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UFC Japan: A wonderful show & a pyrrhic victory?

By Zach Arnold | February 26, 2012

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One of the best events in the history of the organization? Might be prisoner of the moment talk, but the afterglow from UFC Japan 2012 is pretty damn strong.

The post-show headlines in Japanese media outlets (ranked by emphasis):

  1. Takanori Gomi’s big win.
  2. Kid Yamamoto’s devastating loss & career crisis.
  3. Yoshihiro Akiyama loses to Jake Shields. Will he stay in UFC?
  4. Rampage struggles.

(Here are the official Monday morning headlines from the Japanese media outlets on the aftermath of UFC Japan 2012.)

It should be noted that Japanese media coverage of the event was exclusively sports media & not entertainment media. This is different trend/protocol from what kinds of media attended PRIDE & K-1 events. There were some rather notable Japanese sports media outlets that were, in fact, silent or barely acknowledged the show. Politics…

The card UFC booked for this event was solid on paper for a traditional UFC show. I believed that. I also believed that the UFC should have tailored the card more for traditional Japanese tastes. The ending result for UFC Japan 2012 is that the card the promotion booked outperformed all of our expectations, both in terms of fight quality and at the live gate. Ben Henderson vs. Frankie Edgar was everything… and then some. Five rounds of pure guts & glory.

You can debate the merits about how the live gate was accomplished (how many paid vs. papered, who bought what tickets, so on and so forth). What you can’t argue is that this was a crowd that wanted to be at the show and watch it at a very early time of the morning. The fans at Saitama Super Arena were smart, polite, and well-timed in expression their reaction to the right spots. In classic fashion, some fans right on camera started chanting “USA! USA!” It was as perfect symbolism as you could get in capturing the spirit of the fight fans that I have loved for so long in Japan.

The configuration used by UFC at Saitama Super Arena was called ‘main arena – center stage.’ Capacity around 22,000. DREAM often uses this configuration but their audiences are smaller than UFC.

Reality vs. symbolism

UFC’s show at Saitama Super Arena all but neutered the image of DREAM in Japan. Not only did they draw a more vibrant audience, they did it right on the home turf. DREAM is a shell of PRIDE but I can’t imagine right now that they are very happy with the way things played out here. On a symbolic front, UFC raised their flag and no one took it off the flag pole.

UFC Japan proved that you could produce a show with great quality but also results that can be damaging long-term for advancement in the country. This was a fight card that featured a little bit of everything. Between the FX broadcast and the US PPV telecast, you had six hours to digest 11-12 fights. Nothing could be better.

However, to say that there wasn’t damage done would be an understatement. This is where business comes into play.

The losses by Kid Yamamoto, Yushin Okami, Yoshihiro Akiyama, and Rampage Jackson all represented different kinds of symbolism. The cumulative effect is that today’s UFC Japan show felt more like the last gasp of PRIDE & K-1’s spirit more than anything else.

There was Kid Yamamoto, a man who drew 30 million viewers on network television after fighting Masato on NYE on broadcast TV, fighting early on the card and getting a nice but not entirely robust reaction from the fans. Watching him lose to Vaughan Lee in the fashion that he did was gutting. Yamamoto later told the press that he got too cute and made a mistake by laying on top of Lee when he should have stayed standing up. Nonetheless, the loss was brutal to watch and the fans were stunned. It was pure agony. Yamamoto was a symbol of one of the big draws Japan produced many years ago. Now, his career is effectively crippled.

Yushin Okami, the closest Japanese title contender in the UFC, lost to Tim Boetsch in shell-shocking fashion. After two rounds of domination, Boetsch put it all together in the early part of round three and finished Okami. This loss really hurt because Okami had been wanting to show himself in a big way on his home soil. Instead, the man who won in other countries lost on his own turf. In a real-sport sense, Okami was the most important Japanese fighter on the card. He was never popular in Japan and mostly an unknown, which makes this loss even more excruciating.

Yoshihiro Akiyama, who was the biggest Japanese name on the UFC Japan card, was never fully embraced by the fans. At the weigh-ins, he got a mixed response. At Saitama Super Arena, he was cheered but the reaction was not uproarious (only in spots). He fought Jake Shields and lost by decision, something that you would expect to happen. Akiyama was by far the most important name UFC had on the roster in order to try to secure a broadcast television deal. He came into his fight against Shields on a losing streak and didn’t manage to stop it from continuing. After the show, Dana White talked about Akiyama needing to sit down with management as to whether or not his Zuffa tenure should continue.

Rampage Jackson, who missed weight by six pounds for his fight against Ryan Bader, claimed that he injured his knee and was told that he probably shouldn’t have fought on the UFC Japan card. That doesn’t change the fact that Rampage begged to fight on the Japan show instead of the UFC Chicago broadcast on Fox. Rampage’s gas tank was on empty by the time the fight with Bader was over. He looked terrible in front of the fans that he wanted to fight in front of the most. It was a depressing outcome.

The score card

The audience at UFC Japan was definitely sympathetic to the ghost of PRIDE past, but they did treat the event like a sporting event more than an entertainment spectacle like the NYE MMA events.

Hatsu Hioki, when disciplined, housed Bart Palaszewski. He admitted after the fight that he needs more experience against higher-level competition before he gets a title shot with Jose Aldo. Dana White agrees with him. Hioki is now the rising Japanese star under the Zuffa banner. The question is whether or not he will become a big star in Japan if he gains success from fights that take place on foreign soil. Without a strong broadcast television deal, it’s difficult for the fans to see his future fights unless they have WOWOW.

Takanori Gomi had a near-career-death experience with Eiji Mitsuoka and yet managed to get the win. The screeching from female fans during Gomi’s difficult spots in the fight was a little disconcerting. He got exactly the pop you would expect after the win. However, he’s not winning a title in the UFC no matter how much lip service is performed.

