I remember watching Mike Tyson calling out Bob Sapp (*Editor’s note: How the hell is Bob Sapp only 35?) after "The Beast" beat Kimo Leopoldo at K-1 World Grand Prix event in Las Vegas in 2003 and thinking, "Man, I wish Tyson would fight somebody good in MMA."
Well, it turns out that in 2003 "Iron" Mike had a contract with PRIDE and was supposed to fight two of the Japanese promotion’s best heavyweights: Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic and Fedor Emelianenko.
The bouts never came to fruition for several different reasons, but if they had, Dana White likely wouldn’t have had any interest in bringing James Toney into the UFC to solve the, "Who would win between a boxer and a mixed martial artist?" question.
Imagine how differently each man’s career would have turned out if Tyson had knocked Emelianenko and Filipovic out in the 2004 PRIDE Heavyweight Grand Prix.
Up until now, PRIDE had held many of their plans below the surface of the water. Many plans disappeared before they were even announced, and even some disappeared after they were announced. A prime example of this was Mike Tyson fighting for PRIDE in the USA.
The mood was skeptical regarding Mike Tyson from the beginning. Before PRIDE had gotten in touch with Tyson, K-1 had also gotten a hold of him, and it is said that the prohibitive cost involved was what led to the massive tax evasion scandal that hit K-1. It wasn’t just about seeing Tyson fight, PRIDE had an entire plan as to the marketability of Mike Tyson in PRIDE. In regards to the plan, Mike Tyson was VERY interested as PRIDE was going to create a world tour of sorts for Tyson.
While they were transitioning to the United States, getting a hold of Mike Tyson was one of their primary objectives. The simple news of “Japan’s largest MMA event is coming to the United States” was not sufficient in the minds of DSE management. With that in mind, DSE management began to look at Tyson to be their superstar, being that he had a huge name value and his star in the boxing world was all but diminished.
At first, getting a hold of Tyson did not go very well. For someone as famous as Tyson, making contact with him created many hang ups. This included many suspicious characters trying to capitalize of Tyson’s name. DSE made an attempt to bypass these shady characters and go straight to the #1 man in charge of Tyson’s affairs, who the book does not name.
He could also be referred to as the “ticket window” in regards to the negotiations with Mike Tyson. Negotiations would not be easy. Tyson had multiple prior engagements and many prior business plans preceding what could have been a relationship with PRIDE. DSE was succeeding with negotiations with Tyson for two reasons, their strong brand name, and their planned breakthrough into the US market.
An executive, one day, claimed to have charmed his way into the presence of Mike Tyson, claiming to have began negotiations with him.
The first meeting with Sakakibara and Mike Tyson took place in April of 2006. The location was China. Mike Tyson, during his imprisonment, had become deeply inspired by revolutionary Mao Zedong. He was in China getting a tattoo of the notorious former leader of China. Sakakibara’s killing words were “creating a world tour.”
Tyson was a huge MMA fan from the very beginning. He had even worn a Vitor Belfort t-shirt at a meeting with reporters. One drawback, as we have seen most recently, an accomplished boxer could not go into the PRIDE ring solely with one skill, for the competition pool was very deep at this time. Two other major draw backs were the fact he had his license suspended by the NSAC and Japan frowned upon allowing convicted felons to fight in their country.
This is where the idea of a “world tour” came into Sakakibara’s mind. His matches would be boxing matches, first with Mirko Crocop, and eventually with Fedor Emelianenko, two strikers that had a chance at boxing with Tyson in the PRIDE ring. The plans were for these fights to be held in Russia, China, and other venues in Europe.
A fight in Japan and the United States were planned for the future, pending the results of the legal hurdles involved in getting him licensed.
Using Tyson in this fashion, PRIDE would be grabbing a share of the market that the UFC was unable to attain.
The primary focus was moving these cards into China and breaking ground in an untapped market such as China. The huge population, the scale of the business, it would be unfathomable for them not to become an instant success. Also, China had land related to Tyson – in Sakakibara’s eyes, this would be a huge success.
The plan was to put on the first event of the world tour at the beginning of that year. The initial location for the event was going to be Macau, and would rival the New Years Eve event at the Saitama Super Arena.
As would be expected, from the people that made the Rickson vs. Takada fight, this all was a fairy tale. Mike Tyson was all for it as it was in his mind as a revolutionary type of event, similar to Mao’s and Che’s revolutions from the past. Sakakibara’s plan had gone beyond business – it was a dream like plan.
There is a problem here – there is a huge disparity between dreamlike and reckless. At the PRIDE presser in Las Vegas of that year, Mike Tyson showed up under the notion of being a PRIDE fighter that DSE was happy to have joined the organization. After that, the plan stopped. Tyson was nowhere to be found.
Questions were raised after the press conference and during the event, but DSE executives were reluctant to give an honest answer. DSE said no matter how hard they tried to get Tyson on board, Tyson rejected all offers.
As for Mike Tyson, these events became a common occurrence. From Bob Sapp calling out Mike Tyson at a K-1 event, when Tyson was on his way to the event from his hotel room, Tyson decided “I don’t want to go.”
One thing for certain, DSE did have an official contract with Mike Tyson. If there were a breach of this contract, Tyson would be monetary obliged to compensate DSE accordingly. As with many Tyson deals, that meant nothing.
One DSE employee stated that Tyson had incurred enormous debts from doing things such as this and that DSE was pretty much helpless in this regard. DSE’s position was that Tyson had already incurred millions in debt that he didn’t care about a measly few hundred thousand dollars.
The Tyson story, after all of this, became a fairy tale. Nothing was every brought of it again.