On June 5, Fuji TV announced it would no longer broadcast the popular fighting event PRIDE which brought good ratings and much money to the station. The termination was triggered by an accusation made by Seiya Kawamata, 38, who alluded to a yakuza connection to the event organizer, Dream Stage Entertainment (DSE). However, the man himself is widely known as a troublemaker in the industry.
PRIDE fighters and fans are the victim in this turmoil. “Fuji TV broadcasting the event led to an increased number of female fans and a lot more attention was given to the event in hindsight,” said Koji Fuse, a sports journalist. “PRIDE is currently the most popular of all martial art events, but if the bashing resumes and the situation remains unsolved, it will soon be gone.”
It is reported that the story told by Kawamata in an issue of Shukan Gendai earlier this year led Fuji TV to terminate the contract with DSE, but who is Kawamata really?
He was the producer for the New Year’s Eve event Inoki Bombaye in 2003, which was broadcast on NTV. To garner higher ratings, he recruited Emelianenko Fedor, a PRIDE champion, without the acknowledgement of DSE. The headhunt led to a conflict with DSE, the main promoter of PRIDE. Unhappy about the action, DSE, according to Kawamata, sent yakuza members to threaten him not to put Fedor in the ring at Inoki Bombaye.
“I actually run the event. Sakakibara (DSE president) is just a front man, since my face should not be seen in public,” one man reportedly told Kawamata at the meeting.
After the confrontation with the yakuza, Kawamata then revealed the story about the other side of the martial arts event — how the events were controlled by crime syndicates.
Many question Kawamata’s motive for leaking such information.
“Kawamata himself used to be a gang member. And he admits that,” said an industry insider. “He says he’s clean now, and talks as if he were the victim in the situation. But the way he acts and talks is exactly like one of them. How can a person like that make an accusation in this sort of situation?”
A look at Kawamata’s profile reveals that he was a boss of a now-defunct yakuza group in the Kansai area. After the disbandment, he founded an entertainment agency. At the same time, he was an acquaintance of K-1 president Kazuyoshi Ishii, so he worked as a coordinator for the event. “In reality, I was taking care of the yakuza for K-1,” revealed Kawamata about his position in K-1 on numerous occasions.
His affiliation with K-1 led Kawamata to enter into the martial arts business. And it was DSE that helped Kawamata establish himself in the industry up until the conflict. DSE had helped Kawmata found a new event known as “DNA.” The event was originally to take place in summer of 2003, but due to a scheduling conflict with PRIDE, the two sides agreed to postpone the event until the end of the year, which eventually turned into Inoki Bombaye.
However, things started to go wrong when Kawamata unilaterally decided to go with NTV. Meanwhile, DSE had built a close relationship with Fuji TV. And when Mirko Crocop announced his withdrawal from the Inoki Bombaye, things went really wrong.
Crocop was originally the headliner for the event, but with his announcement, Kawamata had to find a replacement on the same level as Crocop in a short period of time. The pressure did not only come from himself but also from NTV, which wanted a top drawcard to ensure high ratings.
As the replacementfor Crocop, Kawamata quickly contacted Fedor’s agency and successfully signed the contract. This took place without DSE's consent, but according to Kawamata, “it is legal because Fedor’s side did not remember signing any contract with DSE about his appearance in other events.”
Furious at what many consider a betrayal, DSE then sent yakuza to settle the issue, but Kawamata also had his back supported by yakuza as well. “Kawamata had been supported by his close mafia acquaintances. I also heard that Kawamata borrowed 50 million yen from them for the event,” said one source.
With yakuza backing up both sides, the two parties settled the issue with DSE agreeing to Fedor’s one-time appearance in Inoki Bombaye for the occasion. But the problem persisted. After finishing Inoki Bombaye in Kobe, Kawamata took all the profits and returned to Tokyo without meeting the yakuza who had helped him to put the event together.
The wrath of the yakuza reached its climax over his “disrespectful” attitude. On Jan 1, 2004, the yakuza told Kawamata to meet them in Shizuoka and threatened him if he didn't pay. In fact, three yakuza leaders were arrested for blackmail, but were released soon after.
When they were released, Kawamata sensed his life was in danger and fled overseas, where he still is. “The problem is that he took hundreds of millions of yen with him that was supposed to be paid back to yakuza and other sponsors who had helped him put together the event,” said one insider. “Anyone, not necessarily a yakuza, would be mad if someone ran away paying back such a debt.”
In a statement, Kawamata denied the non-payment, but an insider continues: “Even some of the guarantees to the fighters are still unpaid. It’s only natural to think that Kawamata fled overseas because of it and cannot come back to Japan because of it. He is getting what he deserves.”