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Monday chalkboard: UFC’s chances in Japan

By Zach Arnold | October 7, 2007

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More bad news for the cursed UFC 78 New Jersey show – Hector Lombard can’t get a working visa.

Shu Hirata gives his latest thoughts on the Japanese fight scene.

Analyzing UFC’s attempt to get into the Japanese marketplace. Let me clear up one thing about UFC’s deal with WOWOW… UFC had been on WOWOW (Japan’s version of HBO) for a long time. This wasn’t a new deal for them. However, the deal ended after April’s UFC event in Manchester with Gabriel Gonzaga knocking out Mirko Cro Cop. WOWOW stated that UFC asked for a significant increase in fees to air the shows, so the network didn’t renew their deal. Now UFC is trying to work with WOWOW again, which was not a significant TV deal in the first place.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – UFC’s current product is simply not palatable for the Japanese marketplace, in my opinion. The promotion has not embraced Japanese-style professional wresting marketing and likely never will. Zuffa management has had trouble doing business in the Japanese marketplace (see the PRIDE debacle and the negative PR from it). My viewpoint is that the best UFC could hope for in regards to a Japanese show is running a building like Makuhari Messe in Chiba or Nippon Budokan. Any attempts to run Saitama Super Arena or larger buildings will likely create a negative PR situation in Japan. UFC had little good will going into Japan and after the events of this past week, things have gotten sour on a PR note. I’ve stressed this in past opinions and will continue to do so — people who seriously consider UFC automatically having the ability to run any sort of legitimate long-term operation in the Japanese marketplace (given the current behavior Zuffa has demonstrated in 2007) should reconsider that viewpoint, given how bad the PRIDE situation turned out to be.

After the way Zuffa handled the PRIDE situation, Japanese fans found themselves pulling a Denny Green by screaming, “They are who we thought they were!”

All you need to know about the current state of the Japanese fight scene is that K-1, which has been booking the Tokyo Dome for many years for the GP finals, has downgraded to Yokohama Arena this year.

Kakutolog has a great post (linking to several reports) about what some of the various Japanese opinions were about UFC’s attempts to run PRIDE in Japan. The dominant Japanese opinion (according to Kakutolog) is that the Japanese viewed Zuffa’s version of PRIDE as simply a tool to expand UFC into the marketplace (as opposed to running a full-fledged legitimate Japanese operation with its own identity). One Japanese report quoted a source with knowledge of the TV industry as saying that Zuffa was trying to package a set deal for both UFC & PRIDE programming to Nippon TV & WOWOW, with a supposed goal of getting UFC & PRIDE together for a golden time (prime time) slot on Nippon TV. However, negotiations reportedly didn’t go well because of the ‘different sense of values’ between the Japanese and their American counterparts. The TV industry source claimed that UFC at best could have gotten a Midnight time slot, but money became a big issue.

Brent Brookhouse explains the 10-point must system.

Sam Caplan is looking for more writers.

The latest news and notes on the Brazilian fight scene.

This is just unfortunate:

I’ve already had the toll man on the Bay Bridge propose marriage. I’ll take it as a good omen.

Some news and notes on the ZST front in Japan.

The Dayton Daily News is reporting that UFC is considering a March 1st date to return to Columbus, Ohio. I guess they needed to get a head start in ‘The Midwest’ after Bob Arum proclaimed UFC in trouble with Kelly Pavlik winning. That’ll show ’em.

Steve Sievert in The Houston Chronicle has an article about WEC looking to add depth to their roster.

A new fight league is being marketed called Bonecrunch Fighting. The CEO called the fighters on his debut show last August “lousy” and says he’s put $100,000 USD into the league since January.

Other headlines…

  1. The Fightworks Podcast: Ryan Jensen & Kyle Maynard interviews
  2. Sherdog: Rhelan Gracie goes down in Hawaii
  3. The Honolulu Advertiser: Ramos KOs Gracie in MMA event at Blaisdell Arena
  4. China Combat: MMA in Indonesia and Malaysia
  5. The Press of Atlantic City (NJ): The story behind the cancellation of Kimbo Slice vs. Tank Abbott (a must-read)
  6. European Fight Network: ADCC submission fighting Finnish Open results

Topics: Brazil, Japan, Media, MMA, UFC, WEC, Zach Arnold | 28 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

28 Responses to “Monday chalkboard: UFC’s chances in Japan”

  1. Rollo the Cat says:

    Zach, is there anyway you can express what the Japanese feel or think when they see the UFC? What exactly isn’t palatable? Is it strange? Boring? Baffling? Insulting? Do the hardcores in Japan feel that way about the product or jsut the casual fan?

