This is always a sensitive topic for hardcore fans of Mixed Martial Arts and combat sports, the state of Japan and what exactly is going on in the Land of the Rising Sun. There was a time, not too long ago when being a MMA fighter or an elite Kickboxer fighting in Japan really truly meant something. When PRIDE FC was at the top of the food chain and K-1 was the home of the finest strikers. Combine raw skill with technique, mix it with a bit of pro wrestling swagger, add fireworks, flashing lights, epic music, a screaming lady, and you have a Japanese combat sports event. Fighting was the hottest ticket in town and everyone wanted to be a part of it. Some of the greatest fighters in both MMA and Kickboxing got their start or made their name in Japan. Rightfully so, considering that the nation is the birth place of many different styles of Martial Arts.
Today, JMMA and K-1 like many of their biggest stars are now mere shells of their former selves. It seems like the glory days of selling out the Saitama Super Arena and Tokyo Dome are now over. DREAM and Sengoku are having trouble staying on cable and keeping sponsors, some of their biggest draws have jumped ship to the UFC and other American based promotions. Even the K-1 World Grand Prix, a staple in Japanese culture didn’t have the same appeal as it did in previous years. To make matters worse, the parent company of DREAM and K-1, FEG has been having trouble paying its fighters. Names like Gary Goodridge, Bibiano Fernandes, Buakaw Por. Pramuk, Andy Souwer are just a few people that were either paid really late or not paid at all, but no name bigger, then the name of Alistair Overeem.
The Heavyweight King of Combat Sports made an appearance on ESPN MMA Live with Jon Anik and announced to the world that he hasn’t seen a dime from winning the K-1 WGP. With the latest rumors of K-1 filing for bankruptcy, will Alistair Overeem or any of the other fighters who haven’t been paid yet ever get the money they worked hard for? Not paying Alistair what he is owed is a huge mistake, considering he currently is the biggest draw in Japanese combat sports today. Not to mention his affiliation with the legendary Golden Glory camp. If you don’t pay “The Reem”, K-1 could potentially say good-bye to best Kickboxers to ever step into the ring. Do you think they would want to fight for K-1 if they get paid late or not at all? Of course not, nobody wants to work for a company like that.
As a hardcore fan, it breaks my heart reading the latest news and rumors in the Japanese fight scene. Many of my all-time favorite fighters come from the world of JMMA and K-1. I wish none of this was true, but in a way these rough times could be good for future Japanese Promotions. Maybe it’s time for a fresh start, maybe these promotions need to destroy themselves in order to rebuild. It is time to start again from square one, this time with new owners, new people who could possibly take the sport to the next level again. Unfortunately, the biggest issue holding back the big combat sports promotions in Japan is the ties to the seedy criminal underworld. No big company or cable channel wants to be involved or be associated with any element of crime. Right now these are some dark and tough times to be a Japanese Mixed Martial Arts or K-1 fan; hopefully we’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel. Not only for the good of the fans, but for the good of the fighters that leave it all on the line in the ring.