Business is War
The Inside Story of the UFC’s Acquisition of Pride FC
In March of 2007, the owners of the Ultimate Fighting Championship completed a deal to purchase their biggest MMA rival, Japan’s Pride Fighting Championships. It took a full year of intense negotiation to get the deal done, and there was much behind the scenes drama, intrigue, death and destruction. Now, for the first time ever, the true story of this historic deal is revealed.
An incessant ringing woke me from my slumber. I looked at the clock: 3AM. Who the hell is this, I wondered as I reached for the phone. “TheGARV here.”
“Garv. I’m sorry, did I wake you?”
“No problem. I had to get up to answer the phone anyway.” The pause on the other end was interminable. “Who is this?” I said.
“It’s me, Garv. Dana. Dana fucking White.”
“Dana, it’s 3AM.”
“It’s only fucking midnight.”
You gotta be kidding me, I thought. “Where are you?”
“Well, I’m in New York City, okay? And I need to get back to sleep. What do you need?”
By this time there was a stirring in the bed. The call was disturbing not only me, but also Scarlett Johanssan and Jessica Beil. I told Dana to hold on while I got out of bed and took the call in the study.
“This better be important.”
“It is important, Garv. I’m in deep fucking shit here and I need your help.”
Now that I was fully awake, I could hear the tension in Dana’s voice.
“What’s going on?” I said.
Dana explained that he and the Fertitta brothers were in talks to buy Japan’s Pride Fighting Championship. They felt a merger would allow them to dominate the MMA market share.
“So what’s the problem?”
“The problem is the fucking Yakuza. These guys are fucking crazy. They’re fucking kamikazes.”
“No shit,” I said. I’d had my own dealings with the Yaks, and they were anything but warm and fuzzy.
Dana went on, “But that’s not all. The fucking Mob is a big fucking problem too. They're supposed to be on our side, but these fucking goombahs can’t swallow their fucking pride just once to secure a deal. At the last meeting with Sakakibara, they almost started a fucking shooting war with the fucking Yakuza goons. Both sides are just too fucking trigger happy, which means I’m fucked.”
I still didn’t see how I fit into the picture. “What does this have to do with me?”
“I don’t want to fucking die!” Dana shouted into the phone.
“Okay, take it easy,” I said. “I think I get it. You want me to risk my life by somehow inserting myself into the middle of a shooting war between the Mafia and the Yakuza in order to protect your ass so you can make the deal. Is that about right?”
“Pretty close,” Dana replied. “But I don’t even care about the fucking deal anymore. I want it off the fucking table.”
“Why’s that?” I said. “This could be huge for the UFC.”
“Because it’s fucking worthless if I don’t live to see it.”
I shook my head. “Let me ask you a question.”
“Do you want to be a fucking mogul?”
There was a long pause. “Well, yeah,” he said finally. “As long as I’m fucking breathing at the same time.”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll handle it.”
“I said I’d handle it.” And hung up. I went back into the bedroom, expecting the girls to be asleep. They weren’t. Climbing back into the warm bed, I snuggled up with my dates.
“What was that all about?” asked Scarlett.
I smiled. “Let's just say that the UFC wants to swallow its Pride.” I didn’t expect them to get the joke, but that’s never stopped me before.
“That’s funny,” Jessica said. “Because we want to swallow your pride.”
They both giggled, and I felt yet another stirring…down there. Moments later, as I lay there being pleasured for the fifth time that evening, I knew that I had better savor this moment. Because tomorrow I could very well be waltzing smack dab into the middle of a blood soaked shit storm.
I made some phone calls. That’s how I normally deal with situations, by making phone calls and working things out. I had sent the girls packing after breakfast, and now I was home alone, working the phones. But it was a waste of time. The situation had deteriorated overnight, and it was already turning into a bloodbath. I had a full-fledged international underworld war on my hands, and the body count was piling up. Under these conditions, there was no way that Dana was going to be able to close the deal with Sakakibara. I had to do something and do it fast.
So I watched TV. It relaxes me. Staring at the tube, I mulled the problem over. I knew one sure way to end the war would be to kill all the combatants, but that didn’t seem like a feasible plan. So I let my mind drift. And then, as I was mindlessly watching one of those sleazy lawyer commercials, I had a brainstorm.