The overall mentality of the fans coming out of the UFC Japan event is of two mindsets.

First, the Japanese fans love the fact that UFC came to them with a show. Japanese fight fans are very loyal & passionate & smart. However, they expect the best talent in the world to come to them. They aren’t going to go out and search for it outside of Japan. If you are the best in the world, you go to Japan and prove it. Call it selfish if you want, but this mentality has existed for decades in the country. This is why so many fighters love going to Japan and respect the country so much. Demanding, but excellent fans.

Second, there’s reality that will set in soon. The UFC is the major leagues of MMA and Japan doesn’t even have an equivalent or rival to the UFC. At this point, DREAM isn’t even in the ball game. The best sports comparison I can make is Major League Baseball to Japanese professional baseball. MLB is king, but Japan still produces great talent like Yu Darvish that MLB covets. MLB has games in Japan but it doesn’t mean that it has any effect on whether or not Japanese baseball is hot or if it tanks. That’s the predicament right now for the MMA landscape in Japan.

This was a great show for the UFC. They should be proud for what they accomplished. However, what’s good for UFC isn’t going to trickle down to the Japanese MMA scene. I got called out on this on Saturday night.

“JMMA isn’t getting any worse.”

“Unable to evolve and accept something new?”

UFC is not Japanese MMA. That’s the point. The UFC is the UFC. It’s like the Miami Heat going to Spokane, Washington to play in front of fans of Gonzaga’s college basketball team. Apples to oranges.

If there is one aspect to UFC’s success that you hope trickles down into the Japanese scene, it’s that we get fresh blood on the management side. The scene needs new players who can put capital into a promotion and start running shows again on an active & big scale. The problem is that the only players around now are still the same cockroaches who scorched the territory in the first place. They’re not leaving, either, by the way. If you’ve got a lot of money and want to get into MMA, why on earth do you want to get into a business with so many black money sleazebags who will immediately try to destroy you and threaten your family? If you’re rich and want fun, there’s a million other things you can do with your life.

The best scenario right now for the Japanese MMA scene is on a smaller level with Shooto, Pancrase, DEEP, and other promotions creating young talent that can go overseas to compete. However, this doesn’t address the huge power vacuum for MMA on a national scale in the country. As long as the police are telling TV executives to stay away from anyone in the fight business that’s connected to the gangs, it’s very difficult to see progress any time soon.

This isn’t about the Japanese fans ‘evolving’ and accepting UFC as their own product. I’m sure there will be new UFC fans in Japan who watch the product and like it but will want their own major league of MMA. Who can blame them? Nothing the UFC does in Japan can address this problem because UFC isn’t a Japanese promotion. They’re not going to run shows like PRIDE did every other month in the country.

The irony here for UFC is that they really need a strong national player to pop up in Japan to help create new stars that have mass market appeal in Japan. Now that the legends are fading away, new names need to be developed. The problem is that as long as DREAM or other promoters continue to flail around, guys like Hatsu Hioki won’t become household names in Japan. UFC needs a Japanese promotion to build up Japanese stars. Without this development in the coming years, UFC will come back to Japan with mostly gaijin vs. gaijin fights and the shelf life for that will result in smaller & smaller returns on investment.

The challenges ahead for UFC

Sponsorship and television.

First, sponsorship. Other than a couple of random signs on the cage, there was not a Japanese sponsorship presence at the UFC event. Consider that Dentsu & Softbank are working with UFC and this becomes an even more concerning item of interest. They are big boys who can normally bring sponsors to the table but couldn’t this time around. It’s very difficult to attract sponsors without a major broadcast television deal, but even DREAM is able to recruit lower-level sponsors like HEIWA. When PRIDE lost their Fuji TV deal, their sponsorship money ran dry fast. When K-1 struggled towards the end, they had bizarre sponsorship deals for Fashion TV. In other words, the blue chip sponsorship demand in Japan has vanished. It will take a lot of hard work in order to convince companies to sponsor anything fight-related in the country because of a) the yakuza/police wars and b) the mindset that it’s not a good return on investment to sponsor a fight promoter now.

On the broadcast television front, UFC did some good things but they also suffered some very bad luck. The show looked great. The fans were A+ all the way. The fight quality was rock solid. However, UFC is still not a Japanese company. They are a gaijin-heavy operation. Their aces are gaijins. Even with Kid Yamamoto & Takanori Gomi on the card, Dentsu couldn’t help UFC muster any sort of great TV deal. UFC Japan is on TV Tokyo from 3:15 to 4:45 AM JST w/ the sponsors being Don Quijote & UFC Undisputed 3. Ouch.

UFC needed the Japanese fighters to show up strong in order to have a remote chance of making it onto television with a solid deal. It didn’t happen. UFC needed to be able to show that they could attract blue-chip Japanese sponsors in order to convince TV suits that they might be palatable to make a deal with. That didn’t happen, either. Dentsu & Softbank are great muscle to have in your corner, so if they can’t come through for you then it’s hard to see what the path is for UFC to make it onto broadcast television in Japan in a substantive manner.

Remember, UFC was able to get onto broadcast television in Mexico and Brazil. Brazil is a great market for them because so many people watch the fights. In Japan, the door is closed and even a great showing at UFC Japan didn’t likely open the door very much. A lot of the reasons as to why they can’t advance business-wise in the country are not their fault & we shouldn’t blame them. Many of the problems created are due to the culture of corruption that has rotted the core of acceptability for MMA with respectable television & business leaders in the country.

Bottom line

Great show. Great fans. Good for UFC’s business. No impact on improving the dilapidated & corrupt MMA business on a large scale in the country. Many challenges ahead for UFC in the years to come to make the inroads to be a consistently major player in the country… but they accomplished a lot more with the Saitama Super Arena show than could have been expected.

