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« | Home | »

Media day: 10 things I think I know are true in UFC & MMA (part two)

By Zach Arnold | July 20, 2011

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On Tuesday, I did two radio interviews (one with Bryan Alvarez here & one with Jordan Breen on Sherdog here).

Yesterday, I wrote the first 5 things I think I know are true about the UFC & MMA landscape based on my interview with Bryan. Today, things 6-10 that I think I know are true based on my excellent interview with Jordan Breen. The only thing not-excellent about that interview was my usage of the crutch “I mean” too many times. Been a while since I’ve done the interview rounds, so I didn’t pay attention and paid for it.

Our interview with Jordan focused mostly on UFC’s plans for wanting to run an event in Japan and what the Japanese landscape looks like now versus what it may look like down the road. I would strongly encourage you to listen to both interviews I did (if you get the chance). Many thanks to the feedback I’ve received from everyone on the F4W interview.

Now, focusing on some of the issues raised in the Sherdog interview.

6. Zuffa wants to run in Japan because, in our opinion, it will be a vanity show to placate egos & stick it to ‘the ghost of PRIDE’

Jordan calls the idea of UFC running a show in Japan as a ‘vanity show’ and I agree with him. Japan is no longer a substantial MMA market to make money in. There’s a reason you see One FC and Legend FC running in Macau, in Singapore (I predicted that specific area a couple of years ago would see substantial activity because of what the country offers), and in Hong Kong.

The primary reason I stated that UFC would be interested in running in Japan is to basically placate egos in management that want to kill the meaning of PRIDE in their heads. I said this to Jordan and I stick by it — Dana White and company still mark out over PRIDE in 2011 and magnify an imaginary feud with PRIDE to this day. It’s a ghost and it’s almost as if wanting to run a show in Japan is to prove to the Japanese that PRIDE was nothing, that their rules suck, and that UFC is superior to PRIDE. PRIDE is dead, so it shouldn’t matter. With that said, I don’t believe for one second that UFC isn’t interested in running in Japan in order to continue with the fixation of proving that the foreign power is best and that foreign fighters are better than Japanese fighters. Again, it doesn’t matter if it’s truthful or not, if you’re a Japanese fan why do you want to watch natives get buried to foreigners you’ve never seen on television and never will largely care about?

There is a great romance that people who have spent many years in the MMA business have with Japan as far as what it meant and still try to project recent history with what the current landscape really is like.

7. MMA fans expect big activity from the Japanese landscape in 2011 despite the industry’s collapse in the country

“What is Japan right now for fighting?” That’s the question, in a nutshell, that I think about quite a bit. Jordan mentioned that if the MMA scene died in the UK tomorrow, people would still move on with their lives. However, there’s this belief that MMA’s importance on a large scale should and never will die in Japan. That’s simply not the case.

The expectations of what fans and promoters think Japan should be versus what it is are unrealistic. That doesn’t mean that I’m not sad about it. Japan has always been a major part of my career history and I’ve made so many personal & business connections over there because of the fight game.

8. The timing couldn’t be more miserable for a foreign promoter to try to gain a large market share in
Japan.

2 to 3 years ago, I stated that the one way UFC could possibly get traction in the Japanese marketplace is if they agreed to work with K-1 and Kazuyoshi Ishii. At that time, the possibility of match-ups like Kid Yamamoto vs. Urijah Faber still existed. K-1 still had connections with Fuji TV & Tokyo Broadcasting System, network television assets that are essential to being successful in that country. You cannot transfer UFC’s traditional cable business model to Japan and expect it to work. It didn’t work for WWE and it won’t work for UFC.

Forward to the landscape today and K-1 is largely marginalized. Foreign fighters, no less, are openly challenging K-1 for getting stiffed on cash. Even five years ago, foreigners would have been punished hard for causing such trouble. Now? K-1 is impotent, weak, and shallow. Largely irrelevant. They don’t bring the television power to the table that they once had.

However, don’t think for a second that UFC could ever capitalize on K-1’s misfortune. If they can’t secure the kind of TV deal they want in the States and if they can’t navigate the politics of New York, the politics of Japan are far more challenging than they could ever deal with or be motivated to traverse through.

