UFC President Dana White announced the long awaited return to Japan for the world’s largest and most successful MMA company. The company’s last venture to Japan was in April of 2000, over 100 UFC events ago, and their forays to Japan were not well attended or received by the public in those days. Something tells me this time will be different.
The Japanese understand fighting, however the events there have been struggling since PRIDE went under and was absorbed by UFC a few years back. Even PRIDE was rumored to be an operation that frequently lost money, but that the other business interests of the partners kept the show afloat.
When the UFC bought PRIDE there were statements made about running events in Japan, and taking over the market, that frankly were met with sceptic indifference by the Japanese press and public.
Here is where I think Dana and the UFC deserve credit, they played the strategy just right in my opinion. Despite all the brash statements, they didn’t rush back into the market. They opened an office in Tokyo, they devoured PRIDE and man was there a lot of talk. But they didn’t do shows, to the point where the market there may actually be starved enough to support the product after all these years.
The UFC has also done extensive revamping of what that product is. The Japanese loved their massive PRIDE events, and the UFC was seen more as a second tier cage show, very rough around the edges by the Japanese. Though the Japanese love their icons, Sakuraba, Ogawa, Yoshida and many more, but they were also treated by PRIDE to Fedor and Crocop and Bob Sapp.
That is where the UFC will succeed this time around, I believe. They have a good roster of Japanese fighters, and they have the star power to make a splash. The current crop of Japanese shows, DREAM, Sengoku, Shooto and Pancrase just don’t really have any foreign star power.
Here is one suggestion, though I think the UFC is saavy enough to understand this – they need a high profile signing of someone from Japan, be it a judoka, a sumo, a pro wrestler,a soccer player, a comedian or whatever. Like I said earlier, they have a good roster of Japanese fighters, but they are missing that one big attention getter that could be the key to success. Since Sakuraba and Yoshida have faded, the lack of that type of star has been one of the major factors that affected the success of the Japanese shows. If the UFC can overcome that, success in the Land of the Rising Sun is a lock.