Despite not running a show since their December 31st offering last year, Japan’s DREAM organization today announced plans to run a New Year’s eve show again this year. Less than a decade ago, the Japanese New Year’s eve shows were traditionally the biggest MMA shows in the world. Unfortunately for the MMA scene in general, the announcement by DREAM of a show for this year looks less like a rejuvenation than it looks like a last gasp of air.
It is clear that Japan is not ready to run a big show on the level of the old PRIDE events. Their are a myriad of reasons for this, let’s take a look.
The DREAM announcement did not include broadcast information. This would appear to mean that the event may not have a deal to be aired on TV in place. The fall of PRIDE made MMA a toxic subject among the Japanese channels that count, and all of the big shows (World Victory Road, DREAM, etc) have struggled to maintain a regular presence on Japanese TV.
The show is being done with investment from a European company called GLORY, which has long ties to the world of kickboxing. Just the mere presence of foreigners in the decision making will make TV, sponsorship and overall public reception in Japan be lukewarm at best.
The announcement came with three fighters being announced for the card - Hiroyuki Takaya, Satoru Kitaoka and Tatsuya Kawajiri.
All are solid fighters, however none has the star power of Hidehiko Yoshida, Kazushi Sakuraba or some of the other big stars of Japan in recent years. Likewise, stars such as Fedor Emelinanenko and Bob Sapp are either retired or so faded as to not be a draw.
I look for the card to fill up with solid fighters – Gegard Moussasi, Melvin Manhoef, Semmy Schilt are all likely candidates with their ties to GLORY and European kickboxing. Fedor could come out of retirement, but there are really few interesting opponents.
It will be very interesting to see if DREAM has any tricks up it’s sleeve in terms of announcing a match or matches that might really capture an audience. Sakuraba is as faded a star as can possibly be, but could a match with 50 plus year old Rickson Gracie be seen as a type of master’s classic?
They are going to have to do something. If the show that comes through is lackluster, MMA bettors should look for the lines to be out sometime in mid December. The once vaunted New Year’s Eve Japan MMA event is a shadow of it’s former self.