According to a report from MMAFighting.com's Daniel Herbertson, the UFC has finally wised up to the realities of promoting an event in Japan. It was originally suggested by UFC President Dana White that the UFC Japan card, scheduled to take place at Saitama Super Arena on February 26, would act as a prelude to a stateside pay-per-view, but sources have confirmed that the UFC has nixed that approach:
The UFC's long-awaited return to Japan on Feb. 26, 2012 will be a full pay-per-view level event, sources have confirmed to MMA Fighting as initially reported by Dave Meltzer. Zuffa has thus abandoned its controversial plan to have the UFC Japan event act as a free-to-air lead-in to a Las Vegas PPV event.
With a 10 a.m. local start time, the possibility that the Feb. 26, 2012 Japanese UFC event would act as a lead-in to a Las Vegas pay-per-view event, and the lack of local network TV deal, many were quick to criticize the first Japanese UFC event of the Zuffa era.
Although Japanese fans will still be forced to make the morning commute to Saitama Super Arena, MMA Fighting has learned that significant progress has been made towards ensuring the success of the first UFC event in Japan since Dec. 2000 as along with the elevation to PPV for the UFC Japan event, Zuffa has signed a marketing and promotional deal with local advertising giant Dentsu Inc. and a lucrative broadcast deal is currently being negotiated.
I wrote about the obstacles the UFC would face in Japan, concluding that the event was a vanity act. When White suggested that the event act as a lead-in to a stateside pay-per-view, it only added fuel to the fire, making it even more difficult to see what the actual goal was for the card.
Interestingly enough, the UFC has signed an advertising deal with Dentsu, which is a major step in the right direction. Dentsu isn't widely known, but they have helped companies like Skype and Facebook market to Japanese customers. They are the #1 advertising agency in Japan by a long shot, and they should add some muscle to the UFC's plans to land a better TV deal.
Is it enough? I have a hard time believing it matters. Unless the UFC can somehow spark interest among MMA fans in Japan to a brand that is fairly unknown, the card won't matter at all unless they can gain a network deal. If this leads to a bigger TV deal, by all means make the moves. The real question is whether spending the money on this deal is the smart thing to do long-term in a market that has lost interest in MMA for the time being. I don't think it is.