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Trouble in Japanese paradise

By Zach Arnold | June 18, 2007

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By Zach Arnold

With the demise of PRIDE (backed by Dream Stage Entertainment), you would think that K-1 would be in a celebratory mood. (Look at this picture of Sadaharu Tanigawa and Bob Sapp shaking hands today. Tanigawa has a priceless look on his face. Sapp vs. Aerts is set for this Saturday in Holland, 13 months after the infamous scandal in the same place involving Sapp refusing to fight Ernesto Hoost due to a contract dispute.)

Instead, 2007 has been one giant headache of a year for the organization.

First, the promotion drew a poor house on April 28th in Hawaii. This was compounded by the fact that Mighty Mo beat K-1’s golden boy, Choi Hong-Man, earlier in the year.

Second, the company produced what may have been the second-worst MMA show of all time in K-1 Dynamite at the LA Coliseum. The only show worse than the LA Coliseum event in the history of Japanese MMA was on August 8th, 2003 at the Tokyo Dome when Antonio Inoki produced an event featuring a main event of Naoya Ogawa vs. Matt Ghaffari.

Third, and most importantly, there has been a dark cloud hovering over K-1 since the end of 2002 when K-1 boss Kazuyoshi Ishii was arrested and subsequently convicted of corporate tax evasion charges. The ghost of Ishii has hovered over K-1 ever since that time period, especially with Sadaharu Tanigawa publicly listed in charge of company operations.

After facing Japanese media scrutiny in regards to Royce Gracie failing a CSAC-administered doping test, K-1 is facing much more scrutiny in the media weeklies. Last week, ZAKZAK (Yukan Fuji) published an article containing information leaked from the files of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. The information leaked allegedly contains data on Goto-gumi, one of the most notorious and violent yakuza sub-gangs of all time in the Japanese entertainment world (the ‘geinokai’). Goto-gumi was a major part of Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest crime syndicate. Goto-gumi also played a major role in the Japanese fight industry.

At the heart of the ZAKZAK story is Winny, which is Japanese file-sharing software that has been at the root of many media scandals in the last year or so due to security flaws in the program that has leaked some critical information.

In the ZAKZAK report from last week, the article claims that Kazuyoshi Ishii’s name (along with other notable entertainment industry players) is listed in a database kept by Goto-gumi. In short, the article establishes an alleged connection between Ishii and Goto-gumi.

In Shukan Gendai’s multi-month negative campaign against PRIDE last year, admitted yakuza-fixer Seiya Kawamata talked about the fact that he used to work with both K-1 and PRIDE when the two organizations cooperated with each other. Kawamata was supposedly a middle man for Ishii in K-1, as he had his own yakuza group (in which Kawamata claimed that his own yakuza members turned on him and ended up siding with DSE before and after the Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye 2003 NYE show fiasco). Kawamata filed a criminal complaint with the Kanagawa kenkei (police) against Dream Stage Entertainment over allegedly being threatened by the yakuza. Kawamata’s own former yakuza members were initially arrested, but released due to a lack of evidence. That lack of evidence, according to Shukan Gendai, was due in part to the police not being able to find the supposed ‘virtual’ owner of DSE, Mr. Ishizaka (aka Kim Dok-Soo).

With this information in mind, we bring up a two-page article in the latest edition of FRIDAY, a popular Japanese weekly publication. Starting on page 16, the publication has an article talking about Ishii and Kawamata meeting together. This is intriguing because Kawamata, as you might imagine in some Japanese inner circles, has supposedly been a ‘wanted man’ for some time.

One of the biggest storylines in the Shukan Gendai negative campaign against PRIDE dealt with the involvement of major Japanese TV producers in the fight game (scandals involving kickbacks, threats issued, etc.) The main target of Gendai’s campaign was Fuji TV producer Kunio Kiyohara, who had political clout in the FujiSankei media conglomerate because of his father’s position as a boss at Sankei Shimbun (newspaper).

The main producer for K-1 broadcasts on Tokyo Broadcasting System is Ushio Higuchi. Shukan Post recently attempted a negative campaign against Higuchi, but it didn’t go very far.

Recently, Shukan Gendai did a story on a top producer/director at TV-Asahi. Gendai’s story referenced allegations of kickbacks that this producer allegedly received. The producer was a backer of New Japan Pro-Wrestling programming on TV-Asahi and was also rumored to be the key man for PRIDE getting onto the network (you’ll recall that PRIDE tried to get on TV-Asahi last year under the ‘Condor’ name, but failed). With a TV-Asahi producer now connected to a kickback scandal, the chances of a ‘shinsei’ (newborn) PRIDE getting on the network are supposedly very slim. With two major fight-related producers on the sidelines (one at TV-Asahi, Kiyohara at Fuji TV), the amount of producers left with intimate knowledge of the fight game in the Japanese free-to-air TV market is limited.

