By Zach Arnold | January 1, 2012
Very sad & discouraging to hear the news about 30-year old DEEP fighter Tomoya Miyashita dying on New Year’s Eve. He had fought one round of cancer (seminoma) and then was diagnosed with leukemia and lost the battle. He had a personal blog online at Ameba where he commented on his struggles and also posted pictures of those in the fight community who came to visit with him.
Steve Cofield & Cagewriter.com/Yahoo Sports team discuss Brock’s UFC retirement
1. Expect a legal war between UFC & WWE over Brock Lesnar
Dave Meltzer claims that the Brock ‘retirement’ rumors were floating around all week long. If that’s the case, I find it kind of odd that Dana White wouldn’t know it was coming. Nevertheless, I’m sure UFC had an inkling in their back of their minds that this was a possibility.
WWE right now is desperate to bring back an old name and Brock fits the bill. The problem? He’s not going to generate the same kind of buzz that The Rock did and if Rock can’t heavily move the PPV needle for WWE, Brock won’t either. Which means we could easily see Vince McMahon overvalue Brock and pay him more than he’s worth. It also means that UFC, not wanting to lose any of their PPV customer base, will fight tooth and nail in court to prevent Brock from going back to WWE.
From UFC’s perspective, it’s totally understandable why they don’t want Brock heading back to Vinceworld. If Brock averages 1M PPV buys at $55USD versus Jon Jones drawing 400,000 buys at $55USD, that gap is $33 million dollars. Even if UFC only gets half of that after distributors take their cut, that’s $16.5M USD. That money pays some real bills.
Ask yourself this — if UFC goes to Vince and asks for, say, $10M or $15M in order to allow him to go back to WWE, is Brock worth it? The idea, of course, is that Brock would be a Wrestlemania headliner. If WWE goes ahead and puts their ‘PPV big shows’ on their WWE network in 2012, then the move does not make much financial sense. At that point, it’s likely that we would see Brock and WWE go to court to try to get out of the UFC deal.
What makes the situation so ironic is that WWE is now likely going to be Brock’s legal tag team partner. Brock was able to pry loose away from WWE because he wanted to wrestle in a different country. He doesn’t have that legal out this time around. It helps to have WWE legal on your side but UFC is quite a strong court opponent as well.
2. Alistair Overeem is on his way to becoming the biggest global MMA star
He is, by far, the biggest non-Japanese name UFC has on their roster that they could draw a substantial house with in Japan given his K-1 background. In Europe, Overeem is also well-known. With a win over Brock Lesnar, the US mainstream media tried their best to ignore him after his win over Brock and instead focus on Brock retiring. That will work for a couple more days, at best.
Overeem is the perfect guy to be an ace for UFC in a lot of ways. If he can beat Junior dos Santos (a challenge indeed), Zuffa will hand someone as their ace a fighter who is experienced, confident, extremely talented, and very articulate when doing the media rounds. It’s unfortunate that K-1 is dead because I would have loved to have seen him continue his kickboxing career on a high level. Nonetheless, I’m pleased to see him faring well in MMA and silencing his critics.
3. Fedor is as beloved in Japan in 2012 as he was in 2005
The most remarkable, yet predictable development this week between the UFC & Inoki NYE shows was the revival of Fedor’s star power. On a fight card that was literally promoted as a one-match show, it ended up becoming a one-man show and that man was Fedor. I’m not just talking about his fight performance against Satoshi Ishii, either. In the press and amongst the fans, the Inoki NYE show was all about Fedor’s return to Japan. He got an incredibly positive reaction from the fans who still romanticize about the PRIDE days. While nostalgia acts tend to fade quickly, Fedor has a few advantages in his favor that will allow him to be a headliner in Japan for as long as he wants to be one.
Japanese matchmaking usually breaks down into three categories: native vs. foreigner (always been most successful formula), native vs. native, and foreigner vs. foreigner. Because the purses in Japan have gotten smaller, much of the top flight foreign talent is with the UFC. Native vs. native fights tend to have a high burnout ratio and they can be more damaging for promoters in Japan than other formulas. Foreigner vs. foreigner is the worst scenario.
What made Fedor/Ishii so intriguing is that the fans treated it for what it was — foreigner vs. foreigner. However, they decided to consider Fedor as a native hero coming back home, so it became native vs. foreigner with Ishii being the outsider (and rightfully so). I didn’t see numbers for the gate released on the newspaper sites, but I know on TV the number 25,000 was claimed. Yeah, OK. Nonetheless, the Inoki 2011 NYE show will go down as the show where Fedor made his triumphant return back home to where he made his bones. Good for him for finding the perfect landing place for the end of his career.
M-1 is quoted as saying that Fedor will fight in Russia either in March or April and then have a fight in Monaco.
Read the comments section where I address criticism towards Fedor for the Inoki show not drawing well.
4. Satoshi Ishii’s career prospects as a high-level MMA fighter have been neutered
Satoshi Ishii says that his fight with Fedor yesterday was his last match in Japan and that he will aim his sights to emigrating to the States in order to fight in the UFC. Delusional.