Tokyo was hot as hell. The sun beat down on the city and the heat radiated back from the streets, doubling the oppressiveness. I was soaked in sweat as I sat eating a bowl of noodles at the counter of Sakuma’s fish house. The restaurant was situated in such a way that it afforded me a view of a certain high rise across the street. I was waiting for a man to exit the high rise, a man named Kazushi Yamasaki. Yamasaki worked for the Yakuza. He was their bengoshi, which is another word for consigliere, which is another word for lawyer. My local informants had advised me that Yamasaki was going to be at that address today for a meeting with some Yakuza brass. I twirled another noodle and kept my eye on the entrance, waiting for him to exit. Finally, he appeared. Stepping out of the building, he stopped to light a cigarette. I scouted two bodyguards with him, bracketing him as they scanned the street, their head movements reminding me of birds. Predatory birds. I quickly but casually paid for my soup, and left the restaurant.
Yamasaki and his bodyguards were now moving towards a waiting car. I had to act fast. Standing on the sidewalk, I curbed my instinct to scan the street. If I spotted more Yakuza, I might start to rethink what I was about to do. Which was not an option. Dana needed to make this deal, and this was my one chance to make it happen. I had to succeed. I crossed the street, and walked briskly but nonchalantly towards the three men, gaining ground without garnering attention. When I was about 25 feet from Yamasaki, I slipped my hand into my pocket and withdrew my 9mm Berretta. Normally I carried a Glock, but this time I wanted to make a statement, and an Italian brand gun was the best way. I was now about 20 feet from the three men. One of the bodyguards suddenly turned and made eye contact with me. The look on his face told me that he’d seen the gun. It would be the last thing he ever saw. I took him down with a single shot to the head.
Even before he hit the ground the other bodyguard was firing in my direction. I heard a bullet whiz by my ear. Hitting the deck, I rolled and came up shooting. I nailed the bodyguard with a couple of shots to the body. I wasn’t sure if he was wearing a vest so I finished him with a headshot. Now all that was left was Yamasaki. But he was almost to the car.
The gunshots had panicked bystanders. People ran in every direction. I ran towards Yamasaki, trying to get an angle for a clean shot. I fought off the impulse to fire wildly at my target; I had no intention of hurting pedestrians; that just wasn’t my style. Yamasaki reached for the car door and opened it. I fired. The back of his head erupted in a puff of red smoke. I knew right away he was dead, just from the way he fell to the ground.
The driver jumped out of his vehicle and started blasting. I ducked behind another car and we exchanged fire. I hadn’t expected a firefight and wasn’t sure how many bullets I had left. I felt fortunate that it had only taken one shot to finish the bengoshi. A barrage of bullets blasted out the windshield of the car I was crouched behind, showering me with glass. I had to admit the driver was good; he kept me pinned down with some nice tactical shooting. In other words, I was in deep shit. It would only be a matter of seconds before either the police or more Yakuza showed up. All this guy had to do was keep me pinned down and wait for back up. I was a sitting duck.
Fuck that, I thought. And sprang into action. Scrabbling like a crab towards the back of the car, I jumped up on the trunk. I screamed like a banshee as I ran onto the roof of the vehicle, and took a running leap towards the Yakuza driver. At the apex of my flight, I had a clear view of him crouched behind his vehicle. For a split second we looked each other dead in the eye.
Then I pulled my trigger. A hole appeared in the driver’s forehead. He slumped to the ground, his life draining from him in ugly red spurts. Amazingly there were still no police on the scene, but I knew they were coming; I could hear the sirens. I tucked the Berretta into my waistband, and raced over to Yamasaki’s corpse. Kneeling beside him, I reached into my fanny pack and extracted a foil-wrapped Italian pastry, a Mulberry Street cannoli to be exact. I quickly unwrapped the cannoli and shoved it into Yamasaki’s conveniently gaping mouth. Then I got the hell out of there.
The bus lumbered across the city of Tokyo. I gazed out the window, keeping an eye out for any Yakuza or police, expecting to see them any minute. But the streets were clear. I had made a clean getaway. Once this realization hit, I could feel the adrenaline fading, and it sapped my energy. I was exhausted. Unfortunately my mission was far from complete and there was no time to relax. I was on a very tight timeline. News travels fast, at the speed of light, and I needed to travel just as fast. I had to be back in New York immediately. The laws of physics were against me, of course, which was why I had chosen to hit Tokyo first. And which was why I was now on my way to Yokoto Air Force Base.
“Great to see you, Garv. What brings you to Japan?”
“Trust me, General, you don’t want to know.”
General James Stonebridge laughed. He was one of the top American commanders in the Pacific, a three star Air Force general. He and I go way back. “Probably not,” he said. “What can I do for you, my friend?”
“Jim, I need a favor.”
“A big one.”
I smiled. "This is serious, Jim. So serious that I'm going to have to remind you of what happened in Morocco. I put my ass on the line for you over there big time, and I never bring it up, so you know this is truly something important. I wouldn’t ask you otherwise."
“Morocco? This must be serious.” He paused. “I owe you my life.”
“Now I need you to return the favor.”
“How can I help?”
