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« | Home | »

Is Satoshi Ishii going to be UFC’s trojan horse into Japan?

By Zach Arnold | December 18, 2008

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Daily Sports newspaper in Japan has everyone buzzing about the possibility of Satoshi Ishii signing with Zuffa instead of with DREAM. The paper’s angle is that if Ishii signs with UFC, he won’t be fighting in Japan.

It’s an intriguing story. It’s not uncommon for a Japanese fight star to use the name value of an American promotion (think: WWE and Japanese wrestlers) to try to build up credibility back home. The “oh, look, WWE is interested in me! But I stayed home in Japan because I’m loyal to you” spin.

That said, if Ishii signs with UFC, there’s only one reason for Zuffa to make this move — to run shows in Japan. The problem for UFC is that the climate on the ground for them is hostile — they’ll need someone like a Total Sports Asia or someone else to promote events on the ground for them. If Zuffa goes alone into Japan, they will bleed cash heavily and lose face. Japan is a very delicate situation.

Further making things interesting is the return of Godfather (Kazuyoshi) Ishii, who pulled good ratings for the K-1 World GP event at Yokohama Arena on Fuji TV. If (Satoshi) Ishii ends up in UFC, will K-1 have their hands on this situation? The Godfather always has been a big believer in promotion vs. promotion feuds for marketing, and K-1/DREAM vs. UFC would be interesting — but would rely entirely on K-1 to market the feud in Japan because UFC has no juice currently in that marketplace.

I don’t believe the idea of (Satoshi) Ishii working for UFC in the States and in Europe for a second. This is a young man who is going to command a very high salary. He’s not fighting for $8,000 USD a fight — given his stature in Japan, more like $800,000 USD a fight. Plus, there are some interesting political aspects as far as who is controlling Ishii right now — the Inoki side of power (revolving around Naoya Ogawa).

Entertaining fodder to contemplate on a slow news day.

Update (12/18): Nikkan Sports says that Ishii will be in Las Vegas to watch the UFC 92 show.

Topics: DREAM, Japan, MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 23 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

23 Responses to “Is Satoshi Ishii going to be UFC’s trojan horse into Japan?”

  1. 45 Huddle says:

    Wasn’t there also rumors of Zuffa making a play for Akiyama?

    The Japanese market is hard enough to conquer for a Japanese company. It will be nearly impossible for an American Company.

    They would have to align themselves with somebody in Japan (as Zach stated above), which could leave them open to corruption on so many different levels.

  2. David says:

    How would a judo olympian be able to ask for more than a half a million dollars for a fight Zach? Explain that please..

  3. D.Capitated says:

    Because he’s a huge star, David?

  4. Jeremy (not that Jeremy) says:

    Obviously we’re all familiar with the Pride fan (whose souls still burn) vs UFC fan feud.

    To what degree did Pride make use of this in Japan though? We did see limited fighter exchanges, and big talk about fighter exchanges toward the end of Pride, and some tough talk from both sides, but how much of that was aimed at the United States, instead of to the home audience?

  5. [...] first of all, there’s the matter of money. As Zach Arnold pointed out, if Ishii were to sign with one of the Japan-based organizations, such as DREAM, he’ll likely [...]

  6. The Gaijin says:

    “Obviously we’re all familiar with the Pride fan (whose souls still burn) vs UFC fan feud.”

    What does that have to do with this?

  7. rainrider says:

    > there are some interesting political aspects as far as who is controlling Ishii right now — the Inoki side of power (revolving around Naoya Ogawa

    I doubt it. Ishii wants to become like Ichiro or Nomo and nobody can stop or control him. People from Osaka are very different from other Japanese. They don’t give a phuck at Tokyo-based establishments or their tradition. I don’t think he’s willing to have anything to do with Ogawa’s agent, at least until his MMA skill gets exposed.

    > K-1/DREAM vs. UFC would be interesting

    I don’t see it happening.
    The thing is that Japanese don’t really care about UFC, they already pulled sidebrake and locked the door.

  8. Robert Poole says:

    Maybe I am naive but I would think that if UFC was serious about promoting in Japan, they’d do pretty darn well there with or without Ishii on their cards.

    While it may be hard for Japanese MMA promotions to do well none of them have the worldwide name recognition of UFC and that alone will drive it to success in Japan. UFC going there doesn’t happen often so when it does occur it will be a major event that people will want to attend. Not unlike how WWE can go to Japan with a vastly inferior wrestling product and succeed attendance-wise just because the Japanese fans want to see the stars they don’t get to see in person very often.

    In this case I’m not sure they need a trojan horse so much as they need a will to want to commit to Japanese shows much like they have done with UK shows.

    Rp

  9. D.Capitated says:

    The last time the UFC was there, they ran a venue with well under 2000 seats. Additionally, they’re currently what would be the equivalent of HDNet overseas in terms of market penetration. So, yeah. It would be like K-1 running Thomas and Mack instead of Bellagio’s Ballroom.

  10. Grape Knee High says:

    I thought he already signed with FEG? Was that just an unfounded rumor?

