Nobuyuki Sakakibara, CEO/President PRIDE Fighting
DIRECTV: Final Conflict is your biggest event of the year, tell us what the atmosphere is going to be like in Japan on fight night?
Nobuyuki Sakakibara: In Japan, people are so passionate about the sport. They're always giving their opinions on fighters and trying to predict who is going to win. They're also always looking for the latest news on the fighters, whether that be in newspapers, magazines, or television. The level of enthusiasm is much like baseball’s World Series in the United States. PRIDE FC "Final Conflict" will be held in the Tokyo Dome, which is a very large venue and there will be over 500 reporters attending to cover our event. With the finals of the middleweight tournament and a match for the interim heavyweight championship, we know there be a lot of tension and excitement for PRIDE FC fans!
DIRECTV: How many people do you expect at the Tokyo Dome on fight night? How many will be watching on TV?
Nobuyuki Sakakibara: There will be over fifty thousand fans in attendance at the Tokyo Dome and around twenty million viewers watching via pay per view and free terrestrial TV. All of them will be watching history take place at the Tokyo Dome!
DIRECTV: Pride is so popular in Japan — what do you think needs to happen for it to have the same popularity in the US?
Nobuyuki Sakakibara: To be successful in the U.S., we need the American audience to actually experience a PRIDE FC event, so we plan on having our first event on American soil in Las Vegas in 2004. If we have a strong American champion and gain the media coverage we know our event can generate, then, just as in Japan, we expect PRIDE FC to be a success in the U.S.
DIRECTV: What can fans expect when they order Final Conflict?
Nobuyuki Sakakibara: Lots of excitement and action! We'll be having one of our top middleweights, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, facing an icon of the UFC, Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell … this match will show who truly is one of America's finest fighters and because they both happen to be American, it guarantees an American in the tournament finals. On the other end of the brackets we'll be having our undisputed middleweight champion, Wanderlei Silva, going against Judo Olympic gold medallist, Hidehiko Yoshida. That's going to be an interesting mix of styles and a great match up. In the interim heavyweight championship match, it will be the undefeated Croatian Sensation, Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic against former heavyweight champion, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, who is trying to become PRIDE FC’s first two-time champion. This is a match of completely opposite styles … Filipovic is a master striker and Nogueira is a master submission artist on the ground. In another headlining match, we'll be having the legendary Japanese fighter Kazushi Sakuraba taking on the American wrestling monster, Kevin Randleman.
DIRECTV: We've heard about your $250K bet with UFC President, Dana White, give us the details? How did this bet come about?
Nobuyuki Sakakibara: From the time Chuck Liddell became involved in the tournament, the UFC's president, Dana White, was rather vocal about how he felt Liddell would win the entire tournament, including defeating our champion, Wanderlei Silva, if they were to face each other. Mr. White offered a $250,000 bet and because I am just as confident in my fighter as he is in his, I accepted.
DIRECTV: Why did you allow a UFC fighter to compete in this tournament?
Nobuyuki Sakakibara: In our middleweight tournament we only wanted the best of the best and from there see who would be crowned champion. To that end, we needed to collect the top middleweight fighters from all over the world and we could not do that without a representative from the UFC.
DIRECTV: So is this a new day, will we start seeing more PRIDE vs. UFC type fights?
Nobuyuki Sakakibara: Yes, we plan to keep arranging matches with them. My other intention is to send some of our top PRIDE FC fighters to the UFC … that is if they are brave enough to accept our fighters.
DIRECTV: If so, what PRIDE fighters would you like send to fight in the UFC?
Nobuyuki Sakakibara: In the middleweight and heavyweight divisions, we would like to send Japanese fighters like Yoshida, Sakuraba, and Fujita in order to show how skilled PRIDE FC fighters are.
DIRECTV: Do you have any predictions for the following:
Jackson vs. Liddell
Yoshida vs. Wanderlei
Nobuyuki Sakakibara: Jackson versus Liddell is the symbolic battle showcasing PRIDE FC against the UFC. I think it will be a fierce battle between both men that will focus on striking. As for the match of Yoshida and Silva, many people think Silva has the advantage. However, if Yoshida can take Silva down it could be a different story.
