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The good, the bad, and the ugly: Heat-up for UFC Japan 2012

By Zach Arnold | February 23, 2012

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Lots of little odds & ends happening but nothing major enough to warrant it’s own story, so here we go with some tidbits about what’s happening for this weekend’s show at Saitama Super Arena.

Check out Rampage UFC Japan poster

The Good

Live house business should be very solid. Dana White claimed today that 20,000 tickets have been sold. The original configuration by Dentsu for SSA was to set it up for 20,000. Every indication I’ve been told, both pro-UFC and anti-UFC in various circles, is that the ticket number is somewhere in the 15,000-17,000 range. At this point, it’s more or less quibbling about real paid vs. papered numbers. It’s in line to do just fine for a first-time show backed by a real entity (Dentsu).

15,000 is Yokohama Arena level and is good for image. Now, of course it helps to have media allies ready to push the image for you as opposed to remaining silent, but you can’t win every battle.

By Japanese appealing standards, UFC Japan 2012 isn’t a great card. By normal UFC metrics, it’s very solid and should produce a lot of close decisions, if not tight finishes. Hard to be negative on that front. Cheick Kongo vs. Mark Hunt could easily turn into a Fight of the Night battle and no one is even talking about that bout.

UFC 144 press conference photos

The bad

The TV situation for UFC is not great at all in Japan. This is not their fault, at least not primarily so. With Godfather Ishii still hanging around trying to wine and dine fighters who K-1 owes money to by taking them out to high-end Italian restaurants, we know that the more things change the more they stay the same. Until the bad blood is flushed out of the industry in Japan, don’t expect TV networks to want to invest any sort of major capital into a fight promotion at this point. No TV executive wants to deal with the police breathing down their throat and making them justify why they are giving cash to convicted criminals.

TV Tokyo announced that the UFC Japan show will air late Sunday night 3:15 AM JST to 4:45 AM JST. The network even admitted it was a last-minute line-up edition and will be sponsored by Don Quijote & UFC Undisputed 3. In other words, Dentsu couldn’t even manage to get a daytime or golden time pay-for-play deal on the smallest of the Japanese broadcast networks. Plus, the way the UFC Japan card is constructed, it’s not tailored for Japanese TV.

What most people don’t get about TV Tokyo is that there’s no distribution outside the Kanto region. It’s like being on the New York City version of MyNetwork TV. Sure, it’s a big market, but people in Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other media markets are not going to see the channel.

The hope by Dentsu is to try to springboard from TV Tokyo and attract a bigger platform like Fuji TV or Nippon TV to take a chance on UFC. I don’t see it happening, especially given what’s happening right now with the other players in the MMA scene in Japan.

The ugly

There’s something to be said in Japan about the natives wanting the gaijin to act like gaijin and then leaving instead of hanging around. However, there’s also something to be said about basic protocol and how much Japanese business protocol is adhered to. Dana was Dana today, as you always expect him to be, not wearing a suit or acting exactly statesmanlike. His fans love him for it but people who are on the fence or who are very anal in Japan just notch it, once again, as part of the stereotype they already have about UFC and their ‘lack of respect’ for Japan, no matter how ill-conceived it may be.

Dana had to address the issue today about whether or not he killed PRIDE. (He didn’t, and he said as much. Good for him. Sakakibara and his stooges don’t deserve a pass here.) As I’ve stated all along, Dana’s biggest problem in Japan is that he’s got to shake off the Mitt Romneyesque “Bain Capital as corporate raider” image problem in regards to how the media portrayed him as the evil gaijin outsider who raided PRIDE of its assets and then left nothing behind.

That said, Dana claiming that PRIDE was the only other MMA organization he ever respected in his life? I guess your memory can fade at an early age. He even claimed that Yushin Okami is one of his favorite fighters.

Speaking of PRIDE’s death, what’s not ugly is Spike TV’s Thursday debut of their new MMA talk show at 11 PM EST/PST. 30 minute format. Easily the biggest platform to candidly discuss what exactly happened. Five years after the fact, but nonetheless…

The media

Nikkan Sports, which is backing UFC Japan, has done a commendable job in covering the lead-up to UFC Japan. Yahoo Japan has done a fine job as well. As for the rest of the media…

There are a lot of outlets not covering the show very much. Whether they are choosing to take a pass on it because they don’t see it as a story the natives care about (quite a few) or if its a silent war declaration (a few outlets in that mode), it is what it is. And, for those outlets not wanting to be bothered by covering UFC Japan, they had quite the story fall into their laps when Kenta Kobashi was diagnosed yesterday with a broken left shin bone & right knee ligament damage after his tag match w/ Keiji Mutoh vs. Jun Akiyama & Takao Omori at the ALL TOGETHER 2 charity show in Sendai. Kobashi’s leg was hurting after the match and he couldn’t walk on the leg for a day, so he went to the hospital and the painful discovery was made. He’s out for at least two months.

Fan appeal

It’s falling more in line with what WWE did for their 2003 Yokohama Arena show — concert goers, those looking at the new shiny foreign toy for a one-off, so on and so forth. Fighters like Kid Yamamoto are admitting that they’re having to tell fans that there’s a show on Saturday.

