UFC President Dana White has talked consistently over the years about how the UFC will remain progressive in its approach to gaining popularity worldwide. The promotion has made huge strides to expand internationally, transcending cultural boundaries that other sports like football, baseball, and basketball have only been able to do at a minimum. It doesn't take a genius to understand that the primal nature of the sport, the notion that it is the original judge of superiority, is easy to understand and appeals to all walks of life.
One of the countries that the UFC has coveted as a destination for expansion is Japan. As most fans know, Pride provided fans with some of the most memorable moments in the sport's history, and it has been a struggle for many fans to let go of those memories, so much, in fact, that we still argue to this day whether former Pride fighters are better than their UFC counterparts.
UFC President Dana White confirmed that the UFC would return to Japan for a February event in July. Subsequent reports revealed a list of potential fighters for the show and how the UFC would promote the event to its fans. It was eventually revealed that the event would take place at Saitama Super Arena and start at 10 AM local time in order to fit into the American broadcast window for pay-per-view. The stream of news was met with stiff criticism.
During the UFC 139 press conference last week, UFC President Dana White revealed that the UFC would run simultaneous events on the same day at some point in 2012. UFC: Japan was a target for that experiment. When pressed about it at the post-fight presser on Saturday at UFC on Versus 6, White revealed that the UFC: Japan show would act as a live lead-in to a stateside pay-per-view:
I've already written in great detail about the problems with the UFC's event in Japan. The cultural hurdles, the lack of any real drawing power, and the general disinterest in MMA in the country. The 10 AM start time locally was a slap in the face however. Hardcore fans will more than likely show up, but the move conveyed a message that the UFC doesn't care. The Japanese are very prideful and nationalistic. Being a foreigner entering the market is hard enough. Being a foreigner who blatantly disrespects the fanbase is just stupid business.
If the UFC is attempting to air the UFC: Japan card as a live lead-in to a stateside pay-per-view, why go to Japan in the first place? A 9 PM ET start time for a pay-per-view in the United States is 10 AM local time in Japan, and that was the original time rumored. As a lead-in, the event would be bumped up two or three hours. Hey, we are new to your country, we are the UFC. Get your ass out of bed at 8 AM to come check out Yushin Okami, the best Japanese fighter you've never heard of. Oh yeah, we got that Yoshihiro Akiyama character you incessantly hate for oiling his silky smooth skin.
This event isn't accomplishing anything. Call it what you want. A day in which the UFC can dance all over the grave of Pride. A "Ha HA!" moment that the UFC can give the finger to all its doubters. Whatever the case may be, it makes perfect sense. Why would the UFC make a legitimate investment in Japan? The interest has dwindled. There isn't a crossover fanbase large enough to create solid revenue for the UFC. They don't have a network television deal. They barely register on the radar in terms of distribution.
The only pertinent question is why the UFC is wasting the money to promote an event there. If you must prove you can do what many people said was impossible and promote an event in Japan, this is the way to go. Pay for it with advertising dollars in the U.S. by putting it on FX, scrape together whatever miniscule live gate you can get locally, and laugh at the yakuza while breaking even or making a small profit. A pure vanity act as a display of their power to expand internationally. The UFC isn't stupid. They understand, like everyone else, that Japan simply isn't a profitable venture right now.