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« | Home | »

Six degrees of Ken Imai

By Zach Arnold | February 12, 2008

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On the eve of what appears to be Mirko Cro Cop showing up in Tokyo for the K-1/DSE joint press-conference in Japan to announce their new promotion, I thought that I would take a brief respite here and put on my historian cap to talk about a certain individual.

To understand the various scandals and seismic behind-the-scenes events that have taken place in the Japanese MMA industry this decade, it is important to focus on an individual who somehow manages to skate under the radar time-in and time-out. This person deserves major scrutiny for his actions in the MMA business.

It’s time to play connect-the-dots with Ken Imai.

Ken Imai worked closely with Kazuyoshi Ishii in the golden era of K-1. Imai was very much involved in both business affairs (contracts) and with foreign organization of events. In many ways, Imai was a critical force in Ishii’s inner circle. When the K-1 corporate tax scandal hit full steam in late 2002, Imai managed to avoid any heat for the prickly situation in regards to phony contracts (including a bizarre fake Mike Tyson contract made by a Bangladesh man for Ishii) and destruction of evidence related to the tax evasion charges.

While Ishii became the fall guy in the corporate tax evasion scandal, Imai became a power broker and wirepuller for DSE — mainly for Nobuyuki Sakakibara. Before the major NYE MMA wars in 2003, Imai managed to get to Mirko Cro Cop and get him away from power agent Miro Mijatovic (who had control of both Fedor & Mirko at the same time). In essence, Imai became a wirepuller for Sakakibara & DSE rather than being a simple agent.

Since becoming Mirko’s agent, Ken Imai’s gimmick in the business has been that he is ‘the only one who can control Mirko.’ When the good times were rolling during DSE’s gravy train years (2004-early 2006), Imai had a great relationship with DSE. However, when DSE started falling apart due to losing their Fuji TV contract after the yakuza scandal, things became tenuous for Imai. Because of his past history with K-1, there was speculation in Japanese MMA circles that a lot of heat existed between the two parties.

With Imai having nowhere to go after DSE started bleeding cash, he took Mirko to UFC. As Mirko has struggled in UFC, so has Imai’s career as a power broker. Imai was pinning his hopes managing other fighters. However, Mirko still was his most powerful drawing card. Strangely enough, Dana White granted permission to Mirko (and Imai) to do a wrestling spot for the Hustle promotion on NYE 2007 in Saitama. Hustle, of course, was Sakakibara’s baby and has a public figurehead now in Noboru Yamaguchi (magazine editor of Kami no Puroresu fame who is close to Sakakibara). So, UFC granting Mirko permission to do a spot in a Hustle wrestling match sounded weird because of the politics involved with the Japanese.

After Mirko’s pro-wrestling appearance, rumors started circulating on the Internet that there might be some differences between UFC and Mirko’s camp regarding his return fight to the company. With Cro Cop all but admitting that he is heading back to Japan, it will be interesting to see how UFC legally pursues the matter.

Make no mistake about it — Ken Imai is the wirepuller in Mirko’s Japanese dealings. Imai has managed to slide under the radar publicly for being close to so many scandal-tainted MMA power brokers in Japan this decade.

Here’s some friendly advice for Zuffa management if they are angry about Mirko’s trek back to Japan and the mess they got themselves into with Nobuyuki Sakakibara…

FOCUS ON KEN IMAI.

It is Imai’s name that has been closest to those involved in big scandals in the Japanese fight scene. That’s a fact. Shine the spotlight on Imai. Make him answer pointed, detailed questions and be relentless while doing it.

For someone who flies under the radar so much, Ken Imai is sure connected to a lot of interesting power brokers.

Topics: Japan, MMA, Media, PRIDE, UFC, Yakuza, Zach Arnold | 9 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

9 Responses to “Six degrees of Ken Imai”

  1. white ninja says:

    imai is a man who deserves a lot of attention

    when ishii was in jail for tax evasion, imai was competing with tanigawa to be the man to takeover k1. problem was that imai had allegedly cooked the books of k1 america and ishii found out about it. ishi picked tanigawa to take over

    imai got pissed off and got into bed with sakakibara (which means ishizaka) and started to attempt to steal all of k1’s big names for his new bosses – crocop, lebanner, aerts and sefo were his main targets

    he only got mirko, as none of the other big name fighters trusted imai (for good reason)

    in japan, it is well known that imai had the protection of ishizaka (the yakuza behind sakakibara) – so it was very interesting that Dana was happy to work with imai (who has the same yakuza taint as sakakibara). especially when dana let crocop appear at hustle

  2. Samscaff says:

    This really sounds like a malicious, slanderous article.

