It’s no secret Japanese MMA has seen better days. When PRIDE was at its peak, Japan ruled the entire landscape. Today, the UFC does, and while they’re working on taking their brand of mixed martial arts to every corner of the globe, the majority of the money to be made is currently in North America.
Meanwhile, DREAM has desperately tried to reinvigorate the market for MMA in Japan since they rose from the ashes of PRIDE, but so far, they’ve struggled. They’ve tried everything from freak show tournaments to striking an “alliance” with Strikeforce in the hopes of raising Japanese MMA’s profile in the US and abroad. While the freak shows at least provided one-off ratings boosts, the alliance has completely backfired. DREAM has three champions (not counting Minowaman’s Super Hulk Championship), two of which (Aoki and Zaromskis) they sent to the US to fight the best Strikeforce had to offer in their respective weight classes. Both lost…decisively. To make matters worse, Japanese standouts Takanori Gomi and Caol Uno have both failed to find any success in the UFC. In other words, there’s not much evidence to suggest the competition in Japan is on the same level as it’s North American counterpart these days.
Whether that’s reality or not, it is the perception, and DREAM Event Producer Keiichi Sasahara believes he needs to do something to prove that MMA in Japan is not inferior to MMA in the West. For some odd reason, he thinks the answer is bringing back “The White Cage” at DREAM.14.
There will be something that I can prove to the MMA world. When we think about the cage that we used at Dream 12, the “White Cage” – it sounds similar to the one that is used in North America, but it is really original. It has a Japanese aspect to it. If we are to keep on going having cage fights in Japan, we need to create a really Japanese style cage fight.
After [Hayato Sakurai] Mach requested the cage for DREAM 14, I realized what a good idea it was. Aoki was defeated in the cage in Strikeforce and all the Western fans were looking at Japanese MMA as the loser and Mach couldn’t stand it. I thought that it would be great if he could fight in the cage here in Japan against Nick Diaz, who is a champion in the cage.
Revenge is not the proper word but we want to do something against cage fighters. If Mach can win against Diaz, that would be great. Then the fans could look at Japanese MMA with a new view.
I have no idea how that would prove anything, but to be honest, I’m not too sure questioning it would do any good either, so I’m just going to go with it. There’s more interesting quotes to get to from this interview, such as these candid thoughts on DREAM’s health.
It is hard to think long term, I am always thinking about things happening tomorrow. In my personal opinion, I have a special attachment to the ring as I was worked with PRIDE for a long time. But my opinion is not going to satisfy all those other people who are working with me. I want to create something that everyone can be happy about. We are in a difficult position right now and we need to decide our future.
To be honest with you, we are in a really difficult situation. There are some sponsors that are interested but it is difficult as the whole country is in recession. Look at Toyota, even they are having a difficult time.
Despite the “difficult position” they’re currently in, Sasahara thinks they will be granted an extension with TBS (their broadcast partner) through 2011, and says DREAM’s relationship with parent company FEG is “fine” despite rumors that its not. Still, it seems like DREAM is coming to a crossroads, and I’m not overly optimistic about their future if they think the answer to their problems is a Japanese style cage.