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« | Home | »

Full UFC Japan 2012 (2/26 Saitama S.A.) card is Bushido-level at best

By Zach Arnold | November 27, 2011

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TV: PPV (10 PM EST/7 PM EST?, meaning 10 AM Japanese start time for first undercard fight after 9 AM doors opening at SSA)

Dark matches

Main card

A couple of points from the UFC press release on this card.

“Japan is the spiritual home of martial arts – the world has learned from the Japanese many aspects of how to compete in hand-to-hand combat with respect and honor,” said Fertitta. “But Japan also has a proud history of modern mixed martial arts and I am excited to bring the Ultimate Fighting Championship back here, and to begin the build-up today to one of the most highly anticipated events of the year — not just for Japanese UFC fans, but for sports fans all over the world.”

UFC wanted a vanity show in Japan approximately five years after they bought the PRIDE assets, so they got it. They got lucky when Shu Hirata says they got a free roll of a few million bucks for a sold show from Dentsu, Japan’s second largest ad agency. So, what did UFC do? They went the Vince McMahon route. Book an Americanized show that, for traditional Japanese fight fans, has no tribute to their past glory days or history. The matchmaking of the show does not touch on any past or present cultural themes. It’s just a straight-up UFC card. Now, in most other countries on this planet, this card is perfectly acceptable for a mid-range show. However, we’re dealing with Japan here and the Japanese are prideful people. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that the Japanese want you to do business on their own terms and to cater to their tastes. They want a world-class card and themes promoted that deal with their natives winning on top. Why do you think Antonio Inoki forever and a day was successful at constantly beating random foreigners that he built up at Kuramae Kokugikan or Budokan?

On top of that, that start time. That’s unbelievable. Will that be a reason if the show happens to bomb? Or will it be because “the Japanese fans need to get with the program?” Of all the countries Vince McMahon has conquered with WWE, Japan is one of the very few big markets he has failed to make it work in. In a couple of days, he’s got back-to-back shows at Yokohama Arena that will be extremely telling. Little to no advertising, no Japanese-tailored matchmaking, and not a lot of promotional work. Just like UFC will be doing, WWE uses Kyodo for their ticket sales along with Lawson.

Two further interesting & revealing items. First, Nikkan Sports is going to help promote the show. It’s not uncommon for the sports papers to do this. It happened all the time when the papers got PR in exchange for presenting trophies to winners at the major wrestling events in the ’90s. Nikkan Sports backed the two SWS shows at the Tokyo Dome in 1991. Second, look at that ticket price UFC is charging for the VIP seats. They are falling into the PRIDE/K-1 mold of charging 100,000Y for VIP seats. $1,300 seats. The pricing of the other seats: 34,000Y ($440), 19000Y ($250), 9800Y ($127), and 5800Y ($75). By comparison, WWE has never had any tickets higher than 30000Y for shows. Most are 15,000Y, which is typical of Yokohama Arena pricing. The building costs anywhere from $50,000-$100,000 depending on how often and what days you rent it. I’m sure WWE got a deal for using it on back-to-back weekdays, but they’ll still draw maybe 5,000 a show tops.

I alert you to these ticket prices for a couple of reasons. First, if you believe Shu’s statement of Dentsu putting up a few million dollars in cash for the show (and I do, or at least believe that Dentsu’s acting as a middleman for someone), then it’s hard to see how they will make that up at the gate with this card. This is not a $3 million USD drawing card by Japanese standards, IMO.

OK, so what about TV? UFC in the presser is pushing WOWOW as carrying the show. There’s discussions that they’re trying to explore other TV options. Good luck with that given this card line-up. WOWOW is small fry, it’s meaningless. Dentsu is the ad agency that K-1 & PRIDE worked with for their major shows on network television to make heavy money. There is no money to be made for Dentsu pitching this show outside of broadcast television. If I’m a broadcast network, there’s no way in hell I touch this card and put it on air unless I get a barter or pay-for-play deal. So, the business angle for Dentsu doesn’t make a lot of sense unless they thought they were going to get a better card out of the deal. My opinion: I suspect what they are saying versus how they are feeling may be very different right now.

But back to the ticket prices. Those prices… that’s inviting trouble. You’ll likely see the cheapest tickets sold out and a lot of floor seats struggle to sell. Here’s the problem (and it’s one I’ve elaborated on before) — who has the cash to pay for those expensive seats? Here’s your hint if you haven’t already figured it out. So, if you attract those kinds of people to your show with those seats, how many of them are going because the UFC show is a good status symbol versus those who may be looking for trouble? If the UFC card isn’t worthy of TV, that takes away quite a bit of the value of the show being a status symbol, doesn’t it? What are you left with then?

Believe me, if there is a run on the VIP tickets it will catch the attention of not only the players remaining in the MMA game in Japan on the ground but it also catch attention from Tokyo Metropolitan Police who are ramping up their war against the gangs. I understand why you might have those kinds of “VIP” ticket prices if you’re Dentsu and you paid out that cash for a sold show, but you have to be smarter about what kinds of people will show up. You have to understand that the whole concept of these expensive “VIP seats” is what opened everyone’s eyes (police, included) to the major gangs showing up at big fight events to cause trouble or to try to snooker various people into deals later on. After all, Seiya Kawamata (Kazuyoshi Ishii’s admitted yakuza fixer) had one job at big fight shows and that was to take the gangsters backstage so that they wouldn’t be seen on TV because the police was ready for a crackdown. The gangs used those big fight shows as recruiting tools because if they showed up in the front row on camera on Fuji TV or Tokyo Broadcasting System or Nippon TV, it was a great selling point to recruit new blood into the gangs.

Am I suggesting that there will be sabotage and violence at the UFC show because of these VIP seats and the expensive ticket prices? No, not overtly. However, be careful what you wish for and don’t make the same mistakes that others have in the past because the cops are pissed right now and are in no mood to deal with any more gang warfare. If you haven’t already, read my piece from Friday night about the dire situation in Japan right now. I’ve had Japanese insiders comment on it over the weekend and basically everyone says the same thing — the new gangs are more violent, they are taking bigger risks, and they will screw with anyone because they are desperate for a fight.