What does it mean for the future of the Japanese fight game on free-to-air Japanese television? The prospects are increasingly shaky.

There are big implications here for K-1 if the Japanese media continues to press the issue. Is K-1 going to be the next heavy media target, similar to what happened to DSE last year?

Topics: HERO's, Japan, K-1, Media, MMA, PRIDE, Yakuza, Zach Arnold | 30 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

30 Responses to “Trouble in Japanese paradise”

  1. chis says:

    Zach sports of a violent nature tend to have an involvement with shady business type’s of people.What is it with you with hoping to see the downfall of the Japanese fight game was your granddad killed in pearl harbour or something.
    I like the set up of your websites and the speed of your updates but i you seem to have a perverse fixation with the Japanese Fight Industry.

  2. Jonny Mudd says:

    So is Higuchi involved in anything? Has there been any reports of his involvment in anything illegal?

  3. Zach Arnold says:

    There were attempts to try to label Higuchi as a troublemaker in Shukan Post, but that didn’t go over much. That doesn’t mean that someone who might be an enemy doesn’t have an argument or dirt on the guy. It’s just an educated guess based on how filthy the Japanese fight industry is at the moment. To be clear, no one has been able to publicly accuse Higuchi of fight-related corruption in a successful manner.

    Zach sports of a violent nature tend to have an involvement with shady business type’s of people.What is it with you with hoping to see the downfall of the Japanese fight game was your granddad killed in pearl harbour or something.

    For starters, I’m not the one doing the multi-month negative campaigns in the Japanese media. The weeklies are, and they have legitimate power. They have various reasons to write about alleged corruption in the Japanese fight game – sells copies, puts pressure on the police to clean up the business, plays into a very anti-yakuza mood the public has, etc.

    Second, why should corruption or criminal activity be tolerated in any business? Since when did it become a Constitutional right that everyone in the fight industry had to be a slimebag?

    Third, I have no role whatsoever in the self-destruction of the Japanese fight industry. The major power brokers in the Japanese fight industry created the current mess we have and now it’s time to pay the piper. They brought shame upon themselves, the fighters, the agents, and their families. There should be no sympathy for anyone connected to hardcore criminal gangs whatsoever.

  4. chis says:

    Point taken Zach but in the past people esp Sherdog lot think you hate MMA and you really Pro-Wrestling die hard.

  5. Zach Arnold says:

    Corruption has always played a role in the Japanese fight game (pro-wrestling was the backbone for MMA), but when the free TV networks started pouring huge amounts of money into the business… the stakes got much higher, attracting a lot more attention.

    Generally I’m not a moral crusader, but I would hope that perhaps I’m on the right side of the corruption issue. I suspect when it comes to hardcore fight fans, I’m in the minority on this debate.

  6. Rob says:

    The only thing that really bugs me about all this, and having just re-read Whiting’s “You Gotta Have Wa” and the chapters about how the weeklies report on baseball [let alone anything else], is that all the weeklies, the Shukan’s and the Friday’s and whatnots, is that, not at all being bastion’s of anything approaching responsible journalism, basically can level whatever charges they like without ever having to really provide anything like substantive proof. Accusations could be baseless or 100% on the money, and it wouldn’t matter… once it’s in print, the power of “appearance” of impropriety pretty much dooms whatever target they choose to make an example of. Not quite right…

    [wow, that’s some horrible runon sentences up there. apologies.]

  7. chis says:

    So if K-1 folds what of MMA and Kickboxing in Japan.
    Anyone tell me how the fight industry is doing in Japan with fans and interest
    and by that i don’t just mean MMA but also Kickboxing,Pro-Wrestling and Boxing.

  8. white ninja says:

    Rob – the weeklies, especially Shukan Gendai and Friday, which are owned by Japan’s biggest, publisher, Kodansha, have a reputation of bringing out corruption – not just in fight sports, but also in politics and TV

    they are subject to the legal system, and if they print lies or defame anybody, they can be, and often are, sued

    they targetted DSE because it was an open secret that DSE was supposedly owned by the yakuza since following Morishita’s death. DSE was tolerated while it was a stadium and PPV product, but once it made the big time and started bringing their bosses to the business table, understandably and justfiably, big Japan decided to kill them off

    K1 may well have now stepped over the line as well

  9. Zach Arnold says:

    In the case of the Sumo federation suing Kodansha over the allegations of match-fixing in bouts, they went the civil lawsuit route. DSE threatened a criminal complaint against Kodansha (publisher of Gendai), but the end result is that no action was apparently taken.

    You do touch upon a curious aspect of the media system in Japan, which is that it’s almost as effective to wage a PR campaign through that system as any other method of communication. Case in point, you look at the stories related to the Japanese fight industry in these publications in the last two years and many of the sources seem to be associated with either the police or people very deep inside the business.