Topics: DREAM, Japan, Media, MMA, PRIDE, UFC, Zach Arnold | 73 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

73 Responses to “UFC Japan: A wonderful show & a pyrrhic victory?”

  1. fd2 says:

    “The best sports comparison I can make is Major League Baseball to Japanese professional baseball. MLB is king, but Japan still produces great talent like Yu Darvish that MLB covets. MLB has games in Japan but it doesn’t mean that it has any effect on whether or not Japanese baseball is hot or if it tanks. That’s the predicament right now for the MMA landscape in Japan.”

    I’ve been saying for a while that if people want to see how the relationship between the UFC and JMMA has to be, they have to look at the relationship between MLB and Japanese baseball teams. The reality of the situation is that’s how JMMA is these days – a local scene that, at best, feeds stars to the big leagues. If Japanese baseball fans can accept that model and still enjoy watching their local teams, then Japanese mma fans should be able to – and I don’t mean “should” as in “Hey, those guys should just shut up and accept this is the way things are”, but rather in the sense of “If this state of affairs doesn’t prevent japanese baseball fans from enjoying their local teams, then culturally it should be possible to build a base of JMMA fans that feel the same way.”

    • Isaiah says:

      Japanese baseball isn’t something that “at best feeds stars to the big leagues.” It’s an inferior league, but it’s its own thing. They play the games to draw crowds and make money, and there are many MLB-caliber players there. Darvish isn’t coming over as prospect but rather as one of the best pitchers in the world, who is expected to be an immediate star. IMO, if Japanese fans looked at Japanese baseball the way you think they should JMMA, it would die too.

  2. RST says:

    Well, one good thing that might trickle down for Japan is that they can have an opportunity to enjoy MMA until JMMA becomes viable again.

    The tables were turned the other way at one point, and I still watched both.

    “Sponsorship and television.”

    Well, the UFC is making plenty of money stateside.
    They’re existence will not depend on a TV deal in japan like Pride did.

    I’m no corporate wizard, but I would assume that if the UFC can at least have successful live gates then they could sustain that for as long as it interests them and wait for Japanese sponsors and TV to see an opportunity for profit and come to them.
    I’m pretty sure everybody in any culture likes to make a profit.

    “Their aces are gaijins.”

    If I recall correctly, pretty much all of Prides aces were Gaijins also.
    Yeah, Sak and Yoshida and Sakurai were draws, but they weren’t holding any belts or honestly even consistently wining important fights.
    I understand what you’ve mentioned before about star quality being more important then belts in Japan, but Zuffa knows how to recognize a star also.

    If they start spending more time in Japan they can scout out and pay more for whoever s name seems warm locally. And they’re not completely dull for hyping something up to seem even more important than it really is.

    As far as UFC being a Gaijin company, thats true.
    UFC is not Pride.
    It cannot be the same thing that Pride was.

    “UFC needed the Japanese fighters to show up strong in order to have a remote chance of making it onto television with a solid deal.”

    I think you might be expecting a bit too much too quickly boss.
    I dont know what Zuffa was expecting, but I always considered that it would be a win if people showed up and had a good time.

    That they weren’t culturally shunned and performing on an empty sound stage like the last UFC Japan seems like something to build on and enough to be worth celebrating for now to me.

    • AfroSamurai says:

      Couldn’t agree more about all majority of Pride stars being foreign.

      And just getting there once or twice a year should be fine for the UFC

  3. liger05 says:

    Not seen the show but sounds good. Reading there was no Japanese media @ the post fight Presser. That cant be true can it?

  4. Megatherium says:

    There was Japanese media there, they just didn’t pipe up until toward the end of the press conference. They all seemed to be seated toward the back of the room and possibly arrived late after doing their own private interviews. It wasn’t exactly overflowing with local media from what I could see though.

  5. 45 Huddle says:

    Zach, who did you think won the main event? I saw it like the judges did and thought 49-46 or 48-47 were the correct decisions.

    I could see the UFC doing a yearly show in Japan. Enough to just get a good crowd each time. People like to compare the arena crowd to Pride but they seem to forget two things. 1) 20,000 is a very good crowd for the UFC. 2) Pride used to do heavy heavy papering for their events.

    If Hioki won’t fight for the title then who does he fight? Has to be Nunes or somebody like that.

    And I do think Edgar should move down to Featherweight. We can all agree that we wouldn’t want to see a Heavyweight fight a Flyweights. The damage the Flyweights would take with the shots would ruin him. While Edgar at Lightweight is not an extreme example like the above one, he is still taking punishment his body should not. In his last 3 fights he took some nasty shots against big guys. It can’t be good for him long term. He would take less power shots and his own punches would be more effective at Featherweight. His own Pride is getting in the way….

    • Dave says:

      Yeah, I saw no controversy in that decision. Benson was doing a lot more damage and was in control for virtually the entire fight. Originally watching I had it at 49-46, but after seeing the cavalcade of personalities scoring it the exact opposite way for Frankie thought that maybe I had missed something?

      I think what happens is people when scoring live fights that are close try to overcompensate for what they think a judge might score a fight like, and forget to just watch the fight and look at telltale signs like who is winning the actual fight, not who has the better numbers. Fights like the Diaz/Condit fight really show that whole mentality of people screaming robbery no matter who won.

      Frankie is without a doubt a good fighter, but his performances at Lightweight tell the entire story. Part of why I could never get into him as some pound for pound kingpin is that he is at the wrong weight class and all of his fights against top competition tends to be incredibly close and not incredibly decisive. Call him boring or not, but when you watch GSP fight you know he was in control and that he knew what he was doing, the same can be said [mostly] for Anderson and a few others. Frankie is just always trying to overcome the odds of giving up reach, power and whatever else.

      Maybe he’d do better at a better weight class for him? I still think we’ll see more and more as he faces more diverse competition that his weakness is strong muay thai or kickboxing.

