On June 2nd, 2007, Dynamite!! USA was held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The event would feature the MMA debut of Brock Lesnar and a rematch between Royce Gracie and Kazushi Sakuraba.
In Part 1 of this article, I take a look back at all the drama that took place leading up to the event.
Looking back at Dynamite!! USA – Part 1
During the mid-late 2000s, the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts in America was on the rise.
The sport was gaining acceptance among the general public after it had been stigmatized by politicians and mainstream media outlets for over a decade. After being outlawed across the country for years to the point where fights could only be held on Tribal lands, athletic commissions across the country began regulating the sport, allowing it to flourish throughout America. What had once been an underground sensation people had to search for was now a hit for television networks and pay-per-view providers in the US.
MMA was becoming a big thing in America, and it was only going to get bigger in the years to come.
While MMA was becoming more popular in the United States during this time, more promotions were beginning to open up or expand their operations to cash in on the craze. Some had major ambitions to become the next big thing in the sport, including the people behind an event that took place at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on June 2nd, 2007.
A Quick History of Dynamite!!, FEG, K-1, Hero’s, ProElite and EliteXC
In 1992, Kazuyoshi Ishii founded the kickboxing promotion K-1 in Japan. K-1 went on to promote events internationally and became the most prolific kickboxing organization in the world. In December 2002, Ishii was arrested for tax evasion, leading to him resigning as president of K-1. He later went on to serve prison time. Sadaharu Tanikawa took over as president after Ishii stepped down. On September 3rd, 2003, Fighting and Entertainment Group (FEG) was established and became the parent company of K-1.
While K-1 was mainly a kickboxing organization, it had also dabbled in promoting MMA fights on some of their events. K-1 had also held MMA events including one in Brazil on November 27th, 2003, and K-1 ROMANEX on May 22nd, 2004 in Japan at the Saitama Super Arena. Less than a year later, FEG created Hero’s, an MMA offshoot of K-1. The first Hero’s event was held on March 26th, 2005 at the Saitama Super Arena. Hero’s went on to hold events in Japan, South Korea, and Lithuania.
On August 28th, 2002, K-1 teamed up with legendary Japanese MMA promotion Pride Fighting Championships to co-produce “Dynamite! Biggest Mixed Martial Arts World Cup – Summer Night Fever in the National Stadium” at the original Tokyo National Stadium in Tokyo, Japan. K-1 called the event K-1 Dynamite!, while Pride called it Pride Shockwave. Internationally, it was known as “Pride Shockwave Dynamite!” The event drew a record-setting crowd of 71,000 people to witness a night of MMA and kickboxing bouts.
Pride went on to make Shockwave their annual New Year’s Eve event. Each year, the event was held at the Saitama Super Arena. K-1 went on to make K-1 PREMIUM Dynamite!! their New Year’s Eve tradition. The events would feature both kickboxing and MMA fights. The first K-1 PREMIUM Dynamite!! event was held at the Nagoya Dome in 2003 in Nagoya, Japan. In 2004, PREMIUM Dynamite!! was held at the Osaka Dome in Osaka Japan. Hero’s later become a part of K-1’s PREMIUM Dynamite!! events after its inception in 2005.
In 2006, ProElite, Inc. was founded. The upstart entertainment and media company was headed by CEO Doug DeLuca, an executive producer for Comedy Central’s The Man Show and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live. Boxing promoter Gary Shaw was brought in as the president of ProElite’s live events division. In November 2006, ProElite announced a partnership with Showtime Networks to produce live broadcasts of MMA events on Showtime’s premium cable television channels and to distribute pay-per-views through Showtime PPV.
On December 14th, 2006, ProElite announced the launch of Elite Xtreme Combat (EliteXC) as part of its live events division at a press conference that took place at The Hollywood Roosevelt. EliteXC held its first event on February 10th, 2007 in Southaven, Mississippi with about 7,200 people in attendance. The event aired live on Showtime, making it the first MMA event to air on premium cable. Around 365,000 viewers tuned in to watch the event on Showtime. Prelim bouts from the event were streamed live on ProElite’s website
That same night, a one-hour UFC knockouts compilation aired on Spike TV at the same time as the first hour of EliteXC’s debut event. The UFC program drew 1,215,000 viewers.
On February 7th, 2007, just a few days before EliteXC’s debut event, ProElite announced an alliance between EliteXC and the San Jose-based promotion Strikeforce. The two promotions would team up to co-promote a pay-per-view event that took place on June 22nd, 2007 in San Jose, CA. While ProElite and its EliteXC brand were making ambitious moves very early on, its most ambitious move would be announced a month later.
As MMA’s landscape changes, Dynamite!! USA is announced
By 2007, the UFC’s parent company at the time, Zuffa, LLC, began to purchase the rights to several MMA promotions.
On December 11th, 2006, it was announced that Zuffa had purchased assets the from Las Vegas-based promotion World Fighting Alliance (WFA). These assists included trademarks, intellectual property, and select fighter contracts. Under the terms of the deal, the promotion ceased all operations. On the very same day, it was announced that Zuffa had also purchased World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC). While the WFA ceased operations, WEC continued for several years and gained popularity while being operated by Zuffa.
