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MMA Link Club: The matchmaking direction of UFC Japan 2012

By Zach Arnold | November 18, 2011

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Here’s the card line-up so far for UFC Japan 2012 at Saitama Super Arena:

I can already picture the conversation that is going to take place with more frequency as we get closer to the show. I’ve already gotten a taste of it online and it goes something like this:

“This card is great on paper but the Japanese aren’t going to care about it.”

“Who cares? If the Japanese fans can’t get with the program and like what the rest of the world likes, then that’s their problem. It’s their fault if the card doesn’t draw.”

“That’s not the point. Matchmaking in Japan has always been about themes, emotion, and cultural significance.”

“What do you want UFC to do? They got paid to bring a sold show to Japan and they’re bringing a great UFC card. This is who they are. Why should we dumb down our product for the Japanese fans?”

“If you’re not going to produce a card tailored for Japanese fans who have to wake up at 6 in the morning and hit the arena by 10 AM in order to see the show take place…”

“Listen, they’re bringing a great card to Japan and once the Japanese fans see it, they will like it. The UFC bug will spread like a virus and it will sweep the country.”

“An American company with an American face with an American philosophy on matchmaking and there is no substantive broadcast TV deal, so none of the fans know who the people fight on this card are.”

“When WWE went to Japan, they did well at Yokohama Arena in 2003.”

“That’s because they had a television deal with Fuji TV to air on broadcast TV. Once Fuji TV ended the deal, WWE’s drawing power in Japan for live shows evaporated.”

“When Mariah Carey has a concert in Japan, do the Japanese fans expect her to sing in Japanese?”

“Well, no, but fighting is a whole different ball of wax here…”

This kind of dialog is going to be building up in the coming months. By the way, give Shu Hirata all the credit in the world for exposing the fact that UFC got a sold show deal for UFC Japan from Dentsu, Japan’s second largest ad agency. The whole media theme about UFC Japan is how brave and courageous Dana White is going back into the lion’s den after PRIDE has died and how UFC is going to conquer the holy grail of Japan. The reality, of course, is that Dana’s basically on a free roll here for a vanity show.

Let me tell you, if Dana White and UFC had any sort of financial risk heading into this show, there’s no way in hell they would book the card they currently have for Saitama Super Arena. When I say this remark, I know that it comes across horribly as far as agents, trainers, and fighters thinking that I’m not disrespecting them. I’m not doing that at all. In fact, if this card was presented for a US show, I’d be very excited to watch it. However, through experience and through the filter I see things through in regards to what the Japanese care about, this card line-up is not going to be red hot for appeal and, in my opinion, Dentsu’s probably having second thoughts about what they just got themselves into.

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Topics: Bellator, Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 16 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

16 Responses to “MMA Link Club: The matchmaking direction of UFC Japan 2012”

  1. Darkmader says:

    I always look forward to Tom Lawlor’s weigh-in from being Dan Severn to the “just bleed” guy and he didn’t disappoint once again. I haven’t seen it yet but from BE:

    Lawlor came out dressed up as Steven Seagal with black leather jacket and shooting glasses, pulling off a karate kick to his cohort.

    I’m pumped up for the PPV portion of the card because it should be competitive fights but I’m shocked with all the people picking Shogun and Silva. Rua turns 30 next week and he’s an old 30 with his injuries. Silva is 4-5 years past his prime and I get the fact that Silva has a weak chin and you can say that Cung doesn’t have KO power so Silva can hang for 3 rounds like he did with Bisping and Franklin who doesn’t have KO power either, but I think he will go on a flurry and will clip him and knock him down kind of like Lesnar vs Couture.

  2. Darkmader says:

    Somebody pointed it out to me just a few minutes ago that Lawlor does the in-ring introduction gimmicks too but we haven’t seen them because this was before facebook where we can see all the fights. Anyways, this dude is tremendous as I just watched it. Hulkamania lives:

  3. edub says:

    Im in love with Ronda Rousey.

  4. says:

    I think the key point is that nobody cares about this card except hardcores and the media. Edgar won’t draw anyway so why not give him a fight.

    And nobody really cares that its in Japan and its not tailored to the Japanese. We arent going to pontificate about other international cards aren’t perfect for their markets.

