There was a time when mixed martial arts (MMA) in Japan was red hot. Pride Fighting Championships dominated the MMA scene and the “Land of the Rising Sun” witnessed some of the most renowned competitors do battle. Pride Shockwave 2002 still holds the MMA attendance record at 91,107. That event took place at Tokyo’s National Stadium.
Fast forward to 2015 and the landscape has changed dramatically. The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) now rules the MMA roost and its presence in Japan isn’t nearly as big as Pride FC’s. MMA in Japan has been considered irrelevant in terms of promotions for years.
Since Pride FC died back in 2007, there have been attempts to restore the sport of MMA in the 10th most populous country in the world. Dream did a modest job and was able to hold 24 events. Some of them were in conjunction with K-1 under the Fighting and Entertainment Group (FEG). Unfortunately, FEG’s bankruptcy eventually spelled the end for Dream.
Now, it appears there are some things being done to help revive MMA in Japan once again. This Saturday night (Sept. 26, 2015) UFC Fight Night 75 will take place from the Saitama Super Arena. The event will be headlined by a heavyweight bout between former Pride FC fighter Josh Barnett and Roy Nelson.
There’s also the return of 38-year-old icon Fedor Emelianenko and former Pride FC head Nobuyuki Sakakibara. If you don’t already know, Sakakibara announced he is back to partner with Bellator for a New Year’s Eve show in Japan headlined by “The Last Emperor.”
The question remains, who is buying a Japanese MMA revival?
As admirable as attempts have been in the past, none of them were able to even sniff the success Pride FC once had. Is there even room for long-term success in Japan, or is it all for the nostalgia effect?
The competition that MMA in Japan had in the past simply isn’t there anymore. When Emelianenko makes his return, you have to imagine his opponent won’t exactly be a world beater. Many fans have suggested that Kimbo Slice may be the one to face “The Last Emperor” because of the ratings potential. That matchup doesn’t scream revival and at that point it becomes more of a short-term gain.
It’s probably safe to say Sakakibara has our attention, but for how long he has it remains to be seen. What do you think? Are you buying a Japanese MMA revival?