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An update on UFC Japan 2013 series starting next Spring

By Zach Arnold | November 10, 2012

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Update (11/10): UFC will return to Saitama Super Arena on March 3rd, 2013. Will be interesting to see if they do as well as the 2012 show. They have a multi-year agreement with Dentsu for shows, so this is no surprise. The question is how much paid vs. paper.


(Originally posted on August 29th, 2012)

Mark Fischer of UFC told Nikkan Sports the following:

What wasn’t said is as interesting as what was said.

First, is Japan going to be UFC’s primary Asian target market or is it China, which is Mark’s home turf in Asia?

No real talk about a television deal in the marketplace. As I’ve said before, the over-the-air TV situation for combat sports in Japan is terrible. The door has been slammed shut. The combat sports business is too dirty right now for the networks to touch. They don’t want any part of it. They would be interested in a Japanese operation if it was big-time and clean but UFC is not a Japanese operation. Will a Japan series change that? No. It won’t really get them anywhere in terms of getting a substantive TV deal in Japan. They’ll have to be content with buying time from TV Tokyo for random 3 or 4 AM show airings that don’t move the needle. That’s not UFC’s fault but rather the way things are in Japan in 2012.

As for what it means for the yakuza in combat sports, the gangs on the ground are hurting big time for cash and the anti-yakuza finance laws are targeting them in a big way. The police are trying to clear out the gangs from some of the more notable buildings so that there aren’t as many scams going on for protection money of turf. That said, always expect the gangs to act like stooges and try to sink their teeth into the UFC Japan series either through managing talent or by trying to get an ‘in’ as a consultant. Dentsu has power and they can always take care of the small fish but if the big fish get interested, you never know. I doubt UFC will encounter much trouble with the smaller buildings in the Tokyo area. The rest of the country may be a different matter…

UFC Japan 2012 at Saitama Super Arena turned out to be a last gasp of big-scale MMA in Japan rather than a starting point. Even if you believe the reports that Dentsu/Softbank had half the arena comped for tickets, UFC still overachieved with that show. But even bubbles burst and it’s clear that there was no real momentum from that show for UFC to run big scale events in Japan on a continuing basis. This is OK. It’s not bad news nor is it a sign of any failure for them. It’s just reality. Will UFC be able to draw big houses again in Japan? The jury is still out on that one, but it makes it easier that they really are the only ball game in town at this point. It could go either way.

History says that UFC looks at Japanese fighters and what they desire in future prospects much differently than what the general Japanese public thinks is appealing. The classic example is Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, who the UFC coveted and he was an undercarder in RINGS. The public cared little about Kohsaka, even after the UFC run, and cared all about Kiyoshi Tamura. If the purpose of the UFC Japan shows is to find talent that will be title-class, they may be in for a disappointment given how the situation on the ground is right now for the gyms and their kind of training. That and there simply isn’t the level of high-end doping going on in the Japanese gyms like there is at the American & Brazilian gyms. The truth is the truth. If the mission of UFC is to try to find Japanese fighters who can draw but may not be competitive worldwide, that might be a more realistic goal. However, that’s not the way UFC thinks. They always think with one mindset and not about regional market preferences.

So, I’m not entirely sure what the overall goal is for the UFC Japan series other than it fulfills a contract with Dentsu, builds some name recognition in Japan, and maybe they find a few fighters in smaller weight classes. Just don’t expect a big splash to happen as far as this series of shows booming into something major. I like the overall concept but I don’t think the UFC’s standard corporate philosophy meshes with the traditional Japanese fan tastes very well. Here’s hoping they can find some success and flush the bad guys out of the Japanese scene. There’s still plenty of cockroaches that need to be fumigated.

Topics: Japan, Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 27 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

27 Responses to “An update on UFC Japan 2013 series starting next Spring”

  1. Jason Harris says:

    Why is it clear that there is no momentum for UFC?

    You predicted UFC Japan would be a bomb and it sold the arena out, so what are your indicators this time that your doom and gloom is accurate, considering you said all of this before the last Japan show? You basically said that because they didn’t book the exact same types of shows that K-1, DREAM and PRIDE were doing when they went under, they wouldn’t succeed. Then they booked a UFC type show, and they did succeed.

    Why is UFC booking a UFC style show in Japan and being very successful at it not a sign that there is demand for that product? Perhaps not every single person in Japan sees everything through the lens of failed MMA/Pro Wrestling orgs of the past? With 125 million people one could reason that there are actually varying tastes and entertainment preferences in the country. Just a thought.

