BloodyElbow.com's Chris Nelson reported this morning that World Victory Road had decided to cancel their New Year's Eve plans to hold an event dubbed "Sengoku Raiden Championships" from the Ariake Coliseum in Tokyo, Japan. Various sources have been reporting rumors surrounding the possible cancellation, and other sources have speculated that World Victory Road may be on its last legs in the combat sports industry in Japan.
The stronger rumors being whispered in the Japanese MMA scene revolve around a complete collapse of World Victory Road. Many fans believe the promotion has simply succumbed to the inability to produce ratings and popularity among fans. There is also talk regarding the economic times, their lead sponsor Don Quijote, and the losses that Sengoku has incurred.
I'm going to play the skeptic and say that World Victory Road may be boldly making a play at grabbing some much needed media attention on New Year's Eve. While Sengoku has been struggling with providing solid ratings for their events, they have managed to produce match-ups and events that are filled with quality competition. TBS has mentioned in the past that they have been disappointed in DREAM's ratings, and at one point -- they were very interested in the idea of bringing Sengoku into the mix as WVR managed to snag one of the biggest heavyweight free agents in recent memory in Satoshi Ishii.
While Sengoku's ratings haven't been extraordinary, they don't have the same network exposure that DREAM has enjoyed. DREAM 9 was at a 16.2% share in a primetime slot while DREAM 11 did slightly worse at 12.7% in a primetime slot. Their other shows generally ranged from 3.5% - 1.0% in late night time slots while some of the Sengoku G episodes topped 2% on a non-major television network. DREAM has had some success after it was reported that they were pulled from their primetime TV slot as they are now being worked into that slot on an event-by-event basis, but Sengoku still holds one of the biggest perceived draws in Ishii.
There may actually be a scheme in the works for New Year's Eve that would not only benefit DREAM and its parent company, but it would also give World Victory Road some potential upside. If FEG is desperate to produce ratings gold on New Year's Eve, they may be trying to work a deal with World Victory Road to feature some of their talent in order to secure huge ratings. Obviously, Satoshi Ishii would be the main target of the co-promotion.
Right now, Masato vs. Andy Souwer in a five-round bout that already took place a couple of times in the past has been announced while Minowa vs. Sokoudjou is on the card as well. Rumored bouts include Kawajiri vs. Aoki and Yamamoto vs. Tokoro, but there is some speculation that Shinya Aoki may be using his popularity and the fact that a New Year's Eve bout has yet to be secured to deal for a lucrative new contract. If FEG doesn't succumb to his demands, he may be off the card.
For a Japanese New Year's Eve event, those three bouts with the inclusion of Aoki vs. Kawajiri still doesn't feel like an explosive event that will produce huge ratings. DREAM probably feels the same way, and what a better opportunity to secure a ratings victory than to include Ishii vs. Yoshida and possibly Sakuraba vs. Misaki. Add in potential fights involving Gegard Mousasi, Alistair Overeem, Tim Sylvia, Andrei Arlovski, Marlon Sandro, and mixed fights like Tamura vs. Kikuta and a Sengoku lightweight title bout in Yokota vs. Hirota.
The downside to the deal would be that DREAM would give their own competitors an edge in drawing fans after the event airs on New Year's Eve. Ishii's career would continue in Sengoku for the rest of his contract along with the other fighters that are featured during the marathon on TBS. DREAM sacrifices that in order to gain huge ratings, which they would easily grab with the inclusion of Ishii and the involvement of Kazushi Sakuraba.
Is FEG looking for ratings gold, and are they willing to sacrifice helping their competitors feature some of their top talent in order to gain huge ratings and secure potential deals for the future? It could work out for both promotions. Sengoku would gain some popularity while FEG may gain bigger sponsorships and revenue from the ratings. Of course, WVR would probably get a small cut, but they are likely looking for the exposure moreso than the dollars at this point.
There are some fans who've pointed out that WVR's recent moves to rename Sengoku and become heavily involved in the new Japan Mixed Martial Arts Federation would signal that the promotion isn't close to death at all, and I'd be inclined to agree. Why make the changes if it's futile to do so with an impending demise on the horizon? There may be a last minute attempt by WVR's main sponsor in Don Quijote to cut off the supply of money into the promotion and merge with DREAM, but that seems like a very drastic move in one month's time. My gut tells me that Don Quijote and WVR may be looking at an opportunity to grab some much needed exposure in an unified NYE event that will help FEG score the huge ratings they want while also helping WVR gain some exposure for future events.