A tradition used to exist in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) that some promotion would run a New Year’s Eve super card. The largest promotion, the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) bucked tradition this year and held their card Friday nigh with UFC 207. Now the World Series of Fighting has taken the mantle with a card. The question is why did the largest promotion in the world drop the ball on the New Year’s super card tradition?
The New Year’s Eve fight card, as best I can tell, started with Dream Stage Entertainment’s (DSE) PRIDE Fighting Championships. The Japanese entertainment company staged its biggest card of the year because most of Japan observes December 31 to Janary 3 as a quiet time to spend with family and reflect on the year that was, as well as the year to come. Most families would sit at home and watch television, so DSE used that time to focus as many eyes as possible on its product and fighters.
DSE’s PRIDE during its heyday, and the years of the traditional super cards, were packed with talent, fights people wanted to see, and always carried a big fight feel. It was MMA’s version of the Super Bowl, if football suits you more than combat sports. Star athletes like Fedor Emelianenko, Mirko “CroCop” Filipovic, Wanderlei Silva, and Takanori Gomi would make appearances on these nights. Each fight was memorable, and the card’s opening, the “Parade of Fighters,” always defined “spectacle” for an athletic event.
If watching something like that doesn’t get you excited to see a night’s worth of fights then nothing will. That’s WWE-worthy spectacle in place with real fighters, and that’s just the start of the fights. Unfortunately, PRIDE got mixed up with the Yakuza and tainted the promotion’s reputation. Once word broke that DSE’s top brass had dealings with organized crime it made the promotion’s ability to secure visas for out of country fighters nearly impossible. Without the drawing power of “The Russian Cyborg” Fedor Emelianenko or the potential of a CroCop knockout win, eyes turned toward singing contests.
With PRIDE on its last legs, the promotion turned to American rivals Zuffa, headed by Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta. The Fertitta brothers would buy out PRIDE. Initially the two companies would remain in operation, acting as competing entities. This idea wouldn’t last long, and the final Dream Stage Entertainment PRIDE show opener strangely seemed prophetic of that.
The use of “Do You Remember Rock and Roll Radio?” to open the show speaks of days gone by, good times past, and something ending. Although the opener speaks of “New Beginnings,” the final PRIDE, dubbed “Kamikaze,” was really the last blaze of glory for the Japanese bastion of MMA. The organization would soon close up shop, and the talent the promotion could sign would head to the UFC.
Moving to the UFC would prove difficult for many PRIDE alumni. “CroCop” and “The Axe Murderer,” Wanderlei Silva, would be two fighters that struggled in the American juggernaut. The dimensions of the UFC’s “Octagon” were different from a PRIDE ring, forcing the fighters to relearn the ways you could cover the distance to your opponent. Flaws in fighting styles were laid bare as former PRIDE greats struggled with new regulations and time periods.
The UFC would hold a few notable New Years Eve cards, but they eventually stopped with television deals rolling in. Tradition meant nothing when you had deals with Fox Sports and Reebok. Now the new owners, WME-IMG are looking towards competing with the Super Bowl for eyeballs, which doesn’t bode well for ratings in America. Promoter Dana White’s saying about everyone going to the street corner where a fight is might ring true, but in America the Super Bowl dominates television.
While the promotion is finally developing new stars like Conor MacGregor, replacing the old guard like Tim Silva, Pat Miletich, Matt Hughes, Chuck Liddell, and more, it’s hard for fight fans to see business owners who know nothing about the product tank an MMA stalwart because they don’t know a damned thing about what they got for their money.