  11. [...] Dana White and the gang are getting ready to try and push their way into Japan again. Here’s Zach Arnold’s thoughts: It’s not uncommon for a Japanese fight star to use the name value of an American promotion [...]

  12. Jeremy (not that Jeremy) says:

    Gaijin:

    Zach wrote: “Further making things interesting is the return of Godfather (Kazuyoshi) Ishii, who pulled good ratings for the K-1 World GP event at Yokohama Arena on Fuji TV. If (Satoshi) Ishii ends up in UFC, will K-1 have their hands on this situation? The Godfather always has been a big believer in promotion vs. promotion feuds for marketing, and K-1/DREAM vs. UFC would be interesting — but would rely entirely on K-1 to market the feud in Japan because UFC has no juice currently in that marketplace.”

    Therefore, I wanted to know whether this was a game that Pride had played in Japan. There was a degree of this playing here in the US, and I want to know what the situation on the ground was in Japan, because I don’t read Japanese and wasn’t paying attention at the time.

  13. Robert Poole says:

    D.Capitated Wrote: “The last time the UFC was there, they ran a venue with well under 2000 seats. Additionally, they’re currently what would be the equivalent of HDNet overseas in terms of market penetration. So, yeah. It would be like K-1 running Thomas and Mack instead of Bellagio’s Ballroom.”

    Two things I would point out about this flawed argument.

    1. The last show was way back in 2000.. it’s a pretty easy argument to make that UFC is WAY bigger than it was 8 years ago.

    2. SEG still owned the company. Say what you will about Zuffa’s owners and Dana White but they promote shows a hell of a lot better than SEG did and have made UFC more of a global phenomenon.

    Also UFC’s biggest rival PRIDE no longer exists there so there is less mainstream competition to deal with.

    I think UFC would do pretty well in Japan especially if they ran a card with big names.

    Rp

  14. skwirrl says:

    There is a lot of hard feelings about the way UFC shutdown PRIDE. I think UFC would absolutely TANK without Iishi or something similar to catch Japanese attention. I’m talking tank like Affliction’s event in Vegas was getting ready to tank.

  15. The Gaijin says:

    “Therefore, I wanted to know whether this was a game that Pride had played in Japan. There was a degree of this playing here in the US, and I want to know what the situation on the ground was in Japan, because I don’t read Japanese and wasn’t paying attention at the time.”

    J(NTJ): Sorry – I must have glazed over on that part of Zach’s article. I didn’t see that and was just thinking, “Oh boy, here comes another PRIDE vs. UFC out of the blue!”

  16. Chuck says:

    “Also UFC’s biggest rival PRIDE no longer exists there so there is less mainstream competition to deal with.”

    I think you are forgetting about K-1, who are still doing as solid of business as they have ever done recently. The fact still remains, UFC will tank in Japan unless they get some Japanese guys on whatever Japanese shows they want to run. And if they want to run South Korea then they will have to get Yoshihiro Akiyama and maybe even Hong Man Choi.

  17. theYiffer says:

    “While it may be hard for Japanese MMA promotions to do well none of them have the worldwide name recognition of UFC and that alone will drive it to success in Japan. UFC going there doesn’t happen often so when it does occur it will be a major event that people will want to attend. Not unlike how WWE can go to Japan with a vastly inferior wrestling product and succeed attendance-wise just because the Japanese fans want to see the stars they don’t get to see in person very often.”

    A note on the WWE in Japan. They do very good as far as house shows, and from what I understand they have a decent enough TV deal. (Or enough for people in Japan to care.) But the WWE has been seeding the ground over in Japan for years just to get to where they are today. The best that Zuffa has done is to #uck themselves by buying out PRIDE and continuing their TV deal with WOWOW, which isn’t saying much. If the UFC really wants a toehold in Japan, they need to take the time and the effort to develop an actual fan base in Japan.

  18. Jeremy (not that Jeremy) says:

    I wouldn’t be shocked if he showed up just because it was such a big show though. Is there anything even approaching Jackson vs Silva 3 happening in Japan this year?

  19. The Gaijin says:

    ^ I just wish Jackson vs. Silva III had the traction with the mainstream fan here in the US/Canada that it would in Japan. :(

  20. [...] only way this would make sense is if the UFC was planning on expanding into Japan soon, as some are suggesting. Even then it might not be worth it, unless they intend to put on as many shows in Japan as [...]

  21. Jeremy (not that Jeremy) says:

    Gaijin,

    If it doesn’t have it now, it will have it after it happens. This card has three MASSIVE headliners. If you don’t know one of them, you’re going to be attracted by another.

    In my mind, the buys on this should blow Couture/Lesnar out of the water.

  22. Michaelthebox says:

    Chuck, they won’t need Akiyama or Choi to break into the South Korean market. There aren’t any huge structural barriers as there are in Japan, there are no hard feelings, and my understanding is they have huge support from a network there. Akiyama will help them to break through faster, but at worst they could break in basically the same way they did in England, using Dong Hyun Kim as their flagship South Korean star.

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