    • AfroSamurai says:

      The way he was throwing Bendo down ala The Reem i don’t think his size has much to do with the need to go down. Just think the ability is why he should go…He does no damage at his weight class

      • Dave says:

        Well, ok, not size, but reach. He prides himself on his boxing and his arms are simply not long enough to be able to connect like he’d like to connect. When he does connect he is overextended and doesn’t always do as much damage as he’d like to unless his opponent is in really close (Gray Maynard).

        • AfroSamurai says:

          Doesn’t connect and also doesn’t have enough power. The marks or lack of marks rather on Bens face really told the story imo

  6. Norm says:

    In your articles leading up to UFC 144, I got the impression you were down on the prospects of this show. The themes were linked to JMMA fans attitudes and how they were going to react to the non native UFC and obviously the impact the yakuza’s had on the sport there.

    UFC 144 turned out to be a great show in terms of action and setting up future potential fights. It seems as though based on this article’s doom and gloom nature JMMA fans might just be front running, bandwagon, fair weather, xenophobic “fans”.

    Sure the yakuza killed the sports future in japan in terms of the ability to run shows, but with JMMA fans specific taste for freak shows, pro wrestling aspects, and lack of legit japanses MMA talent, were they ever going to get behind the SPORT of MMA?

    Ed — I was down on the environment in Japan in general because of how Ishii and his stooges torched things into oblivion. I felt that the card was solid but not great for traditional Japanese tastes. No one could have expected what they got last night. Way outperformed. WOWOW is not a great TV platform for the UFC and they managed to draw more than RINGS or anyone else ever on WOWOW has for MMA.

    There’s a difference between running one or two shows a year versus trying to run a regular promotion in the country. All the yakuza problems not only still exist, they’re flaring up in a much more troubling manner.

    • Chromium says:

      JMMA fans are not monolithic. There are plenty of fans of the pure sport of MMA and I think that’s been demonstrated now, which is the major positive that can be taken from UFC 144.

      Getting on television and getting major domestic sponsors is another mountain to climb but for now the UFC can still come back here, garner an impressive ticket gate, and run that show on live US PPV, which is where most of their revenue comes from anyway. So it’s a victory. They haven’t reinvented the sort of scene Pride had, not by any means, but they’ve done well for now and laid groundwork for more shows in the future, and maybe that can lead to better opportunities in the future.

    • RST says:

      “UFC 144 turned out to be a great show in terms of action and setting up future potential fights.”

      BE had a pretty good article about fights to make after these results, and it was kind of cool how easily Matt Roth railed off a pretty extended list of intrigueing possibilities:

      That isn’t so easy after every event.

  7. Chromium says:

    Was it a total victory? Not with Yamamoto, Okami, and Rampage losing (and Mizugaki getting fucking robbed). And even more importantly, as pointed out, they failed to secure a good television deal or sponsorships.

    Was it a Pyrrhic victory? I would not say that. I think they demonstrated that they can sell out a big show, that they can get a large and enthusiastic crowd even at 9:30 in the morning, and that the local talent does demonstrably better when they don’t have to fly overseas, and so I think they’ve proven that the UFC can come back and run more shows here. Obviously they need a local promotional partner but that’s true in a lot of places, and I don’t think the next show needs to be a sold show if they think they can get a gate of 15-20,000 people even when timed for US PPV. It’ll still be on US PPV, it’ll still be a good ticket gate. They still have the expense of flying out the UFC production crew but that doesn’t make it different from any other PPV show.

    It’s not an open goal like Brazil or Canada, and a TV deal like Pride had is still just a fever dream (no pun intended), but I think they’ve demonstrated that this is a market that can be re-developed, at least to the point of doing one or two shows a year here.

    And on the local level, I think it still can help JMMA by giving emergent Japanese talent a major league option to shoot for and the dream of fighting in front of 20,000 people in their own country still, which is not something any local promotion can offer. That’s not insignificant.

    I think a bigger problem for the local talent may be the lack of world class gyms in Japan now.

    • fd2 says:

      “and that the local talent does demonstrably better when they don’t have to fly overseas”

      Nothing on this card demonstrated anything of the kind.

      • Chromium says:

        I take it you missed the Hioki fight.

        • fd2 says:

          I take it you missed every other fight involving a Japanese fighter on the card.

          Hioki doing better in his first UFC fight than his second has a lot more to do with A) Octagon jitters, which we’ve seen afflict fighters from all countries in their first UFC fight, and B) The fact that Bart isn’t very good, and decidedly worse than George Roop.

          You can’t take a card where every other Japanese fighter looked as bad/good or worse than their US UFC appearances, point to the one guy who did better (against a much worse opponent) and say “See! PRoves it!”

  8. Nottheface says:

    I don’t know what to make of the show. The Tokyo metro area has over 30 million people so was this a sign that the UFC has a following or was this just all the hardcore fans a la the Vegas Pride shows or Affliction? Zach, any guesses?

    I still say the UFC should have booked Akiyama against Misaki. Would have given the show more attention in Japan and given them a native star to push forward. At least until the next show. Also think they should try hard to sign Aoki. He may not have been a star in Dream but he might make bigger strides in Japan in a UFC world. Plus Aoki-Henderson has me seeing Sakaruba-Newton all over again.

    It’s sad that Gilbert Melendezt, arguably best LW in the world, is stuck in a dead promotion owned by Zuffa. The man’s resume is as good as Bendo’s. And since the WEC fighters have been running through the UFC like a warm knife through butter who’s to say Gil wouldn’t do the same?

    Ed. — Reaction of one person at the show who I trust very much felt like everyone came from all over in Japan to the show as a pilgrimage.

    • edub says:

      Ben vs. Frankie/Gray/Miller/Alvarez is mouth watering.

      Any word on Eddie headed to the UFC?

      I think Aoki beats henderson, but I know a lot would disagree. I think it would hit the ground at some point, and Ben would be too confident inside a transition and give up his neck.

      • 45 Huddle says:

        The man who submits almost everybody versus the guy who cannot be submitted. I don’t care if it’s for a title…. I think that is an interesting fight.

