The bad news keeps coming for Japanese MMA. Satoshi Ishii, the 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist in Judo was heavily recruited by Japan's struggling MMA promotions this year. But a disappointing decision loss to the aging Hidehiko Yoshida might be a fatal set back for those hoping Ishii will become a new breakout star.
And Japanese MMA is desperate for new stars.
About a year ago, when the UFC was trying to sign Ishii, Dana White told MMA Weekly that in the long run Ishii would be better off in the UFC:
"I don't believe in the Japanese philosophy, let's throw him in there and get him (expletive) murdered like Sakuraba," he spat. "You know, the whole guts and glory thing over in Japan. I believe in taking a kid, putting him in the right weight class, moving him up, and taking time.
"If he does it the right way with us, he'll be a superstar in Japan. It's a much better deal for him than going in and getting executed by guys who have been fighting for a long time...because they need to make a fight right now so they can survive. See, Dream-needs him. I don't. I want him."
Our own Chris Nelson wrote at the time Ishii's debut match against Yoshida was announced for Sengoku's ill-fated New Year's Eve show:
That WVR has abandoned its generally metered approach to building its prospects in favor of making Ishii's debut a guaranteed attraction is interesting, especially when coupled with the fact that PR director Takahiro Kokuho also mentioned that Sengoku could undergo a name change beginning with the New Year show. Rumors have swirled since the promotion's inception last year regarding possible deals with big time Japanese networks such as Fuji TV, but nothing has come to fruition. (Sengoku is currently partnered with TV Tokyo, the smallest of the Tokyo stations, though that deal is said to expire soon.) The signing of Ishii was thought to be a significant step toward acquiring a major broadcast deal, or possibly an indication that a deal was already in the works - could an announcement finally be on the horizon?
So basically, Ishii went for the more money now deal with World Victory Road/Sengoku after turning down DREAM and then rejecting the UFC. But because WVR was desperate for a marquee bout that could get them on network TV in Japan they rushed Ishii in against the very game Yoshida rather than letting him develop naturally against weaker competition.
But then, after the match was booked, WVR's NYE show collapsed and Ishii found himself fighting for K-1/DREAM at their annual NYE Dynamite!! show. Now he's damaged goods and Japanese MMA won't see as compelling a prospect for many years.
In this case it wasn’t WVR or FEG that ruined him, WVR actually wanted to protect Ishii and nurture his career, this was 1,000% bad management. His management dropped the ball every step of the way, from the fake bidding war with Ishii going to the pres decked out in each promotion’s gear and acting like he would sign with them to his incredibly delayed decision to finally sign with WVR.
The media buzz for Ishii at Dynamite!! was really quite quiet, actually. NYE in Japan has always been about getting the fair-weather male and female demographic, which a heart throb like Masato (I wish I was kidding) retiring at age 30 with his looks and reputation still in tact did. Without Masato’s retirement I doubt that 45,000 fans would be a reality or whatever the television ratings turn out to be.
Ishii’s management killed his buzz in Japan. Nobody in Japan is talking about Satoshi Ishii. That is very, very bad. Hell, FEG has reprimanded Aoki and people are talking about that, people are talking about Fujita’s concussion and how tough Overeem is, but nobody is saying anything about Ishii.
Once you lose the Japanese imagination and attention, you are kinda screwed.
Also don't miss his coverage of the business implications of the very successful Dynamite!! 2009 show for Japanese MMA.