Five years ago, Simon Rutz would have been punished for running a show in Japan. A foreigner from Holland running a show as a protest to business dealings with K-1? This is the same operation (K-1) that cooperated with Shukan Gendai to create the steam needed to destroy PRIDE. I say cooperated because Seiya Kawamata, the admitted yakuza fixer, was aligned with K-1 at the time of the scandal. The idea of someone like Simon running without fear is incredible, no matter how small the buildings he runs events in are.

9. If the UFC runs a vanity show in Japan, the safe money is the show taking place at Saitama Super Arena or Yokohama Arena.

Yokohama Arena is where WWE tried their hand in 2003. It’s a building that is booked for a lot of foreign shows and concerts. It’s also home to where Ultimate Japan took place with Sakuraba.

Saitama Super Arena, as I stated during the Sherdog interview, is my best bet for where UFC would want to run a show. SSA is PRIDE’s home turf and if you’re going to go into Japan to kill off the ghost of PRIDE, you run your show there. The building can be scaled down for smaller crowds as well. Makes a lot of sense.

There is an outside chance that if UFC can’t get either building, they would have to run in a building like Makuhari Messe (Chiba) or Tokyo Bay NK Hall (old home to UWF/Pancrase shows). WWE ran Ryogoku Kokugikan for their last Japanese stint, but I’m not sure if UFC would want to book that building because it’s not a very flexible set-up for production.

As for what kind of crowd would show up for a UFC show in Japan, there would be some hardcore MMA fans. However, I would expect the majority of the audience to be one-and-doners or concert types that go because it’s a foreign product, but nothing with a real emotional attachment.

The UFC using a cage is more of a negative than it is a positive in Japan. The Japanese fans prefer the ring. Always have, always will. Less barbaric looking.

As for what kind of fights UFC could book for a Japanese show to try to appeal to the masses, I’ll just tell you to listen to the Sherdog interview for my initial response. Even after listening to my answer on the audio download, I’m horrified I even said the match-up that I did. But I told the truth.

10. We do not know where the next pipeline is for recruiting young Japanese MMA talent. What is the profile of the next big Japanese star?

At no point during our discussion on the radio interview did we talk about Yushin Okami headlining a UFC show in Japan. He is practically a no-name in his home country. You could not headline a show with him on top and expect to draw a huge gate.

Yushin Okami’s biggest value for UFC in Japan, ironically, is in what I call the “Akio Sato” role. Sato was a fledgling, yet good technical pro-wrestling midcarder who never got a big push. He ended up working for Vince McMahon when McMahon decided to do some super shows with the SWS (money mark) promotion in the early 90s. Sato was the go-between for talent between the two companies. He essentially managed to pipeline for business between the American and Japanese entities.

Okami very much could fill the same role for Zuffa as a recruiter & talent scout, similar to the role that Hiroshi Hase had with his amateur wrestling contracts when he recruited new talent for New Japan Pro-Wrestling during their golden age of business.

If UFC does not manage to put Okami in a position to be able to recruit new talent and create a recruiting pipeline, the danger is that someone will attempt to fill that vacuum and it won’t be a Zuffa-friendly ally. It will be someone like Hase (if he gets the itch) or Antonio Inoki. Inoki is not in the business for recruiting talent for UFC, he’s in business for himself like he’s always been.

What will the profile be of the next young Japanese ‘ace’ for the MMA scene there? Listen to the radio interview and find out our guesses/answers to that question.

Topics: Japan, MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 15 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

15 Responses to “Media day: 10 things I think I know are true in UFC & MMA (part two)”

  1. Jason Harris says:

    I partially agree with you on this one. I do believe going to Japan is a complete vanity move, but I don’t think they’re doing it as an F-you to the PRIDE days or the Japan scene. You can see through their actions that the Zuffa guys are huge MMA marks and were big PRIDE fans, and I think they just want to try to capture a piece of that, even if they can’t sell 60,000 people. Not to mention the feather in the cap of adding yet another country to their list.

  2. edub says:

    Good points.

    Very interested at the match you talked about, just can’t listen right now (annoying).

    I’d go with Akiyama vs. Koscheck.