Months after purchasing the WFA and WEC, it was announced on March 27th, 2007 at a press conference in Japan that Zuffa reached a deal to purchase Pride Fighting Championships from Pride’s parent company Dream Stage Entertainment (DSE). A new management company, Pride FC Worldwide Holdings, LLC, was created to manage the Pride assets. At the time, there had been plans to continue promoting Pride events in Japan separately from the UFC and WEC. There had also been plans on the promotions holding some occasional crossover fights and events.
As the UFC was working its way towards complete domination of the MMA world, FEG and ProElite made headlines of their own.
On March 27th, 2007, the same day it was announced Pride was being sold to Zuffa, a press conference was held at the east entrance of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum announcing Dynamite!! USA, which was set to take place on June 2nd at the 93,607 seat stadium. The press conference featured appearances by Hong-man Choi, Royce Gracie, former USC Trojans football and NFL player Johnnie Morton, former WWE star Brock Lesnar, and executives from Showtime, FEG, and ProElite.
The pay-per-view portion of the event would be promoted by FEG, while EliteXC would hold three prelim fights before the PPV on Showtime.
Along with FEG’s K-1 and Hero’s and ProElite’s EliteXC, it was announced promotions such as Strikeforce, BoDog Fight, the UK-based Cage Rage, and Korea’s Spirit MC would be part of the collaboration. Representatives for Cage Rage and Spirit MC were also at the press conference.
Dynamite!! USA’s was slated to be headlined by the MMA debut of Brock Lesnar. At the time, Lesnar was coming off an attempt to pursue a career playing professional football in the NFL for the Minnesota Vikings after leaving World Wrestling Entertainment in 2004. In 2005, Lesnar returned to pro wrestling, performing for New Japan Pro Wrestling until mid-2006. During his time in Japan, Lesnar was involved in a lawsuit with his former employers at WWE over a non-compete clause in his contract. The two sides eventually settled the lawsuit on April 24th, 2006.
On April 29th, 2006, Lesnar made an appearance at the K-1 World Grand Prix 2006 in Las Vegas and teased joining the promotion. Lesnar went on to sign with K-1 later that year in August. Although he was an NCAA Division I All American, Heavyweight Champion, and a two-time Big Ten Conference Champion, Lesnar’s experience in professional combat sports such as MMA and kickboxing was nonexistent at the time.
Lesnar’s scheduled opponent on June 2nd was slated to be the 7’2” South Korean fighter Hong-man Choi. Choi started out competing in ssireum, a Korean style of folk wrestling. In 2005, Choi transitioned into the world of K-1 and won the K-1 World Grand Prix 2005 in Seoul on March 19th. Before the scheduled June 2nd, 2007 fight with Lesnar, Choi had a record of 10–3 in K-1. On December 31st, 2006, Choi made his professional MMA debut at K-1 PREMIUM 2006 Dynamite!! where he defeated Bobby Ologun via TKO.
The two heavyweights commented on their fight at the press conference and posed for photos with each other for the media. During the press conference, Lesnar stated this was a chance for him to go back to his amateur wrestling roots and apply it into the sport of MMA the same way fighters such as Randy Couture had done so before him.
Dynamite!! USA would also feature MMA pioneer Royce Gracie.
In an interview with Sherdog.com after the press conference, Gracie stated that he didn’t know who his opponent for the event would be at the time. To him, it didn’t matter.
For Johnnie Morton, who was making his MMA debut at Dynamite!! USA after spending 12 seasons in the NFL, the event was a homecoming. Dynamite!! USA was taking place at the home of the USC Trojans football team, a team he played for from 1990 to 1993. When Morton was interviewed by Sherdog.com, he said he also didn’t know who his opponent was at first. Even though he didn’t know who he was going to be fighting at the time, he was excited about being part of the event.
The rough road to Dynamite!! USA
While the sport of MMA was growing in popularity at the time, it had yet to reach a point where an MMA event could fill up stadiums in the United States. At the time of Dynamite!! USA’s announcement, the North American MMA attendance record was 19,079 for UFC 68: The Uprising on March 3rd, 2007. The record before that was 18,265 for Strikeforce: Shamrock vs. Gracie on March 10th, 2006.
Even though it would’ve been impossible even for the UFC to fill up the LA Memorial Coliseum at the time, FEG President Sadaharu Tanikawa felt that Dynamite!! USA would’ve been capable of being a massive success. At the press conference to announce Dynamite!! USA, Tanikawa stated that there would be 100,000 people in the audience. His expectations were based on the large number of Korean and Japanese residents in the Los Angeles area.
Tickets for Dynamite!! USA went on sale on May 4th, 2007. The only fight that was officially announced for the event at that point was Lesnar vs. Choi. Along with Royce Gracie and Johnni Morton on the pay-per-view portion of the event, fighters such as Jake Shields, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, and Gina Carano were being advertised for the EliteXC portion of the card. Unconfirmed and rumored bouts for the event had been floating around in April, but nothing had been officially announced or confirmed by FEG or ProElite.