I still am sticking with 10,000 as the over/under for attendance to this show, but I don’t know how much will be papered and how much will be paid. That, in and of itself, is another can of worms where the gangs have been trying to get involved in more in Japan as well. Another story for another day. (Involving pyramid schemes, invasion of privacy, and loan sharking tactics, no less.)

The card, the start time, the lack of TV support, and the ticket pricing is relatively speculative for this show. The promotion would be wise to have the prelims on *after* the main card so that fans can see them in the afternoon as opposed to 10 AM in the morning. If you have prelims at 10 AM in the morning, that means you expect the fans to stay the night in Saitama on Saturday. Why? The trains. Is it uncommon for afternoon starts at places like Korakuen Hall for wrestling cards? No. But then again those shows aren’t starting undercards so early. Furthermore, a lot of times seats are empty on the wrestling undercards for the noon start times.

Topics: Japan, Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 62 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

62 Responses to “Full UFC Japan 2012 (2/26 Saitama S.A.) card is Bushido-level at best”

  1. CAINtheBULL says:

    On every level (PPV, ticket sales, tv deals ), The UFC is going to Japan with no expectations of big numbers. They got their money upfront and are simply testing the market.

    I would say that the UFC’s current domestic PPV challenges and the track record of overseas PPV sales had a direct affect on the quality of the card.

    The UFC wants to keep the best fights in North America to maximize PPV returns. Overseas cards would squander a big “world class” match. In 2009 and 2010 with PPV sales being up, Japan would have gotten a much stronger card.

    Today, Japan gets a mid level card that wont cost the UFC all that much to put on and wont break the bank if it fails.

    Nobody, including the UFC, is expecting big PPV numbers from this card. So when it does 130k – 225k, People shouldn’t go on rants about it. It has all the elements for a low selling PPV card – Edgar, fading Rampage, staged overseas. Bigger names on the card would push up the cost but not guarantee more PPV sales back home. UFC 134 and other overseas cards have thought the UFC a lesson: Top tier PPV stays in North America and mid level cards for overseas. Otherwise, You are leaving money on the table.

    One other thing… Vegas can’t keep criminals out of big boxing matches. UFC can’t control who attends their shows. Free market. How is the UFC going to filter out criminals? If they want tickets, They’ll get tickets.

    • Zach Arnold says:

      I can’t argue with you on the merits of what UFC is doing for their core business. You are right in reflecting what their perspective is.

      I’m also right in reflecting what the perspective of the Japanese fans, Dentsu, and the people who this card is supposed to be marketed to.

      One other thing… Vegas can’t keep criminals out of big boxing matches. UFC can’t control who attends their shows. Free market. How is the UFC going to filter out criminals? If they want tickets, They’ll get tickets.

      Believe me, any whiff of gangs showing up to hob-nob or sabotage this UFC Japan show and Tokyo Metro will be on everyone’s ass. If the cops sense anything bad coming, it will not be good — for anyone.

  2. Mike Lewis says:

    So japanese fans get a title match, a big star in rampage, a great fight in pettis and lauzon and some of their heroes fighting in gomi and yamamoto. The other fans around the world get a great card and some great fights.

    Who is the loser in this situation? I honestly cant believe you are complaining about this card

  3. Zach Arnold says:

    So japanese fans get a title match, a big star in rampage, a great fight in pettis and lauzon and some of their heroes fighting in gomi and yamamoto. The other fans around the world get a great card and some great fights.

    Who is the loser in this situation? I honestly cant believe you are complaining about this card

    Again, read what I wrote re: thoughts on the fight quality. Fight quality is different than what fans want to see. Is Brock Lesnar the king of fight quality? No, but he’s who fans are most willing to buy a PPV to watch.

    No different with the Japanese fans. It’s about knowing your audience, even if you’re on a reported free roll like UFC is here.

    What does a UFC belt mean to the Japanese fans? Little to nothing. UFC does not have a strong presence in the country. It’s like WWE going to Yokohama Arena, having a WWE title match, and thinking that the Japanese fans will look at the WWE title as being more important than the IWGP, Triple Crown, or GHC belts. Not happening.

    Rampage is a mild-to-medium name for the Japanese fans, a bigger star to fans of PRIDE past. That’s the question with this show — will any of those PRIDE fans surface here? I have reservations about this. He and Akiyama are the two ‘names’ on the main card. Mark Hunt may be remembered by some K-1 fans but I don’t expect many K-1 fans to show up to see him fight Kongo.

    Pettis and Lauzon are guys that Japanese fans couldn’t name in a police line-up.

    Gomi and Kid are fighting on the undercard (talk about symbolism there) and the press angle today being pushed in various Japanese outlets is that they’ve been losers lately and are trying to save their careers.

    My personal thoughts on the card in terms of fight quality is that it’s going to be excellent, but I also have to separate that out from what the Japanese expectations are.

  4. 45 Huddle says:

    I like the fight card. If the Japanese fans like the UFC style, then they will get more of it in the future. If they don’t, then this will be a one time show.

    The UFC doesn’t change their product for different nations. They might increase the number of fighters from that country on the card. But the matchmaking style stays the same. It’s the only logistical way to run the UFC when they are going to so many different countries.

    • Zach Arnold says:

      I am not angry at all for UFC supporters who argue what UFC’s motives or what their booking is because the booking is portable to most countries…

      except Japan.

      You were always a fan of UFC over PRIDE in terms of matchmaking and presentation, so from that premise I completely understand your viewpoint.

      • 45 Huddle says:

        I actually liked Pride’s presentation. Their events felt epic, even when sometimes the cards were lacking. But those had to have cost millions extra just for the production values. Not reasonable for any company to do that.

