When UFC executives purchased Pride Fighting Championships in 2007, they had every intention to continue operating the company in Japan.
After numerous trials and tribulations trying to get things organized in Japan, the Fertitta brothers and Dana White made the determination that it just wasn’t going to happen. They shuttered Pride, coming to the realization that they just couldn’t pick it up and run with it like they had initially thought.
Five years later, at the end of February, the UFC returned to Japan with UFC 144 at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.
Immediately the chatter turned to two lines of questioning. One: would the UFC be the savior of mixed martial arts in Japan, where the sport has floundered since the demise of Pride? And two: even though it was the UFC returning to Japan, would they do so by mixing in elements of the show that Pride was so famous for?
UFC president Dana White has addressed both questions, keeping the UFC’s return to Japan in a rather reserved perspective.
“There’s a hardcore fan base (in Japan) that loves the UFC and we’re going in there, we’re putting on a UFC event. Whether we do 7,000 seats here or we do 56,000 seats in Toronto, no matter where we are, there’s no denying we put on one of the best live shows in all of sports,” said White.
By most accounts, UFC 144 was a success. Whether that spills over into helping the mixed martial arts scene resurrect itself remains to be seen.
As for the Pride question, UFC 144 showed that White was living up to his word. The company is brought the UFC to Japan, not Pride, and not some hybrid of the two. There was never any intent to do anything different.
“We’re gonna go there; we’re gonna put on the UFC show,” said White prior to UFC 144. “We’re not doing anything Pride.”
That has nothing to do with a disregard for Pride. As a matter of fact, it’s quite the opposite. The UFC president holds Pride in high regard.
“Pride is the only other organization that I respected. Pride did huge sellout shows,” he commented.
“The Pride thing didn’t work out. We gave it a shot. It didn’t work out. Great history in Pride, but there’s no more Pride events.”
Check out Dana White talking at length about the state of mixed martial arts in Japan and the UFC’s place in it…