        I actually don’t see Aoki winning that one. He has struggled against larger Lightweights who can control him. Guys like Melendez and Sakurai. I know Sakurai is not a Lightweight, but that’s just because he is too lazy to do the cut properly. He is the same size as a Henderson or Melendez.

        However, I do see him beating Alvarez in April. Alvarez is very overrated.

        • edub says:

          “The man who submits almost everybody versus the guy who cannot be submitted. I don’t care if it’s for a title…. I think that is an interesting fight.”

          I like that assessment a shit load, and think a tweet to Dana (although it’s a 99% possibility it won’t get recognized) would be a good idea with that promotion.

          I definitely think Henderson would be the favorite, and could very well KO him. Just the fact that Ben sticks his neck out on the ground makes me think Aoki could grab it and possible take it home.

    • AfroSamurai says:

      I’d like to see Aoki somewhat but all that butt scooting made me think he’d do terrible in the UFC…but maybe a early match up with G-Sot would be fun…Just afraid if he faced a striker and pulled that but scooting Dana would cut him.

      Yeah i feel for Gil too but he had a chance to go to the UFC before they bought SF and decided to re up with SF for more money so he’s made his bed now he’s gotta lay in it.

      • AfroSamurai says:

        however i think if Aoki beats Alverez Dana will make a big push to get him in the UFC

      • Nottheface says:

        Shouldn’t, as fans, our loyalties lie with seeing the fights we want to see and fighters getting the best deals they can, not with promoters using them as pawns and holding their careers hostage so they can play games with their television deals?

        • AfroSamurai says:

          Sure as fans this is completely true. Root for the fights you want to see…however if Gilbert had the chance to go somewhere else and knew he didn’t have much competition there but picked it for more money thats where he needs to stay…

          He’s a big boy and made his bed now he has to sleep in it.

          Main word best deal he can…And at the time he felt like his best bet would be in SF unfortunately for him and he bet he came out on the short end of the stick…

          Fighters need to know there are other promotions out there maybe not comparable but if they think they are that big of a star then he’ll draw on his own without the help of some big promotion like the UFC.

        • Steve4192 says:

          No one held a gun to Gil’s head and made him re-sign with Strikeforce. He could have waited them out and then signed with the UFC when he was free and clear, but he obviously felt the security of a lucrative new Strikeforce deal was the more attractive option. It sucks for the fans like myself who want to see Gil running with the big dogs, but it’s his life and he has to do what he feels is right for his family.

        • nottheface says:

          Zuffa is the party with the obligations here. They bought and turned Strikeforce into a moribund promotion. They own the contract to perhaps the best LW in the world. They should be wanting to get his ass in the UFC which they argue contains the best fighters in the world.

  9. columbo says:

    People should just twitter-bomb dana about wanting Gil in the UFC. Dana has gone on record as saying that he listens to people on twitter but not the internet.

  10. Novid says:

    This show was truly fascinating. Dana is underrated – he is laying down clean bricks to bring back the Japanese game on HIS own terms. There isnt world class gyms now because they have to come from outside Japan for now.

    Hiroki is a star. He needs a half decent karate punch and he can go so far.

    OH, the Rampage loss HURT so bad. SO BAD.

    The Main Event was amazing. Henderson in the post fight was pleading to Dana about doing UFC in South Korea – so i think they could do one there as well. The fact two other men are just as good as Henderson will make it intresting for years to come.

    God Love Mark Hunt. That dude is everything i want a Heavyweight to be. I love Cain, Santos and Lesnar before he retired but Hunt i will always give to respect to.

    • AfroSamurai says:

      I also think Bendo Vs. Pettis would do HUGE in South Korea if what head of operations is correct in saying that UFC has more buzz in Korea than Japan.

      Bendo is the perfect person for that card.

      I’d love to see Mark Hunt vs. Mike Russow right now.

      • cutch says:

        That’s what I was thinking but is there a 20,000 seat indoor arena there? I checked wiki (I know) and all I could see was a 13,000 seater, which probably wouldn’t be enough.

        I can also see the UFC in a few years running region based UFN’s, say split it into Europe, Asia/Australia’s, South America(mainly Brazilians) and North America.

        They can then do PPV/Fox cards with the top guys fighting each other.

        • AfroSamurai says:

          I think they’ll keep FOX cards for Top contenders however i definitely see FX/Fuel cards continuing to go international like the Sweden and Aussie cards.

          I heard there is somewhere K-1 used to do cards but the ceiling was not strong enough to support it. But Bendo said he spent awhile in S Korea promoting this fight and is headed their now on a media round so I couldn’t see the UFC keeping up all this press without planning a show there.

          Btw those small Brazilian towns definitely need to get FX/Fuel cards

  11. charlesm206 says:

    Good article, but I feel like your sort of overstating the importance of guys like KID and Akiyama losing. Maybe it hurts the UFC\’s chances of getting a major TV deal but they don\’t really need that kind of deal to do good business in Japan. If they can keep packing the SSA once a year and maybe put a Fight Night card in Differ or the Tokyo Dome City Hall every once in a while I would be pretty happy with that.

    Guys like Akiyama and Gomi are never going to contend for championships, and I think trying to develop a bonified Japanese star that draws big TV ratings on their own is out of the question consdiering how difficult it is to find a Japanese fighter who can potentially turn into the \”Masato\” level draw people seem to think the UFC needs. That being said, they have lots of guys on their roster that the Japanese fans are familiar with like Shogun, Wand, and Overeem.

    Let those guys carry the name value aspect and get younger fighters like Isao Kobayashi and Tetsuya Yamada who have thrived in the grassroots companies get a shot at making a name for themselves. It\’s not like DREAM and their policy of recycling the same old fighters is going to accommodate any of these guys.