  2. Zach Arnold says:

    Before Zuffa took over UFC, UFC had made strides to run shows in Japan. They ran under the UFC-J banner and ran places like Tokyo Bay NK Hall at best (5,000 ~ 6,000 seats).

    Look at UFC’s philosophy throughout the promotion’s entire history and who they perceive to be Japanese ‘stars’ versus what true Japanese stars are. You still have to pinpoint to Tsuyoshi Kohsaka as probably the most successful of the Japanese fighters in UFC and he was not even an ace in RINGS.

    UFC has no clue on what kind of value system to place on which Japanese fighters to market. They’ll mark out for Hayato “Mach” Sakurai, not thinking that at best he’s a second or third-match guy on a 9 match show in Japan. (I’m talking about marketability, not skill level.)

    Like I said in the past, UFC has no idea how to market in Japan. Now, I’m not saying it’s normal protocol to market someone like Ikuhisa Minowa as “Minowaman” and show him training in a video package while practicing at a baseball batting cage. However, UFC has to understand that if they are to make any sort of push in the Asian market, they have to adjust their product towards the market and not force the market to accept their product (i.e. the Vince McMahon way of doing business). The fans want larger-than-life characters.

    Remember, PRIDE at their peak was drawing over 20 million television viewers in prime time. That means that PRIDE not only catered their product to hardcore fans, but also to 80-year old Grandma Tanakas all over the country. When compared to the PRIDE product, there’s very little remotely appealing about the UFC product for the Japanese marketplace.

    Realistically, the only ‘Asian’ market hot spots I could see UFC even doing some business in is Australia and Singapore. Maybe the Philippines – maybe. That’s about it.

  3. Matt says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head there, Zach, with the appealing-to-members-of-the-public thing.

    I used to be able to tell old grannies, or shop owners, or bar owners, heck anyone, here in Japan that I liked PRIDE, and they would almost all know at least one person… Oh PRIDE, that’s that wrestling thing with that Sakuraba guy… The drama, the loveable characters… the UFC lacks that. It has drama, but it’s a violent and usually non-old-person friendly drama involving wanting to get revenge for something. PRIDE’s drama was different and could engage people of all ages and all persuasions.

  4. Kamatari says:

    “They’ll mark out for Hayato “Mach” Sakurai, not thinking that at best he’s a second or third-match guy on a 9 match show in Japan.”

    Sakurai is a fantastic fighter and even a fat, unmotivated Mach would probably do better than Mirko has done so far – sad but true.

    I’m not talking about marketablity or whatever as right now the UFC’s biggest Japanese “star” is Okami – a point you hinted at with the reference to TK. If he continues to win then he’ll go places regardless of the fact he wouldn’t become a huge star in Japan (I’m not even sure that’s possible for anyone in today’s climate). The cards were stacked against the UFC making it in Japan in the first place.

    Then again, Dana wanted KID Yamamoto.

  5. Pontus says:

    Lets say the UFC just puts on great fights and show them to the japanese audience isnt that enough?

    I mean do the japanese have to have a prowrestling like spectacle to be interested?

    If that’s the case then screw them.. if your more interested in the whole spectacle and show then the fights then I don’t really care because then its a show and spectacle first and a sport second and what mma fan wants that.

    Let them watch freakshows at k-1 hero’s and leave the sport to the rest of the world, I guess its sad for the hardcore japanese mma fan who just wants to watch some good mma.

  6. liger05 says:

    Please, so I guess the Japanese should apologise for not wanting a copycat UFC product? It isn’t just about having a pro-wrestling spectacle. If that what was the case Vince Mcmahon would be doing huge business in Japan and would drive the puroresu promotions out of business.

    Its easy to knock what the pride fans want or what pride was but it doesn’t change the fact that the promotion was still producing great fights. Its charm was u didnt just get great fights.

  7. LR says:

    I’ve actually had some people who work as translators in Japan tell me there are rumors flying around that Zuffa is shopping for an advertising and marketing firm to do all of the promotion for the possible new promotion in Japan early in the year next year. I’ve heard those rumors for awhile, but haven’t heard any news that they hired a company yet.

    If they are actually going to let somebody else run the marketing and advertising for the promotion, I think it will work much better. They could add the grand entrances, but I do not know how Japanese fans will react to the rules.

  8. Grape Knee High says:

    PRIDE got 20 million viewers in Japan? Sheesh, that is more than I would have thought. To underscore Zach’s point, that is the equivalent of 45 million viewers for a US TV event. That’s friggin’ huge.

  9. LR, I think that was well-said. It’s not like you have to sacrifice great fights in order to produce an entertaining package. The two can go together, and with PRIDE, they often did. It’s incredibly presumptuous to assume that an organization doesn’t take the sport seriously enough because production values are high.

