Yes, it’s 2015 and we have a new version of Pride coming back to captivate fans. “Pride 2.0,” as some fans and media have dubbed it, was kicked off when former Pride head Nobuyuki Sakakibara made the announcement of Fedor Emelianenko’s signing and immediately brought fans into a tizzy. The return of Pride, albeit under a new or different moniker, has captured the attention of longtime fans.
Now, whether or not the updated version succeeds is up in the air. The first show on New Year’s Eve should give us a good indication of just how well we can expect future shows to go, but it might also give us skewed numbers unless the new promotion decides to only run shows with Emelianenko as the headliner. “The Last Emperor” is essentially the big draw for the promotion, and, considering he will bank a guaranteed $2.5 million, it’s pretty easy to see why. He has both the star power, and the promotion has invested a lot of money solely in him.
As much as fans may yearn for the glory days of Pride, this new organization most likely will last for just one show. It’s hard to see a promotion that signs Emelianenko just bowing out after one event, but at the rate the organization is paying for Emelianenko, it’s hard to envision a long future ahead. New promotions have had difficulty catching on in Japan since Pride’s demise. Other promotions have tried to fill in the void, but generally it hasn’t been the success Pride had drawing in thousands upon thousands of fans.
Money is the big part of the problem here. Emelianenko is worth a lot of money thanks to his status as one of the best fighters of all time. This still remains true even at his advanced age and after some years out of competition. However, it’s been proven before —looking at you, Affliction — that paying a ton of money in wages doesn’t generally balance the financial sheets by drawing in big attendance numbers or pay-per-view buys (and, in this case, the event will air on free TV, eliminating the latter source of income). Pride 2.0 may have the backing of an oil-rich investor who could possibly be backing more than just the first show, but at a certain point hemorrhaging money by paying big wages isn’t going to be financially feasible.
You might say, “But only Fedor is going to make that much money.” Good point. Though, even then, how much will Emelianenko’s opponent make? There has been talk already as to who will be an opponent for the former top heavyweight. With Bellator co-promoting, Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture and even Kimbo Slice have been bounced around as possible opponents. Ortiz made $300,000 in his last fight at Bellator 142: Dynamite 1. How much would he make knowing his opponent is making a guaranteed $2.5 million? You would be looking at a bill costing almost $3 million, best-case scenario, for just one fight. That doesn’t add in the costs of the other parts of the show, such as production, the venue or the salaries for the rest of the fighters on the card.
While the promotion may not last, there are fans that are interested in Emelianenko’s next fight. The fight being anything of relevance to the landscape of MMA is pretty small considering heavyweight talent outside of the UFC just isn’t there to really produce a meaningful fight. The only big sort of result it could produce would be giving Emelianenko a shot at getting a winning streak going and therefore becoming more valuable to the UFC. However, that would be looking years into the future and counting on Emelianenko lasting for more than a few fights.
His opponent is a big question mark. We could sit here and pick opponents, but that would be like playing darts, and I’m terrible at darts. Couture could be the most likely option. Fans wanted this fight years ago. It was a huge fight to make, but it never came to fruition because the men fought under different banners. Bellator has shown a willingness to produce aging, 50-year-old fighters before, and since the company is sending its fighters to compete in the new organization, Couture could very likely be an option.
It would be surprising if Bellator didn’t have one of its fighters in the main event against Emelianenko. Kimbo has already been ruled out, with Bobby Lashley tossed around as his potential next opponent. That leaves few Bellator heavyweights as a possibility. Cheick Kongo is also available, but that could go poorly if Kongo decides to clinch, or smother Emelianenko on the ground.
And who knows if a couple of years out of the ring will hurt Emelianenko significantly in his return? It’s still a big question regardless of who steps in with Emelianenko.
Other top Bellator fighters will also likely grace the card. If Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal is cleared soon — he is out until at least the end of October or the beginning of November — he could certainly be on the card. Goiti Yamauchi could also be a name seen on the card if he can get past Isao Kobayashi at Bellator 144. It would be a relatively short turnaround for the 22-year-old, who would have about two months between the fights. Yamauchi’s Japanese roots certainly make him a candidate to be on the card. The same is true of Hisaki Kato, but the problem for Kato would be that he is fighting at the end of November against Melvin Manhoef at Bellator 145. It would take coming out of the fight unscathed, which could be hard against a power puncher like Manhoef, and instantly lining up another fight. Manhoef could be a possibility as well. He is no stranger to fighting in Asia and has an extremely fan-friendly fighting style.
Those are only a few names that could be thrown into the ring for the kickoff of “Pride 2.0.” Bellator may reserve some of its bigger names — Slice, Michael Chandler, any of its champions — for its own branded shows, but the organization should offer up some good names to help legitimize and cement the new promotion. It might not be Pride, but it will be interesting to see what comes of this supposed big change to the MMA landscape.