Photo via God Bless the Ring.
FEG, the parent company of Dream -- Japan's top MMA promotion -- and K-1 -- the world's top kickboxing promotion -- was in trouble going into Dynamite!! 2010 their annual New Year's Eve spectacular.
A much hyped round of Chinese investment bank funding fell through in the fall and many speculated that without a blockbuster rating on NYE the promotions would be in deep trouble.
Dave Meltzer sets the scene (subscription required):
This comes after last year's show did strong ratings, finishing in second place behind the Red & White Concert (a Super Bowl like television event in Japan each year), on what is considered in Japan the biggest television night of the year. Last year's show averaged more than 16 million viewers, and peaking at 26 million for the Hidehiko Yoshida vs. Satoshi Ishii battle of Olympic gold medalists match.
However, there is no mainstream hook this year, as there was last year for Ishii's debut and Masato's retirement fight. Some say the only reason it's even on this year is because TBS signed a two year deal with FEG (Fighting Entertainment Groups) prior to last year's show. The hopes of the show doing big numbers were dashed with so many of the big draws of the past not involved, and the failure to land this year's hoped for "big fish," the retired sumo legend Asashoryu, whose debut would have gotten tremendous mainstream talk.
Well the news is bad. Very bad. Here's Zach Arnold:
Quietly, the ratings number came out for the 2010 K-1 Dynamite show on Tokyo Broadcasting System and it was a 9.8% rating. A sub-10% rating was the very last thing K-1 needed. (Though it was nice to know that they ended up giving an attendance for the show - 26,729.)
In the here-and-now, it feels inevitable that the relationship between K-1 and TBS will either significantly change or lead to a divorce. The World MAX, DREAM, and Dynamite shows are in decline on the network. Should TBS divorce itself from K-1, the big question is whether or not Fuji TV will help save the company. While ratings aren't hot on Fuji TV for K-1 programming, they are steadier than on TBS. The relationship between Kazuyoshi Ishii and Fuji TV is also a much longer one as well.
All of this is important for K-1's survival. The entire business plan that Mr. Ishii laid out for the business after the PRIDE collapse was to control the television pipeline in Japan. By controlling it, he could cash in on the broadcasting fees and also control what programming was on which network. If somebody wanted to promote a foreign show under his banner (think: the Holland shows) and get on Japanese TV in exchange for absorbing the live show costs and getting a % of the TV money, that sounded great. Now with the TBS relationship in serious decline, suddenly the plan becomes a lot less viable.
We'll hear from Dave Walsh, Matthew Roth and Sherdog in the full entry.
Dave Walsh talks about the downfall of Olympic gold medal-winning Judoka Satoshi Ishii who fought on the card:
Japanese headlines coming out of Dynamite!!? They are scary. Essentially, the headlines all revolve around Satoshi Ishii and his poor performance. Ishii was booed at Dynamite!! The hype around Dynamite!!? Gone. SportsNavi, a popular news outlet run by Yahoo! has headlines about UFC 125, with the feature story about Clay Guida choking out Takanori Gomi and how Nagashima's KO of Aoki made him MVP. NikkanSports is similar. All of the more fight-oriented websites were obeying the unwritten rules of don't trash in public, the mainstream media? No such luck. Headlines about the boos that Ishii received were deafening. Ishii the ace of Japan is all-but-dead. The goofy interviews, the terrible performance, the inability to make press conferences and so forth have done him no favors. He needed a dominant win and a solid post-fight interview, ala Sakuraba and Minowaman. Of course, he did not deliver.
Head Kick Legend wraps it up:
There was a time when Satoshi Ishii was the top prospect coming out of Japan, the savior of Japanese MMA. He was a national hero with his gold medal win at the Olympics and would be a media darling to carry Japanese MMA into the next decade. Fast forward a year and Ishii has become perhaps the biggest bust in MMA. Sure, he has a winning record, but he's done so in disappointing fashion. He looked awful against Jerome LeBanner and the boos drove the point home. He is not who we thought he was and luckily, the Japanese media has not let him off the hook.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel for FEG.
Tokyo Broadcasting System is the outlet for DREAM, K1 MAX, and Dynamite. Fuji TV is the outlet for K1 and fortunately, 2010 was a solid year for FEG. They also furthered their relationship with the network and what could be TBS's loss if they decide to cut ties with FEG could be FUJI's gain. The original plan for the shows on TBS were less about fighting about more about infiltrating the other shows on the network and this was a failure. Fuji appears to have a greater interest in combat sports and I would suspect that all of FEG's programming will find its way onto the network very soon.
Part of Tanikawa's desire to continue pushing Overeem as a crossover star stems from his current assessment of MMA in Japan, which is less than optimistic. Though Hiroyuki Takaya successfully took the Dream featherweight title from Bibiano Fernandes at "Dynamite," Tanikawa was unimpressed with the performance, claiming the bout did more to drive away casual interest than it did to attract it.
Tanikawa's solution for this, as well as his vision for gaining wider mainstream appeal, seems to be in taking MMA fighters out of their element in an attempt to replicate Overeem's successes. Tanikawa used former Strikeforce light heavyweight king Gegard Mousasi and his commanding decision victory over K-1 heavyweight champion Kyotaro Fujimoto as a prime example.
"I want Mousasi to fight for K-1 if he's interested. If you think about how things are in Japan, I think it's better to fight in K-1 because it makes fighters very popular and famous. MMA fighters like [Norifumi] "Kid" Yamamoto and Genki Sudo won and lost in the K-1 ring, but they still became famous from it. I want Mousasi to become very famous," Tanikawa said. He also noted "Wicky" Akiyo Nishiura as another mixed martial artist he hoped to head hunt for K-1 competition.
However, that does not mean FEG will abandon Dream or MMA bouts, as both Tanikawa and Dream Event Producer Keiichi Sasahara reiterated a desire to fill out both poles of the MMA weight divisions.
I'm not optimistic. Sengoku is soldiering on but at this point they're not much more than a regional promotion. The Dream may be over.