There has been a good amount of speculation as to what is happening overseas within the past two weeks, which could impact MMA in a big way this year and in the future. From co-promotions, to mega events, to open weight GP's, MMA fans have been going wild waiting to see what will take place in Japan. Recent announcements have created more interested, and have left many more fans asking what it all means, left unsure of their significance and meaning.
For one, we had the interesting announcement of Shinya Aoki (the WAMMA LW champ) taking on Fedor (WAMMA HW Champ) in a Sambo/Grappling match in the DEEP/M-1 Challenge event. We also had an announcement not too long ago about a DREAM special event set to be announced this month:
DREAM SPECIAL EVENT
DREAM will announce details in April for a special event. The rumor is that DREAM will hold a tournament pitting its fighters against either UFC veterans or Strikeforce fighters.
At this very moment, the wheels are turning in Japan, and the negotiations have commenced on what could be the event that MMA fans have been waiting for. All the right pieces seem to be there, it is all a matter of figuring out how they all fit together.
Here are a few of players (chips) who made the trip oversees:
1) Head of Affliction Entertainment, Tom Atencio.
Who is working hard (and at the same time training for his own MMA fight) with M-1 and DREAM to put on a DREAM/Affliction/M-1 Co-Promotion sometime in the summer. Rumors have surfaced that DREAM.10 may be the target event, which will also host the final round of the WW GP. The co-promotion event is rumored to be negotiating the likes of Fedor vs Monson, Overeem vs Cro Cop, and Barnett vs Arlovski, although Finkelstein was just quoted as saying that Fedor's next opponent would be a top 10 HW (Barnett and Overeem pop up quickly after that comment). Here is what Sam Caplan is reporting from Japan:
Seated next to Finkelstein on the dais was Affliction Vice President Tom Atencio, who also appeared in St. Petersburg, Russia during last weekend’s M-1 Selection event, a year-long team competition featuring fight gyms in Russia competing for the opportunity to represent their home country during the 2010 M-1 Challenge.
Emelianenko is still under contract to Affliction for one more fight, and while Atencio offered no hints regarding a third Affliction event, speculation was running rampant at the press conference that Affliction could look to partner with M-1 and DREAM in regards to a possible July or August event in Japan.
Why would Atencio hold Affliction 3 oversees? Simple, he needs to put on Affliction 3, and having a couple more players soften the the financial blow of their contracts is always welcomed. Plus, having Overeem, Cro Cop, Fedor, Arlovski, and Barnett fight in Japan means more to the Japanese MMA scene than it does to the American scene, which would easily justify this and furture ventures for Affliction. I have always felt that if Affliction put on a show in Canada, they would have done very well in their gates and attendance numbers.
It will be interesting to see if Affliction will use this co-promotion tactic overseas to stay in the MMA game, or simply leave the promotion side of the business with a big bang. All in all, Affliction was able to open a store in Russia due to their connections with Vadim and Fedor, and may accomplish the same in Japan to expand their clothing line. After all, Aoki had this to say to Atencio about an Affliction t-shirt:
When Aoki saw Affliction’s Tom Atencio (who was present at the press conference) he jokingly said: "If you give me an Affliction t-shirt I will fight with all of my might"
We will have to keep a close eye on Affliction after this summer. Here is the rumored card for the co-promoted event:
Rumored Co-Promoted Event:
Rumored DREAM.10 (DREAM-Affliction Co-Promotion) Event
Date: July 20th, 2009
Rumored Main Events:
Fedor Emelianenko vs. Jeff Monson
Mirko Cro Cop vs. Alistar Overeem
Andrei Arlovski vs. Josh Barnett
Joachim Hansen vs. Shinya Aoki [LW DREAM and WAMMA Title]
WW GP Finalists:
Hayato "Mach" Sakurai
2) Head of M-1, Vadim Finkelstein and Fedor.
Pretty much, if you want a successful show in Japan, the easy way to do it is by having Fedor on the card. That will instantly give the event publicity, ratings, and attendance in Japan. M-1 is looking to secure Fedor's future, and showcasing Fedor in Japan for a potential signing with DREAM after his Affliction contract has expired is important to their bargaining power. M-1 also has valuable fighters such as Gegard Mousasi and the M-1 Challenge stable of world wide talent to give anyone a real boost to their roster. Shane Del Rosario (future Strikeforce fighter and touted prospect), Negao (Affliction veteran), and Giva "Arm Collector" Santana (a prospect who is most likely signed to Strikeforce) are all competing in the M-1/DEEP challenge this week, bolstering the DEEP and M-1 lineups and providing team USA West with a formidable team.
