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Bob Arum’s big bet on Ryota Murata exposed UFC’s struggles in winning over Japanese fans

By Zach Arnold | October 22, 2017

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Bob Arum is helping to fill the void in the Japanese fight business that UFC should have captured after the death of PRIDE.

Top Rank’s long-term bet on 2012 Gold Medalist Ryota Murata paid off. Murata disposed of Hassan N’Dam Sunday at Ryogoku Kokugikan to win the WBA Middleweight title. Murata should have won the first time but that wasn’t his fault.

Murata’s fight aired Sunday on ESPN2 with zero advertising by Disney. Another puzzling and insultingly disgraceful decision by Bristol. The Fuji TV Boxing production in conjunction with legendary promoter Akihiko Honda (Teiken Promotions) at Ryogoku Kokugikan with Jimmy Lennon Jr. as announcer was brilliantly smooth. Everything went exactly to plan.

Top Rank is achieving marketing benchmarks in the Japanese marketplace that UFC should have reached after PRIDE’s death. UFC has squandered away momentum built in 2012 and has increasingly bailed on a historically wonderful combat sports country with highly motivated fans willing to spend money.

Watching a big fight in Japan is fun and, dare I say, romantic.

Compare and contrast the matchmaking strategies involving Top Rank and UFC in Japan. Arum went for the best in Murata and agreed to play the business & political game on Japanese terms. A true cooperation. UFC went with the Vince McMahon “this is how we do business” mindset. The best Japanese prospect on the most recent UFC Saitama Super Arena card is Shuri Kondo and UFC didn’t do a hell of a lot to promote her to the American fans. She’s the best potential Japanese star UFC has and it’s mostly due to her own efforts to build a cross-promotional Japanese brand. UFC is lucky to have her. I am skeptical that UFC will share Top Rank’s mindset in working with Kondo’s promoter (Pancrase) to carefully craft a Japanese-first strategy to score big with Kondo. Right now, Kondo is allowed to wrestle and do her thing. Will UFC kill that golden goose if they want her to fight under their banner long-term? It would be a big mistake to kill the best avenue she has to build an audience.

As for Ryota Murata, he expressed interest in a fight with Gennady Golovkin. The Japanese star trying to attach themselves to a big foreign name is a classic, tried-and-true headline grabbing technique that works. Top Rank is looking to book Murata vs. Olympic rival Esquiva Falcao. Arum seems confident that Murata will be a top player by the end of 2018. A fight versus Golovkin in Las Vegas would be predictable. A fight versus Golovkin in Japan would be a dream come true for everyone… including the financiers.

Topics: Boxing, Japan, Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 1 Comment » | Permalink | Trackback |

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