    Ed. — I don’t disagree on a personal level. What I’m referring to is on a mainstream level with the media in Japan. I could have predicted how they were going to play out the headlines ahead of the show. That’s just how things work over there. We focus on the hot main event, they focus on Kid tapping out for the first time & in denial about retirement.

    • AfroSamurai says:

      A old Pride guy like Nog or Shogun would be perfect to headline a fight night card on FX or fuel in Japan. And in the meantime they could sign a lot of Japanese talent for the undercard.

  12. charlesm206 says:

    As for the actual card itself, the show was amazing.

    I literally cheered when Hunt KO’ed Kongo. Its not like I am a die-hard Hunt fan, but watching this guy who was basically phoning it in for years catch a fire and turn into a KO machine again is pretty inspiring. Considering how disresectful MMA fans can be about older fighters, its nice to see an older fighter show that he isn’t ready for the pasture just yet.

    I took a small amount of satisfaction in watching Rampage get beat. I used to be a big fan because he seemed like a showman with some mental issues but as time goes on he just seems like a mean spirited jerk.

    Hioki needs some more fights in the UFC before he fights Aldo, Hioki was amazing last night as usual but I feel like he needs to get some bigger scalps before he fights Aldo. I think Hioki vs Kenny Florian (If he could be wooed out of retirement for the fight) or Diego Nunes would make for awesome fights.

    Finally, the main event was amazing. I thought Edgar won (no im not butt hurt so don’t go spamming fight metric at me to prove how wrong I am.) but damn that fight was baller.

    Its sad how the entire conversation has turned into people burying Edgar as a “point fighter”. Has the guy ever had a boring fight during his reign as champion? People think Japanese MMA fans are fickle, if you don’t stand in place and play rock em’ sock em robots with your opponent these days your a “point fighter”.

    tldr version: UFC Japan was the shizz

  13. AfroSamurai says:

    “The card UFC booked for this event was solid on paper for a traditional UFC show. I believed that.”

    Come on Zach you complained about this event from it’s inception. From top to bottom you believed that UFC was doing everything wrong in preparation for this event. It wasn’t until you saw 15,000 tickets sold that you had any kind of positive thing to say about this event.

    Thats all i really disagree with. I think everything else was enlightening about how this event should be perceived in the after hour. Besides your always pessimistic view on the future of UFC in Japan great article.

    Ed. – Re-read our initial articles on the show a few months ago. The argument was, “Good UFC card, not great card for the natives.” It outperformed everyone’s expectations — including the UFC’s as Dana admitted. Again, I’m not pessimistic about UFC running spot shows in the country in the near term. I just said that UFC’s success does not have a carry over effect to the local promoters because they don’t have their act together.

  14. RST says:

    Like jackson, they probably should have given Sexyama an easier fight.

    I didn’t really pay much attention to that at first because he looked good in that fight and I was under the impression that although known wasn’t terribly popular in Japan anyway.

    But it would have been the safer strategy just in case the Japanese media decided to latch onto the story if he lost.

    I wonder if it would have been as big of a story if he won?

    Also I was thinking, why are we even under the impre3ssion that UFC is trying to “take over Japan”?

    UFC isn’t trying to “take over England” or “take over Brazil”.

    I dont think that they’re really attempting the kind of saturation that includes TV deals and stuff, they’re barely awkwardly managing that here, more then testing the water to see if they can sell some gates and PPV’s over there.

    And it really could benefit the resurrection of JMMA if UFC does well, because the next JMMA attempt can not only draw lessons from their own success and failures, that starts to lose perspective after awhile, but also from the failures and success’ that the UFC style of MMA can have.

    I mean I’m generally familiar with the history of Prides creation, but tell me that at least part of it wasn’t them seeing the first 3 years of UFC and saying to themselves “lets do that, but more Japanese and even better”.

  15. Coconut says:

    I heard Softbank bought 10,000 tickets for this show. Can you confirm that Zach?

    • Zach Arnold says:

      There was certainly whispering by the Japanese press that either Softbank or Dentsu was up to something, but I cannot get anyone on the record to talk yet. Maybe in a week.

  16. Coconut says:

    I think the MLB vs Japanese baseball is not a valid comparison. Baseball draws huge crowds all over the country on a daily basis. Their athletes are huge stars in the country that everyone knows. They also have TV regular TV coverage. There are no MMA shows in Japan that can say that.

    • Zach Arnold says:

      We don’t disagree. I made the baseball comparison because I was saying the following:

      Yeah, MLB runs games at the Dome every year and they have the World Baseball Classic every few years, but it doesn’t mean that the Japanese don’t want a vibrant league of their own.

      Everyone’s assuming that because UFC ran this one show at Saitama that somehow the Japanese MMA scene will pick up by embracing UFC as the league they care about. That’s simply not what the public or the press there wants. They want a rival to the UFC, something they can call their own. Right now, no one is organized or competent to make it happen.

  17. Zach Arnold says:

    I got a chance to take a look at a couple of the sports newspapers that came out this morning in Japan.

    Everything noted in the article as far as media themes was backed up and pushed further.

    In no particular order:

    1) Akiyama got the Satoshi Ishii treatment. The media smelled blood when the fans didn’t buy into Ishii and now the press is turning on Akiyama. They gave him the ‘booing’ tagline and noted that his career in UFC is in danger.

    2) Gomi’s win was treated as the biggest deal on the show. I won’t go as far as to say that he’s being treated like an ‘ace’ in the papers, but it’s close. It’s way overmagnified.

    The great irony here is that he didn’t get this kind of publicity in the papers when he was headlining Bushido shows.

    This is a perfect example of the kind of article that ran in multiple papers. (Japanese language link.) If Gomi had beaten Eiji Mitsuoka in Sengoku, probably no one would have cared. In DREAM, it would have gotten a mid-range headline. At the UFC show? It was a easy crutch for the media to use as the headline for a show promoted by foreigners and loaded with foreign talent.