Ishii got promptly hammered in the daily newspapers for his showing against Fedor. Words like ‘humiliating,’ ‘crushing,’ and ‘rock bottom’ were used. I wouldn’t say it was bad as the beating he took last year in the press when he got booed loud by the fans against Jerome Le Banner… but it’s close. If Inoki wanted to protect Ishii, the press would have held back some of their fire. For the second year in the row, they haven’t held anything back.
The Japanese MMA game desperately needed someone to fill the void as the ace that the country could rely upon to enter the real world of MMA. Ishii’s career failure has consequences far beyond just his own financial situation. Fairly or unfairly, his demise impacts a lot of people.
5. Antonio Inoki’s shadow war on NYE and the results it produced
On Christmas Eve, I talked about Inoki’s shadow war on NYE and the annual 1/4 Tokyo Dome show that New Japan has produced for many years. While DREAM did not get Tokyo Broadcasting Support for the Saitama Super Arena event, you would have to classify the show as a win for Inoki’s vision of blending MMA & wrestling fights together.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying that I approve of the vision. I’d be just fine separating the MMA & wrestling fights from each other. However, I’m not offended by the mixture of the bouts on a single card, either. The anger & frustration from both foreign MMA fans online & the hardcore Japanese DREAM fans was brutally palpable, almost borderline hysterical. I get it. MMA is a sport, pro-wrestling is not. Newsflash: in 2012, pro-wrestling is still covered as a sport in the sports section of media outlets in Japan. The fans may know what’s up in regards to the differences between MMA & pro-wrestling but it’s still all a ‘fantasy fight’ to them just like it always has been to Antonio Inoki. Plus, the numbers are against the hardcore fans. For casual Japanese fight fans, hardcore/casual pro-wrestling fans, and a decent portion of Japanese MMA fans… they didn’t mind the mixed matchmaking concept at all.
In many ways, Inoki won the NYE battle in terms of the creative direction that the Japanese fight industry is headed towards. None of the DREAM guys (Aoki, Kawajiri, Takaya) got any serious media play in the newspapers or on TV. They simply don’t draw heavy fan support and that’s not because they’re MMA fighters, it’s because they just don’t appeal to the masses. The wrestling bouts on the NYE card drew solid headlines in the press. A smiling Sakuraba and an excellent Josh Barnett showing drew way more attention than Aoki got for making his friend Satoru Kitaoka gurgle on his own blood.
Aoki is a very interesting character for a lot pf reasons. No matter how violent he gets on New Year’s Eve, the masses in Japan largely ignore him. He can break someone’s arm in a disgusting manner, he can make his friend taste his own blood… and nobody cares. Aoki was teamed with Inoki for the last two weeks to do the media rounds to promote the NYE show… and Inoki got all the attention. Fedor got all the attention. Aoki? Largely meaningless to the public. In many regards, Aoki is viewed with much more respect by the world MMA community than he is in Japan. It’s quite a remarkable situation. Only a few Japanese fighters have experienced that. The one that comes to mind is Tsuyoshi Kohsaka. He was in RINGS early, he went to UFC, he came back to RINGS and still was second dog to Kiyoshi Tamura.
Back to Inoki for a second… The fans yesterday popped as much for the wrestling fights as they did for the MMA bouts and the wrestling matches Inoki often books are nowhere near the same in quality as NOAH or New Japan matches are. In many ways, I felt like the fans cheering for Sakuraba in a tag match and Josh Barnett pulling off what he did to Hideki Suzuki was a sentimental tribute to the days of UWF. I’m not ready to predict that the Japanese MMA scene will transform back to the days of the UWF in the 1980s but there’s a strong possibility that we could end up seeing Inoki pushing a UWF-style product to come on a large scale to fill that void between traditional Japanese pro-wrestling and pure MMA. In that sense, he may have very well gotten the last laugh yesterday.
As for Inoki celebrating himself yearly on the big NYE stage…
I totally understand the mass confusion he creates. A lot of times, nobody else in Japan knows what he’s doing either. I remember several years ago when Brock Lesnar headlined the worst-drawing Tokyo Dome event for a wrestling card (October 2003), Antonio Inoki had someone come out during his ring introduction as a character from the Edo period with a basket on their head. Inoki loves to celebrate history, he loves obscure references, and he loves to talk about history that revolves around his whole life & career. HDNet should be embarrassed that they called Tiger Jeet Singh a terrorist but… it is what it is. Jeet Singh and his son were brought in for the Inoki segment because Tiger was Inoki’s top gaijin rival and Tiger’s tag partner, the late Umanosuke Ueda, died last week at the age of 71. Ueda’s photo was the one they focused on during the interview. Ueda brought ‘weapons’ into the fold in Japanese wrestling with the sword and the bamboo stick. So, when all this crazy talk starts happening during an Inoki skit, I sympathize with the legions of people who have zero clue what the hell he is talking about. Maybe 20 people on the planet could watch that skit and put 2 + 2 together. Scarily, I’m one of those people and it makes feel really, really old as a human being… even when I’m not. Inoki talks about his past days in the Showa era as if it yesterday and not, say, 40 or 50 years ago.
Inoki is Inoki, Japan is Japan, and the prospects of a pure MMA product working again on a consistent basis in the post-PRIDE era without any sort of network TV support is dead on arrival.