DIRECTV: Who do you think will win this tournament?
Nobuyuki Sakakibara: This is a tough question to answer. They are the best of the best of the middleweights in the world, so no matter who wins it all, I wouldn’t be surprised.
DIRECTV: As fighters, what are Wanderlei Silva, Hideheki Yoshido, Chuck Liddell, and Quinton Jackson’s strengths?
Nobuyuki Sakakibara: Wanderlei Silva has the experience and pride of being a champion and he is an incredibly deadly striker. The strength of Hidehiko Yoshida is his experience of being an Olympic champion, his high level of ability as an athlete, the advantage of fighting in front of his fans, and very sharp ground techniques.
Chuck Liddell’s strength is that he can knock out anyone at anytime. We've seen that time and again in the UFC where he’s defeated some very tough opponents.
Quinton Jackson’s strength is his strength. He can lift any fighter up and slam him!
DIRECTV: Tell us about the interim heavyweight match?
Nobuyuki Sakakibara: It's going to be an amazing match that will be determined by technique and mental sharpness. Technically, Cro Cop's striking ability, especially, his invisible left high kick, is among the world’s best. Even top PRIDE FC fighters such as Heath Herring and Igor Vovchanchyn could not stop Cro Cop's overwhelming assault. On the other hand, the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu master, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, also known as "Minotauro," is just as talented fighting on the ground as Cro Cop is on his feet. Nogueira is among the elite submission fighters of the world and has defeated such monsters as Mark Coleman and Bob Sapp (with a beautiful arm bar after a war!) This match up will show the world's best striker against the world's best submission artist in the heavyweight division. Mentally, it's tough to say who has the advantage. Cro Cop has wanted the PRIDE FC title for so long and has been destroying his opponents, so I know he’s going to take advantage of this opportunity to win. But, on the other hand, Nogueira has the heart of a champion and was our former heavyweight champion. Noguiera lost his title to Emelianenko Fedor, who is now injured, and his goal ever since has been to become champion again. I know Cro Cop and Nogueira are going to be ready to fight mentally, technically and physically and fans can look forward to an excellent match.
DIRECTV: What is PRIDE Bushido, scheduled to air on DIRECTV® Pay Per View on December 21st, how is it different from PRIDE?
Nobuyuki Sakakibara: For a fighter to compete in PRIDE FC is like reaching the top of the mountain … the fighters we bring in are very highly skilled and we feel a responsibility to put together an event to out-do the last event every time. We're always working to make the event more spectacular and to bring in the top fighters from around the world. Within that formula we can't always be very experimental as far as bringing in unknown fighters or trying something new. That's why we started BUSHIDO … to explore various avenues of possibility. In our first PRIDE BUSHIDO event we will have a team competition of 5 on 5 in which 5 of the top Japanese fighters will compete individually with 5 members of the legendary Gracie family. We will also have the first masked man in mixed martial arts! BUSHIDO also gives some of the very talented lighter weight fighters a chance to compete and also gives us a chance to look for new talent, especially among the Japanese fighters. We are always looking for the next Sakuraba or Fujita. PRIDE BUSHIDO looks like PRIDE FC at a glance, but, in many ways, it is totally different from PRIDE FC. We hope fans enjoy it!
|Dana White, President, Zuffa Sports and UFC
DIRECTV: Why would you let one of your top fighters, Chuck Liddell, compete in such a grueling 8-man tournament, and for PRIDE no less?
Dana White: Really, this whole thing started between me and Mr. Sakakibara, the president of Pride. He started trash-talking the UFC a little bit and then I said "Let's talk about some real issues like Chuck Liddell knocking out Wanderlei Silva." That's a fight I've wanted to do for a long time, but Pride would never do it. They ended up coming back saying "If he wants to fight Silva so bad, why don't you put him in our eight-man tournament?" If there's any guy I would put in an eight-man tournament, it's Chuck Liddell. Because I’m kind of an old-school kind of guy and I like real fighters. Chuck Liddell is a real fighter. There's no BS with him. He likes to fight. He'll fight anybody, anywhere, anytime. He's definitely one of the best.
