("Do not want.")
Fortunately for MMA fans, and for Holyfield who was able to turn his lagging career around the next year, the bout didn’t happen.
The card, which saw Jens Pulver‘s chin exposed by Takanori Gomi and Anderson Silva caught by a textbook heelhook by Ryo Chonan turned out to be a pretty entertaining one even without the spectacle of a pro boxer versus a sumo wrestler.
The full story, via MMA-Japan is after the jump:
Translated from Pride’s Secret Files:
In Pride’s history, the most convoluted, confusing time for DSE was the end of 2003. Under a joint arrangement, holding the NYE event "Inoki-matsuri", boiled down to three organizations holding three different events on three different broadcasting outlets, all live.
Among those three events, the one that garnered the most interest was without a doubt Dynamite!! Former Yokozuna Akebono, who had already debuted in K-1, was going to face off with Bob Sapp, who at the time was at the pinnacle of his career. This particular match received 43% television ratings, eclipsing the popular NYE event "Kouhaku Uta Gassen".
To combat this extraordinary event of Akebono vs. Sapp, Pride’s "trick up the sleeve", which was looking very probable at the time, was "the man who destroyed Mike Tyson", Evander Holyfield.
From the start, the typical NYE event was Pride’s Inoki-matsuri. This year, the "Reborn Pride" from June, after separating from K-1, joined forces with Antonio Inoki, who at the time was Pride’s executive event producer, to cooperate in making Inoki-matsuri. Inoki made the comment, "This year, we will go out to the highest mountain for you." This highest mountain, in other words "Fuji", referred to being broadcast on Fuji TV.
TBS & K-1 Dynamite, and Fuji TV and Pride/Inoki – a battle for TV domination. Just as things were rolling into place, Inoki made an unexpected move. He joined forces with Seiya Kawamata, who was connected with K-1, moving to put Inoki-matsuri on Nippon TV.
In the beginning, Kawamata presented to Nippon TV a card consisting of Yoshihiro Takayama vs. Mirko Crocop, Kazuyuki Fujita vs. Peter Aerts, and Hidehiko Yoshida vs. Naoya Ogawa. As well, Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera, Wanderlei Silva and Fedor Emelienenko were planned to appear. The only two to actually appear were Fedor and Fujita.
On one hand, Pride’s response to this was a simple goodbye. At the November Tokyo Dome event, Takada had said, "We won’t chase after those that abandon us!" Until the end, they would walk down their own path.
That said, Pride threw everything it had into the November event at the dome. The finals of the middleweight GP, the Mirko vs Nogueira championship bout, the return of Sakuraba – emptied Pride’s gas tank. Furthermore, Inoki-matsuri had gotten a large sum of money for the TV rights with Nippon TV and was looking for big fighters such as Fedor and Mirko among others. The idea of a Pride NYE event – broadcast by Fuji TV – could be seen as floating away.
But, Fuji TV insisted on Pride going ahead with their NYE event. It may have been the willpower of both Fuji and Pride that were behind this. The fight card was a serious problem. Just having put on such a show in November, they had to protect their headlining event at Inoki-matsuri. With this kind of start, they absolutely needed to put together matches that would appease the viewers during Fuji’s prime TV slot.
Such rumors, the planned matches for Pride’s Otoko-matsuri 2003 were various. First on the list was Sakuraba vs. Tamura (which if you read Saku’s autobiography, they always wanted this match to happen). Due to Tamura’s refusal, the match was canceled. There was also an idea to have Tamura vs. Nogueira, which Tamura was interested, but Nogueria could not participate, thus it was never announced.
The prior year, Nogueria cometed in the Inoki event "Legend", defeating Sanae Kikuta by KO, which created controversy, making something of a problem in the behind the scenes for the industry. Perhaps due to his condition, or maybe due to the business aspects, he did not participate in a number of events that year.
In the end, Tamura faced Ray Sefo’s brother, Ronnie, but there had been another opponent for him – Evander Holyfield. The best of the best in the boxing world, four-time world heavyweight champion.
Known as the victim of the Mike Tyson ear biting incident, he was a star boxer in the 1990′s who earned great respect. Why was there a plan for Holyfield to fight in Pride?
In actuality, Holyfield’s name had been raised in gossip within the Pride organization from day 1. The story started when Pride was still run by KRS, with Pride 1, and the representative coordinator, a karateka named Hiroki Kurosawa, who adored Holyfield. He was always mentioning Holyfield during executive meetings.
At the same time, Holyfield’s management (concerning non-combat issues) was operating in Japan. They had booked many famous athletes for TV programs, as well as being Rickson Gracie’s manager.
With those connections, Pride had been close to touching Holyfield for a long time. Touching, however, did not actually mean negotiating, simply becoming acquaintances. It is known that the DSE USA office had succeeded in getting a meeting with him.
That said, no matter how you analyze it, it was a very slight connection. From the Holyfield side, with his people related to the promoters, there must have been too much going on to even express the connection was anything more than a weak connection. Not to mention the idea of a big name American boxer of his caliber going to Japan, and further more, into an MMA ring, was an impossible thing.
But Pride’s way of doing things was not to be swayed by making the impossible happen. They tried to plan accordingly. After all, they were able to put together Rickson vs. Takada!
Before and after this, Pride proceeded with trying to get boxers into the ring. As touched upon later, Tokuyama, and Inoki had meetings with Sugar Ray Leonard. Further more, there were rumors that Oscar De La Hoya had interest in MMA, which begged the question "Well then, will he fight?" was asked frequently in Pride meetings.
De La Hoya’s interest in MMA, it turned out, was from a promotional aspect.
This illustrates Pride’s die hard drive to create interesting fights for fans, regardless of any outside forces.