        I still think that this will be a one and done show in Japan. I’ve said that for years. There is just no winnable solution for the Japanese market place for a foreign company like Zuffa.

      • Jason Harris says:

        You seem to be arguing that UFC needs to be doing traditional Japanese organization style booking, but that doesn’t seem to be relevant any longer in the scene there.

        PRIDE went under doing that sort of booking, and the entire JMMA scene is on it’s last legs, despite following all of the guidepoints that you laid out in your article and your comments.

        UFC is bringing a show to Japan that is full of quality fights, and still a UFC show that they can present to the rest of the world and market on PPV etc.

        If UFC basically put on a DREAM show with the UFC name, I would expect it to do….about as well as a DREAM show. Which from what I’m seeing these days, is not very well at all.

        I don’t see the upside of UFC doing silly stuff like throwing popular Pro Wrestlers/kickboxers/TV personalities in the ring, sacrificing credibility and PPV buys, for an audience that has shown they are weary of that type of show.

        Perhaps they can carve out their own fanbase putting on their show in Japan. Perhaps they can’t. But I don’t see how emulating failed or failing businesses is going to benefit UFC in any way.

        • edub says:

          -It’s been documented to a pretty big length that the biggest cause for PRIDE’s downfall was the Yakuza scandal. Especially, but the guy who covered it (you know the guy who runs this site).

          “I don’t see the upside of UFC doing silly stuff like throwing popular Pro Wrestlers/kickboxers/TV personalities in the ring, sacrificing credibility and PPV buys,”

          -How long ago was James Toney vs. Randy Couture? Couldn’t have been that long. I remember that event doing quite well.

          -A card mixed with new talent, some of the old Japanese superstars, and some fun fights between guys who made their name in Japan at a reasonable time for the local fanbase is hardly a DREAM style show.

        • Jason Harris says:

          “A card mixed with new talent, some of the old Japanese superstars, and some fun fights between guys who made their name in Japan at a reasonable time for the local fanbase is hardly a DREAM style show.”

          Isn’t that pretty much exactly what Dynamite!! 2010 was? And wasn’t that event a flop?

          Can you link me to the last event with PRIDE style booking that was actually successful in Japan?

        • edub says:

          Dynamite 2010 didn’t have Cro Cop, Nogeira, Rampage, Wanderlei, or Fedor. All were bigger stars in Japan than pretty much everybody on that list except maybe Sakurai (And Sakurai is still a spent legend that has lost multiple times on its own soil).

          Can you link me to the last event that was shown at 10 AM in Japan that had any success?

        • Jason Harris says:

          So now you’re running around your point…basically your argument now is “who cares who’s on it they’re starting it too early”? Why don’t we hear constantly about the 2:30PM start time in the US? Suddenly on this card it’s very important what time the first undercard fight starts.

          A lot of this just seems to be nostalgia, assuming if you book cards the way you did in 2004 that everyone will respond the same way as they did in 2004. Meanwhile, all of these Japanese “stars” aren’t filling seats like they used to.

          This is devolving into some silly UFC vs Japan argument (how is Toney-Couture in any way relevant to this conversation?) but the reality is, arguing for a new company to do the same thing that keeps failing with other companies is a bit of rose colored glasses.

        • edub says:

          No I ran around no point. I simply said the point you made about Dynamite 2010 was irrelevant. Do I need to post what I said for you to read again, because it’s only a couple of inches above?

          2:30 PM starting time, and 10:00am main event time isn’t very similar. Actually it’s 4 and a half hours difference. Now you are running around you’re point. Also name a country that the UFC has put on shows that has even close to the history of MMA Japan has.

          “I don’t see the upside of UFC doing silly stuff like throwing popular Pro Wrestlers/kickboxers/TV personalities in the ring,”

          “(how is Toney-Couture in any way relevant to this conversation?)”

          Maybe you don’t get the correlation there, so I’ll just leave it at your own quotes.

          “but the reality is, arguing for a new company to do the same thing that keeps failing with other companies is a bit of rose colored glasses.”

          I don’t care how many times you say it, the UFC matching up the card better wouldn’t be doing what K-1 or Dream did. It would just be catering to the market they are entering (like they do everywhere else). And they’re actually kind of doing that, but just doing it in a half assed way putting a bunch of Japanese guys on the undercard.

    • frankp316 says:

      I don’t expect a UFC drone like you to understand this but one size fits all doesn’t work in Japan. Don’t you get it? The Japanese still perceive the UFC as the evil empire that killed their beloved PRIDE. So they have to approach this differently and convince the Japanese fans they aren’t evil so they can run more shows there. That’s what they want to do but instead they’re taking shortcuts that are not going to work on Japanese fans. It’s obvious the company paying for this show will make sure the arena is full but I can assure you it will be mostly comped. And they still don’t have a decent TV deal in Japan. So you can say that it’s a one shot so who cares. But Zuffa is a business and they should care. The approach they are using won’t help them in Japan.

      • 45 Huddle says:

        It has nothing to do with being pro or anti UFC.

        By the time this UFC show happens in Japan, it will have been less then 45 days shy of 5 years since Pride’s last show. And one could say it is probably closer to 6+ years since the real golden age of Pride.

        For the Pride fan that still holds a grudge, there is nothing the UFC can do to change that person’s mind.

        For the rest of the potential fans…. the UFC has two options….

        1) Put on a typical UFC style card with more Japanese talent.

        2) Put on a Pride like show with the over the top presentation and change up the matchmaking to cater to the audience.

        OPTION 1 is what they are doing, and I already explained above why it makes sense.

        OPTION 2 is what I think people like you and Zach think they should be doing. Change the UFC to adapt to a Japanese style product.

        And that is just never going to happen. Whether people like it or not, the UFC just isn’t going to go in that direction. All this show is going to do is test the Japanese market with a reasonable show. if there is interest, they will continue. If there isn’t, they won’t.

        To pull off a Pride style card would kill their credibility in America (freak show fights) and kill their budget.