    Sure, you can speculate that Ken Imai has been involved in illegal activity. You can point out his connections to Yakuza. But the fact is he has not been charged with, and more importantly, convicted of, a crime.

    And you assume Mirko’s return to Japan is somehow illegal. Everyone knows that Zuffa didnt want to pay Mirko his exorbitant asking price, so its possible this new deal is all on the up and up. But of course Zach wants to trash shady Japanese businessmen and save the day.

  3. Ultimo_Santa says:

    Is it bad that I just want a new promotion in Japan with PRIDE rules, so I can see CroCop soccer kick someone in the head?

  4. Grape Knee High says:

    I’m sure Zuffa will start investigating Ken Imai post-haste. Because confirming that an agent they worked with has ties to yakuza is *exactly* what they want to know.

  5. Zach Arnold says:

    This really sounds like a malicious, slanderous article.

    Sure, you can speculate that Ken Imai has been involved in illegal activity. You can point out his connections to Yakuza. But the fact is he has not been charged with, and more importantly, convicted of, a crime.

    Slander and libel means malicious intent to defame someone not using facts or the truth.

    Fact: Imai was in Ishii’s inner circle for many years in K-1. When the corporate tax scandal hit K-1 in late 2002, Imai was not charged with any crime while Ishii ended up going to jail.

    Fact: Imai took Mirko away from Mijatovic in a major power play.

    Fact: Imai was close to Sakakibara and DSE.

    Fact: Imai is Mirko’s agent and took him to UFC.

    Fact: Imai remains Mirko’s agent and Mirko showed up in Japan today to announce his return to MMA for DREAM on 3/15 in Saitama.

    Look at the facts alone and look at the people Imai has been and is currently associated with. He’s been an integral part of the Japanese MMA landscape this decade — a scene that has dealt with multiple scandals involving people Imai either worked with or was associated with.

    Does this mean 100% that he’s a criminal? No.

    Should it raise a possible red flag? Yes.

  6. Diamond Dave Williams says:

    “Slander and libel means malicious intent to defame someone not using facts or the truth.”

    Zach, Slander and Libel are the spoken or written word used for defamation regardless if it is true or not.

  7. Zach Arnold says:

    Slander is an untruthful statement in spoken fashion. Libel is an untruthful statement in written fashion.

    Nothing I wrote here is untrue.

    The intent of the post was to raise the profile of someone who has had a very important role in the Japanese fight scene and someone who, in my opinion, UFC should be interested in talking to regarding their lawsuit against DSE.

  8. Tomer Chen says:

    Zach, Slander and Libel are the spoken or written word used for defamation regardless if it is true or not.

    Fun fact: The biggest defense in a defamation case possible is that the fact is true. For example, if I say Mike Tyson is a rapist, he can’t sue me for defamation as I am stating legal fact (since he was convicted of it in 1992).

    And if you are referring to

    It is Imai’s name that has been closest to those involved in big scandals in the Japanese fight scene. That’s a fact. Shine the spotlight on Imai. Make him answer pointed, detailed questions and be relentless while doing it.

    Note that Zach isn’t stating “Imai is a Yakuza thug!” or any other type of statement such as that as fact. One can possibly read the “Why doesn’t anyone look into his connections?” as hinting that he is, but that’s really a big step in logic since he’s not stating it as fact to directly damage Imai’s name, he’s just wondering why a guy who has been around some ‘characters’ would escape scrunity (which was the same question asked about Jim Norris and his relationship with Frankie Carbo in the 40s & 50s as President of the IBC).

  9. David says:

    How dare yall talk down to Zach.

    “UFC should be interested in talking to regarding their lawsuit against DSE.”

    Imai definitely has connections in Japan and he is a smart guy. Mirko will feel at home in a ring.

    Thanks Zach.

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