DIRECTV: Give us the details on this personal $250K bet you have with Pride President Nobuyuki Sakakibara? How did this bet come about?
Dana White: The bet that I have with Mr. Sakakibara is over the Wanderlei Silva fight. Basically, they feel, and have felt, that Wanderlei Silva will beat Chuck Liddell easy. I don’t remember what his reaction was, but I said "I'll bet you two hundred and fifty thousand dollars." I don’t think he took me seriously at first, but when he found out I was serious, he accepted the bet.
DIRECTV: You’ve got a lot at stake. I imagine you are playing an important role in Chuck's training. What's he doing to prepare physically and mentally for this tournament?
Dana White: Yeah, I do have a lot to do with Chuck's training. I got together with his head trainer, John Hackleman, and we put together one of the toughest training regiments I've ever seen a fighter go through. Chuck's camp is set up in Las Vegas. We brought in the best of the best to train him. We pretty much put together a dream team for this fight, but I don’t want to get too much into it. But yes, John Hackleman and I put together one of the best camps I’ve ever seen for a fighter. Do you remember the training regiment that Ivan Drago went through in Rocky IV? That's nothing compared to the training regiment that Chuck Liddell just went through.
DIRECTV: Generally, how does a fighter train to fight more than one fight in a single night?
Dana White: He trains exactly the same as he would for any other fight. The real work is done in between fights. We’ve got a whole game plan of working on Chuck between fights. I think that's going to be the most important part.
DIRECTV: How are you personally preparing for this tournament (mentally)?
Dana White: I'm not. I'm a mental case. I'm a basket case over this whole tournament. I want Chuck to win so bad, it’s driving me insane. I wish it was tomorrow and I can’t wait till this thing is over.
DIRECTV: If Chuck wins this tournament what does it mean for UFC? What does it mean for Chuck Liddell?
Dana White: I'm bringing Pride's belt back and laying it right on my desk. I'm very confident that Chuck Liddell is going to win this tournament. What does it mean for Chuck? I think it means that he and Randy Couture are the two top fighters in this weight division. Chuck will have lost to Randy and then gone over there and defeated three of the best guys in the world. That's huge for Chuck.
DIRECTV: So is this a new day, will we start seeing more PRIDE vs. UFC type fights? If so, what PRIDE fighters would you like to see fight in the UFC?
Dana White: I don't know. This was never really done with the idea of us doing business with Pride and switching fighters. Pride says they’ll send Kazushi Sakuraba over, and they’re interested in Kazuyuki Fujita too. The door's open. When I was over there at the press conference, I welcomed any Pride fighter that thinks he can beat a UFC fighter to come on over. So, we’ll see what happens.
DIRECTV: Chuck has a tough first round match with Quinton Jackson, what do you think of this?
Dana White: I think that Quinton Jackson is a very tough guy and I like him personally too. I'm very curious to see how this fight goes. He’s going to have a very very hard time with Chuck Liddell.
DIRECTV: What advice would you give to Chuck in a fight with Quinton Jackson, Hideheki Yoshido and Wanderlei Silva?
Dana White: I really don't want to give up any of the advice or strategy that we’re going to have for any of these guys. I’d rather not answer that question.
DIRECTV: Tell us about UFC 45: Revolution on November 21st?
Dana White: We're very excited about this show. It's going to be a great event. We're very excited about the 10th anniversary of the sport and the UFC. I'm pumped up for the bout between Matt Hughes and Frank Trigg. That's been a fight that everyone's wanted to see for a long time. The other fight I'm really looking forward to is Cabbage and Tank Abbott. It's going to be a great fight. I'll see everyone on November 21st at Mohegan Sun.
DIRECTV: Thank you for taking the time. Good luck in Japan
Dana White: My pleasure. Thank you!
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