Even with less than a month to go and not much announced, FEG President Sadaharu Tanikawa remained confident that the event would draw a large crowd.
“We went to great lengths to put together matchups that are historic and compelling for Dynamite!! USA,” Tanikawa said in a press release from May 4th, 2007 regarding Dynamite!! USA’ tickets going on sale. “From the immense popularity of MMA events in the U.S. and our consistent demand overseas, we expect seats at the Coliseum to fill up quickly in the coming weeks.”
A few days after tickets went on sale, several bouts for Dynamite!! USA were officially announced. The pay-per-view portion of the event was now being co-headlined by Royce Gracie vs. Kazushi Sakuraba in a rematch of their 90-minute encounter in Tokyo on May 1st, 2000 during the quarterfinals of the Pride 2000 Grand Prix. “Mighty” Mo Siliga was slated to face Pride FC and Pancrase veteran Mu-Bae Choi. South Korean judoka and 0-4 MMA fighter Dong Sik Yoon would be going up against Melvin Manhoef, who had an MMA record of 17-3-1.
Johnnie Morton vs. 1-0 MMA fighter Bernard Ackah was also announced for the card later on. Morton was originally expected to face José Alberto Rodríguez Chucuan, better known to wrestling fans as Dos Caras Jr. and Alberto Del Rio. A bout between Ray Sefo vs. Marvin Eastman was also expected to be taking place on the pay-per-view portion of the card.
The EliteXC portion of the card on Showtime was set to feature Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva vs. an opponent that was later announced to be Jonathan Wiezorek, Jake Shields vs. Ido Pariente, and Gina Carano vs. Jan Finney. The untelevised portion of the card was scheduled to feature Javier Vazquez vs. Katsuhiko Nagata, Hideo Tokoro vs. Brad Pickett, and Nam Phan vs. Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante.
But in the weeks leading up to the event, things started to go bad. Fighters pulled out of the show, then numerous licensing issues arose, and doubts the show would even happen began to spread.
On May 17th, 2007, news broke that Gina Carano had to withdraw from her fight vs. Jan Finney on the EliteXC portion of the Dynamite!! USA card due to an illness.
Leading up to the fight, Carano had gotten sick while filming the Oxygen Network reality show Fight Girls in Thailand. At the time, she assumed she had been dealing with a head cold. After returning home from her trip, Carano continued her training at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas for a few days before her illness resulted in her not being able to train. After attending a WEC event in Las Vegas, Carano was rushed to a hospital via ambulance for dehydration.
Several days later, reports began to circulate that FEG had failed to secure a promoter’s license for their portion of the card from the California State Athletic Commission in the weeks leading up to the event. Many had worried Dynamite!! USA was in danger of being canceled because of this. FEG was eventually able to secure a temporary promoter’s license just eight days before the event.
Along with the news of FEG not having a promoter’s license for the event in the weeks leading up to Dynamite!! USA, it was also reported the CSAC hadn’t received paperwork for many of the fighters on the card, including Kazushi Sakuraba. In the weeks leading up to his headline bout, Sakuraba had yet to be cleared by the state. Eventually, Sakuraba was licensed to fight by the CSAC just three days before his bout against Royce Gracie.
Dynamite!! USA’s main event also faced issues. On May 23rd, 2007, Hong-man Choi was denied a license by the CSAC due to medical issues. It was later revealed his license was denied because of a benign tumor on his pituitary gland. Just days before the event, it was reported that Choi had been pulled from his fight with Brock Lesnar. It was also reported that Choi was being replaced by South Korean judoka and 1996 Olympic Silver Medalist Min-soo Kim. Kim would be entering the fight with a 2-5 record in MMA. Even though Choi was pulled from the card, he was still being advertised for the event.
The undercard of the pay-per-view card saw some changes as well. The Ray Sefo vs. Marvin Eastman fight ended up being pulled from the event. Along with the cancelation of Sefo vs. Eastman, Mu-Bae Choi dropped out of his fight against Mighty Mo. Mighty Mo went on to face Ruben “Warpath” Villareal at the event.
EliteXC’s portion of the card also went through many changes heading into the event. In the days leading up to Dynamite!! USA, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva was pulled from the card after failing his medical examinations. Much like Choi, Silva had a benign tumor on his pituitary gland. Silva went on to have surgery to remove the tumor that later summer. Tim Persey stepped in as a late replacement for Silva to face Jonathan Wiezorek.
The scheduled Javier Vazquez vs. Katsuhiko Nagata bout also went through changes after Vazquez was removed from the card. An attempt to replace him with UFC veteran and former WEC Lightweight Champion Gabe Ruediger was made. However, the attempts weren’t successful as Ruediger wasn’t granted a license to fight at the event. According to former CSAC executive director Armando Garcia, the CSAC’s doctors didn’t have enough time to review his medical records. Ruediger was cleared to fight later that summer. He went on to score a submission win that August at an event in Highlands, CA. Nagata went on to face Isaiah Hill.
In Part 2, I’ll take a look at Dynamite !! USA the event, the attendance, DJ Hapa, Dennis Rodman, drug test failures, and more!