        Pride’s dead. People need to get over that fact and stop expecting the UFC to somehow cater to that audience in their return to Japan.

      • Steve4192 says:

        “I don’t expect a UFC drone like you to understand this but one size fits all doesn’t work in Japan”

        Fuck ’em then.

        Why should Zuffa completely alter their product to suit a non-lucrative market when they just port it as-is to incredibly profitable markets like Canada, Brazil and Australia?

        Japan doesn’t hold enough potential as a market to justify completely overhauling their product to suit local tastes. Zuffa offers a sports-oriented MMA product. That is what they do. They don’t do lasers, fireworks, freakshows and large men in diapers banging on a drum. If Japan won’t support Zuffa’s vision of what MMA should be, they will simply move on to a market that will and leave Japan in their rearview mirror.

        • frankp316 says:

          Because there is potential to make money in Japan if they can get fans there to buy into their product. And there’s potential if they can get on broadcast TV in Japan. But it has to be done properly. And I’m not talking about freakshow matches. I’m talking about showing proper respect to the tradition of the Japanese MMA business which is much older than the business is here. It seems all they want to do is dance on PRIDE’s grave and disrespect a potential fanbase. They wouldn’t pull this crap anywhere else. It’s stupid.

        • Chromium says:

          “They wouldn’t pull this crap anywhere else. It’s stupid.”

          frankp316, where else is there to “pull this crap”? This would be a solid card anywhere else.

          And the Japan well-spring is a trickle of what it once was. Frankly Seoul seemed like a safer bet to me than Saitama.

          I do think the UFC should have used more Pride guys, but if they’re going to run the Japanese market regularly, ultimately they’re not going to be able to tailor their product for the country anymore than they do for anywhere else. They can still put Japanese fighters in most of the fights, particularly on the undercard, but as time goes on there’s going to be fewer and fewer fighters left over from the glory days of Pride to call upon, and in the long run the UFC is going to have to market their product as it is. Japanese fans will either accept it or they won’t. If they don’t then I expect that the UFC and Japan will go their separate ways.

        • Steve4192 says:

          “I’m talking about showing proper respect to the tradition of the Japanese MMA business which is much older than the business is here”

          If you want to bring Shooto into it (which is what I presume you are doing with the ‘much older’ comment), then they are paying respect to that Japanese tradition. Shooto doesn’t do light shows, screaming announcers, or big production. They do vanilla sport-based MMA. They have been doing sport-driven (rather than production driven) shows since their inception.

          The TV based, production-driven shows like PRIDE & Dynamite were certainly successful during their run, but they didn’t hit their stride until the early 2000s. PRIDE took off with the introduction of the grand prix format in 2000 and then exploded with the advent of the Dynamite/Shockwave era in 2002. That style of MMA show is definitely NOT older than it’s American counterpart.

  5. My take, for what it’s worth, is here on my MMA blog.

    In short: I agree with all your points, but I also think that the UFC knows all this and just doesn’t give a good goddamn. The UFC doesn’t, and won’t, change its product for Japan and thinks that if there’s going to be a right time to expand into Japan it’s right now.

    They’re not trying to break in, they’re trying to break the Japanese into accepting their product.

    Like you, I don’t think it’s going to work. As stubborn as Dana and Lorenzo are, the Japanese are even more so. They’re a country that has become a global economic powerhouse whilst remaining insular and, at times, xenophobic. But the UFC has money to spare and nothing to lose, so they’re going to try anyway.

    • Also: I’m convinced that not only are most if not all of those prelims going to go on after the main televised portion, but Okami’s fight with Boetsch in particular will go on last. Why they don’t just put that in the semi-main and trumpet Okami, a top 5 Middleweight, as a returning hero and gaijin-slayer is still a mystery to me.

      • Dave says:

        Because nobody in Japan cares about Okami.

        Just because you are Japanese and win fights doesn’t mean the Japanese care. He didn’t win those fights in Japan and his style is boring, his personality not marketable.

  6. edub says:

    What I’m not convinced of is that completely overhauling a product is catering your matchmaking to the Japanese fanbase. I think you can give Japan a card that would incite that market, without sending freakshow matches.

    Take a card like this:

    Rampage-King Mo
    Hunt-Kongo (being done)
    Nogeira-Mir winner vs. Gegard Mousasi (Kind of a freak show, but still a most likely competitive outcome)
    Akiyama-Demarques Johnson (Akiyama is being fed to a guy who most likely can control him for 15 minutes as it is right now)
    Yushin Okami-Riki Fukuda (Guaranteed Japanese winner, kinda like Erick Silva vs. Luis Ramos in Brazil.

    That is a card that would legitimately gain heat in Japan (if I’m not completely wrong). It wouldn’t change the UFC around too much, and the biggest change would be adding fighters from SF.

    I also think changing the start time to the morning gives no future hope of a UFC show in Japan. Why not just give us the normal tape delay? If they are generally trying to break into the Japanese market they would go about things differently, and it wouldn’t involve changing their product.

    To me it just seems like a “hey we ran a show in your country, deal with it”.

    • Jason Harris says:

      “Why not just give us the normal tape delay?”

      This is actually a pretty damned solid card, not the Leben-Munoz type stuff they put on tape delay/Spike TV. The Japanese attendance is a drop in the bucket compared to how this does televised in the rest of the world, and people don’t like paying $55 for an event that’s not live.

      • edub says:

        Then there is the question people like me have been asking all along, “why even go to Japan in the first place”? People don’t really like paying for events where the headliner is Frankie Edgar either. Now he’s facing a guy who’s probably most famous for being kicked in the face by Anthony Pettis.

        • Jason Harris says:

          To test out a new market for their proven and successful product, as opposed to emulating existing products that are currently failing in said market.

        • edub says:

          It’s not a new market. It’s a much older market than the actually is.

          Using Rampage, King Mo, Mousasi, Nogueira, or Okami in a show that starts at a reasonable time wouldn’t be emulating an existing product. It would actually be emulating its own.