  10. AS says:

    I think Zuffa should think about pushing the WEC brand in Japan. Theres a better chance to build star native fighters in the lighter weight classes IMO.

  11. I agree with Aaron.

    As to rule changes – I think that the Japanese fans will adapt. Will they like them? Probably not. But I’m willing to be that they will still show up to the show or tune into the fights.

  12. ilostmydog says:

    The UFC has Gono, who is the biggest star in MMA, let alone a Japanese one. Recognize.

  13. Jonathan says:

    The question is, and I am not sure if anyone else has already asked this, is where does the Japanese MMA scene go from here? Does it go away all together like the Pog scene in the US, or is it going to be relegated to working in smaller shows like Pancrase, Shooto, and DEEP? Also, have we gotten spoiled by cars such as Pride and UFC that we do not recognize that the smaller shows have really awesome cards with good entertaining fighters?

  14. sonzai says:

    BUT…the Japanese for the most part didn’t see PRIDE, or MMA for that matter, as a legit sport. It’s entertainment first, sport second. The UFC, especially in the Zuffa era, thinks exactly the opposite. I’ve heard from a few Japanese friends that Matt Hughes is hated in Japan just because he’s boring. Winning doesn’t matter as much in Japan as it does in the US. My (Japanese) girlfriend didn’t even consider MMA a sport until I explained all the sanctioning in the US. For her, and other Japanese it seems, if the rules change from promotion to promotion then it just doesn’t rise to the level of something like judo or sumo or kendo or any of the other myriad of combat sports in Japan.

  15. Jeremy (not that Jeremy) says:

    It’s not about adaptation, it’s about the evolution of MMA as a sport and the fact that in the US, that evolution has lead to the massive growth in the respectability and marketability of the sport, while in Japan, the sport aspect is completely not even part of the equation.

    It’s pretty ironic that you have Americans out of the boxing school (Eddie Goldman) who won’t stop bagging on UFC for their “spectacle” approach to MMA, while on the Japanese side you have fans looking for a spectacle who couldn’t give two shits, apparently, for the UFC.

    I see the smaller Japanese shows (Pancrase, which has had a similar evolution to UFC) as being respectable AS SPORT in comparison to the flashier flash in the pan shows that are constantly coming and going that are really a sideshow to the massive Japanese pro wrestling game. A game where the rise and fall of promotions is as much a part of the storyline as the rise and fall of wrestling superstars. The number of wrestling promotions in Japan over the last 30 years is nearly uncountable.

    It’s entirely possible that what is really necessary is a new marketing approach, because you can’t sell anything to the Japanese, but you can SELL them anything.

  16. Zach, are you suggesting that Zuffa should compromise the legitmacy of MMA as sport so that it can apease the Japanese market?

    The situation is bit more complicated than Zuffa simply being clueless. Microsoft has sunk countless billions into making the Xbox 360 more palatable for Japanese audiences and the system has barely sold 500,000 in over a year. At the end of the day, the Japanese may never embrace either Microsoft or Zuffa for purely cultural pride (pun intended).

  17. Jeremy (not that Jeremy) says:

    I was actually thinking the exact same thing. Initial production issues aside (which are pretty much exactly what you saw on the PS and PS2 early in their lifecycles), the 360 is a far superior Gaming Platform to the Xbox because, DUH, it’s got GAMES on it, including a large number of games by prominent Japanese producers and developers.

    Meanwhile, despite significant efforts trying to find the right marketing firm, extensive focus grouping of designs in Japan, etc…you’re getting fuck-all of a response.

    I guess the question that arrives is whether Americans, and those international MMA fans who are watching UFC, should be more interested in getting the best fighters from Japan, or whether they should want UFC to get the “most popular” fighters from Japan so that the UFC can get more Japanese fans.

    Personally, I want to see exciting fights, and the way that we get them seems to be pumping as many of the best fighters as possible into the same weight division then drawing names from a hat. So, the most popular Japanese fighters can go fuck themselves.

  18. Diamond Dave Williams says:

    Zach, do you feel BODOG Fight or EliteXC will grow a fan base in Japan due to their associations with K-1 and Pancrease? As well are there any published salaries for EliteXC and BODOG Fight. I would imagine that any organization that would be looking to sign FEDOR must pay their other fighters better than mid-level UFC salaries.

  19. Rollo the Cat says:

    Hector Lombard’s manager is saying that Hector isn’t out of luck yet. Stay tuned.

    Personally I don’t care about Lombard. He is a B level MMA guy so far. There is some internet speculation about Kos or Fitch stepping up to fight Karo. Either one would be much better than the original fight.

