The first event to be held in North America for Pride Fighting Championships is in the books. I think it can be considered a conditional success. The show for the live crowd was undoubtedly better than the show seen by those who purchased the PPV. It was evident that those involved were not used to broadcasting live, as we saw spelling errors in graphics, communication errors between the director and the announcing crew, and what essentially amounts to dead air for a 20 minute intermission.
If those who bought the PPV are at least familiar with what kind of show Pride usually offers, or at least familiar with MMA outside of the UFC, I don’t think those things will have a large impact in the long run. But if the sloppiness continues, it could begin to make the paying audience wary of buying what could be considered a sub par product. So what kind of things does Pride need to fix or alter before their next American PPV, scheduled for February? What shouldn’t they change? Let’s have a look.
WHAT TO KEEP
Production values for the live crowd: It’s often taken for granted how much impact the live crowd has on the entertainment value of a fighting event. The crowd was great on Saturday, and they were warmed up by the fighter intros at the beginning of the event, followed by well-produced ring intros and some excellent ring announcers. Even after the boring parts (Pride girls, intermission, the speech by Takada), the ring intros got them ready to go for the next bout. Had this not been the case, I think the event would have had a completely different feel. The entrance ramps, the stage, the lighting, the pyro…it all contributed to the atmosphere of the event, and not enough can be said for what that does to a promotion’s credibility. When you look at the night critically, there were no real important fights. There weren’t any title fights, or even fights that had title implications (unless either Henderson or Emelianenko were to lose). But the production of the live event made it feel bigger than what it was.
Showing Every Fight: I’m all for showing the undercard bouts for an MMA event. It’s yet another boon for the live crowd, as there’s no need to stall between when the undercard ends and the main card begins. It also really gives those who purchased the PPV a feeling that they got what they paid for. Too many times the UFC events have come in at just under or over three hours for a main card, and they don’t end up showing all (or sometimes any) of the undercard. I know I’m not the only one who’s been more excited for a fight that wasn’t shown than for a couple of fights that were. Showing every fight from the beginning of the event takes care of that problem.
Venue: If you’ve read anything I’ve written, chances are you’ve seen that I hate fighting events being staged in a casino. The biggest UFC event to be held at the Mandalay Bay feels like small potatoes compared to a lackluster card such as Saturday’s being held at the Thomas & Mack Center. There’s more room for setting up the production stage, and there’s more of a “sporting event” feel to a fight held in an arena than there is for one held in a casino. Those feel more like Vegas sideshows.
WHAT NOT TO KEEP:
Staging for TV: You would think that the people involved in the show would be able to stage a live event that looks acceptable on TV. In this case, you’d be wrong. I don’t know why, but it just didn’t work. The timing with the announcers was off, as they seemed to have little idea of what was supposed to be happening a lot of the time, the volume was all over the place (in fairness, that could have just been on my feed), the intermission could have been put to much better use than it was (or cut out completely). The flow and the feel were great for the live crowd, but the show needed some serious polish to come across as such on TV. And as important as it is to have the crowd into the show, it’s equally important (if not more so) to make it feel professional for the home viewers, who far outnumber those in attendance.
Announce Team: I enjoy Mauro Ranallo and Frank Trigg. I did not enjoy Ranallo, Trigg, and Craig Minervini. I mentioned it quite a bit on my coverage, and I still haven’t changed my mind.
The Fights: Obviously you can’t guarantee a night of great fights. That’s just the nature of the beast, and anyone who follows the sport knows that a blockbuster card on paper can turn into a snoozefest in reality. But you can put together a card that means something. I’ve talked about how Pride’s organization as far as title contention makes no sense, and I stick by that. I know there are tournaments, and that the tournaments mean something, but what about everything else? Not a single fight on this card held any sort of serious ramifications as far as titles are concerned. And not having a title defense on a card with two champions is inexcusable if you ask me. I’m not asking Pride to adopt the UFC’s title structure. I’m just asking that they have a structure to begin with. But ramifications aside, we knew going in that most of the fights weren’t going to be very competitive. That’s something that needs to be fixed on the February card. Pride has come in and shown what their style is about, and that was great. But they’ve seen now that the American MMA fan (outside of casinos) has evolved into an educated fan who follows the sport and knows who the fighters are. It’s time to deliver with fight quality the next time they come to America, because we know that Pride can put together a stellar card, and they’ve got the time to do it. It’s time to get Butterbean off my TV screen, as likeable as he may be, and find a way to get Mark Hunt on it. Put the freakshow fights on for the Japanese crowds, but keep them away from here.
I think Randy Rowles said it best in his Pride 32 aftermath column when he said, “A heated PRIDE vs. UFC rivalry would take the MMA world to a whole new level in North America.” Just reading that statement gives me chills. Can you imagine if these two organizations came together maybe once or twice a year to put on a supershow? The buildup could be tremendous, with both sides cutting promos ala what Wanderlei Silva did Saturday night. Sure, his comments about Liddell running away were baseless, but the back-and-forth between the two organizations for a multiple-fight card would be insane. I could write a whole separate column about the potential there. So whether you’re a fan of a specific promotion or just a fan of MMA in general (which, thankfully, is becoming the case more often than not in my experience), Pride coming to America is a great thing for the sport and for American fans. Let’s hope that we can get some of the kinks worked out for February, and the show we see then could be unbelievable.