October 11th, 1997: Anticipation fills the Tokyo Dome as 47,000 men, women and children wait eagerly for Pride Fighting Championships inaugural Mixed Martial Arts event, they aren't quite sure what to expect. The night was put together to showcase a match up between the very popular Japanese pro-wrestler Nobuhiko Takada and the Gracie families proclaimed champion Rickson Gracie. This night would signify the beginning of one of mixed martial arts finest chapters, the birth of Pride FC.
Whilst the rest of the MMA world was trying to find ways to make their events seem like anything other than a barbaric exhibition of violence, Pride was showcasing to the world exactly how graceful and glamorous the sport could be. Whilst everyone else was desperately trying to find ways to attract more than just a few thousand hostile fans, Pride showed that it was possible to fill major sporting arenas with audiences respectful and understanding of the intricate art behind 'fighting'. They dignified a widely misunderstood sport, bringing respect to it and its athletes. They set the early benchmark for what mixed martial arts should be.
Over the past decade Pride has held over 65 MMA events and provided fans with unforgettable sporting moments and fond memories. People from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds have had their imaginations captivated by Pride's unique representation of mixed martial arts. They gave birth to some of MMA's biggest names, from Wanderlei Silva and Kazushi Sakuraba to Fedor Emelianenko and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Their fighters were built into larger than life characters. The production levels of their events were unparalleled. They were the driving force behind MMA, along with the UFC.
Just two years ago Pride FC appeared to be an indestructible force in MMA. But since then it has been evident that they have served as their own worse enemy, with questionable business practices that have been the target of heavy criticism in recent times. On the 5th of June 2006 Fuji Television Network, Pride's primary broadcasting outlet, publicly announced the cancellation of their television contract with the MMA company due to breach of contract from Dream Stage Entertainment(DSE), the parent company of Pride FC. The termination of the contract was to take effect immediately. Consequently Pride's revenues were drastically reduced instantaneously and for the first time in it's illustrious history, Pride's sustainability was under serious threat.
The reputation of the organsiation was taking a battering in Japan during this period, with newspapers and tabloids claiming a connection between the MMA company and the Yakuza, an infamous Japanese crime organisation. Pride and DSE tried desperately over the next few months to obtain another major television deal but never managed to get one. They were to continue with their scheduled events, as previously planned, but it was clear they couldn't continue long without a television deal in Japan.
After months of heated speculation and denial from Pride's hierarchy it was finally made official that Pride FC and all it's assets were to be sold to their biggest rivals, UFC owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta. The announcement took place on Tuesday 27th of March, 2007 at a Pride FC press conference. The deal was reportedly worth just under $65 million US. Since the acquisition Pride events, including the opening round of the Lightweight GP, have been postponed indefinitely.
Right now the future of Pride is unclear. What will happen to Pride's devoted staff in the long run? Will we ever see another Pride FC event? It is a matter of time before these questions and more will be answered.
With all the uncertainty surrounding Pride FC right now, only one thing is clear; Pride as we know it will never be the same again.