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Tenshin vs Takeru loses major TV deal; former PRIDE boss tied to another Yakuza scandal

Nobuyuki Sakakibara lost another major TV deal, possibly after being accused again of having supposed ties to organized crime.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. v Tenshin Nasukawa Media Availability & Workout Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Dubbed as “The Match,” the massive fight between kickboxing superstars Tenshin Nasukawa and Takeru Segawa had been teased and planned out for years. After seeming as though it might never come together, it was eventually booked for June 19. Unfortunately, it seems that controversy has struck just a couple of weeks before the event, resulting in one of Japan’s biggest fights in recent history losing their major TV deal.

Fuji TV, which was scheduled to carry the fight, announced Tuesday in Japan that it did not finalize a contract with the organizers and will not be broadcasting “The Match 2022.”

Shortly after Fuji TV’s announcement, an emergency press conference was held by Nobuyuki Sakakibara, the head of RIZIN and the now defunct PRIDE, along with the two other promoters involved from RISE and K-1.

As Karaev Paul reported and translated on Twitter, no clear and official reason was given by Fuji TV, but Sakakibara apparently mentioned tabloids from May, that accused him once again of having ties to organized crime, as a possible reason.

Sakakibara, who was handling negotiations with Fuji TV, has denied the allegations and revealed that he even offered to resign as producer if it would help secure the broadcast deal. Talks didn’t advance, however—with Sakakibara apologizing to RISE and K-1 for the eventual, significant fallout.

Assuming all goes forward as reported, both Fuji and the promoters are set to lose a major chunk of revenue from the decision. Fortunately for fans—at least for the moment—the super-fight will still push through, albeit with a far smaller reach on PPV with Abema.

The fight should still garner plenty of interest from longtime kickboxing and combat sports fans, but won’t reach the same market initially intended—most notably a younger, mainstream audience. In the build up to the fight, both Takeru and Tenshin had expressed how they hoped this massive showdown would reach a wide market and inspire the next generation of combat sports athletes in Japan.

They reiterated this on their brief tweets immediately after Fuji TV’s announcement.

“I’m sorry everyone,” Tenshin wrote in Japanese. “This (fight) is not for the money, it’s for the future. What about the kids?”

“I want you to understand the meaning of this match. I haven’t given up yet,” Takeru wrote.

PRIDE Fighting Press Conference With Tommy Lee - January 11, 2006
Nobuyuki Sakakibara with Dan Henderson, Tommy Lee, and Wanderlei Silva in a 2006 press conference for PRIDE 33.
Photo by Jean Baptiste Lacroix/WireImage

This isn’t the first time Sakakibara has been involved in such a scandal. Back in 2006, when he was running PRIDE at its peak, reports about alleged Yakuza ties within the promotion cost them their Fuji TV broadcast deal along with other lucrative contracts. The loss of revenue streams significantly undercut the PRIDE business model, and the organization was eventually purchased in 2007 by ZUFFA and previous UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta.

In 2016, Bloody Elbow obtained copies from the UFC’s old background checks on Nobuyuki Sakakibara from the PRIDE purchase. The company they hired couldn’t find concrete evidence of ties to organized crime, but cited various red flags that led them to conclude there was “some validity” to the reports.

The company noted that Sakakibara had refused to cooperate or act in good faith, concluding that “as a result or all of the aforementioned issues, we have been forced to determine that [Sakakibara] is not a person of suitable character.”

After sitting out a 7-year ‘non-compete clause’ agreed upon during the UFC purchase, Sakakibara officially returned to mixed martial arts with the launching of RIZIN in 2015. From the sound of things, this most recent scandal could affect that organization as well.