  10. Jeremy (not that Jeremy) says:

    I think that in the past it could certainly be said that the US fight game was predominantly run by criminal elements. However, with most of the non-worked fight system in the US tied to casinos, and with the heavy regulation that casinos now experience, I think that the kind of overt criminal influence not only on the finances of the sport, but on the gambling side, including fixing results is significantly decreased. Particularly on the results side.

    However, we’re finding that not only were there yakuza associations financially in the Japanese promotions, but that the promotions were also allegedly bribing players to fix fights. If you’re not bothered by the financing, you should at least be bothered by the other corrupt practices that association with organized crime bring to the table when they bring their money.

  11. Rob says:

    WN- of course they’re subject to the legal system… one that is notoriously slow and ambiguous in these types of matters. Where the courts, lawyers and judges all unambiguously try to persuade the plaintiffs and defendants to come to an amenable “agreement.” It’s my impression from the variety of gossipy crap available all throughout the weeklies, and of course only my impression, that publishers don’t exactly let things like, say, fear of lawsuits, or facts, get in the way of publication.

    It’s kinda like saying that you can believe everything you read in the Enquirer or the Star because, you know, they could get sued.

    But I am curious as to who you think “big Japan” is that killed them off. Or, since they’d been on TV for quite some time what exactly the move to “big time” was that necessitated their comeuppance.

    The Sumo case’ll be interesting. Especially since previous allegations of match fixing resulted in a rash of “natural” deaths. Shoot, even the math whizzes from Freakonomics say that Sumo’s rigged. None of which will actually affect how it plays out…

    Japan, you glorious, in-denial, wacky bastards. Sometimes I love you so.

    And I think if K1 folds, though still unlikely, but possible, you’ve just got Shooto and Pancrase. Pretty much. Small shows all-around.

  12. Zach Arnold says:

    K-1’s power base in Japan (i.e. the entertainment world) is far more solid than PRIDE’s base ever was. K-1 has/had TV firepower (Fuji TV and TBS), celebrity & entertainment firepower (Norika Fujiwara, Kyoko Hasegawa, supposedly elements of Soka Gakkai, etc.), and sponsorship power.

    It’s an interesting question that you bring up in regards to why K-1 may be a target now. My personal guess is that a lot of this has to do with Ishii and the way his conviction and appeal process went down in the corp. tax evasion case. It took him an awfully long time to finally go to jail and serve his punishment.

    The obvious question this opens up is how much control will Ishii have behind bars long-term on the company? Is there a strategy to go after K-1 with the brainpower in a jail cell? A plausible theory…

  13. white ninja says:

    sumo – well the sumo association is going to have a fun time winning their case when shukan gendai has a tape recording of Asashoryu’s oyakata (boss) telling his mistress about the fight fixing. sumo has a long tradition of fight fixing and relations with the yakuza and is another target

    in japan there are many ways to skin a cat or a yakuza

    in western societies, the old “innocent until proven guilty” allows smart criminals to run very close to the line and let bigshot lawyers get them off, and they can still claim innocence and go on with their activities

    in japan, the legal system is just one of the tools that the establishment can use to penalise or destroy, and in fact, one of the blunter tools. establishment companies like kodansha, use their attack mags (shukan gendai and friday) to attack yakuza and crooks who the legal system cant get, for whatever reason. the police or bureaucrats will often leak material to these mags – is a japanese tradition and they have some impressive scalps, dse is small fry compared to the fish they usually go after

    the end result is the same, either you sit in jail, like ishii as a result of a court case, or have your business destroyed (Pride) and forced into exile (ishizaka) while you bitch and moan about how unfair life is

    final result = less scumbags on the streets and polluting airwaves

  14. Zach Arnold says:

    I’m not sure if I’d go as far as to say that Japan’s legal system is better than the legal system in Western countries. A lot of cases in the Japanese courts are dependent on confessions, and sometimes those ‘confessions’ are not what they appear to be.

  15. white ninja says:

    Rob – as to who was behind the campaign

    thats a good question, to run this sort of campaign a broad coalition needs to be built – there needs to be a groundswell amongst power brokers that a line has been crossed

    in Pride’s case, it was all the more important since PRIDE was on Fuji TV with blue chip sponsors gathered by Dentsu and since all commercial tv has deep relations with the yakuza, tv wouldnt do the trick

    there are a lot powerbrokers involved in taking pride down – all of them are behind the scenes, but the most important power brokers are the police. once they decide you are going down in japan, you go down

  16. Zach Arnold says:

    The unanswered question still is why the focus is on K-1 now in the media. You would think the promotion would have enough allies to fight off attacks, considering that they are really the only major game in town left in the Japanese fight industry. Once K-1 is finished, so is the Japanese fight scene on a national level. I don’t think any of the pro-wrestling companies are in any position whatsoever to fill that kind of power vacuum if K-1 was destroyed.

