I'm going to enter into the dangerous business of making predictions.
Wild, crazy predictions pulled from odiferous nether regions into existence.
Genki Sudo will be the saviour of Japanese MMA. He is going to place it on his shoulders alongside the soaring eagle tattoo and carry it back to its former glory.
Genki Sudo is Big in Japan.
Just to fill you in if you didn't know, The Neo Samurai retired from MMA but has written a number of best-selling books in Japan and has recently embarked on a J-pop career under the pseudoynm WORLD ORDER, causing tears of pure joy to spurt from my ears in response to the pure unadulterated awesome that is his dancing.
He just appeared on Hanamaru Market performing his new single MIND SHIFT live. Warning: either wear sunglass or put some kind of bullet proof vest on when you watch this you'll be assaulted by critical levels of unfiltered pumpitude.
Hanamaru Market is on every single day in Japan. It's a prime time morning show, that many families put on every morning. As I remember it, you either have Hanamaru Market or crusty old Mino Monta (Guinness Book of Records for guy most on TV ever - true story!) on another channel, some kids shows, and some other similar talk show.
Put simply, if you're on it, you are "famous". You are a big name. So we can safely assume Genki Sudo is now officially Big in Japan, above and beyond his MMA career.
If you notice on the video, Genki's knuckles are pretty bruised. And according to his blog, he recieved his BJJ black belt from Watanabe Naoyoshi at the Tri Force Gym in May. In the blog post, he recounts that his coach said "You're full of energy - planning a comeback?" to which Genki replied "I thought about it!" with a fancy Japanese emoticon. (^_-)
That's a guy who is doing more than staying in shape. He's keeping the motor running, big time. Not quite in fighting shape, for sure - there's probably some clause in the record contract about not allowing people to sit on his face or punch his balls for too long a period - but definitely still training.
So, now we have a Japanese born and bred superstar who was already fairly huge when he retired from MMA. He had been near the top of the card for K-1's Dynamite!! New Years Eve show in 2005 and 2006.
Now, he has mass market appeal, beyond MMA fans. He is a "cerebu", a "talento", almost a househould name.
Japan's MMA industry, as I understand it, relies heavily on TV exposure. Pride was able to stage their elaborate shows and tempt the world's greatest fighters by literally throwing gigantic sums of cash all over the shop. And that cash came from the TV stations that broadcast Pride. They paid so much money because so many people would watch it, and they could sell premium commercial time to big name advertisers.
But to attract audiences, and thus investors, they need big names. Historically, they have pulled in huge numbers with "freakshow" fights involving people that are already famous in Japan.
Bob Sapp vs. Akebono - who crossed over from sumo - drew in a staggering 54 million viewers on NYE in 2003, most of whom tuned in out of curiousity.
Cyril Abidi, a middling K-1 kickboxer, took on Bobby Ologun, a Nigerian-born comedian who was enjoying a surge in popularity in 2004 and drew in around 28% of all TV viewers that night.
Ken Kaneko, a Japanese TV and movie star, fought Krazy Horse in 2005 and drew around 27% of all TV viewers that night.
Japan's MMA industry needs to recapture the public's attention, and the only way to do it is by using famous names. Putting on great and meaningful fights is secondary; they need to re-establish their position as the premier source of combat sports entertainment. K-1 is in better shape at the moment thanks to their roster of young and handsome homegrown fighters and their slightly longer-established history.
K-1 has the NYE TV contract at the moment, and if they succeed with mega numbers, the follow on effect will benefit DREAM and Japanese MMA in general.
Which brings me to my point: They need Genki Sudo.
Genki will be riding a massive wave of popularity this year with the release of his new album. A comeback fight on NYE would be huge.
With the right opponent and the right buildup, there could be serious national interest in watching Genki fight.
Who could he fight?
A rematch with Yamamoto Kid, who always draws in the numbers, could be a success. Kid would need to win a couple of relevant fights in the meantime.
An even more exciting prospect would be enticing K-1 ultra-megastar Masato out of his early retirement. Masato has a legion of followers that would watch in screaming, fainting droves.
Genki and Aoki Shinya both fight at 70kg. If Aoki continues his headline grabbing ways, a fight between those two on NYE would mean epic ratings.
My money is on Genki Sudo to spark national interest in kakutougi across Japan once more.