  3. Kelvin Hunt says:

    I co-sign with Jason above about them going to Japan…

    I don’t know what fans you are talking about when you get to #7…Japanese as you know has been pretty much dead since PRIDE was bought out…DREAM and Sengoku tried…but let’s be real…they offered nothing of significance in the grand scheme of things…why would anyone expect different this year is beyond me.

  4. david m says:

    What was the match you said? I have never listened to a sherdog radio program and won’t start now. If I were the promoter, I would run Brock Lesnar against Mirko, because I imagine they have the most name value amongst the Japanese public. Maybe bring back Don Frye? Wanderlei against Saku again? Rampage?

    I think, as usual, when it comes to Japan, you know a lot. However, how can you talk about the Japanese being against something that looks barbaric (the cage)?? These are the same fans who wanted to see Saku fight much larger men over and over and get beaten nearly to death; the same fans who loved watching Bob Sapp beat down people half his size, and now they are against barbarism and brutality?

  5. 45 Huddle says:

    Rampage is now laying the F-Bomb down on Randy Couture…

    The guy is a lose cannon… He makes Brian Pillman look normal…

    • Zach Arnold says:

      If there is a video of this worthy of transcribing, alert me to it and I’ll get to work.

      • The Gaijin says:

        I think it’s a Twitter outburst, Zach. He’s not happy that Randy has picked against him in fight predicitions. Dude is so emotionally unstable…total mental midget.

  6. The Gaijin says:

    Totally off topic but please don’t lynch me…but was wondering from the wrestling fans on this site and Zach what the consensus is on CM Punk’s run in WWE and the worked-shoot. I’ve only really ever been a super casual wrestling fan at best but have been following the last couple weeks since GQ, ESPN, Grantland and others seem to be really picking up on him.

    Youtube’d his promos/MITB and I have to say it seems like this might be a “Stone Cold” momentum changer if they play it right. I’m somewhat intrigued for the time being but thought I should ask the more diehard/learned folks.

    • Zach Arnold says:

      Hunter as a booker is not very good. His core instincts seem to be OK, but when it involves him in a program? Same syndrome as a McMahon.

      Emotions should be tempered on this.

      • The Gaijin says:

        Yeah, I should have added – I DVR’d the MNR and caught some post-show write-ups and it seemed like it was back to the same old, tired sh*t already.

        AKA – anytime there’s a “hot angle” they either (i) involve the fkin McMahons/HHH in the forefront, or (ii) are too afraid to fully commit to pulling the trigger on it (e.g. Punk holding the title hostage would have made for a cool storyline but they immediately hotshot a one night tournament????; and Cena is fired, no he’s not, you’re fired – see (i)) – or a combination of both.

        • Chuck says:

          Well, the RAW ratings are still about the same (RAW got a 3.2 this week. Basically what they get all the time) so it’s hardly a “momentum changer” as you pointed out. CM Punk is great, and I have been a fan of his since 2002 (with Ring Of Honor) but his stuff has not been a big ratings grabber. WWE’s current fans love him, and his stuff recently has been totally awesome, but he isn’t bringing in any new or fair weather fans.

          Hell, I think last year’s Nexus storyline got better TV ratings than this stuff. And that didn’t get nearly as much (if any) mainstream attention as the current CM Punk stuff.

        • The Gaijin says:

          Yeah, but this angle is really fresh and still gaining momentum…these things don’t happen overnight so I’m not sure why people would point to weekly ratings as an indicator at this point. Wasn’t WCW in part ruined by trying to book what they believed spiked quarterly ratings and continually unplugging something that didn’t move the meter right away?

          That’s a very short term viewpoint – the Attitude era and other eras didn’t just magically lead to 3 point spikes in ratings…it takes time to build up and this is getting more mainstream attention than anything I can remember in recent memory (other than maybe some short term celeb appearance). I surely hope they have people who are willing to see how it plays out – e.g. see what the ratings/attendance/interest looks like as the angle progresses – not panicky idiots that pull the plug 2-3 weeks into it without allowing momentum/interest to kick in.

  7. Keith Harris says:

    I think you read the reasons behind Dana’s obsession with Japan much better than most. :-)

  8. liger05 says:

    Brock doesn’t really have name value in Japan. His iwgp title reign in new Japan did nothing for business. He didn’t draw a dime.

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