What Happened to PRIDE FC? (Downfall Explained)

Photo by Dream Stage Entertainment

Are you wondering what happened to PRIDE FC?

In this article, we’ll explain what happened to PRIDE FC in seeing them go from the top MMA promotion to defunct.

What Happened to PRIDE FC?

PRIDE FC was bought out by the UFC on May 25, 2007, and dissolved on October 4, 2007. PRIDE FC sold to the UFC because it was bleeding money for many years and its ties to the Yakuza were leaked by Japanese tabloids in 2006 – causing its reputation and financials to tank.

PRIDE FC was losing a lot of money because the promotion was never run like a business like the UFC.

The promotion was controlled by the Japanese mafia, known as the Yakuza. The Yakuza funded the founding of PRIDE and used the promotion for money laundering.

The crime gang funneled and hid their illegal cash and turned it into clean money (albeit less) with a legal source. They would further fund PRIDE through loans and mass purchasing of tickets.

Although they were getting less money than they put in, they increased their revenue/profits by fixing PRIDE bouts and gambling on them.

Different Yakuza groups also controlled turf where PRIDE events were held and took money from the promotion in exchange for protection against rival gangs and not crashing events themselves.

They also created pyramid schemes by buying thousands of tickets at discounted prices and forcing others to sell for them.

The most suspicious event causing people to believe the Yakuza controlled PRIDE was in 2003, when former company president, Naoto Morishita, was found dead in a Tokyo hotel in an apparent suicide.

However, the Yakuza links were revealed in 2006 by a popular Tokyo magazine, Shūkan Gendai.

In an interview, the magazine was given information by Seiya Kawamata (one of Antonio Anoki’s MMA promoters) about the time he was confronted by Nobuyuki Sakakibara (PRIDE owner) and Mr. Ishizaka (Kim Dok Soo / Mr. I) at a hotel years prior.

Mr. Ishizaka was a Korean-born Yakuza member who helped fund the founding of PRIDE FC along with Hiromichi Momose in 1997.

The confrontation happened after Fedor Emilanenko was poached from PRIDE (he was on a fight-by-fight contract) by Antonio Anoki’s special New Year’s Eve event, Inoki Bom-Ba-Ya 2003.

This leak caused PRIDE FC to lose its biggest broadcasting deal with ‘Fuji TV’ on June 5, 2006.

Fuji TV was forced to take action and terminated its contract with Dream Stage Entertainment (PRIDE’s parent company) due to a breach of contract (Yakuza involvement) and banned anyone connected with DSE on their broadcasts.

This was a huge blow to PRIDE FC, as the Fuji deal was by far its biggest source of revenue at a time when it was using this money to stay afloat.

It caused the promotion’s image and TV ratings to nosedive, as fans, sponsors, and broadcasters no longer wanted to support or do business with a Yakuza-involved company.

Struggling financially and rumors of internal struggles between two Yakuza groups over the direction of the promotion (since 2003) meant the sale to the UFC was clearly the best outcome for the crime gang.

After months of negotiations, the UFC bought PRIDE FC for around $65 million, an excellent exit pot for the Yakuza.

The UFC had the goal of keeping PRIDE alive under the UFC brand and creating superfights between the best fighters from each promotion under the UFC banner, similar to the superfights they’d created since UFC 5.

However, Dana White couldn’t get a TV deal for PRIDE in Japan due to the Yakuza links and the illegal organization not wanting Americans to run the company in Japan.

Dana White said, “I’ve pulled everything out of the trick box that I can and I can’t get a TV deal over there with Pride. I don’t think they want us there. I don’t think they want me there.”

Therefore, PRIDE FC became defunct and the UFC took on PRIDE fighters whom they could secure UFC contracts with.

On his podcast, Joe Rogan said the UFC only bought a library of PRIDE FC fights, as the majority of PRIDE fighter contracts were illegal and worth nothing.

However, this essentially meant they were free agents, and the UFC could offer contracts to the fighters they wanted. 

In 2023, there are 565 PRIDE bouts on UFC Fight Pass. This represents what the UFC paid $65 million for.

The founder of Pride FC, Nobuyuki Sakakibara, sold the promotion to the UFC and went on to found Rizin Fighting Federation in 2015 – now the biggest MMA promotion in Japan.

Many of the PRIDE FC staff and executives who were supposed to continue working under the UFC, moved on to work for the newly founded MMA promotion in 2008, DREAM (which dissolved in 2012).

The Bottom Line

So, ‘What happened to PRIDE FC?’

PRIDE Fighting Championships was sold to the UFC on May 25, 2007, and became defunct on October 4, 2007.

PRIDE’s collapse came in 2006 when Japanese tabloids openly published the promotion’s links to the Yakuza. This caused fans, sponsors, and broadcasters to cut ties with PRIDE FC.

When PRIDE FC lost its biggest broadcasting deal with ‘Fuji TV’ and the promotion began bleeding more money than ever, a $65 million exit was the best the Yakuza could’ve hoped for.

It was a horrible deal for the UFC as they hoped to continue running the promotion in Japan. However, it meant their biggest competitor was gone and they could take all of their best fighters – which they did.

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