Former K-1 USA Exec: FEG “Committed Homicide” On K-1
By Michael Steczkowski
Since 1993, K-1, founded in Japan by Master Kazuyoshi Ishii, has held events in 38 countries, matching the best stand-up fighters from various parts of the globe against each other to determine the baddest striker on the planet.
In recent years, however, the company has fallen from grace and its financial troubles have surfaced. The annual K-1 World GP Final 16, slated for Oct. 29 in Nanjing, China, was suddenly cancelled.
A press release on K-1 parent company FEG’s official website, issued only a few days prior to the event, apologized to fans and stated that additional information would be announced as matters became certain.
Yesterday, Ishii officially announced the revival of K-1, an undertaking of the newly formed Federation International K-1 Association (FIKA). Headquartered in Hong Kong, China, FIKA will act as a governing body for K-1 events in China, Japan and possibly elsewhere and, according to the company’s website, will roll out its first event in April 2012.
Still, questions linger as to why K-1 seemingly hit rock bottom in the first place.
Mike Kogan, who served as Director of FEG’s USA operations until July, got on board with the company while managing Royce Gracie. Gracie had a 3 fight deal with FEG, culminating in his matchup with Kazushi Sakuraba, was on the K-1 “Hero’s – Dynamite USA” card on June 2, 2007, the first of two cards Kogan promoted for the company.
Kogan spoke with Full Contact Fighter recently on the current status of K-1. He lent his thoughts and opinions on the way the promotion has been run, the opportunities that were missed, and what it would take to run the promotion successfully in the future.
“If you keep running on fumes, you eventually run out of gas,” said Kogan, referring to cancellation of the China event and the overall state of K-1. “The bottom line is that the debt owed to the fighters is so large that FEG could not secure fighters for a fight card even if they were willing to wait to get paid or work out other arrangements so they could fight.”
Kogan also shed light on the relationship between FEG and Dream, the Japanese MMA promotion often linked to FEG and K-1 in the minds of the public.
“FEG does not own Dream,” Kogan said. He explained that FEG had worked with another outfit, Real Entertainment, on TV partnerships for Dream with the Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) TV network n Japan. He said they came together to revise the Japanese MMA scene, and that FEG currently still owes money to Real Entertainment.
“When you have declining revenue, it doesn’t take long to accumulate debt,” said Kogan, putting into perspective the downward spiral that K-1 has suffered Declining profits, errors in management operations, bad decisions, deals that weren’t made, and Master Ishii’s financial troubles and imprisonment for tax evasion were all contributing factors, according to Kogan.
Despite the noticeable troubles K-1 was experiencing, fighters continued to put their faith in the company.
“K-1 had always paid good money to fighters. That fact combined with the prestige of winning there, had fighters fighting in hopes of getting paid at a later date, and fighting out of respect.”
Between 2003 and 2004, K-1, still ferociously strong in Japan, had begun to gain traction in The United States, producing two annual live events in Las Vegas under the direction of Scott Coker. Coker secured a ground-breaking television deal with ESPN during that time period and the promotion appeared to be on its way to becoming a major player in combative sports in North America.
Then, suddenly and inexplicably, K-1 Japan pulled the plug on the TV deal that could have written K-1’s ticket to the big-time.
“That was part of bad management decisions and narrow mindedness”, stated Kogan. “In my opinion, if you have a chance to expand, you do it. FEG was so used to high ratings in Japan, they became oblivious to the rest of the world”.
Kogan elaborated on the deal with ESPN, stating FEG blew an offer for a primetime deal for K-1 World Grand Prix events to air on ESPN on Friday nights, with credible sponsors who would have been on board with it as well.
“I pretty much had to beg to have them agree to the HDNet Tv deal (K-1 signed an agreement to air fights on the Mark Cuban owned TV network, HDNet, in November 2008),” said Kogan expressing the extent to which his frustration grew.
So could K-1 ever succeed in The United States? Kogan thinks it could.
“If it was run by ambitious people, with large amounts of money to back it then yes,” he said. “K-1 had so much international potential its criminal what they’ve done to it. I have nothing but good things to say about FEG as people but, as a business, they committed homicide to a product that could have been humongous worldwide. If a company like Zuffa had owned K-1 back in 2003, oh my God. It could’ve been as big as soccer. You could have filled stadiums.
“You need business savvy people with a lot of money, and a lot of know-how. People that understand business, and the fight game,” Kogan said. “People with a different mindset, who are hands on and willing to take risks, and have a common goal. FEG was stuck doing things their own way, and in dealing only in Japan. Every country has its own way and its own customs. FEG didn’t have the proper skill set to deal outside of Japan”.