    The UFC is the product and its just another card. Japan isn’t the center of the fighting world anymore.

    This is a talking point that’s way out of hand.

  5. Mike Lewis says:

    Zach, if you were booking UFC Japan, what 5 fights would you book that you think would work for a Japanese audience? We hear alot about what UFC is doing wrong so I am curious how you think they could do it right

    • edub says:

      I’m not Zach, but I’ll take a shot anyway:

      I’ll also do this without using fighters that could have been held off for the event.

      Rampage vs. King Mo
      Mousasi vs. Alexander Schlemenko or Karlos Vemola if you don’t want to sacrifice Schlemenko or Mousasi
      Hatsu Hioki vs. Michihiro Omigawa
      Pat Barry vs. Brendan Schaub

      • Mike Lewis says:

        That does not look like a good card or a ppv that would even break 150k buys

        • edub says:

          If you are looking for PPV buys you don’t do a card in Japan period. PPV buys aren’t the main objective of “going back to Japan”.

    • Jason Harris says:

      I’d also like to see Zach’s opinion on fights they could book to bring more heat in Japan. I have a feeling some of the other Japanese names like Omigawa and Gomi are going to crop up on this card, too.

    • Zach Arnold says:

      UFC vs. PRIDE/DREAM & PRIDE vs. PRIDE (without actually working with DREAM)

      Frankie Edgar vs. Ben Henderson (keep this fight on the card, for sure, it’s going to deliver well)
      Kid Yamamoto vs. Urijah Faber (I wouldn’t have booked Kid for Anaheim show)
      Mirko Cro Cop vs. Mark Hunt
      Rampage Jackson vs. Mauricio Shogun
      Yoshihiro Akiyama vs. Kazushi Sakuraba or Sakuraba vs. Penn
      Hatsu Hioki vs. Jose Aldo (even if outcome is predictable)
      Fedor vs. Nogueira (have Dentsu pony up a little more cash to book it)
      Josh Barnett vs. Frank Mir (they genuinely hate each other)

      Again, the card UFC is presenting here for the Japan show is not a bad card at all for a) fight quality or b) anywhere else outside of Japan.

      BTW, the idea of having so many ‘names’ on a card is not atypical for Japanese big shows. The big interpromotional shows at National Stadium, Tokyo Dome, etc. had stacked, stacked cards from top to bottom.

      • Mike Lewis says:

        Looks like a good card but nowhere near realistic and I am disappointed in you for suggesting anyone books sakuraba in a fight.

  6. Steve4192 says:

    I definitely fall in the camp of “Who cares? If the Japanese fans can’t get with the program and like what the rest of the world likes, then that’s their problem. It’s their fault if the card doesn’t draw”.

    If the Japanese fans aren’t willing to embrace the ‘sport’ side of MMA, fuck ’em. This card is a nice mix of fights featuring local talent and important fights from a sporting perspective. This is as good an MMA card as you will ever see outside of the Americas. The European and Australian fans would kill for a card this good.

    If the Japanese can’t support a quality card because it’s not Japanese enough, then bypass them and move to a market that will. The can enjoy their low rent local shows and never see elite level talent again.

    • Mike Lewis says:

      I totally agree. Of the Nfl wanted to break into Japan, would the first game be a top team against a team of Japanese pro wrestlers? Of course not. It is a sport and you either accept it or you don’t

  7. 45 Huddle says:

    Does Japan even have a big MMA fanbase anyways?

    It sounds like a stupid question, but it’s not.

    Japan’s “MMA” was always built around the freakshow. There was never a big fanbase for the sports aspect.

    This show will guage Japan’s appetite for MMA. Based on that, the UFC can either put on more shows there and no more. It’s worth the risk.

  8. Norm says:

    Japan is the same place that has an odd fascination with vending machines, specifically ones have weird options for food and ones you can purchase soiled women’s underwear out of, right?

  9. […] to get a sold show deal for it. No risk, all reward for him. A fun joy ride. I believe Shu Hirata when he said that Dentsu is involved in this as a sold show. Shu is as plugged in of an insider as you can get. He’s always been an honest […]


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