Between 1997 and 2007, Pride Fighting Championships was an undeniable force in mixed martial arts. The promotion's inception came about as an excuse to match Gracie family champion Rickson Gracie and famous Japanese pro-wrestler Nobuhiko Takada. Eventually, the promotion became on of the largest sporting entities in Japan and an international thorn in the UFC's backside until 2006.
In 2015, Pride FC is no more. More than eight years have passed since the promotion's last event. Nevertheless, former boss Nobuyuki Sakakibara made an emphatic return to the MMA community when it was announced that he had signed the legendary Fedor Emelianenko to headline the inaugural show of his new (unnamed) Japanese promotion.
The decision came as a surprise to many, as few were aware that Sakakibara was working on a new promotion in Japan, and most hoped that the Russian heavyweight would finally sign with the UFC. However, according to Sakakibara, Fedor was a necessary variable in the overall equation.
"I am extremely pleased to be able to introduce a new platform for mixed martial arts in Japan," Sakakibara told rsport.ru. "And it is a great honor for me that Fedor chose our organization for his return. I think we will be able to create a great show."
Sakakibara refused to offer the name of his new promotion, or even hint at the opponent that Fedor would face upon his return.
"The name of the opponent is not currently confirmed, but Fedor said he was willing to go against anyone. Now we have a lot of fighters from around the world who would like to challenge Fedor. But we would like to select a fighter who will mean something for the future of mixed martial arts."
However, the former Pride FC boss did delve into some of the details surrounding his new promotion, as well as one of the main factors that swayed the Fedor negotiation in his favor.
"The event with Fedor's participation will be the first in our series of tournaments," Sakikabara explained. "I think about how to form an entire platform where the best fighters from around the world could fight and compete. We would like to create something entirely new and exciting. We would like to invite not only the most famous fighters, but also young talented guys. I know that there are thousands of young men in Russia, who have not yet fought on a global level. And I'd like to see on our platform some unknown Russian talents presented around the world.
"One of the reasons why Fedor decided to return to the sport is with us, is that he wants to create a platform for young people in Russia who would follow him."
As for the contract that Fedor signed, Sakikabara did not confirm whether the deal is for one or two fights but insisted that negotiation were already in place for the second fight.
"Yes, we talked about it. Not only the future of Fedor, but also about the prospects of young Russian fighters who will be involved in our platform. Yes, some specific things about the future, we have already discussed."
Given the magnitude of Fedor's return, Sakakibara is prepared to pull all the stops for his inaugural show on Spike TV, which includes inviting Russian president Vladimir Putin to the proceedings.
"I really want to ask [Putin]. If it means that I have to talk with the Japanese government, I certainly will. It would be very nice if President Putin was able to visit the show. I think that the return of Fedor is a great and serious decision. I would like to see more people from around the world watch the first fight of his career after its resumption.
"If I need to make every effort to invite Putin, I'll do it."