By Zach Arnold | July 20, 2011
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
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.