    3) Kid Yamamoto got buried. The basic theme is that he’s in denial right now about retiring from MMA. In other words, hit the bricks, Kid.

    The pictures of Kid agonizing after the tap-out were used by all the dailies as a top picture (side-by-side with Gomi celebrating).

    4) Sparse, but moderate items on the Edgar/Henderson fight. It was all dry, to the point, and short summarization. No emotion.

    5) Rampage’s loss and weight miscues was written about summarily with a tinge of sadness & depression. His story got summarized while Mark Hunt, the former K-1 champion, got the love.

    6) Hatsu Hioki barely managed to make the papers. The Japanese guy with the brightest future in Zuffa is the one who gets the least amount of coverage in the aftermath in the papers.

    This is what I mean by the political wars that often go in the media there. Best way I can summarize the mood in the media after the UFC Japan show:

    “Our heroes & big names lost and let us down.”

    For those curious, none of the gaijin who beat the Japanese fighters (Boetsch, Shields, Vaughan Lee) got much play at all. Barely mentioned, just by name when necessary.

    7) There was no mention of a return date for UFC to Japan. The rumors are November, but there was no declarative statement.

    8 – None of the publications released any attendance information on the show.

    There were at least two major sports publications (they’ll be named in the future) that cover boxing, pro-wrestling, and MMA that did not touch the UFC story at all.

    • RST says:

      “Akiyama got the Satoshi Ishii treatment….”

      So am I correct in the assumption that Sexyama is NOT particularly liked in Japan, and therefor his losing was actually a GOOD thing?

      “It was all dry, to the point, and short summarization. No emotion.”

      “…that cover boxing, pro-wrestling, and MMA that did not touch the UFC story at all.”

      So, the Japanese MEDIA doesn’t care for UFC product.
      Thats was a given IMO.
      Thats why I figured the biggest and only really possible win would be to win over the actual fans first.

      Just like they had to do here.

      The media is as the media does, here or Japan.

      “Hatsu Hioki barely managed to make the papers.”

      Well aint that a shame.
      But I’m pretty sure the Japanese fans like winners dont they?

      Once again, bollocks to the media!
      Cater to the fans first, because by the time the media shambles up to something it often ruins the product anyway.

    • AfroSamurai says:

      I think they just said they are going back to Asia in Nov. but a certain destination isn’t locked. Hopefully they go to Korea though.

  18. RST says:

    I think I may understand the dichotomy you’re experiencing boss.

    Your uncomfortable with the idea of the UFC product becoming popular in Japan as an unabashedly amurikan product.

    Gaijining up the JMMA scene while they’re down.

    You would prefer to see the UFC become more Pride like/Japanese if they are going to insert themselves into Japanese culture.

    And you have an at least partially legitimate concern.
    That wasn’t a Pride audience that we’ve ever seen before.

    But as far as the UFC product becoming “Japanese”, I just dont think thats going to happen.
    In fact I might go so far as to say that its a slightly unreasonable expectation.

    UFC has spent many years, Dana has grown old, lots of effort, money and taking their bruises to create the brand identity and experience that they have now.

    Would we expect BMW to change their cars into Chevys because they want to sell BMW’s in amurika?

    Now if UFC did start to spend more time in Japan, they WOULD absorb more Japanese culture into the product.
    To further their profit potential there for one, and just as a natural process.
    It would probably even find its way into the main/domestic product, because the UFC at the end of the day is a singular product.
    Regardless of territory.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that its not necessarily such an abomination to be feared.

    Cultures CAN learn, appreciate and grow from each other without one completely displacing the other.

    There’s enough room for He-Man and Bubblegum Crisis at the same time.

    • AfroSamurai says:

      Really like that BMW to a Chevy comparison…

    • The Gaijin says:

      You could go the other way and use the McDonald’s analogy, where a multi-billion dollar company has recognized the importance of not operating with the “You take what we give you and like it!” mentality in other countries/cultures and has embraced an international business strategy of adapting and tailoring it’s products to the different countires they’ve expanded into while still preserving their overall brand and business model. No one frets that McDonald’s is “becoming [Japanese/Korean/Chinese]…” or losing its brand and it’s not like they need to change the way their whole company works if they adapt it for different cultural tastes…UFC could do the same quite successfully.

  19. Alan Conceicao says:

    I know you’ve spent a long period of time here talking about how this is a “sold show”, but can you explain to me how its significantly different from the UFC’s perspective from any of their casino shows?

    • Zach Arnold says:

      In the grand scheme of things, probably not all that much different. The players & the process, however, very different.

      Someone put up money and Dentsu/Softbank led the charge. Whether SB itself put up the cash, that’s the question I’m going to poke around and see what surfaces. Dentsu itself does not put the company into money-losing deals. They’re in advertising & TV, not being live house money marks.

      • Alan Conceicao says:

        In the grand scheme of things, probably not all that much different. The players & the process, however, very different.

        Which is why I asked about this being from the UFC’s perspective. Look, I get entirely that this isn’t going to spur on a new PRIDE in Japan. It doesn’t financially make sense whatsoever. But I see no reason for the UFC to approach this differently as a result.

  20. Zach Arnold says:

    BTW, last week I told you about some taboos in Japan that still exist. One of them is tattoos.

    Joe Rogan went on Twitter and said that when he went to the gym in Tokyo, he got told to cover up his tattoos. He recognized immediately what the request meant. (“Tattoos = yakuza.”)

    I had to laugh. Called that one.

  21. sam says:

    I don’t get the tattoo thing. How was kid such a big star and still a big name with all the tattoos? Not to mention weed rumors?

    Plus since alot of foreign stars (rampage,hunt, etc) and most fighters in general have tats I thought they were exempt from the negative stereotype.

    Ed. — At the time, Kid was backed by powerful management. Hypocrisy always exists. But there also always was tension between Kid & Ishii. Lot of people think, rightly or wrongly, that K-1 was behind marijuana party story in Gendai.