  17. white ninja says:

    im not saying that the japanese legal system is good. far from it.

    i am saying that the japanese police, legal community and media have developed a secondary punishment system which gets those who dont get caught by the legal system

    while this sounds terrible to westerners who are more comfortable with “rights” and strong legal protections as youve seen in the PRIDE case, it does work

    god help you if you get on its wrong side though, because there is no court of appeal

  18. Liger05 says:

    Come on Zach, New Japan is bouncing back. You and I both know the big time is just around the corner one Nakumera finally becomes the big Ace. War Nakumera!!!

  19. DarthMolen says:

    Great coverage Zach and great conversation all around.

    I do not consider myself knowledgeable when it comes to MMA in Japan but isn’t K-1 being floated by a big Korean TV deal?

    What’s the probability of them just pulling up roots and moving to Korea if the fight environment becomes untenable in Japan?

  20. MoreThanUFC says:

    Hasnt Denis Kang spoken recently about growing Spirit just for these reasons we’re discussing? I think that has a lot to do with him not signing with the UFC and instead taking a HUGE payday from bodog. Any word on that Zach?

  21. KennyP says:

    I’m speaking from (a possibly uninformed) opinion here, but I think I big part of the cross-appeal of Koreans and Japanese competition is the nationalistic rivalry and history of racism (xenophobia?) of Japanese looking down on Koreans. The Japanese have a long history of offenses against Koreans (e.g. military occupation, WWII offenses). And numerous successful Japanese of Korean ancestry have hid their heritage (e.g., Rikidozan). Just as the Japanese have long sought worldwide success for their (sports and entertainment) stars, Koreans have desired to beat the Japanese at their own game. Think of USA-Mexico here….

    Without K-1 being a popular Japanese company, I wonder how much appeal in Korea would diminish.

  22. evilyo says:

    Why do you want Japanese orgs to fail? If being linked to the Yakuza can give us cards such as Pride Bushido GP, MW GP 2003, then I’m all for the Yakuza connection.

    Certainly better than whatever UFC has put out even if they are supposedly “clean” I’m sure you know about how Lorenzo strongarmed SEG into seling to them. I’m sure you also know that 3 former NSAC commissioners and officials are now executives and owners of the UFC. The very definition of corruption: Regulatory capture.

  23. Ultimo Santa says:

    Meh, whatever.

    Yakuza, blood money, steroid scandals…just let me see some entertaining fights.

    I love hearing about what’s going on behind the scenes, and the coverage here is excellent – but at the end of the day I want to see a great product, and unfortunately (for me, anyway) nothing was as great as PRIDE.

    If UFC does away with the silly cage and the elbows, and starts allowing knees and stomps, THEN I might change my mind.

  24. Kev says:

    You know, this is the type of stuff that killed PRIDE, so I don’t know why you’re so apathetic.

  25. Smoogy says:

    Zach, I really appreciate your coverage of the Japanese fight scene. Is there any word on the supposed PRIDE press conference that was supposed to happen last week?

  26. Michaelthebox says:

    Ultimo Santa: I’m crying you a river.

  27. DarthMolen says:

    If UFC does away with the silly cage and the elbows, and starts allowing knees and stomps, THEN I might change my mind.

    Hmm. Doesn’t all those changes just make it PRIDE in America?

  28. DarthMolen says:

    I know all about the Korean / Japanese xenophobia and hatred for each other, being an amateur history buff 🙂 That is what surprised me when Korean TV bought into K-1.

  29. Grape Knee High says:

    Korean/Japanese relations are never easy and without contradiction. Many yakuza members (even up to the level of the bosses) are actually zainichi Koreans. It is widely held that the Japanese uyoku (an extremely nationalistic right-wing) are also made up of many zainichi Koreans. What makes this especially interesting is that these uyoku adore the Yasukuni Shrine, the very same WW2 shrine that honors convicted war criminals among the dead. Every time a Japanese Prime Minister visits the shrine, South Korean protests hit the news wire.

    I don’t think Japanese and South Korean entertainment execs feel the xenophobia as much. Business is business and money speaks loudly. One South Korean TV/movie star in immensely popular in Japan (he even spoke during an intermission at a PRIDE event) and South Korea recently allowed Japanese movies to be released. In the end, though, it helps that K-1 actually puts Korean fighters on their cards, and as KennyP said, many Koreans probably watch just to see them beat Japanese fighters.

  30. Zach Arnold says:

    Nobody has any clue what is going on with PRIDE or the fighters associated with it. I’m not sure the people involved who could make decisions on this know, either.


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