(“…In situations that the Planeteers cannot resolve alone, they can combine their powers to summon ‘Prime Sakuraba‘, a magical entity who possesses all of their powers magnified.” / Photo via BloodyElbow)
The UFC held a press conference earlier today in Tokyo, formally announcing their plans to host an event at the Saitama Super Arena on February 26th, 2012. No matchups were announced, but Japanese stars including Yushin Okami, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Takanori Gomi, Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto, Hatsu Hioki, and Michihiro Omigawa were all mentioned as likely participants. Former PRIDE stars like Wanderlei Silva, Mirko Cro Cop, Quinton Jackson and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira are also possibilities.
Though the UFC held four events in Japan from 1997-2000, this will be the first Japanese show organized by the UFC while under Zuffa ownership. The prelims will begin at 10 a.m. local time (with the main card starting at noon) so that the event can be broadcast live at the usual time slot for North American viewers. It’s not clear yet whether UFC Japan 2012 will be a pay-per-view or “Fight Night” card, and no details were given regarding the event’s local broadcast plans.
Following a recorded video message from Dana White at the press conference, Zuffa LLC Asia Executive Vice President and Managing Director Mark Fischer addressed the media in attendance, saying:
“We want to let everyone know that we will be bringing the same high level of UFC competition, the same world class show and presentation, and great fights and the greatest athletes in the world to Japan…Let me also say that while UFC Japan in 2012 will be the first event for Zuffa in Asia, it certainly won’t be the last. We hope to make UFC Japan an annual fixture on our calendar and we also have plans to follow-up with a series of high quality events across Asia.”
While the UFC’s return to Brazil last month represented a joyfully symbolic homecoming, the history of MMA in Japan over the last five years has been that of scandal, opposition, and a growing apathy among fans — and according to FightOpinion’s Zach Arnold, the UFC’s February show at the Saitama Super Arena won’t do much to change that:
“Think about how insulting it is to the Japanese fans to tell them that this show is going to start at 10 AM in the morning. The kind of people willing to show up for an event like that for that time frame are really hardcore fans. UFC does not have a substantial hardcore MMA fan base to work with in Japan and the hardcore MMA fans remaining in Japan have a very mixed opinion about UFC as a product…UFC cannot, with a straight face, look at the Japanese fans in the eye and tell them that the Saitama Super Arena show is all about them when you’re starting the damn event at 10 AM in the morning so Americans can watch it on PPV live…
Which reminds me of today’s UFC presser in which a VTR (video tape recording) of Dana White was played to the media. So, why wasn’t he at the Japanese press conference? Because he’s getting ready to do press in Las Vegas for the upcoming Georges St. Pierre/Nick Diaz fight in late October. In our opinion, Dana White sent the message to the Japanese fans that he wouldn’t even show up in Japan to do the presser for his own vanity show…
As I stated before, UFC has money to burn on a Japanese joy ride and what Dana wants, Dana gets. This is going to be his grand ‘ol party to say screw you to the ghost of PRIDE in PRIDE’s old home arena. This is his message to the Japanese MMA fans that what promoters served them was inherently wrong and that he’s going to show the fans ‘the right way’ to produce an MMA show…
You’re not going to build a foothold in the Japanese marketplace without a major broadcast over-the-air network in Japan pushing the product. UFC is not a Japanese company and they do not allow outsiders to control their matchmaking, two aspects which are mandatory in getting a network television deal with an outlet like Fuji TV. And that’s if a major Japanese TV network is even interested, which they are not right now because of what a dirty cesspool the fight game has truly become in the country. Unless circumstances change over the months to come, I don’t know how one can classify the current behavior of the UFC’s return to Japan as a serious long-term business proposition.”
Not every observer is going to be as cynical as this, but Arnold’s right to doubt how much of an impact this will have locally. The sport has officially fallen out of favor in Japan, and a card full of native fighters who have previously been smashed in the UFC isn’t going to generate the kind of rabid interest we just saw in Rio. Plus, the time-slot thing: Is a 10 a.m. show insulting for Japanese fans, or is the UFC right to put Western fans first?