All in all, M-1 Global strategy of partnering with different promotions to spread its brand and the popularity of its key fighters seems to be paying off for their future success in MMA. With partners like Affliction and HDNet Fights (which gives them a presence in the USA) and DEEP and DREAM (which gives them a presence in Japanese), they are setting themselves up for some mega fights for Fedor in both hemispheres. Either way, it seems that Japan is slowly warming up to M-1 and Affliction.
Here is what Vadim had to say:
When asked about his next fight, Fedor passed the microphone to Finkelstein, who said they are in negotiations for a fight in July/August, possibly to be held in Japan. They are currently negotiating with the Japanese side.
As reported by Sam Caplan:
While Finkelchtein was careful to indicate that nothing has been finalized, he did reveal that talks are currently taking place regarding Emelianenko fighting "an opponent ranked in the top ten" sometime in July or August. Finkelchtein also seemed rather certain that the event would take place in Japan.
3) WAMMA and Interim Chief of Operations Sam Caplan.
Another key player that has been ignored by many is WAMMA and the newly appointed interim CO Sam Caplan. Yes, Sam Caplan is also in Japan right now breaking news overseas for FiveOuncesOfPain as well as representing WAMMA, who's long list of partners (according to their website) now include:
Adrenaline MMA (Monte Cox), Affliction Entertainment (Tom Atencio who partners with Golden Boy Promotions), Strikeforce (Scott Coker), HDNet Fights (Mark Cuban), Kingdom MMA (T.Jay Thompson), M-1 (Vadim Finkelstein/Fedor) , EA Sports (which could mean that WAMMA is lending out a hand with the rumored EA MMA video game, which was said to sign Randy Couture and Frank Shamrock exclusively [Randy is not in the UFC 2009 Undisputed video game], and MMA Live (ESPN presence who uses their rankings).
It's a long list of partnerships that WAMMA has been assembling for the past year. Although, they are mostly ridiculed for their lack of meaningfulness to the UFC or their inability to have a reason for existence other than to make money off of MMA, they are proving to be a key player in assembling these co-promotions, which they have done before with Affliction and M-1 to crown Fedor as the WAMMA HW Champ and to a lessor extent, Shinya Aoki as the LW WAMMA Champ when he defeated Eddie Alvarez. Seeing that WAMMA is on the scene in Japan, it is quite clear that pitting the WAMMA LW champ versus the WAMMA HW champ may have something to do with their presence in Japan, and it even appears that Japan and Aoki may be warming up to the WAMMA belt.
Shinya Aoki has a new instructional book dropping on May 3rd.
Note that the cover acknowledges his WAMMA titleholder status.
All these pieces will be very important in assembling this Co-Promoted blockbuster event that will take place in Japan this summer, and it may be just what Japan needed to revive the MMA scene that has been slipping within the past few years. It is no surprise that even TBS is getting a bit discouraged with MMA ratings, so much that a Japanese boxing champ idol, Daisuke Naito will be the lead-in to the DREAM.9 prime time event (who has been getting ratings in the 20's and even in the 40's), more than MMA or K-1. The combination of both events is being labeled as the Martial Arts Festival and will be shown in TBS on prime time. If you had to bet on DREAM getting a great rating, this is definitely the ideal situation for them to finally breakthrough and succeed. In the US, I will pretty much have to assume that HDNet will be televising this event, and their numbers should do well and also give everyone involved a bridge for all the American fans to watch.
Ratings for Naitos last 4 fights:
vs. Daiki Kameda 40.9%
vs. Pongsaklek 26.3%
vs. Shimizu, 18.3%
vs. Yamaguchi 25.6%
With all the recent buzz in Japan, even Satoshi Ishii's name has come up again, and it seems like DREAM and M-1 are doing everything they can to try and set up a Fedor vs Ishii fight in the near future, something that will absolutely give the Japanese MMA scene a big boost and Fedor a blockbuster fight in Japan (nevermind the disadvantage of debuting against Fedor).
他のサイトでは笹原氏が「知名度のある日本人が理想的」と言ったとは報じ てない。 Other sites Sasahara said, "The Japanese have an ideal profile" is not reported to have said. しかもそれだけで「石井慧の決意に期待」ですか？ That it "expects to resolve Ishii Satoshi"? ワジム代表がモスクワの会見で言ってた「日本の団体はローカルファイターと対戦させ ようとするだろう」という予想が的中？ He said at a press conference in Moscow Vadim representative "group of Japan will try to win over local fighter" is estimated to be home? そもそも石井ってデビュー戦でいきなりヒョードルとやりますかねぇ…。 Why do I suddenly HYODORU and Ishii I begin with the debut.
Teaming up with Affliction and M-1 could give Japanese MMA and MMA fans world wide what has been missing in Japan for quite some time since the departure of PRIDE, and that is a larger than life event that would capture everyones imagination. All the chips seem to be where they need to be, and hopefully for all of us, they will all land in the right place.
UPDATE: Looks like one tournament was just announced! =)