close their doors forever and the UFC continues to march forward in their quest for global domination, I can’t help but wonder what impact an organization like Pride FC could have on the sport if they could come back now, in 2013.
At their peak, Pride was the premier organization for MMA, second to none.
Much talk has been made about how the UFC will never co-promote, but during the Pride Middleweight Tournament in 2003, the UFC sent Chuck Liddell into the Pride ring, and make no mistake about that, they were co-promoting with Pride.
To be plain, I have always believed that competition is good in the combative sports.
I think when one show rules the road, fighters begin to slip through the cracks, suffering due to not enough chances to fight and worse, their performances and hard work are taken for granted.
After all, where else are they going to go?
Granted, there is Bellator, and I love that show. There is something about it that is serious enough to speak to a passion for the sport, professional enough to make you forget that nearly all of those fighters would bolt for the UFC if Joe Silva called, and there is a kind of integrity the organization possesses, simply because they are doing it their own way, Dana White be damned.
But in all honesty, if there is a problem with the sport right now, it is not the near stranglehold the UFC has, and it sure isn’t Dana White.
It’s a flaw intrinsic to the system itself, nothing more and nothing less.
Even if the UFC were to nearly double in size overnight, they could only increase their output of shows by about 20 percent, and that would probably be too much, given how they have basically saturated the PPV market.
There are still so many untapped countries that the other combative sports have shown have a deep well of talent, and no matter how big the UFC grows, they can’t employ them all and they can’t give them all the exposure they need.
Mexico, Russia and Japan are just a few examples of this. Yes, the UFC is attempting to get back into the Far East markets, but it is going to be a long time before they really get a solid enough footing to draw deep from that well.
And they haven’t even attempted to start making inroads to Mexico and Russia, at least not to any extent that is noteworthy.
When pondering the question further, I then remember that Pride FC started with fighters who came from the UFC.
Yes, Pride had a lot of money and managed to get a small number of bigger name fighters to defect, but the first Pride shows were built upon the names of UFC fighters who had been all but forgotten.
Dan Severn, Kimo Leopoldo, Gary Goodridge and Oleg Taktarov were really the biggest names on the first Pride card, save for Rickson Gracie and Nobuhiko Takada, and they pulled around 47,000 fans out of their homes and into the arena to watch.
From there, they began to mix their cards with bigger name UFC castoffs and defectors and newer talent, and they turned into the biggest promotion of their time.
As impressive as the UFC stable is now, there are still quite a few big names not pledging allegiance to their banner, and those men and women love to fight.
Josh Barnett could probably be lured into the fold, along with Gegard Mousasi, Ben Askren, Michael Chandler, Bibiano Fernandes, Marlon Sandro, Andrei Arlovski, Tim Sylvia, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (once his contract is up), Pedro Rizzo, Matt Lindland, Sergei Kharitonov, Jeff Monson, and so on.
None of these men are the best in their divisions, but a few of them are in the top 10, and if such a new company really wanted to get attention, they would need only call upon some of their national heroes, such as Kazushi Sakuraba and Shinya Aoki, along with new fighters itching to make a splash, and suddenly you have all the makings for an entertaining night of fights.
Notice I said “entertaining,” not meaningful. Really none of the fights on a new promotion's first few fight cards are going to have any real divisional ramifications, but they could entertain the crowd and viewers, and that is how such things begin.
Once such a promotion got their feet under them and began walking (not running), they could attract a lot of attention, both from fans and other fighters either tired of dealing with the UFC (or waiting on them) or just eager to get noticed on a bigger stage.
In the end, as long as said promotion paid well and kept to their books with an eye toward serious fiscal responsibility, they could start talking in a language all fighters understand: money.
When the first incarnation of Pride fell, the sport was not nearly as big as it is now. Thanks to the growth of the UFC and the exposure the sport has enjoyed as a byproduct, a new Japanese promotion might be able to get partners to invest in them, and god knows how big a promotion could get if a company like Sony took an interest and was willing to put their money in the pot.
Of course, all of this is nothing more the speculation and assumption, and proceeding from those assumptions, but it is possible.
However, the real question becomes: “Is it probable?”
Right now, in 2013, I think not. Japan is still in the process of recovery from many woes, and that takes time, and if a promotion was started now, I think they would falter and fall.
But in five or 10 years from now?
That could be a totally different story.