What Happened To Japanese MMA?


MMA has it’s roots firmly set in many countries around the globe, but one such country is often forgotten about when talking about modern MMA; I’m talking about Japan. A country that was birthplace to Judo and Karate, strong and traditional styles that are utilized in modern MMA with great success.

Yet our Eastern cousins have somewhat fell off the radar in the MMA world. The country that has produced such fighters as Kazushi Sakuraba, TK Kosaka, Rumina Sato, Masakatsu Funaki, Hayato Sakurai and many more. Which leads me to the question ‘what happened to JMMA?’

Cast your mind back to 2000, and remember when Sakuraba had beaten Royler Gracie, Royce Gracie, Vitor Belfort and Guy Mezger in the space of one year. Here is a Japanese guy in the biggest promotion of the time, Pride FC, beasting fighters from around the world.

Hayato Sakurai once held an astounding 18-0 record, was regarded as a p4p great and widely considered the number one Japanese fighter on the planet. My friends and I used to follow Pride FC, Shooto and Pancrase with a passion. Japanese fighters are (mostly) respectful and very amiable.

Yet the amount of Japanese talent in the fight game has nearly disappeared in recent times. The biggest MMA promotion today, the UFC, has never had a Japanese champion.

So what has caused this decline? Is JMMA dead? Well firstly I don’t think it’s dead, it just needs reviving. Secondly, it’s hard to say exactly why we are seeing these changes, but I’m going to speculate anyway.

One reason that springs to mind is the death of Pride FC, and the removal of Japan’s power over the biggest promotion of the era. The promotion was eventually revealed to be more crooked than this guy, which probably didn’t help getting many fans for JMMA promotions since.

There has clearly been a knock on effect in the years since Pride FC, the main one being the lack of talent. For example, Yushin Okami was always considered one of the biggest prospects from Japan, but it was never enough to earn him any major titles (yet).

Takanori Gomi was the Pride FC Lightweight champion, and was an absolute animal in the Bushido series. Since joining the UFC, ‘The Fireball Kid’ has dropped four losses and only tallied up three wins.

Kid Yamamoto is another example of a fighter from Japan that has dropped three straight since joining the UFC. The K-1 MW GP winner, and record holder for fastest recorded KO (4secs) has looked very stale in his latest outings.

Hatsu Hioki was widely regarded as ‘Japan’s last great title hope’, although that was before he lost three on the bounce to Ricardo Lamas, Clay Guida and Darren Elkins. A country that has influenced the sport of MMA to a huge extent has suddenly become sidelined in it’s evolution.

Japan is not the only country to be this far behind, but they had everything; Biggest promotions, home bred champions and fans flocking from around the world to pack out arenas. But it isn’t all doom and gloom for Japanese MMA.

Shinya Aoki is probably the biggest name to come out of Japan in modern times and, as much as I dislike him, he is a truly incredible fighter.

Kyoji Horiguchi is a Japanese Bantamweight who recently signed with the UFC with 11-1 on his record. Slick subs and heavy hands make this guy one to watch. We also shouldn’t forget that promotions like Dream, Shooto and K-1 still put on awesome shows.

The UFC is also starting to expand, targeting the Asian audiences and is also doing an Asian spin off of The Ultime Fighter series. These might not be the glory days that JMMA is used to, but things can change in the drop of a hat. I certainly hope they do.

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