If things go the way the UFC brass intends it to go, the promotion will finally commence with the UFC Japan series in 2013.
As is the norm for the promotion’s international events, the series will feature four events in 2013 and will focus predominantly on the Japanese talent. Ultimately, the promotion is expected to feature some of the victors from the events in this series on some of its more prominent fight cards. Nothing has been confirmed, however, as the promotion is still studying and perfecting its concept before putting it into action, but with the success of UFC 144 in Saitama this past February, the MMA world determined that a return to “The Land of The Rising Sun” for future events would serve as a locked-in inevitability.
The UFC roster of Japanese talent features the likes of Yushin Okami, Takeya Mizugaki, Yasuhiro Urushitani, Norifumi Yamamoto, Riki Fukuda, Michihiro Omigawa and Issei Tamura. While the UFC maintains an impressive array of Japanese talent, it also understands the importance of keeping its talent roster loaded with young talent from all over the world, especially in Japan. This event series aims to feature the future of the sport, and especially the future of Japanese MMA, the life of which has come into question in recent years with the fall of World Victory Road, the organization behind Sengoku Raiden Championship, as well as the Dream promotion.
However, will this event series spell the end of legendary promotions such as Shooto and Pancrase, or even promotions such as Deep, ZST and other local MMA outfits that thrive on showcasing the best local talent? It’s no secret that the UFC has promoted its events and talent as not only the best in the world, but it also claims to have the best fights in the world. Even less secret of a fact is that the UFC has helped support these claims by acquiring talent that defined themselves in now-defunct promotions such as Pride, Affliction, IFL and the WEC.
While it stands to reason that the same fate may await the existing Japanese promotions if the UFC pulls local fighters for this series, fans of these promotions and the action they provide should not worry about them folding as a result of this four-event series. For a better understanding of why, one must look stateside.
Simply put, every fighter’s career must start somewhere. In the stateside circuits, the launching pad for a fighter’s career comes in local MMA promotions such as the Legacy Fighting Championships promotion out of Houston, which is responsible for the likes of Daniel Pineda and Andrew Craig, and Tachi Palace Fights, which operates out of Lemoore, Calif., and has served as the launching pad for the UFC’s entire flyweight division. Though one of those talents, Ian McCall, suffered two of his three career defeats in the WEC, many will recollect McCall’s three-fight run in Tachi, where he defeated Dustin Ortiz, Jussier “Formiga” da Silva and former TPF flyweight champion Darrell Montague.
Though Legacy FC maintains a deal with AXS TV (formerly HDNet) and Tachi streams its events online, these promotions serve as MMA super-shows, meaning they attract prospects as well as MMA veterans and journeymen who fight to satiate their love of the sport. Equally, promotions such as Titan Fighting Championships and Xtreme Fighting Championships provide platforms for fighters in the same cloth as Legacy FC and Tachi. King of The Cage, the promotion responsible for current UFC prospects Tim Means and Jared Papazian, serves the same purpose as these local stateside promotions, as its divisional talent pools aid in grooming the new breed of the sport.
These attitudes may never appear in print when it comes to promotions like Pancrase and Shooto, but the same overall objective lies within these two promotions, as well as Deep, ZST and others in the Japanese circuit, as proven evident by the career of many of the sport’s current cream of the crop. Anderson Silva, Renan Barao, Rumina Sato, Fedor Emelianenko, Randy Couture and others have traveled through these promotions. That they still operate as active MMA promotions and put on exciting yet under-appreciated events proves that they have only carried on with continuing to groom the next generation of the sport.
Nothing will change for these promotions with the UFC Japan event series in 2013. If anything, the decision to feature local talent will provide a win-win situation for all parties involved. The UFC will get to feature a great amount of promising MMA talent, thus supporting its claim that it truly does feature the world’s best MMA fighters, while the fighters themselves will have a platform on which to prove themselves against the elite of the sport.
As for the fans, they win in this as well. While hardcore MMA fans can almost guarantee that they’ll see some familiar faces inside the Octagon, they will also find themselves in for a treat when they get their first glimpse of the new breed of Japanese MMA. As for the local fans who have followed the careers of the homegrown newcomers and veteran fighters, they will get a chance to witness how far their countrymen have come in this sport.
Even though the promotion has yet to announce the four events in this UFC Japan series, the series already looks to deliver a great set of fights featuring the best of the present and future of mixed martial arts. Nobody knows when in 2013 the events will take place or which cities will host the cards, but they do know what they will have in store for them when the UFC announces its intentions officially. Until then, all we can do is speculate on who will fill out these cards, who will deliver on their potential to steal the show, and who we will get used to enjoying in the future of Japanese MMA.
Photo: Yuji Sakuragi wears the Japanese flag around his shoulders at a Pancrase event (Taro Irei/Sherdog)