It’s been hinted at for months, and today the UFC finally made it official. The organization will return to Japan where PRIDE FC once ruled the mixed martial arts landscape. UFC Asia’s Mark Fischer made the announcement earlier today.
They haven’t determined yet if it will be a numbered event or a Fight Night card, but the show will go down on February 26, 2012 at the Saitama Super Arena, the same arena PRIDE ran many of their shows and DREAM continues to run theirs.
“It’s been over 10 years since a UFC event was held in Japan and we’re pumped to bring the fastest growing sport in the world there once again,” said UFC President Dana White via video message. “Japan has played a huge role in getting the sport to where it is today. UFC stars such as [Quinton] “Rampage” Jackson, Wanderlei Silva, [Antonio Rodrigo] “Minotauro” Nogueira all made names for themselves fighting in the Pride organization and dozens more fought in front of the passionate Japanese fans at some point in their careers. Japan has also produced world class fighters such as [Yoshihiro] Akiyama, [Takanori] Gomi and Yushin Okami. They have all headlined major UFC events all over the world. Now, this February, the wait is finally over – we’re coming back to Japan.”
Fischer added that they plan to make it an annual event.
“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,” said Fischer. “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.”
The card won’t be revealed until November, but Japanese fighters such as Yushin Okami, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto, Hatsu Hioki, Michihiro Omigawa, Takanori Gomi, Riki Fukuda and Takeya Mizugaki are all said to be possibilities.
There is a catch however. Well, at least for the Japanese fans who might want to attend the show. In order to align the live broadcast with the regularly scheduled start time in North America, the UFC has decided to start the event at 10am JST. Some see this as a proverbial kick in the balls to the Japanese fan base. After all, who wants to go to a MMA event at 10am on a Sunday morning? Fight Opinion’s Zach Arnold thinks this further proves his point that this is nothing more than a “vanity show.”
I knew it was a vanity show all along and, yet, I was not surprised by the online reaction criticizing me for stating the obvious. So, what am I surprised about? I’m surprised at just how nakedly transparent UFC is in regards to not even making standard concessions to the beleaguered Japanese MMA audience in regards to the production of this vanity show. We’re going to get the standard cookie-cutter UFC production with a 10 AM start time.
If UFC is truly living in a bubble and thinks that what they are planning for this Japanese show will work like it does everywhere else, then they are even more clueless than I thought they were. But you know what? I don’t believe that. Their front office reads this site and has read this site since it first started. They are not dumb. What they are, however, is egregiously arrogant and flippant. 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.
The plan is to configure Saitama Super Arena for 20,000 seats. The question is: Are there 20,000 Japanese fans who don’t mind waking up early on a Sunday morning to attend an event produced by an organization that hasn’t exactly been welcomed there in over a decade?