        • Jason Harris says:

          “Using Rampage, King Mo, Mousasi, Nogueira, or Okami in a show that starts at a reasonable time wouldn’t be emulating an existing product.”

          You’re right, it would be emulating PRIDE and DREAM by running an event with their stars under a different banner. If it’s that easy, why is DREAM having so much trouble?

        • edub says:

          Easy gotcha news guy. Let’s go ahead and put the end of that quote in there:

          “Using Rampage, King Mo, Mousasi, Nogueira, or Okami in a show that starts at a reasonable time wouldn’t be emulating an existing product. It would actually be emulating its own.”

          It wouldn’t be PRIDE vs. Dream. It would be pitting marketable stars against each other that Japan is familiar with.

  7. white ninja says:

    Well, well, well, 5 years and UFC makes a triumphant (?) return to Japan after swallowing, digesting and shitting out Pride and then running out of town scared shitless

    Not sure that any of the Y100,000/head yakuza boyz will be able to get up that early though to trek out to Saitama for a 10AM start; after their Christmas turkey the day before

    Of course, with the new anti-mob laws, Dentsu (and the money mark behind them) could get themselves into a lot of hot water “marketing” those Y100,000 tickets – since these days, Pizza companies and sushi delivery boys arent even supposed to sell to yakuza… so I suppose, the yakuza will just need to head down to lawson and put Y100,000/head into the ticket machines – but tricky working those machines when you’re missing fingers

    the card itself? a trip down memory lane; to see Kid, Gomi, Rampage and Mark Hunt and a bunch of other random dudes…. nah, you can keep that card Dana and sell it to your US PPV

  8. edub says:

    Leben failed his drug test at 139 for Oxymorphine and Oxycodone, 2 powerful pain drugs. He looked like crap going into the event, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a bigger injury that got covered up.

  9. mr. roadblock says:

    Zach,

    You wrote a well thought out and thorough article.

    But I think you’re missing a key point. You are comparing this card to the halcyon days of PRIDE. Those days are gone. Today’s UFC cards don’t stack up to those PRIDE cards or the UFC’s own cards circa 2003-2005.

    The UFC Japan card is much better than the garbage that Dream, Sengoku and Heroes have been putting on since the fall of PRIDE. If I were a Japanese MMA fan within traveling distance of SSA and have money to burn I’d hit this show.

    • Zach Arnold says:

      The UFC Japan card is much better than the garbage that Dream, Sengoku and Heroes have been putting on since the fall of PRIDE. If I were a Japanese MMA fan within traveling distance of SSA and have money to burn I’d hit this show.

      You’re right, which is why the DREAM & Sengoku events routinely bomb at the box office and don’t have large TV support. Sengoku was running Ryogoku and drawing 2,000 a show reportedly. Which led to me asking the question as to how they can run these buildings with the rosters they used and… well… we know the answer now.

  10. mr. roadblock says:

    The one thing I’m surprised they’re not doing is Matt Hughes vs Sakuraba.

    Maybe it’s impossible because of Saku’s management. That fight was supposed to happen 8 years ago. This seems like a good time for it. It’d give the card a little sizzle.

  11. Jim Allcorn says:

    I really feel for Leben here, because I HIGHLY doubt whether he took those heavy duty pain meds for recreational use going into a fight. He obviously had some injury issues going into the fight that restricted his training to some degree. Likely a knee or something else that prevented him from doing much cardio as evidenced by his horrific struggle to make weight & his being completely gassed while still in the first round.
    Now, as we all know quite well, Leben is hit or miss & a bit of a head case, but something clearly wasn’t right with him.
    Something that VERY likely was serious enough for him to pull out of the fight because of it, but with his bout being the headliner & it being an opportunity to follow up one of the highlight wins of his career, erase the damage done by the Stann loss & put him right back into the top four or so in line for a title shot, I doubt he saw withdrawing as an option. So, he got some meds to cope with the pain, made it through camp as best he could & showed up to fight.
    He probably thought there was a fair chance that the drugs would be out of his system by the time of the post-fight piss test, what with opiates not lingering in one’s system too long after taking the last dose.
    A bad miscalculation that just cost him a year of what remains of his career…
    A penalty that I believe to be MUCH too steep all things considered.

    How about the rest of you?
    What do you think?

    • mr. roadblock says:

      I’m with you.

      Most opiates only show up on a test 1-2 days out. When you flush your system the way guys that cut weight do, to have opiates show up in your pee means you took them on fight day.

      He probably injured himself to the point that he needed to pull out of the fight. But chose not to because he was in the main event. UFC is most likely coming down on him hard because it is doing the drug testing. They can point to this if there is an argument years down the road that they didn’t do enough to keep guys clean.

      Maybe they’ll let him state his case and come back to fight in six months.

  12. 45 Huddle says:

    Leben has a drug problem. He needs help.

    • edub says:

      Simple answer.

      It’s apparent he has an addictive personality. Hopefully the UFC is being truthful when they say they are 100% behind him.

    • David M says:

      I don’t think he has a drug problem, I think he has an mma problem, namely that guys get hurt really badly training and have to either take something to overcome the pain or pull out. J2S tore his meniscus 11 days before a fight; do you think he didn’t take any serious pain meds between then and the fight? Leben was main eventing and didn’t want to pull out. His body is ravaged from all the years of training and fighting; it is a miracle he can even walk. I love watching Chris fight but I think a year off will serve him some good; he can heal up, not take any head shots for a while, and figure out if he really wants to continue fighting.

      • Coconut says:

        Leben is a full-blown alcholic and frequent drug user. The guy has serious issues and needs a very long rehab or he will wind up dead.

  13. Zach Arnold says:

    Jason Harris said:

    Isn’t that pretty much exactly what Dynamite!! 2010 was? And wasn’t that event a flop?

    Can you link me to the last event with PRIDE style booking that was actually successful in Japan?

