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Masato vs. Kid Yamamoto did better in Japanese TV ratings than RIZIN

By Zach Arnold | January 1, 2016

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This tweet by Enuhito got fans excited. Fuji TV has been a door mat on NYE since the collapse of PRIDE and its turn towards more South Korean-flavored programming. Enuhito is accurate. RIZIN’s telecast on Fuji TV did impact the ratings for the Tokyo Broadcasting System boxing match between Kazuto Ioka and Juan Carlos Reveco (WBA Flyweight title match at Osaka Prefectural Gym). The expected TV rating for the fight amongst network executives was 9 ~ 10% and it pulled a 7.7% number.

However, context matters. Of the five major Japanese TV networks, RIZIN finished last in the New Year’s Eve battle. NHK’s Red-and-White music festival did a 39.2%. It still remains the country’s gold standard for NYE programming, but it’s ratings have taken somewhat of a dent since the NYE MMA wars.

Rankings: 1) NHK (39.2%), 2) Nippon TV (15.3%), 3) TV Asahi/Survivor (10.0%), 4) Kyokugen/Masato-Kid (9.0%), 5) RIZIN (7.3%)

What is notable about Nobuyuki Sakakibara’s return to MMA is the following:

  1. RIZIN was the first MMA-themed NYE show for Fuji TV in 10 years. Remember the glory days of the Man Festival?
  2. Nature abhors a vacuum and there was plenty of opportunity for someone to jump into the MMA space once PRIDE collapsed. K-1 tried and they ended up collapsing. K-1’s game plan turned out to be a Pyrhhic victory. Sakakibara, even on the cheap, came back into the MMA space without many roadblocks.
  3. Yes, Fuji TV finished last in the ratings — and the matchmaking for appealing to Japanese TV viewers was God awful. But from the network’s perspective and perhaps from Sakakibara’s perspective, both sides financially survived. It doesn’t mean they prospered, but they survived to live another day. Maybe. The next appointment is for April in Sakakibara’s home turf of Nagoya.

Perhaps Sakakibara was a student of Trump University and decided a big round number like 1 billion yen for a claim of cost projections sounded impressive?

As for RIZIN itself, I don’t know what the vision of the promotion is. What is the philosophy? MMA on the cheap with a PRIDE filter? Mismatches? Foreign aces? Who knows? What I do know is that there was as much interest outside of Japan as there was in Japan for the show, which is a strangely interesting dynamic. If you followed MMA Twitter, you would have thought that the holy grail version of PRIDE had resurfaced. Instead, it was more DREAM-like with less competitive booking of fights. That doesn’t mean that the two Saitama events weren’t enjoyable or fun to watch, but on a sporting level it was what it was.

If Fuji TV didn’t pay expansive rights fees to Sakakibara, that means he needed to rely more on the house show gates. The 12/29 Aoki/Sakuraba event claimed over 12,000. I could not find an attendance in the papers for the 12/31 show. The promotion claimed 18,000.

Heading into the event, Sakakibara made it very clear that he wants a pro-wrestling connection to RIZIN because he needs that star power. Wrestling is the star manufacturer. The problem for Sakakibara is that there’s only one major wrestling company left in Japan and that company does not want a relationship with him or MMA. Which means he’ll have to try to recruit foreign wrestling stars to try to build up big fights. Easier said than done.

Unless someone steps up to compete with Sakakibara on a regular basis, RIZIN is the only Japanese ball game in town. It does not mean that he is the #2 player in the business. Bellator remains substantially more relevant. Spike TV will go along with the RIZIN circus as long as it provides an avenue for Bellator fighters to appear in on an international platform, look like stars, and win.

On a final side note: It is very interesting that UFC didn’t put up a legal fight with Kid Yamamoto over his bout with Masato. A month ago, one former agent claimed that he would not be surprised to see more foreign UFC fighters appear in Japan, specifically fighters who do not have assets in America and who come from countries where their legal systems do not recognize certain American civil causes of actions. Japan is an interesting test case scenario because you can transfer American civil court judgments over to Japan but it comes at a price.

Topics: Japan, Media, MMA, Zach Arnold | 6 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

6 Responses to “Masato vs. Kid Yamamoto did better in Japanese TV ratings than RIZIN”

  1. rst says:

    I dont know about in Japan, were JMMA needs to get its feet. But I think that americans enjoy and miss JMMA.

    That would be a different business model.

  2. Jonathan says:

    I might have missed something…

    But when/where did KID Yamamoto fight Masato this New Years Eve?

  3. The Gaijin says:

    Here you go, Jonathan.

    I wonder if deeming it an “exhibition” was a way to get around the UFC contract? Perhaps it wasn’t worth the hassle – but far be it for them to let a chance at litigating an absconder pass by.

    Looks like a far cry from the 31.6 rating they pulled the first time…but their staying power 11 years later seems decent. That said, I would have expected more press or hype for a Masato comeback fight.

    MMA/Combat sports looks like its had its day in the sun for now in Japan.


    ufc silence regarding the iv bans effect on fighter health during the weight cut is deafening.
    I guess they will just wait until one of their fighters die before doing what ONEC has done.
    Again UFC turns a blind eye towards fighter health, while frattatas zero in on more profit for themselves and their corporate associates.
    Great reason to support ONE, healthier better conditioned fighters make better fights.

  5. klown says:

    The Aoki-Sakuraba fight was an atrocity. I feel sick after watching it.

  6. […] he created in Japan or his business accomplishments. There was a final Masato/Kid Yamamoto reunion on New Year’s Eve 2015 — and it managed to draw bigger ratings than Nobuyuki Sakakibara’s […]


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