    • Zach Arnold says:

      Momentum in the since of what the heydays were during PRIDE & K-1 for their bigger shows in Japan.

      Again, the issue is not UFC as far as how the Japanese market fell apart. I hope they are successful and can reinvent the thought process of how everyone does business for Japanese MMA. I just won’t hold my breath given the stubbornness by certain players there.

      I got zero complaints about UFC events happening in smaller buildings in Japan because it likely means they won’t be such a target from the gangs. If they can develop some new Japanese talent that can produce on the world stage, it’s a win for everyone.

  2. Jobber says:

    Giving away 50%+ of tickets to your show is not selling out an arena. UFC Japan was only a success in the fact that it even happened and that only the financial backers, not UFC, lost a ton of cash.

    • cutch says:

      You have zero sources that anybody lost money on this card Zach, sorry “jobber”

      • Zach Arnold says:

        I always post under my own name when I make a statement, right or wrong.

        There’s been many times where I often wished I started out using a pen name but never did.

        Why would I make a claim that UFC lost money on the Japan show? Don’t lose your marbles here.

        Jobber’s info says he’s from Texas. That’s a bit far away from me.

      • Jobber says:

        The UFC lost $0 because all they had to do was show up. Dentsu is the one that paid for the building and took care of ticket sales. Dentsu lost money because they had a hard time obtaining many sponsors after they fronted the cash for the show. Had Dana put together a stacked Pride tribute show it probably would have been a great one-off success, but there was no incentive for him to do so because his neck wasn’t on the line to bring people to the building. Also, we all know that the UFC doesn’t put together stacked cards anymore.

        • Jason Harris says:

          So Japan has lots of companies just happily pissing away money on behalf of foreigners looking to run events in their country? That’s awesome, how do I get in on that?

  3. 45 huddle says:

    They need to be doing this in about 10 countries or so. Putting on smaller shows…. 4 to 6 per year…. To build up local talent. It is much better then using TUF for this idea.

    • Jaylon B. says:

      You mean turn UFC into a Fighting Network, not a bad idea. A K-1/RINGS Fighting network is something they should have thought of in the first place. They just dont have to do an end of the year Super series card. Just promote the talent from those countries.

  4. Zach Arnold says:

    “I think some items they printed were exaggerated or taken out of context,” Fischer wrote via e-mail, “i.e., as if they are happening rather than simply just things we are just looking at.

    “All really just pure speculation at this point.”The report stated that the UFC would hold a number of events in 5,000-seat venues around the country next year.

    Look at the photo in the Nikkan article link in my post…

  5. Megatherium says:

    It’s here fight fans, the one you’ve been waiting for.

    Aldo vs Edgar!

    • 45 Huddle says:

      Awesome. Koch fighting for the title was pointless anyways.

      And there shouldn’t be any issues with the timing for Edgar. He has a month and a half to train and is still probably in decent shape from his recent title fight.

      Should be a great fight.

      Edgar just has to avoid huge damage in the first and then I think he will win. His pace is just too much for Aldo.

  6. Chromium says:

    Typical Japanese sports paper exaggeration.

    That being said, if the UFC actually did something like this I’d like the idea a lot.

    Japan makes more sense than anywhere else in Asia as the UFC’s Asian “home”, due to the larger developed talent pool, a still lingering base of hardcore educated fans, and its a little easier to fly to from the U.S.

    Taking regional talent from across East Asia for feeder shows like this, adding a few second-tier “names” to these cards to help with the card’s credibility, that could help build brand awareness while helping the regional talent pool have something closer to aim for. They could also experiment with female fights at lower weight classes if they wanted.

    I think the biggest problem with the Japanese talent pool right now however is a lack of world class MMA gyms in Japan. AACC is relatively world class for female fighters, but that’s it. The best gym in Asia is actually Evolve in Singapore, where Shinya Aoki trains out of and also coaches. This would be a difficult gap to bridge.

    Anyway, all that being said it looks like what they’re talking about doing is a Fuel TV card next year in Japan, nothing more. It’s better than nothing and they may sign a few more local guys to help pad it out but it’s not a lot.

  7. edub says:

    I think this is much too soon for Edgar at 145. If I was his manager I would have begged him to take a fight at 145 first before taking on the 3rd or 4th best fighter in the world.