    Dynamite 2010 was a terrible card and was so bad that I said it would be K-1’s last major event before death. And I was right! You can’t book crap like Alistair vs. Todd Duffee and expect it to fly.

    The issue with promotions post-PRIDE is that they tried to be half-assed PRIDE or half-assed UFC and you get nothing good in the end.

  14. Zach Arnold says:

    Steve4192 says:

    Why should Zuffa completely alter their product to suit a non-lucrative market when they just port it as-is to incredibly profitable markets like Canada, Brazil and Australia?

    Japan doesn’t hold enough potential as a market to justify completely overhauling their product to suit local tastes. Zuffa offers a sports-oriented MMA product. That is what they do. They don’t do lasers, fireworks, freakshows and large men in diapers banging on a drum. If Japan won’t support Zuffa’s vision of what MMA should be, they will simply move on to a market that will and leave Japan in their rearview mirror.

    UFC can’t have it both ways here. Either it’s a vanity show (which it is, on a free roll no less) or they think Japan’s a market to make some money in.

    The crime here is that it’s a vanity show and they just didn’t put on an interesting card for the tastes of the remaining Japanese fans. And they know it, too.

    If this was a serious effort to make money in Japan, you don’t run a card like this.

    Your argument is an age-old argument from WWE fans who always screamed, “Why won’t the Japanese like this?” There’s a reason that Japanese wrestling was Japanese wrestling during the boom period, because it was so damn different than anything anyone else in the world had seen. It was better!

  15. Zach Arnold says:

    Chromium says:

    frankp316, where else is there to “pull this crap”? This would be a solid card anywhere else.

    You’re right and Frank’s right. Anywhere else, this is a totally acceptable and very good card. It’s not about the fight quality here in Japan, it’s about what that audience cares about.

    Again, it’s like the Brock Lesnar argument. No one here is going to argue that he’s a better technical fighter than Frankie Edgar. However, Brock’s the #1 draw on PPV for UFC.

    People with experience of knowing what the Japanese want are making one argument, UFC fans are making another argument, and rather than address the country issues at hand people are just talking over each other instead of to each other.

    I sympathize with UFC fans who are befuddled by why people like me who write articles like I did earlier today. Through the prism of a typical UFC fan, there really shouldn’t be criticism of this card because this card would be fine in any other market. And they’re right. That’s why Japan has always been and will be such a unique place. The thing is, there’s plenty of people online who have enough experience to give a free opinion that has some accuracy & validity as to what works and what doesn’t work for the Japanese fans.

    • Jason Harris says:

      “it’s about what that audience cares about”

      The point I’ve been trying to make here is there isn’t a lot of evidence that the audience still cares about the guys they liked in 2000-2005.

      What I’ve seen is a market that has softened heavily on the style of matchmaking that was popular in that era. Maybe UFC will be able to carve out an audience with the product they’re pushing? Maybe not, but it’s not like the show will lose money either way.

      I get that your saying this show doesn’t generate heat like the old PRIDE shows did, but do you really think that’s possible today, even with the world’s most Japan-centric booking? If it’s that easy, why aren’t the promoters in Japan doing it?

      Perhaps there are Japanese fans out there who prefer high level sport over pro wrestling spectacle. Perhaps there aren’t. But some of these suggested cards would be UFC throwing a ton of money at an event that will do awful outside of Japan and honestly, by all indications, probably not do great in Japan either.

      • Zheroen says:

        Have you not been reading Zach’s posts that don’t have UFC in the title? It’s because there’s no money in Japan, plain and simple. If they could book well known fighters like Wanderlei/Nog/Crocop, they would. They don’t have the money, UFC does. Yet, UFC chooses not to book according to the track record of proven Japanese tastes – example, a rematch of Crocop vs. Nog or something like that would have been a good choice, as both are well-known in Japan and fans there still remember that fight. How is this difficult to comprehend?

        • Jason Harris says:

          How well did DREAM do when they booked CroCop vs. Overeem?

          I have seen cards very similar to what was suggested booked in Japan in the last few years and they never seem to do very well. Everyone seems to have the idea that if they could just book a card with all the PRIDE stars from 2004 they’d magically be doing really well, but what evidence do we have in the post PRIDE era, or even the end of PRIDE era to support that?

          The belief seems to be that the Japanese fanbase put their fingers in their ears and declared “I’m not listening!” to any fights that happened after PRIDE went away. Perhaps that’s the case and a big PRIDE nostalgia show will go over well, although everyone likes to bring up the DREAM stars (Mousasi, King Mo) who didn’t seem to be changing the tides for DREAM when they were booked as well.

          The idea seems to be that all the old PRIDE stars will TOTALLY move the needle…except for all of the ones who were booked and didn’t. They’re bad examples. But all of the inaccessible ones, THEY will move the needle! Sure, CroCop didn’t seem to draw well for DREAM….but he will for UFC?

          It seems a bit hard to believe that the entire MMA fanbase has just been quietly waiting for the last 5 years for another PRIDE card to be booked, and THAT’S when they’ll show up in force….isn’t it possible that with the faddish nature of the scene there that those fans who were filling the arena have moved on?

          I assume there are fans of combat sports in Japan, and perhaps the American style MMA show will appeal to them. Perhaps not. But I haven’t seen any evidence in the last 5 years that the old Japanese style of MMA show appeals to a very large audience in or out of Japan in the last 5 years.

  16. Nottheface says:

    It’s fun too second guess and play promoter/matchmaker so here’s my stab at a successful card in Tokyo.

    US broadcast main card starts noon Tokyo time (10 PM EST) with only 1 hour of prelims. The card could be something like:

    Frankie Edgar vs Gilbert Melendez for the LW championship
    Rampage vs King Mo
    Mark Hunt vs Cheik Kongo
    Hatsu Hioki vs Michihiro Omigawa
    and maybe a second Pride classic with Cro Cop vs Big Nog or Wandy vs Riki Fukuda.

