The UFC’s signing of Yoshihiro Akiyama was immediately considered to be huge acquisition for the UFC, not only for his drawing power across the Pacific, but also in terms of his standing among the world’s top middleweights.
However, could Akiyama no longer be the same fighter we think he is?
But putting marketing aside, there is another reality to Akiyama. After Akiyama was knocked out cold on December 31, 2007, by Kazuo Misaki, he has not been the same fighter. He is slower to react, which is the kiss of death against top competition. Fighting Entertainment Group, the promotion behind K-1 in Japan, was well aware of this, putting him against two non-fighters in his only matches this past year. Unless his reflexes suddenly snap back to pre-knockout levels, UFC is paying big money for a fighter who may very well be shot. And unlike in Japan, UFC is not going to put fighters who couldn’t even win in minor-league shows against him because he’s a draw.
As much as we sometimes hate to admit it, our favorite fighters, no matter how larger than life they may sometimes seem, are still human. This is reality, not a video game. There’s no life bar at the top of screen that magically refills every time a fighter steps into the ring. Over time, knockouts and beatings accumulate, just look at Minotauro Noguiera. Six years ago, Nog, at the hands of Fedor, was the recipient of the most vicious ground-and-pound assault I’ve ever seen, but couldn’t be finished. Yet two short months ago, Frank Mir, of all people, was able to TKO him.
The jury’s still out on Akiyama, but now that he’s in the UFC, you can definitely count on one thing, we’re going to find out sooner rather than later.
As for all the speculation that the Akiyama signing signifies imminent expansion into Japan and South Korea, Meltzer, who would know better than anybody with his connections, isn’t so sure.
UFC president Dana White has long talked about wanting to promote in Japan, but there are a multitude of challenges, including the UFC’s television clearance on a station only a small percentage of the public gets and the difficulty foreign promoters have experienced trying to get a foothold in the Japanese marketplace.
At this point there are no plans to run live events in South Korea, but UFC does have television in that country and Akiyama on its roster greatly bolsters its standing.
Needless to say, the UFC certainly has every intention of expanding into East Asia, but it may take longer than many of us, including myself, believed.