The way the Japanese media is covering the UFC Japan show is similar to how they cover DREAM shows. Basic coverage, but not anything over-the-top or any sort of dramatic storylines/angles. The only sort of angle even remotely talked about is Yoshihiro Akiyama’s model wife, SHIHO, helping him cut down to 170 with her version of a diet.

Topics: Japan, Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 14 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

14 Responses to “The good, the bad, and the ugly: Heat-up for UFC Japan 2012”

  1. RST says:

    Maybe they should have loaded the card with more bizarre stuff instead. Mighty Mouse, PeeWee, Struve and Nelson instead of the Japanese names.

    But I dont think it would have been an honest method for the UFC to chase that kind of appeal. They just need to put out a generally adjusted card, like the british cards or the braz cards, and see if people are interested at all.

    “Cheick Kongo vs. Mark Hunt could easily turn into a Fight of the Night battle and no one is even talking about that bout.”

    It might. But who’s supposed to be talking about that? The domestic media? Why would they do that?


    And exactly to the right is an article about it. Although I suppose there really isn’t much to say.


  2. 45 Huddle says:

    1) I might be eating crow on this one. I would have never thought the UFC could draw over 15,000 to an event in Japan.

    2) Hope Joe Rogan tells fans on the FX telecast that the Japanese crowd is typically near silent so they don’t think there is a weird audio issue going on.

    3) The card itself is very good. I am really excited for the main event. There is no real major co-main event, but basically the rest of the 6 PPV fights are real solid. Not much to complain about at all.

    If anybody wants to look at one of the worst cards in a while…. Look at the rumored card for UFC 145…. Jones/Evans. This is about one of the worst cards I have seen Zuffa put out on PPV in a long time. The good thing is that it doesn’t appear to be a trend, as both UFC 146 & 147 are shaping up to be stellar cards with lots of talent on them. But boy is 145 a complete 1 fight card. Makes me wonder how much worse it would have been if they didn’t cancel the March PPV and some of the talent was split up even more.

    They really need the lower weight divisions to prosper sooner then later to flesh all of these cards out more.

    • Jason Harris says:

      Gotta agree on 145. Pretty light card. The undercard is actually pretty solid but it could really use 1-2 main card quality fights. I’m sure they’re betting that the Jones/Evans hype will sell the card enough (and it probably will)

  3. Jason Harris says:

    15,000-20,000 sounds pretty good for a card that a month ago people were predicting would be lucky to break 10k in Japan. DREAM hasn’t had that kind of attendance for a non-NYE show in years. Hell, if we go with the 20,000 number DREAM barely ever topped that in a few events.

    I’m sure one could chalk this up to just passing interest, but perhaps there’s a pocket of Japanese MMA fans who realized that they were being sold a second tier product as “best in the world” MMA and are excited to get to see actual world class MMA?

  4. frankp316 says:

    How many times does it have to be explained to UFC drones and toadies that Dentsu guaranteed a full house for this show? They paid to fill the joint. It’s likely that UFC would have never run Japan without that guarantee. Then Dentsu has to sell the tickets and if they can’t sell them, they have to paper the joint. Though I don’t think we will ever know the truth, I suspect that Shu Hirata’s estimate of 10,000 actual sold tickets is about right. So the house will be full but about half papered. Right now, the Japanese aren’t generally interested in MMA at all. They don’t care about any of it.

    • Jason Harris says:

      Do you want to help me understand why someone would just take it in the shorts for the show on UFC’s behalf? Or am I misunderstanding something?

  5. frankp316 says:

    Because they’re a big ad agency hired by Zuffa to prop up the UFC in Japan. Part of the deal is they buy all the tickets and attempt to sell them. If they can’t sell them, they give them away to fill the house. So technically the show was sold out months ago. But the show isn’t really sold out. We’ll never know the truth. This has been explained to you several times. You say you don’t understand it but as a UFC toady, you refuse to understand it.

  6. […] folks at Fight Opinion give a full breakdown of the news leading to UFC […]

  7. […] The good, the bad, and the ugly: Heat-up for UFC Japan 2012 | Fight Opinion […]

  8. donjasjit says:

    frankp316 must be the most stupid person I have read today. Why would anyone give free tickets when there still a few days to go for the show. As far as I have heard the show had sold nearly 15000-17000 tickets nearly 5 days.

  9. frankp316 says:

    Because the reports of 15,000 tickets sold are BS. The truth is likely closer to 10,000. Only the UFC toadies drinking the Kool Aid believe 15,000. Regardless, Dentsu has to fill the joint and papering the hall to do that is not unusual. Dentsu guarantees a full house but completely sold is not guaranteed. It’s PR spin.

  10. Guillermo says:

    Boxing events also give out free tickets within the last 24 hrs if the event isn’t sold out…sure its the nosebleed seats but hey…free is free.

  11. fd2 says:

    Okami got a pretty decent crowd reaction at the weigh-ins, bigger than Gomi’s. And Shields got a much bigger pop than Akiyama. Remains to be seen how the arena crowd will react, but it seems like the crowd that showed up for the weigh-ins at least are more interested in today’s UFC fighters than the PRIDE vets.


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