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A bad year for Ken Imai

By Zach Arnold | April 24, 2007

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By Zach Arnold

Ken Imai is the famous Japanese agent for Mirko Cro Cop. He was the wirepuller who brought Cro Cop from K-1 to PRIDE, essentially getting Cro Cop away from power agent Miro Mijatovic (who had both Mirko and Fedor as clients). Imai became close to DSE (Sakakibara) and with the PRIDE assets being sold to Zuffa, Imai’s power base in Japan has decreased.

Today in the Los Angeles Times newspaper, Dana White basically claimed that it was Cro Cop’s ‘guys’ who wanted the fight against Gabriel Gonzaga to ‘milk’ Mirko’s UFC contract.

“Cro Cop’s guys wanted to have a couple fights before they fought Randy Couture. And to be honest with you I think they wanted the fights to milk the contract.”

That statement alludes to Ken Imai, who has played the role as the main contact point between UFC & Mirko. In Japanese circles, Imai’s gimmick has been that he is the only one who can ‘control’ Mirko in terms of doing PR, meetings, etc. With Mirko losing to Gonzaga in Manchester at UFC 70, Imai finds himself in a curious predicament.

PRIDE’s collapse and Mirko losing to Gabriel Gonzaga are not happy events. However, it appears that Imai may have supposedly found more trouble for himself. Japanese MMA writer Motoichiro Takasu wrote a post today claiming the following:

  1. Takasu claims that Ken Imai showed up at the BodogFight event in St. Petersburg, Russia on 4/14. Imai supposedly got backstage at the show without a pass, using his status as Mirko’s agent to get in. However (supposedly in front of some mass media/journalists), a BodogFight staffer told Imai to go buy a ticket like everyone else if he wanted to be at the show. (Ed. BodogFight has a past history of telling snooping Japanese DSE-affiliated agents to go away. See: Sotaro Shinoda.)
  2. Takasu criticized Imai and says that Ken was a major source of trouble between PRIDE & K-1 (Imai was close with Kazuyoshi Ishii but left as Ishii got busted in the corporate tax evasion scandal). He wrote that Imai should be more careful about his movements to avoid serious problems.
  3. Takasu ponders what Imai’s motive for being at the BodogFight event was. He speculates that he was trying to reach Josh Barnett and learn of what his future plans are going to be (suggesting that Mirko would participate in a BodogFight tournament, so wouldn’t Josh be interested?). Takasu says he hopes that Imai’s action don’t cause more problems and he (Takasu) states that BodogFight has flatly denied any insinuation of Mirko working in a tournament for the BodogFight promotion).

One strike I would like to bring up to the Takasu report is that Josh Barnett was in Las Vegas the weekend of the BodogFight event in Russia. Barnett was scheduled to corner Erin Toughill at the TUFF-N-UFF show, but Erin’s fight was canceled. I personally talked to Josh a few days before the Las Vegas show and he was ready to be there in attendance.

It should be fully noted that Mirko Cro Cop has four fights left on his UFC deal. The major question to be asked is if Takasu’s report is true, what is Imai’s motive and purpose?

If Ken Imai is the only point-man that UFC has been dealing with in regards to Mirko, now you can see why there must be frustration on their end. Another question to ask is this: How much does Mirko know about the actions of his agent (Imai)? There is some irony in the gimmick of Imai being the ‘only one’ to control Mirko, yet Mirko isn’t ‘controlling’ Imai from reportedly showing up at BodogFight and supposedly causing a scene.


If Takasu’s story is in fact true, let’s put the story into a larger context.

  1. Imai was associated with K-1 and left the company while Kazuyoshi Ishii got busted for corporate tax evasion.
  2. Imai was involved in being a wirepuller to bring Mirko to DSE & Nobuyuki Sakakibara, and DSE ended up selling off the PRIDE assets after losing so much money (and their Fuji TV deal) due to a yakuza scandal that was triggered by a multi-month campaign by Shukan Gendai magazine.
  3. And now we have a report of Imai sniffing around at BodogFight (in front of the mass media, nonetheless).

I am copying the Japanese text of Takasu’s post here (in case his site goes down in the future). This cut-and-paste is simply for reference.

Motoichiro Takasu online posting (4/24/2007)

Mirko KO loss! One week ago at Bodog…


ミルコがKO負け! 1週間前にボードッグで・・・。






Posted by takasu 19:07:08

Topics: BoDog, Japan, K-1, Media, MMA, PRIDE, UFC, Yakuza, Zach Arnold | 5 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

5 Responses to “A bad year for Ken Imai”

  1. white ninja says:

    Ken Imai is also very close to Sakakibara and Kiyohara and of course the disgraced owner of DSE Mr Ishizaka. The rumour in Japan is that Imai was also allegedly backed/owned by Ishizaka and therefore Japan’s biggest yakuza group, Yamaguchi Gumi.

    Its always been an irony that Croatian parliament member and ex-cop, Mirko crocop was supposedly backed by the Japanese yakuza

    This may give a clue as to why Crocop came out to PRIDE music in his UFC debut – paying homage to his former (yakuza) bosses

  2. Allen says:

    Oh yeah, well I heard that Cro-Cop, with his super top secret Croat killing techniques, performed a series of high level hits on the yakaty yak for his lord superior bosses the Ando-gumi.

    I also heard that guys with monikers like “white ninja” are probably painfully overweight nerds with nothing better to do than ponder over Japanese tabloid stories.

  3. David says:

    lol @ the comments, lets not be another Sherdog. Thanks for the post Zach, ignore these children or make us register cuz some people always have to ruin it for the rest of us!

  4. Stu says:

    white ninja your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter. By the way does a tin foil hat come with a subscription?

  5. Zach Arnold says:

    I also heard that guys with monikers like “white ninja” are probably painfully overweight nerds with nothing better to do than ponder over Japanese tabloid stories.

    Considering that Shukan Gendai’s negative campaign did in fact bring down Japan’s largest pure MMA play of all time…


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