Shinya Aoki has a flare for the dramatic. He breaks arms and he wears tights. He cries and he dresses like an Asian school-girl. He also presents himself as the last potential savior of Japanese MMA from Dana White’s brash expletive laden hegemony. In an interview with Japan’s Gong magazine Aoki argued that his hypothetical loss would effectively cause "Japan [to]… become a colony of US MMA." I would argue that there is much less at stake for both Dream and Aoki.
When Chuck Liddell and Dana White made their doomed journey eastward (well technically westward I guess) the UFC was in a similar situation to the one Dream is now. The UFC was finding its niche in a competitive American sporting environment while Pride was selling out massive arenas. Popular opinion amongst MMA fans argued that the UFC elite simply did not have the mettle to hang with the big boys in Japan. The Iceman was theoretically fighting for more than just his own legacy in the 2003 Pride Middleweight GrandPrix; he was fighting for the pride of his organization.
Much like what may happen to Aoki, Chuck failed miserably. He was beat-down by Rampage Jackson who in turn was brutalized by Wanderlei Silva. He didn’t even do well enough to match up with the juggernaut who was to be his real test. But this wasn’t the end of Chuck Liddell or the UFC at all. In fact, both thrived like they never had before. The UFC continued to grow into the power it now is. Chuck went on his reign of terror for which he is now remembered, and in the process became the most well known face in the fight game stateside. The casual fan probably didn’t even realize Liddell had lost to Rampage at all until Jackson came over after the merger and did it again. Now Liddell is remembered as one of the greatest light-heavyweights of all time.
The casual fan is not simply a fan of MMA, they are often a fan of a promotion. They didn’t hold the loss against Lidell, because they most likely didn’t even see it. The hardcore fan knew, and to them this was definitive proof that Pride had the greater 205 pound division, but otherwise it didn’t really matter.
Shinya Aoki has similar stakes. The average American viewer won’t even know who Aoki is, and the average Japanese fan won’t be watching. The stakes are high as far as the opinion of the hardcore fan and rankings go. And that’s it really. Aoki is putting his hardcore cred on the line, but not his marketability, and not his nation. Win or lose, Aoki will still be a powerhouse in Dream, and Dream will still dominate Japanese MMA.
(Link to source of quote: http://www.cagepotato.com/why-shinya-aoki-and-american-mma-need-each-other )