    The enforcement of the tattoo taboo is weird but palpable w/ TV suits, gyms, so on and so forth if the police are angry.

  22. Zach Arnold says:

    First 40 minutes of show, interview w/ Jack about UFC Japan (great) & the ugly side of Japanese MMA & yakuza war with police.

    I do drop a decade-long secret (for most people) that could have changed the course of PRIDE’s history.

    Hope the tone doesn’t come across as downplaying UFC event. I loved the show. I just followed along with what Jack asked for questions.

  23. columbo says:

    koreans hate mongrels like Benson, so how the hell would benson fighting there bring the crowds?

  24. EJ says:

    The biggest take away I got from UFC 144, is that once again the judges in mma got it wrong. I should have known after they robbed Mizugaki of a clear 30-27 win that things could get really shook up the rest of the night and sadly it happened in the ME.

    If there was anytime for the UFC to issue an immediate rematch it’s now, Frankie once again put on a career performance and got jobbed. If there is any justice out there Dana will show him the favorability he showed guys like BJ and Nick Diaz neither of which deserved it.

    Edgar isn’t one of my favorite fighter but everytime I see him I become more and more of a fan of his. And there’s nothing I hate more than seeing a guy leave it all in the cage and have judges rob him of not only a win but his title.

    • 45 Huddle says:

      It was an easy decision for Henderson. Seems like event after event you complain about the judging of fights. At this point I would re examine your ways of judging a fight.

      • EJ says:

        If you thought that was an easy decision for Bendo than you’re clearly the one that needs to re-eximine the way you judge a fight. And as i’ve clearly stated repeatedly, I think very little of mma judging, most of the time they get it wrong and times like on Saturday they got it wrong big time.

        • 45 Huddle says:

          I had Ben Henderson winning 4 rounds to 1. Dana White was quoted on the FUEL TV post show as saying he thought Edgar won 3 to 2…. But then said Joe Silva, the matchmaker, had it for Ben Henderson by a “landslide”. White texts during fights. Silva is very attentive to the action the entire time.

          Henderson landed the harder strikes. And he landed more strikes according to Fightmetric. I don’t see how he loses then. Especially since the takedowns became irrelevent.

          I was rooting for Frankie Edgar. He just did not win no matter how you look at it.

        • Megatherium says:

          I thought that Henderson administered a beating in that fight. Frankie’s face post fight told the tale.

          Mind you, I wasn’t counting punches. Edgar should finally move down now and the fight with Aldo will be epic!

    • The Gaijin says:

      I don’t know how you can call the judging of that fight a “robbery”. It was a close fight – I thought Henderson rightly won, but could easily see someone scoring of Edgar and having good justifications for that line of thinking even if I don’t agree with it.

      “Controversial”, in that a lot of people don’t seem to agree on the outcome [or that the scoring system sucks] – sure. Close fight that was really tough to call – no doubt. “Robbery” – no.

      • The Gaijin says:

        However, 300% agreed that the Mizugaki fight was the definition of robbery. I may not have loved the way he fought (and won) – but that was abysmal. I thought we’d get some wonky decisions, but not like that!

        • 45 Huddle says:

          That one bad decision had me worried for each judges decision the rest of the night…. But they were perfect after that horrible Mizugaki decision. The UFC thought so too, because they gave Mizugaki his win bonus.

        • The Gaijin says:

          I was worried as well – I thought, we wanted a bit of a PRIDE homage…but that’s not what we were talking about!!!! lol

    • Steve4192 says:

      I agree that the Mizugaki decision was a travesty, but the judges got it right in the main event. Bendo not only got the better of Edgar under the 10-point must scoring system, he also just beat the shit out of him. Edgar was all busted up and finished the fight mounted and getting whaled on. It boggles my mind how anyone can call that fight a robbery.

      • edub says:

        I agree that frankie was busted up (how could one not), but the whole finished getting pummeled thing annoys me. Hendo went for the guillotine with 10 seconds left, frankie defended, and Hendo spent the last 5 holding half guard and flailing elbows up and down (very little of which was landing).

        As for the fight i scored it for Frankie, but there is more than enough people online that had it for ben (including fight metric) that it definitely can’t be a robbery.

    • Jason Harris says:

      I wanted Frankie to win but I scored it for Ben.

      It’s interesting to see that for all the complaining about judging UFC does, they keep using the same judges even when they’re the ones running the show. Keith Kizer called them out on that recently and it was one of the only things he’s ever said that I agree with.

      If they are so dissatisfied with the NSAC judges, why are they taking them with them to Japan and Brazil etc.?

      • Chromium says:

        I suppose they’re the most credible judges purely by default. Still doesn’t mean they’re totally great. The Mizugaki fight was an utter robbery.

  25. Jason Harris says:

    I think a lot of this forgets that UFC is not PRIDE….where PRIDE had to make all of it’s money from the Japanese market with a bit of hardcore love from fans in the USA, the UFC is the opposite. It’s not like they’re going to replace Bud Light as the center ring sponsor with a local brand in Japan just because they’re running the live show there…the sponsors are there for TV moreso than they are for the fans in the arena.

    It feels like the measure of success for UFC is “have the exact same network of deals in place that PRIDE had” while forgetting that PRIDE relied on that as their sole source of income.

    The UFC goes to Australia, Sweden, etc. and sells out live shows that are broadcast around the world….why do we not expect that they need to become the most popular thing in Sweden or Australia?

    If they are able to go to Japan, sell out an arena to fans who will probably happily snatch up millions of dollars in merchandise as well as their tickets, and increase the demand for their product that is already available in Japan on PPV, how is this anything but a success?

    There is a huge, huge, huge chasm between “PRIDE at the Tokyo Dome” and “failure”.

  26. Coconut says:

    If Softbank bought 10,000 tickets that changes the dynamic of the show success IMO.


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