The UFC held a press conference earlier today in Japan to officially announce that they would be returning to the region for the first time in 14 years in February of next year.
The event will take place at the Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo which has previously played host to other major MMA events such as PRIDE and more recently DREAM. The arena will be configured to seat 20,000 fans.
While no fighters have yet been announced the plan is to do use a number of big name fighters from the locality to to form the foundation of the show as they have done in other regions in the past such as the UK and Brazil.
For example Yoshihiro Akiyama has already stated that he plans to make his welterweight debut at the event, while others such as Yushin Okami, ‘Kid’ Yamamoto, Takanori Gomi and Michihiro Omigawa are also likely targets.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Japanese fans react to confirmation of the event. While it was be great to see the UFC breathing new life into the country the overriding feeling is that this is not going to be as triumphant a return as we’ve just witnessed with the UFC’s hugely successful show in Rio, Brazil last month.
At this moment in time Japan is not the thriving MMA mecca that it once was during the PRIDE era, and these days even the better known promotions such as DREAM are struggling desperately to stay afloat.
Also, Unlike Brazil, as it stands Japanese fighters are not performing well in the UFC at all. In fact out of the five fighters we mentioned above who are likely targets for the show, not a single one had their hand raised in their last Octagon outing.
Japan doesn’t have as strong a TV deal heading into this show as they did in Brazil either – something UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta had previously stated was a key element in their ability to host a successful show in the South American country.
It should also be noted that the UFC are taking somewhat of a gamble with the diminishing Japanese MMA fan base by announcing that February’s show will take place at 10am local time in order to ensure that the event airs at it’s normal time back in the U.S.
Despite these concerns the UFC’s Asian Managing Director Mark Fischer revealed at the press conference that the plan is for Japan to now become an annual fixture on their calender.
Personally I’m interested to see which non-Asian fighters the UFC chooses to bring to the region as that could be crucial. The UFC still has many of PRIDE’s biggest foreign stars like Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mirko Cro Cop, Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Wanderlei Silva on their roster.
That level of talent hasn’t been seen in Asia since the UFC bought over PRIDE, and if they can add them into the mix along with a number of Japanese-born stars then perhaps there is a chance they can reawaken ‘The Land Of The Rising Sun’s’ passion for the sport.