Dana White and Nobuyuki Sakakibara Interview Prior to 'Pride: Final Conflict 2003'

via assets.sbnation.com

I found this DirecTV interview with UFC President Dana White and Pride CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara leading up to Final Conflict 2003 while doing research for some decade-in-review stuff we have coming up. A lot of the information is old hat now, but it's an interesting look at a time in MMA that seems so distant to us now.

If you don't know why Dana White refuses to copromote or exchange talent, his dealings with Pride have something to do with it. White desperately wanted Chuck Liddell to fight Pride middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva, so much so that he sent Liddell over to Japan to fight in Pride's middleweight grand prix:

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.

Liddell would have to earn the right to fight Silva, however. While Silva was given Hidehiko Yoshida (who looked like the answer to the "which of these doesn't belong" riddle from Sesame Street), Liddell found himself having to get past Quinton Jackson, who began to emerge as a star following victories over Igor Vovchanchyn, Kevin Randleman, and Murilo Bustamante. Should they get past Jackson, White was confident Liddell would beat Silva, going as far as placing a $250,000 bet with Sakakibara:

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: 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.

Those who've watched the fight remember two things: a white towel flying across the screen as Jackson tenderized Liddell's ribs and White throwing Liddell under the bus as he reiterated that "Chuck's not following the gameplan" ad nauseam.

It would be another four years before Chuck Liddell would meet Wanderlei Silva, though it almost happened a year earlier. At UFC 61, Dana White brought both fighters into the cage for a staredown after he announced that Liddell would meet Silva should Liddell defend his light heavyweight title in a rematch against Renato Sobral. Negotiations between Pride and the UFC broke down, however, and it the two didn't meet until December of 2007 after Zuffa purchased Pride earlier in the year.

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