By Zach Arnold | December 18, 2011
To make a long story short, whatever heat that has been generated by the upcoming Fedor/Satoshi Ishii fight has been largely due to Fedor. His name still has a lot of romantic value amongst the hardcore Japanese MMA fans. Ishii, on the other hand, may as well be walking into this fight as a ‘foreigner’ in the eyes of many in the country. In many cases, he’s treated more like a foreigner with ‘you suck’ heat as opposed to ‘hey, you’re representing our country’ kind of heat. Ishii does not have a dynamic personality. If anything, I would consider his personality to be stunted, idiotic, and impulsive. What makes his predicament so unusual is that he gives you the bad, ugly, and awful and yet everyone you talk to who has ever trained with the guy says that he’s a total beast in the gym and gives you everything he has. So, how does someone who shows you heart in the gym not give the fans much to care about when it’s go time?
Ishii will be bringing Ed Buckley, Team Quest Muay Thai instructor, with him to Japan as his second. Ishii has been training at both Reign (Mark Munoz’s gym) and Black House in Southern California.
For the casual fan, the Inoki NYE show at Saitama Super Arena is a one match card. The problem for the promoter (DREAM) is that Ishii is an OK TV ratings draw (around 11% peak value) but not a good live house draw at all. Nobody really cares about him passionately nor has he given anyone a reason to care. The problem is that the status of this show airing on Tokyo Broadcasting System is still up in the air. Even if the network decides to take a chance to air the show, it’s not like the network is going to invest much in terms of promotion. If the network was serious about backing this show, they would have made the arrangements a couple of months ago.
Back to Ishii for a minute. The difference between someone like him versus an Antonio Inoki or Hiro Matsuda in terms of career path is that Inoki left Japan to go to Brazil, worked some fights in the States and elsewhere, then came back with New Japan in 1972 to make Japan home base. Matsuda left to go to Brazil and ended up making more of a name for himself at the Grand Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles and across the States with his programs involving Danny Hodge. Ishii inherits the worst aspects of both men’s careers in that he possesses the athletic ability without the desire to embrace Japan or make it home base and no sort of fiery personality to become an ace. Matsuda was well-respected wherever he went but he was never a huge name in Japan. Sure, he got some air time on TV-Asahi when Asahi would air footage of Inoki, Seiji Sakaguchi, and crew from the Olympic Auditorium shows but Hiro never was fully embraced by Inoki. Of course, the two men grew to despise each other even though there were some elements of a cold peace.
Steve Cofield says this card sucks. Jordan Breen thinks this NYE card is a good step by DREAM in actually advancing the Japanese MMA game into this decade. The problem with DREAM is that they often book the worst aspects of the old world and new world. They try to give you some nostalgia with Fedor but then they give you Ishii. You get a mixed rules fight with Yuichiro Nagashima. You end up with Shinya Aoki vs. Satoru Kitaoka, the kind of fight that may sell 1,000 tickets max. Without real television support, it’s going to be impossible for DREAM to make the new kind of MMA stars to advance the scene into this decade as far as the UFC-level goes.
One of my great hopes about the UFC Japan card was that Zuffa would give enough respect to the Japanese fans to delicately treat the event as a real cornerstone show of transitional & historical importance. You could have put all the major PRIDE gaijin on the show (Shogun, Mirko, Nogueiras) and also put the best UFC names on the card so that, yes, you tip your cap and honor the history but also draw enough eyeballs to show the new school product. Dave Meltzer says that 7,000 tickets have been sold in advance for the UFC Japan show at Saitama Super Arena. Given that I felt the over/under was 10,000 for success or failure, UFC is right on track. Better than Ryogoku but less than Budokan or Yokohama Arena. In other words, no surprises so far.
One reason I was hoping for Zuffa to come through on that front is because I was afraid that we would see guys like Mirko hang around in Japan long after their UFC tenure… and sure enough, there’s a ‘fight offer’ for Mirko to face Jerome Le Banner on the Inoki NYE show. It’s going to be 2012 and this fight is still being considered relevant? This move by Mirko to not get booked on the UFC Japan show and instead end up on the Inoki show just reeks of Ken Imai’s influence. Imai was Kazuyoshi Ishii’s old right-hand man who ended up turning on him and joining Nobuyuki Sakakibar as one of his right-hand men during PRIDE. Imai found a way to skate past the K-1 tax evasion/phony contract scandal and he found a way to skate past the yakuza scandal that imploded PRIDE.
When PRIDE collapsed five years ago, I said that the Japanese scene would go one of two ways. We would see new blood and a new transition period or we would see the same old cast of characters hang around and try to give it a go again because nobody new would want to get involved in putting their cash in a business with the kind of politics & crime that takes place in Japan. Unfortunately for the Japanese fans, they’re continuing to get the worst of all worlds.
On the bright side, at least the Japanese fans didn’t have to endure last night’s Strikeforce card from San Diego. Keep hope alive!
The updated card for the DREAM/Inoki NYE event at Saitama Super Arena:
- DREAM Bantamweight tournament reserve fight: Hideo Tokoro vs. Yusup Saadulaev
- DREAM Bantamweight tournament: Bibiano Fernandes vs. Rodolfo Marques Diniz
- DREAM Bantamweight tournament: Masakazu Imanari vs. Antonio Banuelos
- Featherweights: Tatsuya Kawajiri vs. Kazuyuki Miyata
- Welterweights: Hayato ‘Mach’ Sakurai vs. Ryo Chonan
- Lightweights (Mixed rules fight): Yuichiro ‘Jienotsu’ Nagashima vs. Katsunori Kikuno
- DREAM Bantamweight tournament finals: Fernandes/Diniz winner vs. Imanari/Banuelos winner
- DREAM Featherweight title match: Hiroyuki Takaya vs. Lion Takeshi
- DREAM Lightweight title match: Shinya Aoki vs. Satoru Kitaoka
- IGF rules match: Kazuyuki Fujita vs. Peter Aerts
- IGF rules match: Kazushi Sakuraba & Katsuyori Shibata vs. Atsushi Sawada & Wakakirin
- Heavyweights: Fedor Emelianenko vs. Satoshi Ishii