  8. 45 Huddle says:

    Zuffa needs to get to this level….

    4 Shows a year in Brazil, Europe, Asia, and Canada. Add in 2 in Australia and then the typical 8 shows a year in Vegas.

    That will bring them up to 26 shows per year. And then from there they do not have to stretch the American market so badly for gates.

  9. RST says:

    “…and try to sink their teeth into…”

    A capitalism is, as a capitalism does.

    Japan is a “virtual” western capitalism.

    Except that Japan is smart enough to be “Japanese for Japan”.

  10. Fluyid says:

    ***TYPO in article title***

  11. Weezy02 says:

    Zach, hearing any rumors about whether there will be a local television partner this time (besides WOWOW)? I know that was one of the only things missing from my perspective last time. Like you’ve said, though, the networks might just not have the interest in MMA any longer. If anyone can do it, though, it’s Dentsu.

    • Zach Arnold says:

      If a network is going to jump into the fray, they’ll want to get plans ready within 75-90 days of show time. Dentsu has the juice to make it happen, but again you called it exactly right — all up to the networks if they are interested in taking a flyer. Given that there really isn’t anything hot locally right now in Japan, my guess is that networks will be overly cautious and stay on the sidelines. You never know, though.

  12. Chromium says:

    Maaaan, so much I want to respond to here, and so many people already chimed in.

    First off, I badly want the Japan series to be real, but Nikkan Sports is basically a tabloid as I understand it and prone to gross exaggerations. Like Fischer could have mentioned something about a potential small arena show or two and had that comment twisted all out of proportion.

    China is not a good home base. They do not have access to what precious little Chinese talent there is and Chinese MMA, even if you had Mongolia, has not produced enough talent.

    The Japan series is a good idea on paper because amazingly, Japan is still the #1 producer of decent talent in Asia, even if no one is title class and no one is as good as the Korean Zombie, at least not in any division the UFC promotes.

    This brings me to my next point: there is one gym in Japan still capable of producing elite talent. The catch is only for _female_ talent, and am referring to Ani Abe Combat Club. There is exactly one potential world champion left in the Japan scene at the moment and that is Ayaka Hamasaki. Problem is she fights at 115. The UFC might go down to that level anyway.

    Also Evolve MMA in Singapore is supposedly an elite camp and has attracted top Japanese talent for training there including Shinya Aoki who also teaches there. It’s a lot closer than the Americas anyway.

    So, uh, yeah, if the UFC happens to want to get in and do some grass roots shows, I don’t see a problem with this. It helps keep the talent portion of the MMA scene chugging along and helps keeps hardcore fans interested, even if it does little for casuals. Certainly it’s a better idea than trying to crack India right now. It’s also much less lucrative than running a major show in Seoul with Benson Henderson, TKZ, Stun Gun, and Akiyama, in my opinion.

    • Steve4192 says:

      I disagree about Japan being the #1 producer of talent in Asia. IMO, Korea passed up Japan a long time ago.

      Also, I’m not sure I would call Evolve MMA an elite camp just yet. To me, it looks like the Asian version of Imperial Athletics, a camp that paid a bunch of veteran fighters to come train there, but hasn’t produced any real talent of it’s own. I have heard a lot of bad things about Evolve from guys who are at the lower levels of professional ranks. Things that lead me to believe they will have problems ever developing talent from the bottom up.

  13. KBY says:

    What bad things have you heard about Evolve, Steve? Don’t leave us hanging.

    • Steve4192 says:

      I’ve heard:

      They charge outrageous prices that make it damn near impossible for young fighters to train there unless they sign a management contract. Most of the big name fighters who train there are being subsidized. If you aren’t one of ‘their guys’, the fees are very high.

      They have a very ‘cookie cutter’ approach to dealing with pros who come to the gym unsolicited, forcing them to start at the bottom and train in beginner classes regardless of their level of experience. Even experienced Muay Thai pros are getting stuck in classes with recreational trainees.

      They don’t really have a ‘MMA program’, rather they have a bunch of kick-ass trainers in the individual disciplines but no program for integrating all those techniques in an MMA context.

      Their trainers are stretched thin teaching recreational/fitness classes (the aforementioned ‘beginner classes’). As I understand it, the pro team is a loss leader for the real profit center of the gym … recreational training. They use the big name pros and trainers to attract casual trainees, who pay big fees to train at Evolve.


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