    Then intermission followed by the Japanese maincard which would on FX or Fuel in the US late night:

    a rematch of Aikiyama vs Misaki Kazuo at WW (just move his Strikeforce contract over)
    and a main event of Sakuraba vs Royce Gracie in a grappling only match
    and then fill out the Japanese main card and 1 or 2 prelim fights with Yushin Okami, Kid Yamamoto, Gomi, and Mizugaki fights.

    I would stay away from the Pride theatrics and put on a straightforward UFC show, with the exception of the main event which would be held as a tribute to the history of Japanese MMA. The whole card would be promoted as the UFC making a pilgrimage with the best fighters in the world to the mecca of combat sports

    I think what is alarming to me, is reading about the start time, ticket prices,lack of tv support, and looking at the lineup. It doesn’t look as if the UFC is making this trip in good faith. It instead reminds me of their behavior with Strikeforce in regards to Showtime: they’re doing enough that Dentsu can’t really complain or cancel payment, but not enough to indicate that they really have any interest in success in Japan.

    • Jason Harris says:

      I don’t think anyone can argue that this isn’t a quality show, it’s a much deeper card than a lot of the PPVs that have been put in the US lately. But in the minds of a lot of the internet the fact that it isn’t booked like all of the Japanese shows means they’re putting on some sort of half assed card….

      If they put on the card you suggested I would be upset they expected me to pay for it. It would tank in the entire rest of the world.

      How much of the world’s business should the UFC give up to draw a few thousand more Japanese fans (in a perfect world, nevermind the argument that they weren’t showing up anyways)

      • nottheface says:

        “If they put on the card you suggested I would be upset they expected me to pay for it. It would tank in the entire rest of the world.”

        You wouldn’t pay to see Rampage vs King Mo and Edgar vs Melendez? Somehow the second best LW and much superior LHW to Bader would ruin the card. Personally, I’d be much more interested in those matches. And for bonus it would replace two complete unknowns to the Japanese market with two fighter who have at least some recognition amongst the fans there. Two fighters who made a name for themselves in Japan, and in Melendez’s case, fighting Japanese fighters.
        And hell, I would be much more interested in staying up late to watch Aikiyama face Misaki instead of Shields on Fuel.

  17. Zach Arnold says:

    Jason Harris said:

    The idea seems to be that all the old PRIDE stars will TOTALLY move the needle…except for all of the ones who were booked and didn’t. They’re bad examples. But all of the inaccessible ones, THEY will move the needle! Sure, CroCop didn’t seem to draw well for DREAM….but he will for UFC?

    It seems a bit hard to believe that the entire MMA fanbase has just been quietly waiting for the last 5 years for another PRIDE card to be booked, and THAT’S when they’ll show up in force….isn’t it possible that with the faddish nature of the scene there that those fans who were filling the arena have moved on?

    I assume there are fans of combat sports in Japan, and perhaps the American style MMA show will appeal to them. Perhaps not. But I haven’t seen any evidence in the last 5 years that the old Japanese style of MMA show appeals to a very large audience in or out of Japan in the last 5 years.

    You’re mixing a lot of issues into one bowl here, so let’s try to separate out the various ingredients.

    UFC is walking into Japan with the image that they destroyed PRIDE and were false on their promise to run PRIDE after buying the assets. We know the back story in regards to the threats that certain people got once this was attempted and how it ended (with the sign outside the doors telling employees to get their stuff and go). This went over terribly in the press. So, on that level, for UFC to come into the marketplace they need to mend some fences.

    Then there’s the aspect that, like WCW, most PRIDE fans went away from the business after it shut down because K-1 was pushing… whatever it was that was their version of MMA. HERO’s was whatever it was. Then you got DREAM when Real Entertainment (former DSE staff) started getting involved. I never thought DREAM would be big because it came off as a lame version of PRIDE with K-1 controlling the TV & purse strings. Remember, K-1’s grand plan was for all the promoters to have to go through them for the TV access.

    What UFC has that DREAM and others don’t is cash. They have those ex-PRIDE guys and the top K-1 guys (Mirko, Alistair, Hunt, Sefo if they wanted to) to book some nostalgia fights that would draw those old fans back in and then be able to make some of the UFC roster guys (Edgar, Henderson) into more familiar names. The issue for UFC heading into this show is that they don’t have a good TV deal there and they won’t have a good TV deal there unless they can use some of the names that fans were familiar with when they saw both PRIDE & K-1 on network television and in matches that conjured up good, old memories of those promotions. Whether you agree with that as being the terms of conditions to make Japan work, that’s up to you. I’m just stating how it is, not how you or I want it to be.

    There’s lots of PRIDE fans parked on the sidelines, some still interested in MMA and some who have moved on… but it doesn’t mean those fans have stopped following the business entirely. It’s very much similar to the current American wrestling industry where people do pay attention and get excited on occasion only to get burned, so they just don’t bother watching or buying PPVs. But that desire to be courted properly is still there, it’s just that the decision makers (WWE) won’t acquiesce to the desires of the fans and what they want to see long-term.

  18. Steve4192 says:

    Even if the UFC did go whole hog and book the perfect PRIDE-style show … what then? They can’t do that indefinitely. The might be able to book one or two shows that reflect the PRIDE era, but that is not a sustainable long-term approach. The fighters from that era are on the decline and won’t be around much longer.

    In fact, I think that would be MORE of a vanity show than what they are doing. At least by booking a straightforward UFC show, they are giving the market an honest look at the product rather than using bait-and-switch tactics to lure them in. The reality is, the UFC is not built to run PRIDE-style shows. They can’t do that kind of thing regularly. If Japan is going to be a regular market for them, it has to embrace the existing product. If not, they need to move on to other markets.

    • Zach Arnold says:

      Even if the UFC did go whole hog and book the perfect PRIDE-style show … what then? They can’t do that indefinitely. The might be able to book one or two shows that reflect the PRIDE era, but that is not a sustainable long-term approach. The fighters from that era are on the decline and won’t be around much longer.