“I need to get back to New York," I said.
Stonebridge stared at me. “That’s too easy,” he said. “What’s the catch?”
“Well, it needs to be a fast flight. Very fast.”
The general narrowed his eyes. “You don’t mean…?”
I nodded. “That’s exactly what I mean. It’s an emergency, Jim. I’m desperate.”
“Oh man, Garv. That’s a tall order.” He paused for a long moment, gazing off into the distance. I could tell he was thinking about Morocco. Finally he looked at me, and slowly nodded his head. “You got it.”
Walking was difficult in the pressurized space suit. Feeling bowlegged and uncomfortable, I was glad this was going to be a short trip. General Stonebridge was waiting for me on the tarmac. Behind him loomed the I81-U812, a top-secret experimental aircraft. The hypersonic jet had recently obliterated the SR-71’s speed-distance records. Powered by multiple Pulse Detonation Wave Engines, the I81 could cross the Pacific in under twenty minutes. I gawked in awe at the futuristic looking aircraft.
“Get ready for the ride of your life, Garv.”
“That’s some plane,” I said.
“Are you nervous?”
I grinned. “Can’t be scarier than the Coney Island Cyclone.”
Stonebridge shook my hand. Even through the spacesuit, I could feel the power in his grip. “Thanks for…Morocco,” he said.
“Thank you, Jim. I really appreciate this. We’re even.”
We shook hands again. Then I sealed my helmet, lumbered up the steps and entered the aircraft. I was seated behind the pilot. He turned to me and I gave him the thumbs up. A few minutes later I was looking up at the stars, while the Earth shined below. Then just like that I was back on the ground.
Little Italy was hot as hell. Not quite as hot as Tokyo, maybe, but just as sweaty. It had been just under 2 hours since the Yamasaki hit. I was sitting outside at Benito’s on Mulberry Street, chugging espresso. The two-way jet lag was kicking my ass and I could barely keep my eyes open. But I had to finish the job. I knew that in due time Salvatore Scungilli, aka Sally Biscuits, would pass by. Sally was the legendary Mob consigliere. Every day, he and other leaders of the crime family would stroll up and down Mulberry Street, talking in whispers about Mafia business. The Feds were always watching, of course, but the all-pervasive street noise made eavesdropping impossible. Which is exactly why Sally and the boys took these little jaunts.
I signaled for another espresso and looked at my watch. Each minute that ticked by bothered me more than the last. I was getting antsy, beginning to worry that the news from Japan had reached the ears of the Mob already. If it did it meant my plans had shit the bed. The UFC/Pride deal would be dead and I would be the guy who had killed it. I needed Scungilli. Right now he was the key to this whole thing.
The espresso showed up and I chugged it. Man, I was sleepy. The more time that passed, the more that jet lag was becoming a problem. But it wasn’t the only problem. I also had to be concerned about who Sally would be walking with. I knew it could be any one of a number of top bosses. Some of the bosses liked a lot of soldiers around while walking and talking, others didn’t like any. There was no telling how many men would be with the consigliere. As I sat mulling over possibilities, trying to work out logistics, trying to stay awake, I barely noticed Salvatore Scungilli as he walked right past me. I did a double take. That was Sally! Holy shit, I thought, as a bolt of adrenaline hit me, making the espresso feel like decaf tea. I stood up, almost too quickly, and dropped some bills on the table. Take it easy, I told myself. As I eyeballed Sally and the surrounding area, I realized how I had almost missed him. I was expecting a contingent. But there was no contingent. There wasn’t even a boss. Sally Biscuits was all alone. I couldn’t believe my luck.
I followed him down Mulberry. He was about ten feet in front of me. Tourists and locals zigzagged between us. I quickened my pace. Not enough to draw notice, but just enough to get close. When I was about five feet behind him, I reached into my pocket and casually pulled out what appeared to be a cigarette. But if you looked closely enough, you could see it wasn’t a cigarette. It was a blowgun. A tiny little blowgun that had been gifted to me many years ago by a Kalahari tribesman I had befriended while on assignment in Africa. A deadly little blowgun. I put the “cigarette” in my mouth, steadied it with my hand, aimed and blew. I saw Scungilli’s back arch as the poison dart hit him in the back of the neck. He crumpled to the ground. I rushed to his side.
“He’s having a heart attack!” I yelled. Kneeling beside the fallen mobster, I quickly retrieved the mini-dart embedded in his neck and dropped it into my pocket. A crowd was gathering. I ripped open the dying consigliere’s shirt and pounded on his chest. I wasn’t trying to revive him, of course, it was just for show. Then I grabbed his belt with both hands as if I was loosening it. What I was really doing was taking the opportunity to shove a small ninja-throwing star down his pants. Once that was accomplished, it was time to bolt. I stood up and said, “Someone call nine-one-one.” Then I began to walk away.