  20. Hawk says:

    This basically goes back to the first thing I learned in my Business class a few days ago.

    When you are breaking into a market, you MUST. Absolutely MUST, cater your product to the MARKET that you are breaking into.

    You cannot possibly break into another market and retain exactly the same product, because different values and socialcultural differences abound.

    This is exactly why Vince McMahon has never been able to sustain in another market. The same exact reason why UFC never will either. You CANNOT simply port over the product to another market without tweaking it. It doesn’t work. If you do not change the product during the expansion to fit the area, then you are doomed to fail.

    and the way of thinking that “This way is the best way” is called Ethnocentrism. It means what you see, or feel is the best way regardless of the other peoeple’s beliefs or cultures. People with Ethnocentrism idealism also generally FAIL at market advancement.

  21. cyphron says:

    I don’t that Zuffa or Microsoft has failed business 101. Neither Microsoft nor Zuffa has pushed their brand of Americanism down the Japanese’s throats. Zuffa bought Pride for a reason, so that they can continue a purely Japanese product in its native land. Microsoft has catered to the Japanese RPG crowd by bankrolling Hironobu Sakaguchi’s Mistwalker to make Xbox-only RPGs.

    Obviously, the Japanese market is a little harder to decode than we may think. Many MBAs have tried… I mean, what American companies has done well in Japan? McDonald’s?

    I believe the Enthocentrism is not so much American, but perhaps it’s more Japanese than anything.

  22. 45 Huddle says:

    Microsoft didn’t exactly have many missteps with the XBOX 360 in Japan. It just happens that the market is basically impossible for them to penetrate.

    According to, Hatsu Hioki lost for the second straight time. Any momentum he had from beating Hominick (2X) and Curran is now completely lost. This might even knock him out of the Top 10.

  23. 45 Huddle says:

    Open question for anybody…..

    I might be getting a new computer pretty soon. Does anybody know if UFC On Demand works with Windows Vista? The website says 2000 and XP, but sometimes things still work with the updated editions…..

  24. LR says:

    No reason it wouldn’t, it’s streamed video. As long as you have the codecs for the player, you can play it in any player, not just Windows Media Player. I use Vista and Winamp.

  25. Jordan Breen says:

    “According to, Hatsu Hioki lost for the second straight time. Any momentum he had from beating Hominick (2X) and Curran is now completely lost. This might even knock him out of the Top 10.”

    The funny part is that all Hioki’s losses (and his draw against Quach) are a direct result of wanting to stand with opponents for no reason. He opted to stand against Takaya who put an epic beating on him in the Shooto rookie tournament way back when. He almost subbed Quach in the first round, then chose to get up and try to flex stand-up with him and got his nose broken.

    He owned Carvalho on the ground in round one, and then chose to stand and trade on the feet in round two and three and lose a decision. Hioki is lightyears beyond Kim on the ground, and again, he lost a decision after trying to bang on the feet. Hioki is an amazing grappler, and yet would rather repeatedly lose decisions trying to strike than to take guys down and outgrapple then. It’s comical, actually.

  26. m.d. says:

    Vince McMahon forcing his product on other countries? I thought the growth in foreign business was propping him up while US buyrates dipped…

    Also, I’m not sure how denying Cuban exiles temporary work visas constitutes “sticking it to Castro.” Then again, these are the same people who think the embargo is good policy.

  27. Zach Arnold says:

    Zach, are you suggesting that Zuffa should compromise the legitmacy of MMA as sport so that it can apease the Japanese market?

    I don’t know where I stated that Zuffa should have doctors injecting pain killers into fighters or ask fighters to take drugs.

    If marketing your product and doing angles is ‘compromising the legitmacy’ of your product, well… there’s not much I can say.

    As far as McMahon’s business operations, he does well all over the world except in one market – Japan, which happens to be one of the largest fight markets in the industry. Or was. It has been damaged.

  28. Jeremy (not that Jeremy) says:

    45 Huddle,

    Vista x32 shouldn’t give you any problems.

    Vista 64 is a funny animal in regards to internet and media right now. The default browser and media player on the system are the 32 bit builds. The 64 bit builds are lacking in functional codecs, and certain common internet plugins (particularly Adobe Flash formerly Shockwave Flash) do not have a native 64-bit build yet.

    I use Vista 64, and I like it, but comparing the two, you’re clearly better today (not necessarily a year down the line) with Vista 32 because of the current driver and codec situation.

    As much as it pains me to say so, I might advise you to keep your product key and install XP on your new computer until the rest of the world catches on to the fact that modern PCs have multi-core 64-bit processors in them.


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