      I’m not asking UFC to book every show PRIDE-style. I’m stating that if they want to know how to get a TV suit’s attention and garner sponsorship, you have to use names that are already familiar to the public there (especially fighters that draw an emotional reaction of good times past).

      You draw new customers in and turn them into fans in Japan by embracing the country’s history and the people who laid the ground work to do it. Japanese matchmaking is not as difficult as it is often portrayed to be.

      In fact, I think that would be MORE of a vanity show than what they are doing. At least by booking a straightforward UFC show, they are giving the market an honest look at the product rather than using bait-and-switch tactics to lure them in. The reality is, the UFC is not built to run PRIDE-style shows. They can’t do that kind of thing regularly. If Japan is going to be a regular market for them, it has to embrace the existing product. If not, they need to move on to other markets.

      I keep getting this vibe from UFC supporters that if the show bombs that somehow it’s not UFC’s fault and that it’s the fault of the Japanese fans for not going hog-wild to embrace the UFC style of product.

      If my web site failed after I launched it, would I sit there and blame MMA fans for being ‘dumb’ because they don’t know what’s ‘good for them’ in terms of news consumption? No, of course not. I have to earn the respect of everyone who visits this site and do the best job that I can to be informative while doing the best that I can to give opinions on various MMA-related topics and encourage readers to do the same.

      If Japan is going to be a regular market for the UFC, they need to play by the country’s cultural rules and by the standards that the fans have wanted & embraced since the Reconstruction period in the early ’50s.

      • Steve4192 says:

        “I keep getting this vibe from UFC supporters that if the show bombs that somehow it’s not UFC’s fault and that it’s the fault of the Japanese fans for not going hog-wild to embrace the UFC style of product. “

        If the show bombs, the show bombs.

        The UFC is trying to gauge whether or not Japanese fans are willing to embrace their product. They don’t want to know if the fans will embrace a faux-Pride product. They want to know if they will embrace the UFC product and let the chips fall where they may.

        I don’t think anyone is to blame here. If the Japanese fans don’t like it (and I think you 100% correct in your assessment that they won’t), so be it. That doesn’t make them ‘bad’ fans. It just means they don’t dig the UFC’s MMA product. There is no crime in that. German fans didn’t like it much either, despite their obvious love of other combat sports (HW boxing).

        I suspect the UFC will do the same thing in Japan that they did in Germany. They’ll put it on the back burner and move on to another market. And there is nothing wrong with that either. Zuffa knows that universal acceptance of their product is a pipe dream. Some markets are going to love it, others are going to reject it. That’s just the way it is. They’ll just keep on expanding into new markets and return to those places that embrace their product.

        • frankp316 says:

          But it doesn’t have to bomb. The UFC doesn’t care enough to appeal long term to the Japanese fans and more importantly, the broadcast TV networks. Those of us who have been writing about Japanese MMA for years have been saying this is a waste of time vanity show designed to feed White’s ego and prove that PRIDE is dead. The fans there will not buy into that. The UFC is a very successful company. But there are times when they stupidly and pigheadedly leave money on the table for no reason. This is one of those times.

        • Alan Conceicao says:

          Ultimately, after thinking about it for some time, I totally agree with Steve4192’s position here. I understand that there are those that are arguing that the UFC “doesn’t have to bomb”, but I think those people aren’t reading or fully comprehending what he’s writing here.

  19. Zach Arnold says:

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/11/29/us-martial-arts-ufc-edgar-idUSTRE7AS0TA20111129

    The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to Japan for the first time in more than a decade in February and lightweight champion Frankie Edgar told Reuters Tuesday the event will help revitalize mixed martial arts in the country.

    http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/FightShow/~5/Qj2j4cFL6Go/the-mma-show-with-mauro-ranallo-ep309-id3841.mp3

    Starting at the 42 minute mark, Mauro is talking with MMA Junkie & Jimmy Smith about what I supposedly said re: UFC Japan 2012 card. My only explanation for this misinterpretation is that it’s a troll job. Otherwise, it’s a depressing statement that after all these years of knowing how the business in Japan works that nobody seemingly has smartened up from where we were last decade.

    Again: I’ve said 10,000 is the over/under for this show and I’ve actually been accused of being generous for that number, even though I think it’s about right. That said, you cannot read my article on here about this card and the circumstances surrounding this event and not understand the points that I am arguing & making.

  20. frankp316 says:

    The UFC is trying to gauge whether or not Japanese fans are willing to embrace their product. They don’t want to know if the fans will embrace a faux-Pride product. They want to know if they will embrace the UFC product and let the chips fall where they may.

    This is the statement that Alan is talking about. I understand it completely but it’s not true. The UFC already knows that initially Japanese fans will not want to embrace a typical UFC show. That’s why if they want to have long term success, they have to approach it differently and the fans are more likely to accept it later. There’s no mystery here. The UFC knows exactly what they need to do to be successful in Japan. But they want to be stubborn and take the Vince McMahon route which has proven to be unsuccessful. Why bother if you’re gonna leave that much money on the table?

  21. Zach Arnold says:

    http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/sports/news/20111130p2g00m0sp126000c.html

    2 men arrested on suspicion of defrauding Asashoryu of 100 mil. yen

    These are the kinds of people populating the fight scene right now in Japan. Ignore at your own peril.

  22. […] the upcoming UFC Japan card in late February, this question that an HDNet viewer submitted to Dan Henderson about the level of […]

  23. afrosamurai says:

    Zach got bad news…. Your under over 10,000 prediction was wrong

    Ed. — Over/under means “good” or “bad” not what I personally care or think. Over 10,000 is good. 12,000 was the barometer. Over 12,000 means very good. I’ll address this more later on the site.

  24. […] November, I commented that the UFC Japan 2012 card was a Bushido-level card. I was not talking about fight quality but rather how many fans the card would attract on the […]

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