It can’t be this easy, I thought.
Cold metal pressed against my temple, sending a chill up my spine despite the summer heat.
“Don’t move,” a voice said ominously.
Oh shit, I thought. I felt a sideways shove and then was pulled into a building. There were two of them. Two roided up Mafia goons. Fuck.
“I saw you do something to his neck,” said one of the goons.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
My back was against the wall of a vestibule that stunk of piss and garlic. One of the goons was standing three steps up the stairs, waving a gun. The other was all up in my grill.
“Don’t give me that shit," said the goon. "I saw you do something to his neck. You killed Sally. Now you’re gonna pay. Shoot him, Frankie.”
He took a step back to give Frankie a clear shot.
“Wait a second!” I said. “Don’t you want to beat me up first, to find out who sent me?”
“I don’t care who sent you. Shoot him, Frankie.”
Frankie raised the gun.
Do or die, I thought. And I needed to live. Dana White and the UFC needed me to live. Jessica and Scarlett and a thousand other women needed me to live. And the fans. The fans most of all needed me to live.
So I did what I had to do.
The only thing I could do.
I pulled guard.
Frankie blasted his weapon. Blood splashed my face. Frankie kept shooting. Blood rained down on me. But it wasn’t my blood. It was the goon’s. I had him in a butterfly guard, positioning him into the line of fire. I heard Frankie curse about hitting his friend, but that didn’t stop him from firing. He only stopped when he ran out of bullets.
I made my move. Flinging the dead goon aside, I jumped up, just as Frankie slammed home another magazine. I ran up a step as Frankie brought the gun up. I ducked under the weapon and grabbed hold of his arm, trapping it on my shoulder. I wrapped my other hand around his neck, lifted my leg and positioned my shin across his torso in preparation for a flying armbar. I executed it perfectly. His arm broke and he dropped the gun. I disengaged and scrambled to my feet. I punched him in the ribs a few times, got behind him and choked him out standing. And when I say choked out, I mean all the way out. Then I got the hell out of there.
“You killed their fucking lawyers?”
Dana White again. Another long distance call. This time I was home alone and it was a reasonable hour.
“Yeah, and some of their muscle too.”
“Garv, you’re fucking crazy!”
“You closed the deal, right?”
“Sure did, Garv. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not questioning the results. But I am very fucking curious about how killing fucking lawyers made the whole thing happen."
“It was actually pretty simple," I said. "I knew that in the war between the Mafia and the Yakuza, like in any war, it was the soldiers who were doing all the dying, not the top brass. The guys at the top were just giving the orders, not taking the bullets. So I decided to scare the shit out of them by rubbing out their lawyers. I knew that both sides, Mafia and Yakuza, would each assume the other side did it and would be totally freaked out. I mean, killing lawyers? It's unheard of. I figured the brass would suddenly feel vulnerable and want a truce. Which is exactly what happened.”
“Wow, that’s fucking awesome,” Dana marveled.
“The timeline was the tricky part. I had to rub out both lawyers at right around the same time, otherwise the news would get out and the other side would go into hiding. In other words, I needed to be here and halfway around the world both at the same time.”
“How’d you do it?”
“Sorry, that’s classified. Top secret."
“Fucking fine by me," Dana said. "You got the fucking job done and that’s what counts. Now a new era of fucking Ultimate Fighting is about to begin. And I owe it all to you, Garv.”
“No, not to me, Dana. You owe it to the fans. That’s what this is all about. The fans and the fighters. Take care of both.”
“You’re absolutely fucking right, Garv. I give you my fucking word.”
The line beeped. I had another call. “Gotta run, Dana. Later.”
I punched the other line.
“Hi, Garv,” a sultry voice said.
“Zelly," I said. "You again?”
It was Giselle Budsen. I’ve known her for years.
“Garv, I need to see you.”
“Come on, Zell. Not again.”
“Please, Garv. He just can’t satisfy me the way you can. I’m losing my mind over here.”
I sighed. “Okay, fine. I don’t have anything going on tonight. But I’ll tell you something. If this guy ever gets traded to the Jets, we’re done.
Giselle laughed. “He’s not going anywhere. See you at eight?”
I clicked off and looked at my watch. I still had plenty of time for a workout. As I headed off to the gym, I thought about the Pride UFC merger. It was going to make for some great fights, some long overdue match ups, and I was thrilled about that. But I also felt a little sad, a little nostalgic, about Pride. It was a great organization that had put together some of the greatest fights in MMA history. And now it was no more. Well, that’s business, I told myself. And business, as the Japanese like to say, is war.